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Category Archives: Monticello

What I have is the opposite of what I wanted.

my strongest predilections are for study, rural occupations, & retirement within a small but cherished society. born, as I unfortunately was, in an age of revolution, my life has been wasted on the billows of revolutionary storm. the sweet sensations & affections of domestic society have been exchanged with me for the bitter & deadly feuds of party: encircled with political enemies & spies, instead of my children & friends. time however & the decay of years is now fast advancing that season when it will be seen that I can no longer be of use, even in the eyes of those partial to me: and I shall be permitted to pass through the pains & infirmities of age in the shades of Monticello.
To Madame De Corny, April 23, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Committed leaders play the hand dealt to them.
De Corny was one of a small number of cultured, educated women Jefferson came to admire during his ambassadorship to France, 1784-89. They resumed a correspondence in 1801 after a decade of self-imposed silence, though he had periodically inquired about her and sent regards to her through others. Her letter to him a year before was full of sadness over a lack of communication from him and her greatly diminished existence in post-revolutuionary France.

Prehaps Jefferson wanted to commiserate with De Corny by contrasting the life he would have preferred with the one thrust on him by events. He had to forego the joys of home, family, friendship, farming and books for the thankless task of politics, governing, and enemies at every turn.

Not 14 months into his Presidency that would consume seven more years, he was already looking forward to retirement, when through time and decrepitude, “I can no longer be of use.” Only then could he enjoy what was left of his life at Monticello, where he would have preferred to spend all of it.

“I have now hired you three times to present your characters to my annual conference…
Each brought value and a unique, inspiring message to our group.”
Executive Director, National Coal Transportation Association
Thomas Jefferson and his compatriots, Daniel Boone & William Clark,
will bring unique, valuable and inspiring messages to your audience.
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They have problems? WE had bigger ones! Get over it.

the dissensions between two members of the cabinet are to be lamented. but why should these force mr Gallatin to withdraw? they cannot be greater than between Hamilton & myself, & yet we served together 4. years in that way. we had indeed no personal dissensions. each of us perhaps thought well of the other as a man. but as politicians it was impossible for two men to be of more opposite principles. the method of separate consultation, practised sometimes in the cabinet, prevents disagreeable collisions.
To Joel Barlow, January 24, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders need wisdom to manage talented but feuding subordinates.
Barlow (1754-1812) was a lawyer, editor, acclaimed writer, public official, friend and confidante. He reported on a dispute between two men in President Madison’s cabinet. The disagreement had reached the point where the Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, was about to be driven out by the Secretary of State, Robert Morris.

Jefferson asked why a disagreement should force Gallatin to withdraw? He cited his own example of continually butting heads with Alexander Hamilton in President Washington’s cabinet, yet the two of them co-labored for four years. (Hamilton and Jefferson held the same two posts as Gallatin and Smith.) Their differences were political and philosophical but not personal, and they respected each other as individuals. Couldn’t Gallatin and Smith reach the same accommodation?

Jefferson suggested the practice “of separate consultation” with cabinet members. Rather than having opponents in the room together, Mr. Madison could confer with each man separately. He would have the benefit of each man’s counsel while avoiding the conflict that would inevitably arise if opponents were face-to-face.

It had been 16 years since Hamilton and Jefferson had served together in Washington’s cabinet and 5 1/2 years since Hamilton’s death in a duel with Vice-President Aaron Burr. Time must have softened Jefferson’s judgment or his memories. In the early 1790s, Jefferson had nothing positive to say about Hamilton. One of the reasons Jefferson resigned from Washington’s cabinet at end of 1793 was his continual conflict with the other man.

“You were great as President Jefferson …
Your remarks … could not have been more impressive or appropriate …”
Interim Director, Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Nebraska City, NE
Mr. Jefferson will be both appropriate and impressive for your audience!
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I do NOT want to go to court with you!

