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Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Thanks, Mr. Jefferson, for writing the Constitution! (WRONG!)

… one passage, in the paper you inclosed me, must be corrected. it is the following. ‘and all say that it was yourself more than any other individual, that planned & established it.’ i.e. the constitution. I was in Europe when the constitution was planned & established, and never saw it till after it was established. on receiving it I wrote strongly to mr Madison urging … [a bill of rights] … he accordingly moved in the first session of Congress for these Amendments which were agreed to & ratified by the states as they now stand. this is all the hand I had in what related to the Constitution.
To Joseph Priestly, June 19, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders don’t take credit for others’ work.
English-born philosopher and scientist Priestly (1733-1804) was one of Jefferson’s closest confidantes. Yet, when Priestly credited Jefferson with being the moving force behind America’s Constitution, he denied it for the simple reason he was in France when it was written!

James Madison, often referred to as the father of the Constitution, sent a copy of it to Jefferson in Paris. Jefferson liked much of it but complained that it guaranteed no rights for individuals nor did it term-limit the President. At his urging, Congress added the Bill of Rights but set no restriction on the President’s length of service.

Mr. Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He had no role in drafting the Constitution in 1787.

“It was again a pleasure to host your performance …
Thank you for sharing your unique gift with us.”
Nature Center Manager, Missouri Department of Conservation
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Give it to me frank, truthful and complete!

… the legislature is likely to establish a marine hospital at New Orleans, where we lose about 400. boatmen & seamen annually by sickness … I consider the nomination [of superintendent] to such a place as a sacred charge … I would greatly prefer those who have established a reputation by practice. I have however as yet but a single application from a Physician of any age & experience … the object of this letter is to ask your information of his [Dr. Barnwell of Philadelphia] character medical & moral, and that you will be so good as to write it to me candidly, unreservedly, and fully, assured that it shall be confined to myself alone …
To Caspar Wistar, March 22, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders need candid input on important personnel matters.
Wistar (1761-1818) was a noted Philadelphia physician and expert in anatomy, and a friend and confidante of Jefferson’s. The President expected a raft of applicants to lead the new hospital at New Orleans, but he preferred an experienced, capable doctor. He had received only one such application but didn’t know enough about the man. He sought Wistar’s opinion.
1. He needed to know about the applicant’s “character medical & moral.” Competency in medicine was not enough. He needed to be a moral man, as well.
2. He wanted Wistar to write him “candidly, unreservedly, and fully,” (emphasis Jefferson’s). His evaluation should be frank, truthful and complete.
3. He assured Wistar that his assessment would remain between the two of them only.

Wistar responded in the manner requested, but Jefferson subsequently appointed another to the position.

“Thank you again,
and please do not hesitate to use this letter as a recommendation…”
College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, University of Missouri
Mr. Jefferson comes well-recommended.
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I do not have to hold my tongue any longer.

I have rarely written to you; never but by safe conveyances; & avoiding every thing political, lest, coming from one in the station I then held, it might be imputed injuriously to our country, or perhaps even excite jealousy of you. hence my letters were necessarily dry. retired now from public concerns, totally unconnected with them, and avoiding all curiosity about what is done or intended, what I say is from myself only, the workings of my own mind, imputable to nobody else.
To Tadeusz Kosciuszko, February 26, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise public leaders are careful about what they say and write.
The Polish-born military engineer Kosciuszko (1746-1817) distinguished himself repeatedly serving in America’s war for independence. He returned to Europe after the war, but spent several more years in America in the 1790s. He and Jefferson shared the same political philosophy and became close friends. Correspondence between the two men was scarce and straightforward during Jefferson’s Presidency, unusual for the prolific letter writer. Here he explained why to his old friend.
1. Mail was rarely confidential. He had to send personal letters by trusted couriers.
2. He could write nothing of politics. As President, those revelations could harm the country.
3. He did not want to make people jealous of his friendship with the Polish leader.

In a reply the following year, the Pole acknowledged Jefferson’s letters were “dry and short.” He quit writing for that reason but now reassured his American friend of his never-ending esteem.

Jefferson was no longer bound by the limitations of the Presidency, could speak freely on any subject, and proceeded to do just that in the remainder of the letter, which will provide material for several more posts.

“…his performances [are] most believable and intriguing.
He easily captures the audience’s interest and attention …”
Vice-President, RiverBarge Excursions, New Orleans, LA
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Why focus on the ONLY area where you disagree?

I consider it a great felicity [happiness], through a long and trying course of life, to have retained the esteem of my early friends unabated. I find in old age that the impressions of youth are the deepest & most indelible. some friends indeed have left me by the way, seeking, by a different political path, the same object, their country’s good, which I pursued, with the crowd, along the common highway. it is a satisfaction to me that I was not the first to leave them. I have never thought that a difference in political, any more than in religious opinions should disturb the friendly intercourse of society. there are so many other topics on which friends may converse & be happy, that it is wonderful [astonishing, in this context] they should select of preference the only one on which they cannot agree.
To David Campbell, January 28, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders maintain friendships with those who disagree.
Jefferson appreciated friends who stuck with him over the decades. He acknowledged that philosophical differences inspired some to seek the country’s good “by a different political path” than his, and that cost him some friendships. He took satisfaction that any loss of friendship over political differences was not his doing but the choice of others.

