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Category Archives: Miscellaneous

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Happily withdrawn from the knolege of all the slanders which beset men in public life, I am totally uninformed of the tale respecting yourself alluded to in your letter, &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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Let us meet ONLY when we can come to a conclusion!

I recieved yesterday from the Master Commissioner Ladd a notification in the suit of Gilliam v. Fleming to attend at his office on the 1st of Aug. … our meeting whenever it takes place should be rendered effectual & final, by the attendance of all material persons …. I have therefore proposed to mr Ladd to change the day to one in the healthy season, say in October after the frosts will have set in …
To Skelton Jones, June 25, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Practical leaders avoid ineffectual meetings.
The lawsuit referenced arose from the 1770 death of Bathurst Skelton, the first husband of Jefferson’s wife, Martha. The issues were complicated and irrelevant here. What was relevant was that the matter had been contested for nearly 35 years, and Jefferson wanted it settled before his heirs, who knew nothing of the details, could be dragged into the prolonged fight.

The proposed date for the hearing was August 1 in the tidewater region of Virginia, a time of the year prone to outbreaks of the deadly yellow fever. Anyone who could fled inland for August and September to avoid the scourge. That meant some of the parties to the case would not attend.

He was eager to settle the case but had no interest in attending a meeting where a final result could not be reached. He proposed a later day, “say in October after the frosts will have set in.” At that time, everyone would be available and the issues could be finally resolved.

(The spread of yellow fever by virus-carrying mosquitoes would not be discovered until after Jefferson’s lifetime. They did know the disease was worst in late summer in swampy areas affected by changing tides. Fall frosts killed the mosquitoes and the scourge would end for another year.)

“I personally want to thank you.
It is a delight to have speakers like you who make me look good.”
Meetings Administrator, Iowa State Association of Counties
Mr. Jefferson will make you look good to your members!
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What does a local library mean for US? Part 4 of 4

… having had more favorable opportunities than fall to every man’s lot of becoming acquainted with the best books on such subjects as might be selected, I do not know that I can be otherwise useful to your society than by offering them any information respecting these which they might wish. my services in this way are freely at their command …
To John Wyche, May 19, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders are helpful but not too helpful.
This was Jefferson’s closing in his response to news of a proposed county library in south Virginia. He had stated the importance of an educated citizenry, the value of a lending library toward that end, and the types of books that library should contain. Now, he limited his invovlement in their effort.

He did not endorse that particular library. He did not contribute to the capital campaign to establish it. Yet, acknowledging his good fortune when it came to books (his personal library contained over 6,000), he offered to advise them on what books they should acquire. He did not offer that counsel unsolicited; they would have to ask again.

“On behalf of the attendees … in Philadelphia …
I want to express our gratitude for an incredible opening session.”
Executive Vice President, American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science
Mr. Jefferson will contribute greatly to the success of your meeting.
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A job very well done deserves high praise, even belatedly!

… I must supply now in writing, what I then could not express, the sense of my attachment to you & satisfaction with your services. they were faithful, & skilful, and your whole conduct so marked with good humour, industry, sobriety & economy as never to have given me one moment’s dissatisfaction: and indeed were I to be again in a situation to need services of the same kind, yours would be more acceptable to me than those of any person living. I have thought it my duty thus to declare what is just & true respecting you …
To Etienne Lemaire, March 16, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders value gifted employees and tell them so.
Lemaire was the manager of the President’s House during Jefferson’s administrations, overseeing the staff and meal preparations. Earlier in this letter, Jefferson apologized for saying only “Adieu” when he left Washington City. He explained that he was overcome at the prospect of returning to his family at Monticello and once again having a life of his own that “goodbye” was all he could manage for those who had served him so well.

Jefferson now corrected that oversight with flowing praise for Lemaire’s skilled and faithful service. He cited the specifics of Lemaire’s character and should the need arise, would hire him again above all others.

He closed with a request to know Lemaire’s new address that he might write him and invited his butler’s correspondence, as well.

“The Missouri Bar will undoubtedly invite Mr. Lee to future functions,
and we recommend him highly.”
Director of Law-Related Education, The Missouri Bar
If Mr. Jefferson can please lawyers, he can certainly please your members!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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The principle must rule. I cannot help you.

The friendship which has long subsisted between the President of the United States [James Madison] and myself gave me reason to expect, on my retirement from office, that I might often receive applications to interpose with him on behalf of persons desiring appointments … It therefore became necessary for me to lay down as a law for my future conduct never to interpose in any case, either with him or the Heads of Departments (from whom it must go to him) in any application whatever for office. To this rule I must scrupulously adhere …
Circular to Office Seekers, March 9, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Retired leaders should respect old friends and not impose unnecessarily.
The ex-President prepared this form letter declining to help those who might seek his influence in finding a job with the new administration. President Madison was his friend of more than 30 years, and he would not impose on him in that way.

Jefferson went on to explain in the remainder of the letter that his inaction was due only to this principle and not to any lack of interest in the applicant’s cause. He further stressed that he wanted to be “useful to my friends” in any other proper way.