… litigation has ever been to me the most painful business I could be engaged in. to this has been owing some of the delays in the present case. the discussion however in this case has been attempered [blended with] by candor & friendship. and by the honest and mutual desire of seeking nothing but what is right. that this spirit animated your father, his letters on this subject, as well as his character prove. that it is equally yours, I feel as entire confidence as I have a knolege that my own wishes have no other object. in this spirit I tender you the assurances of my esteem & respect.
To John Harvie, December 28, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Consensus leaders choose loss rather than confrontation.
The Harvies were long-standing family friends. One John Harvie was guardian for Jefferson when he was a fatherless teenager. That Harvie’s son, also named John, was a contemporary of Jefferson’s. This John Harvie was the grandson, who had inherited a competing claim for land Jefferson believed was rightly his, acquired more than 30 years before. Each man asserted an undeniable claim to the land in question.

Jefferson hated confrontation, even with his political foes. He especially disliked it when it involved friends. Twice, Jefferson unsuccessfully sought arbitration to settle the matter. This John Harvie agreed to arbitration without conceding any claim to the land. Jefferson made these points:
1. Contending in court was the “most painful business” he knew.
2. He admitted delaying settlement in dread of that confrontation.
3. Both men had been straightforward and wanted “what is right,” even though they disagreed on what “right” was.
4. Harvie’s father was an honorable man, and surely the son would be, also.
5. That spirit would enable them to settle the matter equitably.

Two months later, they agreed to divide the land’s valuable equally. Each man, though firmly believing himself entitled to the whole thing, chose half a loaf instead out of respect for the other and the desire to avoid a fight.

“I want to compliment the MBA [Missouri Bankers Association] and Patrick Lee
for the excellent presentation he made as Thomas Jefferson …”
President and CEO, Citizens National Bank
Mr. Jefferson will make an excellent presentation for your audience!
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THIS is the life!

I am constantly in my garden or farm, as exclusively employed out of doors as I was within doors when at Washington, and I find myself infinitely happier in my new mode of life.
To Etienne Lemaire, April 25, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A radical change of scenery can do a leader great good!
Lemaire managed the President’s House during both Jefferson administrations and had since moved to Philadelphia. In this letter, he asked his former butler to secure several cooking ingredients not available nearer to Monticello. His grandson, Jefferson Randolph, was in Philadelphia and would pay for the items. He sent on several other tidbits of common interest and concluded with the sentiment above.

Over the previous 35 years, Jefferson’s time at Monticello was overshadowed by the great events of war, independence, diplomacy and governance. His hands-on involvement with those events was now behind him. He could dig in the dirt and putter around his farms to his heart’s content. He was much happier now, “infinitely” so.

“This is a key thought – you are a serious student of Thomas Jefferson, not just an imitator –
and it quickly became evident that… [we were] listening to Thomas Jefferson,
not Patrick Lee portraying Thomas Jefferson.”

Deputy Executive Director, Missouri Rural Water Association
Your audience will suspend disbelief
and know they are hearing from Mr. Jefferson himself.

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ENOUGH! You must come and see for yourself.

It is with great regret that I write you a letter which I am sure must give you pain, but your interest as well as my own makes it my duty, & yours is still more urgent than mine. I have little doubt that your sons write you flattering accounts of their proceedings & prospects at the Shadwell mills… come and inform yourself …I wish it [this letter] for your own reading only, because I do not wish to have any quarrel with your son. yet when you come, I will state facts to enable you to enquire. in the mean time be assured of my real friendship.
To Jonathan Shoemaker, April 6, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Confrontation-hating leaders must step up eventually, but it may be too late.
Shoemaker was a Pennsylvania businessman who operated a grain-grinding mill at Washington City. He leased Jefferson’s mill near Monticello in 1807 and put his sons in charge. Two years later, the entire milling operation was a mess:
-Jefferson had not received his rent.
-Neighbor’s grain taken to the mill for grinding had disappeared.
-Neighbors were forced to ship their grain to distant mills at greater expense.
-The poor reputation of the mill ruined prospects for new business.

The extraordinarily patient Jefferson was reaching his limit. Not only his finances but also his standing in the neighborhood were jeopardized. He insisted Shoemaker come to the mill, see for himself and make the matter right.