Why should political or religious differences separate people? Why pick the one area of disagreement and make that the deciding factor in what could be an otherwise cordial relationship? Such choices astonished Jefferson when there was so much common ground where “friends may converse & be happy.”

“We are always on the lookout for programs that reach all ages …
Your presentation was entertaining as well as enlightening.”
Daniel Boone Regional Library
Thomas Jefferson will enlighten your audience and entertain them in the process!
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I would rather not fight but WILL if you force me!

When I saw you at court I requested you would not meddle with any grounds without the 8. fields of Shadwell till we should settle our difference as to Lego. yet in my ride to-day I percieve you have ploughed a considerable piece of ground outside of those fields. if we cannot settle this question between ourselves, or by disinterested neighbors, I shall not decline the umpirage of the law, although an amicable one would be more acceptable. indeed it would be very contrary to my wishes that force should be introduced between you & me, yet I must say that I will not let my property be taken without any consent on my part. I must therefore declare that if you enter on the tract of Lego for the purpose of cultivation before we settle our question, I shall consider it as an act of force, and will meet it with force.
To Eli Alexander, January 17, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even the most patient leaders can be pushed too far.
Shadwell was the plantation near Monticello where Jefferson was born. Lego plantation  adjoined Shadwell. Jefferson had leased parts of Shadwell to Alexander. That written lease also allowed for limited farming on Lego under very specific conditions. Alexander had not met his obligations at Shadwell and had encroached on Lego.

The two men had met face-to-face about the issue. Jefferson had also written Alexander the month before, reminding him of the lease terms and itemizing the infractions. In what appeared to be a generous gesture, Jefferson offered very favorable terms if Alexander would only do what he had already agreed. If not, he would seek arbitration.

A horse ride of this date proved that Alexander had ignored their conversation and Jefferson’s follow-up letter. The latter still wanted a peaceful accommodation, but he would not let his lands be sued without permission. If that meant going to court, which Jefferson hated, so be it.

Jefferson’s bark was worse than his bite. A review of all the correspondence between these men, including the last letter from Jefferson three years later, indicates he was still trying to get some measure of satisfaction from his careless tenant.

“The members … enjoyed your unique representation of Thomas Jefferson …
Thank you …”
President, Missouri Association for Adult Continuing and Community Education
Thomas Jefferson’s unique presentation will captivate your audience.
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Do you want change back from your $90?

I recieved … [your letter that] you had … 90.D. [$90] recieved for me as rent for the salt-petre cave at the Natural bridge, and asking it as a donation for the female academy of that neighborhood. I have ever believed that the duty of contribution to charitable institutions would produce the greatest sum of good by every one’s devoting what they can spare to the institutions of their neighborhood, or in the vicinity of their property; because under the eye of their patrons they would be more faithfully conducted than at a distance from them … the applications to me from every part of the union being more than any income but that of the union, could supply. on this principle I am persuaded you will think twenty five Dollars a donation fully proportioned to my property in that quarter, giving this sum therefore to the institution there, I will thank you to remit the balance …
To William Carothers, September 7, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Charitable leaders give to charities wisely.
Caruthers, Jefferson’s agent in a western Virginia county where he owned property, held $90 rent owed to him. Caruthers asked if Jefferson would like to donate it to support a local school for girls. Jefferson’s reply:
1. Everyone had a duty to support charitable institutions to produce the greatest good for all.
2. Donations were best made to charities where donors lived or owned property, so they could carefully monitor its use.
3. He received more requests for donations than he could ever honor.
4. He would donate $25 to the school and wanted the remaining $65 sent to him.

He might have used his reasoning in #2 to decline any donation, because he lived 100 miles away, beyond any possible oversight. Yet he did own real estate in the vicinity, though he visited it rarely. He thought it more important to give than decline.

“The decision to bring Patrick Lee was a wise one.
His presentation was both credible and enlightening.”
CEO, Schoor DePalma Engineers and Consultants, Manalapan, NJ
Both credible and enlightening!
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Thanks for the geese. Have some cigars.

Having recieved a box of fine Havanna segars & knowing your fondness for them, I cannot make any use of them so gratifying to myself as by sending them to you. having occasion to send a cart to Washington, it will go by Fauqr C.H. [Fauquier Court House] to deposit this charge with you. it will return by Dumfries for a pair of Wild geese promised me there, as I have had the misfortune to lose the goose of the pair you were so kind as to give me. ever affectionately yours
To Doct. James W. Wallace, August 24, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Thoughtful leaders remember kindnesses shown them by others.
While Jefferson raised tobacco, the only cash crop available besides wheat, there is no record he used it other than on rare ceremonial visits from Indian chiefs. So, what to do with a box of “fine Havanna segars” that must have been a gift to him?

