Blog posts may be reprinted without permission,
provided a link to www.JeffersonLeadership.com is included.

Category Archives: Natural history (science)

Keep those critters alive! But if not …

the things from Marseilles are at New York and may soon be expected at Washington. be so good as to have particular care taken of the squirrel & pie which came with the things from Baltimore that I may see them alive at my return. should any accident happen to the squirrel his skin & skeleton must be preserved.
Thomas Jefferson to Etienne Lemaire, August 17, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Little things can give leaders great delight.
Lemaire was Jefferson’s steward or butler at the President’s House in Washington City. Writing from Monticello, the President gave instructions for the care of specimens sent by Meriwether Lewis and arriving soon in the nation’s capital. Lewis had shipped these specimens south in April from the Mandan villages on the northern Dakota plains, where he and William Clark had wintered with the men of the Corps of Discovery. These were the items the Corps had collected in 1804 as they journeyed up the Missouri River from St. Louis to the Mandans.

Jefferson gave instructions on how to protect the “skins & furs” from “the worm-fly” and the rest of the goods from the “rats & mice.” Lemaire was to take “particular care” of the “squirrel & pie,” the prairie dog and magpies captured alive and sent to the President. If the prairie dog did not survive, “his skin & skeleton” must be preserved.

The prairie dog and one of the four magpies survived the journey, and Jefferson saw them upon his return to Washington in early October. He sent them on to Philadelphia to become part of Charles Willson Peale’s natural history museum.

Let Mr. Jefferson share his delight in most things with your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
Leave a comment Posted in Animals, Lewis & Clark, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , |

I love this stuff!

I now return you the inclosed with many thanks for the opportunity of perusing it, which I have done with great satisfaction. I had before observed that Faujas & Cuvier were rather at war. Cuvier is attached to artificial classification. Faujas thinks with Buffon  …  Accept my friendly salutations & assurances of great esteem & respect.
Thomas Jefferson to David Vaughn, August 15, 1805

In March, 2020, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, I interrupted my review of Jefferson’s presidential correspondence, to focus on his writings about the yellow fever from 1793 on. That project is now complete, and I return to 1805.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even very busy leaders make time for their pet projects.
Vaughn had forwarded to the President a scientific paper from Europe, on the classification of a large animal, the megalonix, believed to be a ferocious beast. Its bones had been discovered in America. Jefferson loved the large animals which roamed this continent, past and present. He had an ongoing friendly feud with European authorities who thought such animals could not exist here.

That’s not the point of this post. The point is the first sentence, Jefferson declaring he had avidly read and appreciated the scientific paper Vaughn sent. Countless presidential replies thanked people who sent him things to read. He declined to read most, citing the press of official business which left him with no time to peruse whatever they sent. Not this time. Jefferson the scientist loved this type of debate and would gladly make time for a keen personal interest.

The animal in question was later determined to be, not a fierce predator, but a giant sloth. Caspar Wistar, a famous naturalist and Jefferson contemporary, suggested in 1822 that it be named Megalonyx jeffersonii.

Mr. Jefferson has a keen personal interest in inspiring your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
Leave a comment Posted in Animals, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Any money must come from Pennsylvania, not the U.S.

Dr. Deveze, who is the subject of your letter of Mar. 3. had I believe great merit in the services he rendered in Philadelphia on the first visitation of the Yellow fever in 93. the courage with which he exposed himself to it, when it’s novelty frightened away the physicians & inhabitants of the place, marked a mind of superior benevolence … with respect to Dr. Deveze’s request of some acknolegement for his services … his application can of course be recieved by the government of Pensylvania … I hope Dr. Deveze will see … my personal sentiments & esteem I render him the justice he merits.
Thomas Jefferson to Pierre August Adet, June 29, 1806

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes, brave leadership goes unrewarded.
Dr. Deveze, a French refugee from Haiti, volunteered to serve in Bush Hill hospital during Philadelphia’s 1793 deadly yellow fever epidemic. His treatment, considerably gentler than other physicians’ (especially that of the city’s famed Dr. Benjamin Rush), resulted in a favorable recovery rate.

Jefferson noted that Deveze was among the first to recognize that yellow fever was not contagious. He also believed the “superior benevolence” of Deveze 13 years earlier merited reward. Adet now sought that reward for Deveze from the national government. The President declined, citing constitutional limitations, and directed Deveze’s case to the state where his services were rendered.