Correspondence over the ensuing 16 months reveal excuses, partial rent payments, missed payments, and a further deterioration of the business agreement between the two men. The lease was eventually terminated, and Jefferson never received all that was owed to him.

“City officials are a “tough crowd”
and the ovation they gave you was well deserved.”
Executive Director, Missouri Municipal League
If Mr. Jefferson can please a tough crowd, he can certainly please yours!
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1 Comment Posted in Agriculture, Monticello Tagged , , , , , , |

I accept THEIR opinion, but I trust in YOURS.

I gladly lay down the distressing burthen of power…the part which I have acted on the theatre of public life, has been before them [the citizens of the nation]; & to their sentence I submit it: but the testimony of my native county, of the individuals who have known me in private life, to my conduct in it’s various duties, & relations, is the more grateful as proceeding from eye witnesses & observers … of you then, my neighbors, I may ask, in the face of the world, ‘whose ox have I taken, or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed, or of whose hand have I recieved a bribe to blind mine eyes therewith’? on your verdict I rest with conscious security
To the Inhabitants of Albemarle County, April 3, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders have no fear of going home to stay.
Albemarle County, Virginia was Jefferson’s home county. Its citizens had welcomed his return to Monticello after his retirement, and he prepared this acknowledgement.

He was glad to be done with power! He believed he had acted honorably in office and was willing to accept whatever verdict came from the nation. He was far more concerned with the verdict of his neighbors and friends, people who had known him for decades.

In addressing his friends, he also made his response to distant observers who questioned his judgment, morals and faith. To these who knew him well, he quoted the prophet Samuel from the Old Testament (1 Sam. 12:3), asking whom had he cheated, oppressed or deprived of justice? He would live out his remaining years among those friends and neighbors in the confidence (“conscious security”) of their judgment.

“Mr. Lee has presented as Thomas Jefferson …
on two different occasions and in two very different formats.
In both instances, the presentations were of exceedingly high quality …”

Executive Director, Missouri Humanities Council
Whatever your meeting, Mr. Jefferson will bring a relevant message.
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Hell is behind me, paradise ahead!

… for altho’ I too have written on politics, it is merely as a private individual, which I am now happily become. within two or three days I retire from scenes of difficulty, anxiety & of contending passions to the elysium [paradise] of domestic affections & the irresponsible [not accountable to anyone] direction of my own affairs. safe in port myself, I shall look anxiously at my friends still buffeting the storm, and wish you all safe in port also.
To John Armstrong, March 6, 1809

NOTE: I have excerpted most of Jefferson’s significant correspondence from the first year of each of his two Presidential terms (March 4, 1801 – March 3, 1802 and March 4, 1805 – March 3, 1806) for the most recent blog posts. I will now turn the clock ahead and work from the first year of his retirement, which began March 4, 1809, when James Madison succeeded him as President.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders look forward to retirement!
Armstrong (1758-1843) had been a U.S. Senator from New York and was now America’s ambassador to France. Jefferson wrote about America’s failed embargo, continued conflict involving American ships at sea and the prospect of war, and Napoleon’s attempts to subdue much of Europe. He also thanked Armstrong for acquiring a “dynamometer” for him, a device that measured pulling force, something he had wanted for many years.
He concluded by stressing, thankfully, that his views on politics were now simply as a private individual. Within days, he would leave the non-stop stress of Washington City for peacefulness of Monticello. There he would reside as a ship safely arrived at its final port and hope the same destiny for those he left behind.

“Patrick Lee is a professional … easy to work with …
and very effective portraying Thomas Jefferson …”
Director, Living History Associates, for OpSail 2012, Norfolk, VA
If professional, low maintenance and high impact appeals to you,
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1 Comment Posted in Monticello, Personal preferences Tagged , , , , , , , |

Would you paint your floors GREEN?

… I was at the painting room of mr Stewart (the celebrated portrait painter) who had first suggested to me the painting a floor green … the true grass-green, & as he had his pallet & colours in his hand, I asked him to give me a specimen of the colour … and I spreed it with a knife on the inclosed paper. be so good therefore as to give it to mr Barry as the model of the colour I wish to have the hall floor painted of. The painters here talk of putting a japan varnish over the painted floor and floor-cloth after the paint is dry, which they say will prevent it’s being sticky & will bear washing.
To James Dinsmore, June 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What does this have to do with leadership?
Not much, though it does illustrate how minutely Jefferson was involved in his decades-long pet project, building and rebuilding his home, Monticello, and his careful attention to detail.