In other correspondence the same day, he said “Davy,” a servant (slave) would leave the next day with a horse and cart to retrieve a “big-tailed ram” promised him to replace two that died. The route would take him near Wallace’s home. Remembering his friend’s fondness for cigars, he would have Davy leave them at a convenient place for Wallace to retrieve. He was returning the kindness Wallace had shown earlier in giving him a pair of geese.

The female of Wallace’s pair died. Davy would return by another route to pick up a replacement pair offered to the former President.

“…your presentation brought to life not only the spirit of Thomas Jefferson
but also the sense of commitment to discovery and exploration …”
Executive Director, Association of Partners for Public Lands
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We gotta help this kid!

The bearer hereof, mr Smith, is the son of Gen. Smith of Baltimore … who wishes to qualify himself to be useful to his country hereafter, will visit Paris, and will wish to derive from the visit, all the useful information he can acquire … my own desire to aid the laudable views of our young men … & knowing your particular sense of the importance of a right direction in youth … I take the liberty of presenting him to you … he will prove himself not unworthy of your attentions.
To Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, July 29, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise old leaders continue to mentor potential young ones.
Du Pont (1739-1817) was a French intellectual who became Jefferson’s friend during his diplomatic service in Paris. Du Pont emigrated to America in 1800 to escape the guillotine.

Both men recognized the importance of educating gifted young men whose place in life positioned them for “the care of the liberties & interests of their country.” The son of Jefferson’s old friend, Gen. Smith, was such a prodigy, and Jefferson wrote a reference letter, asking Du Pont to introduce him as widely as possible.

The editor’s footnotes to this letter, found in the link above, translate two Latin sentences Jefferson used to conclude this letter: “You and your family and your possessions are all the objects of my closest care, and shall be while I live. Good-bye” and “take care that you fare well, and love me as you are loved”. I’ve edited thousands of Jefferson’s letters in the five years of this blog. I don’t recall ever seeing so personal a benediction.

One of Du Pont’s sons, trained as a chemist, founded a gunpowder manufacturing company in Delaware in 1802. We know the resulting multinational conglomerate today as DuPont.

“The President was outstanding!”
Executive Director, Missouri Society of Professional Engineers
Mr. Jefferson will be outstanding for your audience!
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CHILL! Your reputation precedes you.

Happily withdrawn from the knolege of all the slanders which beset men in public life, I am totally uninformed of the tale respecting yourself alluded to in your letter, & equally unable to conjecture the author of it … I presume it impossible that in a state where you are known by character to every individual, their representatives can be led away by tales of slander, a weapon so worn as to be incapable of wounding the worthy. that the views of the person [Cong. John Randolph of VA] who procured the appointment of a committee of investigation were merely malignant, I never doubted, but his passions are too well known to injure any one.
To Samuel Smith, Maryland, July 26, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Public leaders have to expect slander.
Smith (1752-1839) was a successful businessman, Jefferson supporter and Maryland politician for many years. He had written to Jefferson about a proposed Congressional investigation into alleged improprieties regarding his private funds and public responsibilities. Smith knew but declined to identify to Jefferson the source of the accusations, the former President’s trusted Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin.

Interesting observations from Jefferson:
1. All public leaders should expect slanders, spoken untruths intended to defame.
2. He was happily ignorant of the case and would not speculate about the source of accusations.
3. Smith’s well-known reputation was all the defense he needed.
4. Without mentioning John Randolph by name, he alluded to Randolph’s attack-dog personality and his general lack of credibility.

The investigation was derailed when Smith’s brother Robert, Jefferson’s Secretary of Navy, brought forth facts which established Samuel’s innocence.

“Your topic selection and program were extraordinary.
Your responses to our questions were insightful”
American College of Real Estate Lawyers
Mr. Jefferson will be extraordinary for your members.
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This is a team to DIE for!

… I rejoice in the prospect of a pacification with England. in what degree it is owing to the past or present administration [my Presidency or Madison’s] is not worth a thought. whatever claims the former might have, mr Madison had the principal agency, and the latter acts are entirely his. I always considered it as among the happiest circumstances of my administration that the harmony & cordiality which subsisted among all it’s members amalgamated us into one mind. we had never a question who had a right to the merit or demerit of any particular measure; for in truth all measures of importance were the measures of all…
To John Minor, July 10 , 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A really good leader builds a team of “harmony and cordiality.”
Minor, like many others, had congratulated Jefferson on his Presidency. He thanked Minor, but included his Secretary of State and now President, James Madison, as equally deserving of praise. He went on to praise all of his cabinet members, and the unity that pervaded all their deliberations.

If something went well, they all enjoyed the results. If poorly, they all accepted responsibility. Their work was never “mine” or “yours” but always “ours.”

“Thank you for helping to make our Annual Meeting a complete success.”
North Carolina Agribusiness Council
Mr. Jefferson will contribute to the success of your meeting!
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