Although he could not authorize compensation from Washington, he asked Adet to convey his “personal sentiments & esteem.”

Read this excerpt from Deveze’s memoir for a detailed and sometimes grisly account of 15 case studies from the 1793 epidemic.

Mr. Jefferson will spare your audience the grisly details. Unless they ask …
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
Leave a comment Posted in Constitutional issues, Health, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Some will always argue with the facts!

altho’ these facts [about the nature of the yellow fever] are now palpable to every unprejudiced observer, yet the disposition in men to schismatize [divide into strongly opposed camps] & dispute, has produced some contradiction to them … among the advantages to be derived from the progress of science, I am happy to observe that chemistry promises a more speedy & effectual mode of disinfecting the air of contagious houses & vessels than the oppressive practice of Quarentine a barbarous continuation of antient ignorance & habit.
Thomas Jefferson to Giovanni Fabbroni, April 30, 1806

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders know facts won’t convince some people.
Fabbroni (1752-1822), was an Italian scientist with specialties in agronomy and chemistry. He and Jefferson had been friends and correspondents for 30 years. Jefferson offered what was known about the yellow fever in America, so Fabbroni could compare it with similar illnesses in Italy. Unfortunately, people had a natural inclination to ignore the facts and dispute those who disagreed.

Still believing the cause of the disease to be foul air, the science-minded Jefferson held that chemistry, an attempt to change the environment, would be a more effective cure than quarantine, an attempt to change human behavior.

Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak to your audience.
Call 573-657-2739

NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
Leave a comment Posted in Health, Human nature, Natural history (science) 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 [criminal], 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

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time. This post is a repeat of August, 22, 2016.

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
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
Leave a comment Posted in Health, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Do the locals have “herd immunity”?

the shade [of illness] next above it [yellow fever], called the stranger’s fever has been coeval [contemporary] with the settlement of the larger cities in the Southern parts, to wit, Norfolk, Charleston, New Orleans. strangers going to these places in the months of July, August or September, find this fever as mortal as the genuine yellow fever. but it rarely attacks those who have resided in them some time.
From Thomas Jefferson to Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney,  February 8, 1805

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes,  leaders don’t understand what’s happening or why.
Excerpted from a longer, complicated passage in this letter to his French scientist/philosopher friend, the President introduced a malady called “stranger’s fever.” Very much like the yellow fever in its symptoms and mortality, it attacked only newcomers, i.e. strangers, to southern coastal cities. The locals were rarely affected. The yellow fever attacked everyone.

Jefferson didn’t make the claim or explain, but perhaps he was describing a natural “herd immunity” enjoyed by the locals, built up over time.

He went on to propose his disease-thwarting “checkerboard plan” for urban development, described in several earlier posts in this series.

You will need no immunity to enjoy Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom, only an open mind.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
1 Comment Posted in Health, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Right idea. Wrong premise.

a vessel going from the infected quarter, and carrying it’s atmosphere in it’s hold into another state, has given the disease to every person who there entered her. these have died in the arms of their family without a single communication of the disease. it is certainly therefore an epidemic, not a contagious disease; and calls on the chemists for some mode of purifying the vessel by a decomposition of it’s atmosphere, if ventilation be found insufficient.
From Thomas Jefferson to Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney,  February 8, 1805

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Empirical evidence leading to a logical conclusion might be wrong.
Jefferson concluded the yellow fever was not contagious but endemic, transmitted not by people but by fouled air generated in certain conditions along the coast. To buttress that position, he wrote that a ship sailing from one diseased area would carry it to another in the fouled air below deck. If ventilation could not be improved, it fell to the scientists (in this case, chemists) to devise a new method “of purifying the vessel.”

The real cause of yellow fever, the mosquito, would remain undetected for another 100 years. It is likely the ships in question carried not diseased air but disease-bearing insects from one port to another.

Your audience is invited to judge the applicability of Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom to the current age.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
1 Comment Posted in Health, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

You have the yellow fever in France!