James Dinsmore was the skilled workman who produced much of the fine interior woodwork at Monticello. Mr. Barry was a house painter. “mr Stewart” was most likely Gilbert Stuart, the foremost portrait artist of the day. His subjects numbered around 1,000, including the first six Presidents.

If Gilbert Stewart recommended a “true grass-green” as a fitting floor paint color, that was good enough for Jefferson.

Floor cloths were explained in a previous post.

“It was truly amazing how you answered questions from the audience
without stepping out of character.”
Executive Director, Professional Land Surveyors of Ohio, Inc.
Mr. Jefferson will amaze your audience, too.
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2 Comments Posted in Monticello, Personal preferences Tagged , , , , , , , |

He is a BIG problem, but I can put up with him.

Dear Sir
The mad-man Stewart is again here. he has called on me for $:105—which I was obliged to let him have, or I supposed suffer him to go to Jail…
George Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson, November 16, 1801

… I note & approve what you did as to Stewart. he is the best workman in America, but the most eccentric one: quite manageable were I at home, but doubtful as I am not …
To George Jefferson, December 3, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some employees, no matter how skilled, need close supervison.
George Jefferson was the President’s cousin and Richmond-based business agent. William Stewart was a Philadelphia blacksmith hired by the President to move to Monticello. A ship captain’s bill for moving the family of six was $75. Stewart demanded $105 reimbursement instead. When George asked for documentation for the extra $30, Stewart cited (but didn’t produce) a letter from the President supposedly authorizing the extra funds. George thought it better to pay Stewart and get rid of him, but he made clear what he thought about the man.

Jefferson accepted George’s decision. He also acknowledged Stewart’s skill and great eccentricity. The latter could be managed if he were close by but must be tolerated from a distance.

Stewart’s wife died in 1805 and was buried in the Monticello cemetery. He was fired two years later, after fully training the slave Joe Fossett, who served in that capacity until Jefferson’s death in 1826. Fossett was freed in Jefferson’s will, but his wife and 10 children were sold because of Jefferson’s debts. Fossett eventually purchased his wife and some of their children from slavery.

”Everyone, to a person, commented on how thorough you were
and how every detail that was possible to recreate was covered.”
President, Cole County Historical Society
Let Mr. Jefferson transport your audience to another era!
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1 Comment Posted in Monticello, Personalities of others, Slavery Tagged , , , , , , |

I am very anxious to obtain the disease here.

… inoculated two persons with the matter [cowpox vaccine] of the 24th. & 4. with that of the 26th. the latter has no effect, but the two former shew inflammation & matter. one of them complains of pain under the arm pit, & yesterday was a little feverish … we have considerable hopes he has the true infection … you shall be regularly informed of the progress & success of this business … I am very anxious to obtain the disease here.
To Benjamin Waterhouse, August 14, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Persistent leaders keep trying until they find something that works.
New England physician Waterhouse (1754-1846), one of the founders of Harvard Medical School, was the first person to test the cowpox vaccine in America, on four of his own children. His effort to enlist President Adams’ support for a public campaign was unsuccessful, but President Jefferson embraced the concept immediately.

This is one of several letters in 1801 where Jefferson wrote about the cowpox vaccine. Numerous attempts to induce immunity by infecting healthy people with the live vaccine had been unsuccessful. In this account, Jefferson reported the first hoped-for response at Monticello, evidence of an slight infection. Immunity to cowpox also protected against the much more deadly smallpox.

Jefferson would later have all of his family and slaves inoculated and circulated the vaccine widely among his Virginia neighbors. Some accounts credit Jefferson with conducting the first mass public health campaign in America.

“The feedback from our conferees has been overwhelmingly favorable …”
Executive Director, Missouri Safety Council
Try something special for your audience.
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