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Category Archives: Natural history (science)

I love that stuff, but duty prevents me!

Th: Jefferson … asks the favor of mr Rodney to be the bearer of his thanks to mr Copes for his communication on the theory of Magnetism … testify to him that unremitting attentions requisite to those matters which duty will not permit him to neglect, render it impossible for him to suffer himself to be drawn off by philosophical [scientific] subjects, altho’ infinitely more pleasing to his mind. he is now hurrying to get through his business in order to make a short visit to his family.
To Caesar Augustus Rodney, March 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Focused leaders have to say “No.” to favored things.
Thomas Jefferson wanted to thank “mr Copes” for his scientific material that had come into the President’s hands. He did not know where to write to Copes and asked his young friend Rodney (1772-1824), a Delaware lawyer and political ally, to do so for him.

Jefferson loved all things related to science! Those subjects were “infinitely more pleasing to his mind” than politics and government. Yet, he knew his public duties required his “unremitting attentions.” In addition to conveying his thanks to Copes, he asked Rodney to explain why he could not give Copes’ theory the attention it deserved, attention he would have preferred to give.

Family and science were Jefferson’s twin loves. While he could sidestep scientific interests, he would not do so with his remaining daughter and his growing brood of grandchildren. At the moment of thanking Copes, he was trying to clear the decks for “a short visit to his family” at Monticello.

“…the addition of first person interpretation was new to the conference this year …
Thomas Jefferson and William Clark have set the standard for future conferences.”
Director Of Education, Indiana Historical Society
Either Thomas Jefferson or Lewis & Clark’s William Clark will set a high standard for your meeting!
Invite either man 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.
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Others do this much better than I!

Th: Jefferson presents his acknolegements to mr Perrein for the offer of his collection in Natural history [plant or animal specimens for observation]; but his pursuits in life having never permitted him to think for a moment of forming a museum himself, he cannot avail himself of mr Perrein’s proposition. on the contrary, whatever he recieves worth preservation he is in the habit of giving either to the Philosophical society or to mr Peale.
Thomas Jefferson to Jean Perrein, March 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A wise leader can love something without taking it on.
Perrein knew Thomas Jefferson’s passion for natural history and offered his collection to establish a museum. The President declined, not out of lack of interest but knowing other responsibilities precluded his ever “forming a museum.”

Jefferson suggested two destinations for Perrein’s collection, both in Philadelphia. One recipient was the American Philosophical Society, the nation’s premier science organization. The other was Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), founder of America’s foremost museum.

Of Lewis and Clark’s 300 plant and animal specimens delivered the following year, Jefferson kept a few for display at Monticello. The rest went to the Society or Peale’s museum. The Society still holds a major portion of Lewis and Clark’s original journals from their epic 1804-1806 adventure.

“Patrick Lee was a keynote speaker at our … Annual Conference.
He did an outstanding job in his presentation.”
Executive Director, Wyoming School Boards Association
Mr. Jefferson will be outstanding for your conference!
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.
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Don’t tell me your secret. Tell him.

Being unwilling to become the depository of secrets valuable to their author I will not give you the trouble of a meeting proposed in your letter of Aug. 23. nevertheless as I should not be justifiable in shutting the door to any benefit which your patriotism might intend for your country, I will observe to you that the Secretary of the Navy, mr Robert Smith is the person to whom such a communication as you propose would belong officially. as the members of the Executive will reassemble at Washington about the last of this month, mr Smith may be conferred with on the subject there at any time after that date…
To Abraham Husted, Jr., September 10, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders delegate!
Husted wrote to the President from Richmond, VA, offering secret plans for an underwater bomb. It could be manuevered under foreign ships harrassing our coastline and could render much of the American navy unnecessary. Husted claimed the French government had offered him a great deal of money for his plans, but he wanted them to be in American hands.

The President said thanks but no thanks. He didn’t care to hold another person’s secrets. Yet, if Husted’s plan might benefit their country, he should make them known to the appropriate person, Robert Smith, Secretary of the Navy. Jefferson went so far as to say Mr. Smith would be back in Washington at the end of September, and Husted could make arrangements to meet with him them.

Apparently, nothing came of Husted’s plans. These two letters are the only ones recorded between him and Jefferson. Monticello.org has no information on Husted. A Wikipedia search for the inventor yielded only this correspondence.

“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
That’s Thomas Jefferson! Detailed and thorough. And captivating in the process, too!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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You lessened what we did not know. Thanks!

thanks for the Chart of the coast of Florida, & mouth of the Missisipi which he has been so good as to send him. at a time when we are endeavoring to acquire exact knolege of that country, in order to make our first arrangements understandingly, so accurate a chart whose existence was not before known here, is doubly precious …
To William Marshall, December 24, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders appreciate those who make everyone smarter.
Marshall, a South Carolina lawyer, had come into possession of a map which he claimed to be an accurate chart of the coast of West Florida (the panhandle), the coast of Louisiana, and the mouth of the Mississippi River, plus river depth soundings some distance north of New Orleans. He forwarded that map to the President.

Accurate knowledge about Louisiana in 1803 was as miniscule as the territory was large. Anything that expanded its documentation was like gold to Jefferson. He contended the purchase of Louisiana, vast lands west of the Mississippi, also included some land on the east side of that river known as West Florida. That portion was the Gulf Coast east to the Perdido River, the current boundary between Alabama and Florida. This map provided additional intelligence toward that end.

“Each year we have had a guest speaker,
and none has ever been so widely praised.”
Secretary, Missouri Emergency Preparedness Association
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak.
Call 573-657-2739
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Well, you just never know. (Or, size does matter.)

I was favored … about 4 years ago, with a piece of the rock Salt of Louisiana; and judging from your communication to congress, in which mention is made of that Salt mountain, that you had never seen a specimen of the Salt, have taken the liberty of forwarding to you a piece thereof;
To Thomas Jefferson from John Bradford, November 29, 1803

Th: Jefferson presents his salutations to mr Bradford and returns him thanks for the specimen of rock-salt from the Missouri which he has been so kind as to send him, and which came safely to hand.
To John Bradford, December 24, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
We should desire leaders with curious, inquisitive minds.
The President had forwarded to Congress a quantity of mostly speculative written material about Louisiana, but he hadn’t read it and didn’t vouch for its accuracy. One account was of a great salt mountain “about 1,000 miles up the Missouri … 180 miles long and 45 miles wide.” Kentuckian John Bradford had been given a chunk of Louisiana salt from a man in St. Louis. Familiar with the salt mountain reference and Jefferson’s lack of evidence, Bradford shared a specimen. The ever-gracious Jefferson acknowledged the gesture and expressed his thanks.

The opposition Federalist press had a field day ridiculing the salt mountain! In the footnotes accompanying Bradford’s letter, that press also speculated on the existence of:
– “an immense lake of molasses”
– “an extensive vale of hasty pudding”
– “vast river of golden eagles [$10 gold pieces] ready coined”
– “immense mountain of solid refined sugar
– “a considerable lake of pure Whiskey”
– or perhaps the salt mountain was “… Lot’s wife, magnified by the process of time”

The “salt mountain” was mostly likely a salt plain along the Cimarron River in western Oklahoma.

“Thanks again for the time and energy
you give to each presentation.”
Executive Director, Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau
Mr. Jefferson will bring his A-Game to your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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This is your homework for the NEXT THREE YEARS.

… The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri river, & such principal stream of it, as, by it’s course & communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean, may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.
Beginning at the mouth of the Missouri …
Instructions for Meriwether Lewis, June 20, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders provide detailed instructions when oversight isn’t possible.
This 2,400 word document outlined the goals for Meriwether Lewis’ mission west the following year. The heart of that mission was described above: Find a water route across the continent for the purpose of commerce. Everyone knew that route, the fabled Northwest Passage, existed, but no one had found it. Lewis’ main job was to find it. That passage would allow travel by water between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

As he went, this was to be a scientific mission as well. They were also to:
– Document all animal and plant life, paying particular attention to those species unknown in the U.S.
– Learn as much as possible about the native people and remain on the best possible terms with them.
– Document the land itself, its geography, geology, topography, resources and rivers.

When the Corps of Discovery returned in May 1806, the men had written about 1.5 million words in their journals, fulfilling most of President Jefferson’s instructions.

“Clearly the visits with President Jefferson and Captain Clark
have set the standard for future conferences.”
Director of Education, Indiana Historical Society
Let Thomas Jefferson (or Clark or Daniel Boone) set a new standard for your conference.
Invite them to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Is an inventor entitled to profit from their invention?

should you propose to secure to yourself by a patent the benefit of the ideas contained in your letter, I will lodge it in the patent office of the Secretary of state: or should you prefer a communication of it to the world, I would transmit it to the Philosophical society at Philadelphia. either the one or the other shall be done as you shall direct.
To Thomas McLean, June 9, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some inventor leaders are motivated by service, not profit.
McLean had written a detailed, complicated letter about theoretical improvements for mills that grind grain. He asked the President’s opinion of his theory and for patent help that would allow him to develop a prototype. Jefferson expressed his great interest but declined to study it. It fell into the realm of “philosophical speculations.” His duties as President left him no time to pursue such things, no matter how much he enjoyed them.

He gave McLean a choice. He would either submit McLean’s theory to the patent office for its protection or offer his idea to the world for free, through the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. (Jefferson was president of the APS, too.)

Jefferson was an inventor who never patented any of his creations. He thought the inspiration for his inventions was in the atmosphere, just as easily retrieved by someone else as by him. Thus, he sought no proprietary control, but offered his ideas to the public. He compared his choice to lighting another’s candle from his own. Someone else now had light, and his own was not diminished.