The account you give of the yellow fever, is entirely agreeable to what we then knew of it … facts appear to have established that it is originated here by a local atmosphere, which is never generated but in the lower, closer & dirtier parts of our large cities, in the neighborhood of the water: and that, to catch the disease, you must enter the local atmosphere. persons having taken the disease in the infected quarter, & going into the country, are nursed & buried by their friends, without an example of communicating it.
From Thomas Jefferson to Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney,  February 8, 1805

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders heed empirical evidence.
Volney (1757-1820) was a French philosopher, author and politician. He met Jefferson  during the latter’s tenure as Ambassador to France. Volney visited America during the 1790s. Jefferson sponsored Volney’s membership in the American Philosophical Society, the nation’s pre-eminent scientific organization. Both shared similar views on government and religion.

In a November 1803 letter to Jefferson, Volney said he nearly died in September from a “cruel illness … the fever…” He was heeding his doctor’s advice to relocate for the winter. Neither this letter nor his previous ones to Jefferson made specific reference to the “yellow fever,” but the President assumed it was the same malady in both countries.

Jefferson continued his theme that evidence pointed to the disease occurring only in dirty, densely populated, waterfront areas. That made it endemic to those areas. Afflicted people taken inland, whether they lived or died, did not give the fever to their care-givers. That meant it was not contagious.

Mr. Jefferson will bring his evidence-based wisdom to your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
Leave a comment Posted in Health, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I thought one way. Facts proved another.

in the early history of this disease [yellow fever], I did suppose it to be infectious … until the fever at Alexandria brought facts under my own eye, as it were, proving it could not be communicated but in a local atmosphere … we know only that it is generated near the water side, in close built cities, under warm climates … where one sufficient cause for an effect is known, it is not within the economy of nature to employ two. if local atmosphere suffices to produce the fever, miasmata [foul discharge] from a human subject are not necessary, and probably do not enter into the cause.
Thomas Jefferson to John Page, August 16, 1804

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders are willing to  change their minds.
In the previous post from this letter to Virginia’s Governor Page, the President raised the question: Was the yellow fever contagious, passed from person to person, or was it endemic, its cause being associated with a particular place? Experts disagreed, but Jefferson thought the former.

Facts (Jefferson loved facts!) from the outbreak in Alexandria, VA, caused him to change his mind. The fever ran rampant only in warm weather and in densely populated cities close to the water. Reason told him (he really loved reason!) if one cause was identified, a second cause was unnecessary. Thus, the disease was “probably” not infectious but caused by unique, local conditions.

Jefferson was correct in identifying warm weather and a waterfront as contributors. He may have been correct about densely populated cities, but he disliked those, anyway. Everyone would be wrong about the real cause for the next 100 years: the lowly mosquito, active in warm weather, needing water to reproduce, and appearing more of a menace in urban areas.

Your audience is welcome to challenge Mr. Jefferson.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
Leave a comment Posted in Health, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Don’t pick them all. Only a select few, instead.

…  if you appoint all the members of the legislature to be members of the institution, it will gratify no particular member, nor lead him to feel any more interest in the institution than he does at present. on the other hand, a judicious selection of a few, friends of science, or lovers of the military art, will be gratifying to them inasmuch as it is a selection, and inspire them with the desire of actively patronising it’s interests.
The contingent fund of the war department, is applicable only to objects known to the law. it cannot be applied to any thing merely voluntary & unauthorised by the law.
Thomas Jefferson to Jonathan Williams, July 14, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
If all are “leaders,” none will lead.
Williams (1751-1815) had been appointed by Jefferson to be the first superintendent of the new military academy at West Point, NY. He wanted to establish separate a military scientific society and asked the President which esteemed persons should be appointed to promote it. He suggested all members of Congress, so as not to give offense by leaving someone out.

Jefferson replied that if all were appointed, the position wouldn’t gratify any of them. Better to pick a few qualified people with a particular interest in science or “the military art,” confident they would be active boosters.

Williams also asked, citing the public benefit of the society, that a small allowance from the war department’s contingency fund be allocated to cover the expenses of creating that society. The President said no. Those funds could not go to anything outside the Constitution or unapproved by Congress.

“… it quickly became evident that our attendees …
[were] listening to Thomas Jefferson …
not Patrick Lee portraying [him].”
Deputy Executive Director, Missouri Rural Water Association
Invite Thomas Jefferson to inspire your audience.
Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
Leave a comment Posted in Military / Militia, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , |