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Category Archives: Morality

Even if I have it, I will not give it to you.

Your letter of Dec. 10. is safely recieved … I have not examined my papers to see if I have the letter … which you ask for. I have no recollection whether I recieved such a letter. but it is not on that ground I decline looking for & communicating it. besides the general principles of law & reason which render correspondences even between private individuals sacredly secret, in my late official station [as President] they are peculiarly so … I have therefore regularly declined all communications of letters sent to me in order that they might be used against the writer: and I trust so much in your candor & good sense as to believe you will, on reflection, think I am right in so doing …
To Elias Glover, January 13, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders understand the importance of maintaining confidentiality.
Glover had requested a copy of a letter written by another to Jefferson, thinking that letter might provide vindication for a charge made against him. If Jefferson didn’t have that letter, Glover asked where else he might find a copy. The former President declined both requests. While he didn’t recall the letter, he didn’t even bother to look. (Jefferson had a very good filing and retrieval system!)

By both nature and common sense, correspondence between individuals was private. Eight years as President had reinforced that belief, especially when the one requesting the correspondence might use it against the original writer.

“Your well-researched portrayals of President Thomas Jefferson
and Captain William Clark were highlights of the five-day event.”
Director, Prairieland Chatauqua, Illinois
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Leave a comment Posted in Morality, Natural rights Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

To promise what I cannot deliver is immoral.

I have considered your proposition of yesterday to endorse a bill of 500.D. [co-sign a loan] … it would be immoral for me to engage to pay 500.D. in 60 days on your failure to do it, when I know that it would be out of my power. it may be said indeed that you will not fail. I am sure you do not mean nor expect to fail in doing it. but circumstances not under your controul may put it out of your power, just as similar circumstances now embarrass your paiments to me. but for me deliberately to engage to do a thing in any event which I know it will be out of my power to do, is irreconcileable to my ideas of right.
To Jonathan Shoemaker, December 26, 2017

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders should say no when no is all they can offer.
We have met Mr. Shoemaker before. He had leased Jefferson’s wheat-grinding mill, turned it over to his negligent sons, and had paid none of the agreed-to rent. In continuing distress, he now wanted Jefferson to co-sign a $500 loan for him. Jefferson was short of funds himself. He was in no position to guarantee Shoemaker’s loan.

Shoemaker assured Jefferson he was good for the money. Jefferson knew otherwise, since the other man was already delinquent in payments to him.

Co-signing loans was a common practice. Jefferson claimed the moral high ground with Shoemaker. He should have done the same thing in 1818, but for honor could not, when Cary Nicholas, his wealthy friend and father-in-law of his grandson Jeff, asked him to co-sign his $20,000 note. Nicholas lost everything in the economic panic the next year. The additional debt was the death blow for Jefferson’s already-precarious finances.

“In addition to your great portrayal … a lot of our folks commented
that they enjoyed seeing you at the reception … That went over really well.”
VP-Operations, Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives
Mr. Jefferson would be delighted to attend a reception for your members!
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Leave a comment Posted in Debt, Morality Tagged , , , , , , |

We do not want those immigrants, but we cannot refuse them!

I lament the misfortunes of the persons who have been driven from Cuba to seek Asylum with you. this it is impossible to refuse them, or to withold any relief they can need. we should be monsters to shut the door against such sufferers. true, it is not a population we can desire, at that place, because it retards the desired epoch of it’s becoming entirely American in spirit. no people on earth retain their national adherence longer or more warmly than the French. but such considerations are not to prevent us from taking up human beings from a wreck at sea. gratitude will doubtless secure their fidelity to the country which has recieved them into it’s bosom.
To William C.C. Claiborne, September 10, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Humane leaders recognize the need to help the helpless.
Claiborne, territorial governor of New Orleans, reported the arrival of about 1,000 poverty-stricken French immigrants, whom Spain had banished from their homes in Cuba.

Jefferson didn’t regard the French as desirable subjects, because they above all other immigrants clung to their native culture. It would take them much longer to assimilate and become “entirely American in spirit.” Regardless, they could not be allowed to perish on the open sea. Only “monsters” would refuse them refuge and relief.

He hoped they would be grateful for the kindness shown and become loyal to their new land.