Jefferson’s decades-long precarious financial position might have been improved had he chosen to patent and profit from his inventions.

“…the standing ovation you received …[proved]
we are grateful for what you did for us.”
President, National Speakers Association
Your audience will appreciate the value Mr. Jefferson brings.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Class discrimination? Clever marketing? Or common sense?

… a thought coming into my head which may be useful to your son who is carrying the Mammoth to Europe, I take time to hint it to you. my knolege of the scene he will be on enables me to suggest what might not occur to him a stranger. when in a great city, he will find persons of every degree of wealth. to jumble these all into a room together I know from experience is very painful to the decent part of them, who would be glad to see a thing often, & would not regard paying every time but that they1 revolt at being mixed with pickpockets, chimney sweeps &c…
To Charles Willson Peale, May 5, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A practical leader offers the benefit of his experience to others.
C. W. Peale was a noted painter, scientist and museum owner. His sons had mounted a mastodon skeleton for public display in New York. In September, they would take their exhibit to cities in Europe, where they would charge admission to view it. Drawing on his experience across the Atlantic, he had a suggestion for his friend’s sons.

Jefferson said wealthier patrons would object to mingling with the lowest working classes and swindlers at an exhibit open to all. He suggested three viewings at three prices. The highest price should be charged when the “beau monde” (fashionable society) would be most likely to attend. A lower price should be offered when “merchants and respectable citizens” would have the leisure to come. The cheapest price would for the “the lower descriptions” (pickpockets, chimney sweeps, etc.). He suggested the greatest amounts paid by the fewest attendees would make up for the many at the lowest price.

He concluded with his belief they would make a fortune with this display. And when people tired of seeing it, he hoped they would sell it and make another fortune. (Jefferson loved big bones!)

“…the standing ovation you received showed how much
our members enjoyed your characterization…”
Deputy Director, Washington Association of County Officials
Mr. Jefferson hopes to bring your audience to its feet, as well.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Clouds and and a crummy clock compromised this 1778 eclipse!

We were much disappointed in Virginia generally on the day of the great eclipse [June 24, 1778], which proved to be cloudy. In Williamsburgh, where it was total, I understand only the beginning was seen. At this place which is in Lat. 38° 8′ and Longitude West from Williamsburgh about 1° 45′ as is conjectured, eleven digits only were supposed to be covered. It was not seen at all till the moon had advanced nearly one third over the sun’s disc. Afterwards it was seen at intervals through the whole. The egress particularly was visible. It proved however of little use to me for want of a time peice that could be depended on;
To David Rittenhouse, July 19, 1778

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
On this day when the solar eclipse crosses the United States, this is young Jefferson’s (age 35) comment on the 1778 eclipse, which darkened the southeastern portion of the country three weeks before. Monticello was north of the zone of totality, perhaps in the 90% range. The presence of clouds and the absence of a reliable clock thwarted his ability to make scientific observations.

Rittenhouse (1732-1796) was a famed American astronomer, mathematician and clockmaker. Two of his many accomplishments were recording the transit of Venus across the face of the sun in 1769 and the creation of an orrery, a mechanical representation of our solar system.

Jefferson reminded his friend of his offer to make for him “an accurate clock,” essential for astronomers, and asked when that clock might arrive.

“Your performances … were exactly what our conference needed
to take it over the top.”
Director of Member Services & Education, Minnesota Rural Electric Association
Mr. Jefferson will add greatly to the success of your conference!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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There is ALWAYS a reason to explore, regardless of the results.

If mr Peale can succeed in producing fresh from salt water by a filtering apparatus, it will be a valuable discovery. there are parts of the world where a want of pure water may render the separation of impurities by filtration of value, provided they are better separated, or more cheaply, than by distillation. but besides the utility of the immediate discovery, no discovery is barren. it always serves as a step to something else.
To Robert Patterson, April 17, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders encourage experimentation, regardless of results.
Patterson (1743-1824, compared to Jefferson, 1743-1826) was a noted Irish-born mathematician, scientist, and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He was one of Meriwether Lewis’ tutors, at Jefferson’s request, before the young man headed up the Missouri River with William Clark in 1804.
Here, Jefferson commented on another scientist’s (Charles Willson Peale) efforts to desalinate ocean water. He lauded the experimentation, because it might prove cheaper than distillation, the only other method available.
While Jefferson hoped for an immediate application, he would not be dismayed if that did not happen. He was noted for taking the long view. “No discovery is barren,” he wrote. “It always serves as a step to something else.”

“…your contribution to our Annual Education Workshop …
added immeasurably to [its] success …
Assistant Director of Education, Missouri Department of Corrections
Mr. Jefferson will add to the success of your meeting, and hopefully, immeasurably so.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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