“…our sincere appreciation for your magnificent portrayal of Thomas Jefferson
to our worldwide guests during the Caterpillar ThinkBIG Global Conference.”
President, Linn State Technical College
Invite Mr. Jefferson to inspire your audience.
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Why I keep my sources confidential

Th: Jefferson presents his respects … & regrets that it is not consistent with the rule he lays down for his own conduct to communicate to them the papers asked for in their note of the 27th. applications to him for office, & information given him as to the character of applicants, he considers as confidential, to be used only for his own government … he suffers these papers to go to no office, but keeps them with the most private of his own in order that those who will assist him with information may be assured they do it with safety …
To Joseph Stanton, March 1, 1806

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders apply the rules evenly and without exception.
Stanton, along with Benjamin Howland, asked the President for any information he had gathered on them in regard to their application for employment. Jefferson said no, citing his across-the-board policy. He regarded such information as confidential and kept it under his personal control. Only those with a need-to-know would ever see it.
Jefferson offered to oblige in other matters if it could be done “with propriety,” but he would not break this rule, which he applied in all cases. He closed by assuring Stanton and Howland of his respect.

“We could not have asked for a better keynote presenter
to set the tone for our conference theme, ‘Prepared to Lead.'”
Executive Director, Nevada Association of Counties
Mr. Jefferson will firmly establish your theme with your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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It is never too late to say thank you.

Some time last summer I recieved … a very elegant walking staff … [but no] indication from what quarter it came … I desired … to trace from what quarter it came … yesterday [I learned] … the favor had come from yourself. I enter into these details to shew how it has happened that I have been so long silent. it is now high time that I make my acknolegements to you for what is certainly the most elegant thing of the kind I have ever seen …
To John F. Oliveira Fernandes, February 28, 1806

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Grateful leaders take pains to show their appreciation.
Jefferson did not know who sent the gift of an exotic animal horn walking stick that passed through several hands to come to him at Monticello. He made repeated inquiries as to its source. He finally learned it had come from Fernandes, a Portuguese physician, friend and fellow wine-fancier. For brevity, I deleted involved details of Jefferson’s search, but he was intent on learning the source. Once known, even though months later, he was quick to express his appreciation and explain the delay.

“… many of our attendees found the presentation to be
refreshingly different and innovative.”
Director, FOCUS on Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine Conference
Nashville, TN
Would you appreciate a speaker who is “refreshingly different and innovative”?
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Let others speak first. I must keep an open mind.

I do not feel myself free to answer the question you propose. it was taken up by the Senate at the last session: it may be again at this session, and may come to me from one or both houses on an official form. I ought therefore to reserve myself for a free opinion, after I may have heard what is to be said on both sides. at the same time I will freely acknolege I had rather see healing salves applied than the Caustic or knife. but I sufficiently know how hard it is to reconcile ‘the foes who once were friends’.
To Thomas Leiper, December 29, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders would rather heal a division than make it wider.
Leiper (1745-1825) was a Philadelphia businessman, tobacco merchant, civic and political leader, friend of and one-time landlord to Thomas Jefferson. He asked the President’s opinion on the wisdom of his (Leiper’s) seeking indictments against four lawyers who may have acted in a treasonous fashion.

Jefferson declined an opinion, not on merits of the case but on principle. Congress had wrestled with this question before and may do so again. If they referred the matter to him, he wanted to have an open mind. Only then would he consider both sides and make a decision.

In closing, he stressed another principle, preferring to reconcile former friends rather than punish them, but acknowledged how difficult that could be.

As an aside, Leiper is credited with building the first railway in America. In 1809, he laid two rails from his quarry to a canal 3/4 of a mile away. An ox pulled a cart filled with stone from the quarry to where it could be loaded onto a barge for Philadelphia.

“Mr. Lee’s creative energy and talent were a major factor
in making this critical event the success that it was.”

Program Coordinator, The Smithsonian Associates, Washington, D.C.
Let Mr. Jefferson share his talent and creativity with your audience.
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Your idea is good, but my name will hurt your cause.

… nobody wishes it [your proposal] more success than I do, and, if it succeeds, it will certainly be of proportionable public utility. but I have thought it my duty to the public, as well as to myself, never to bring myself forward in any matter where it is not necessary. the cases in which my name has been used by private individuals … becomes the occasion of indecent scurrilities … I ought to avoid giving occasion to when not necessary, wishing every success therefore to your enterprise …
To Leroy Anderson, September 7, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders reserve their clout for the big issues.
Anderson had sent the President a draft of a prospectus on a “public utility,” one designed for both public good and business success. He asked Jefferson’s endorsement. The prospectus was being held at the printers, awaiting a response.

The President declined his endorsement, although he recognized the public value of Anderson’s proposal. Why?
1. He kept his name away from issues that did not require it.
2. His name associated with any cause became a lightning rod for his political opposition.
3. There was no point in giving offense when it was not necessary.

Although he would not endorse the project, Jefferson closed by wishing Anderson “every success.”

“Thanks to you, our Institute Planning Committee
was showered with accolades …”
Executive Director, Wisconsin Society of Land Surveyors
Your audience will praise you for bringing Mr. Jefferson to them.
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