“I would like to thank you for your wonderfully entertaining speech …”
President, Missouri City Clerks and Finance Officers Association
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1 Comment Posted in Foreign Policy, Morality Tagged , , , , , , , |

Immigration can be criminal, yet moral.

I did not mean to suggest that I thought the object, even as I supposed it, to be in any degree immoral, that it could be criminal to counteract an immoral law. if ever there was a case where a law could impose no other obligation than the risque of the arbitrary penalty it is that which makes the country in which a man happens to be born his perpetual prison, obliging him to starve in that rather than seek another where he can find the means of subsistence.
To Alexander McRae, August 27, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders understand that immigration can be wrong … and right.
Through previous imprecise communication, each man misunderstood the other regarding McRae’s effort to recruit skilled workmen from England to America. England’s laws criminalized that activity, punishing both the recruiters and the immigrants who took tools of their trade with them when left.

The men cleared the air, and Jefferson expressed interesting thoughts about immigration, morality and criminality.
1. It was not immoral to break an immoral law, even thought it might subject one to criminal penalty.
2. A law that tied a man forever to the land of his birth, making it his prison, was immoral.
3. Natural law allowed a man to feed himself, and if he could not do that in one country, he had a moral right to go to another where he could.

“You were a “HIT.”
…thank you for such an excellent presentation …”
University of Missouri College of Business and Public Administration
Institute for Executive Development
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1 Comment Posted in Morality Tagged , , , , , , , |

He will learn bad things soon enough. Please don’t help him.

I have a grandson, Thos J. Randolph, now at Philadelphia, attending the Botanical lectures … [he] has a peculiar fondness for that branch of the knolege of nature … I am led to ask for him a permission of occasional entrance into your gardens, under such restrictions as you may think proper … in presenting him to my friends at Philadelphia I take the liberty of requesting them not to consider it as an introduction to such civilities as might abstract him from the studies which are his sole object there. the allurements of society are better deferred, & will always present themselves early enough.
To William Hamilton, May 9, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise old leaders protect young ones from unnecessary worldly influence.
Hamilton (1746-1813) was an accomplished horticulturalist whose gardens near Philadelphia were considered the finest in America. Jefferson asked if his 17 year old grandson, who loved botany, might visit those gardens. He vouched for the boy’s character and sent this letter in care of him, that he might deliver it personally and make Hamilton’s acquaintance.

Jefferson added a caution to Hamilton, as he did to others in Philadelphia to whom he introduced Jeff, as his grandson was called. He was there to study only. He did not want his friends to expose Jeff to any “allurements of society” that would distract him from that purpose. Those should be postponed as long as possible and would still make themselves known too soon.

“Mr. Lee’s interpretation of William Clark was outstanding and very believable…
I have also seen him perform as Thomas Jefferson, and that, too, is a very impressive program.”
Director, Division of Employment Security, State of Missouri
Whether Lewis & Clark Expedition’s William Clark or President Jefferson,
your audience will be captivated!
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Leave a comment Posted in Family matters, Morality 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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Leave a comment Posted in Monticello, Morality, Politics, Religion Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Justice should be just, not harsh.

Whereas Richard Quince Haskins… was convicted before the Circuit Court … of certain misdemeanors in relation to the Post Office [and sentenced] to be publickly whipped, twenty stripes, and be imprisoned and kept at hard labor for the space of three years, pay costs of prosecution, and stand committed ’till sentence be performed: Now therefore be it known that I Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, do hereby for divers good causes … pardon and remit the whipping aforesaid, the remaining part of the judgment aforesaid to be in no manner affected by this pardon and remission.
Pardon for Richard Quince Haskins, March 1, 1806

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Humane leaders set a judicious example.
Haskins was a federal clerk in Boston. The charge was not specified, but he was found guilty. The sentence was a public whipping, three years in prison at hard labor, and restitution.

The President said two out of three was enough. He would serve his time and repay the court. However, justice would not be further served by subjecting Haskins to harsh, physical pain and public humiliation. He pardoned the whipping and let the rest of the sentence stand.

“I want to thank you for your high degree of professionalism…
It was a pleasure working with you.”
President, National Association of Workplace Development Professionals
Mr. Jefferson will make your job easier.
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1 Comment Posted in Judiciary, Morality Tagged , , , , , , , |

Is it ethical to experiment on a condemned man?

with respect to the experiment whether Yellow fever can be communicated after the vaccine, which you propose should be tried on some malefactor, no means of trying that are likely to be within my power. during the term I have been in office, not a single conviction in any capital case has taken place under the laws of the general government. the Governors of the several states would have it most in their power to favor such an experiment.
To Edward Rowse, August 4, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Rowse wrote to Jefferson speculating on the connection between four diseases: cowpox, smallpox, plague and yellow fever. The smallpox vaccine had already proved effective against that disease and the cowpox. There was some speculation that it worked against the plague. Rowse wanted to know if it might also protect against yellow fever.

To that end, Rowse suggested an experiment be conducted on someone already condemned to die and asked Jefferson’s help. The President declined, not on moral grounds, but for lack of a subject. During his Presidency, no one had been convicted of a capital offense under federal law. Those convictions occurred under state laws. He suggested governors might be able to help Rowse with his experiment.

“I am pleased to give Patrick Lee my highest recommendation as a speaker.”
Executive Director, Wyoming School Boards Association
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Leave a comment Posted in Health, Morality Tagged |

Debt cannot result in lifetime imprisonment.

procure the opinion of the judge before whom he was convicted, whether he considers the prisoner a proper object of pardon within the views of the law? and if imprisonment until he pays his fine should, from his poverty be equivalent to perpetual imprisonment, which the law could never intend, then what term of imprisonment, should be substituted for the fine, after which & not before he should recieve a pardon.
To David Howell, July 21, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Compassionate leaders seek justice for others.
Jefferson had received a petition from a David Briggs, requesting a pardon from imprisonment “for a breach of the revenue laws.” Not being familiar with the case, Jefferson asked Howell to ask the opinion of the sentencing judge: Were there legal grounds for pardon?

The President was concerned about justice, too. Was Briggs was imprisoned until his fine was paid? Had incarceration impoverished Briggs, making it impossible for him to pay? If so, this was a life sentence, nothing that justice intended. Jefferson wanted to know what sentence would suffice for the fine, after which Briggs could be set free.

“The address was fascinating history and presented with a flair
that kept the audience spellbound.”
Conference Chair, Nat’l Academic Advising Association, Region 7
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Leave a comment Posted in Judiciary, Morality Tagged , , , , , , , |

I admit one indiscretion. I deny the rest.

The inclosed copy of a letter to mr Lincoln will so fully explain it’s own object, that I need say nothing in that way. I communicate it to particular friends because I wish to stand with them on the ground of truth, neither better nor worse than that makes me. you will percieve that I plead guilty to one of their charges, that when young & single I offered love to a handsome lady. I acknolege it’s incorrectness; it is the only one, founded in truth among all their allegations against me … [I count] you among those whose esteem I value too much to risk it by silence.
To Robert Smith, July 1, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What is a leader to do with a mess like this?
In late 1802, political writer James Callender, who had been encouraged by Jefferson just a few years earlier, now turned on his benefactor. Chief among Callender’s charges was that the President kept a slave concubine at Monticello, had initiated the relationship with her 15 years earlier in France, and fathered several children with her. She was not identified specifically at the time, but the woman was Sally Hemings. Callender also wrote of a Jefferson indiscretion with a married neighbor more than 30 years before.

These allegations and others became fodder for opposition politicians and were circulated widely during and after the 1804 elections. Although Jefferson never addressed the accusations publicly, he wanted a few close friends to know the truth. Robert Smith was one of those friends.

Jefferson admitted that as a young single man, he had propositioned a neighbor’s wife and “acknolege[d] it’s incorrectness.” He also wrote that of “all their allegations against me,” it was the only one “founded in truth.” Admitting to this one, he denied the others, including the charges involving Sally Hemings.

The “inclosed copy of a letter to mr Lincoln,” his Attorney General, has not been found. Apparently, it offered a much fuller explanation. All that’s left is this cover note to Smith.

“Having you as a special surprise guest … turned out to be an excellent idea …
a pleasant and refreshingly different aspect …”
FOCUS on Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine Conference
Refreshingly different! That’s Thomas Jefferson!
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Leave a comment Posted in Family matters, Morality, Sally Hemings Tagged , , , , , , , |