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Category Archives: Newspapers

It’s fake news, my friend. (But I won’t say so publicly.)

those especially who read the Gazette of the US. need to be set to rights, for in the long  statement which appeared in that paper about a week ago, there was not one single fact which was not false …
the Gazette of the US. is evidence of this [opposition] … 4. pages of solid matter … & the whole so false and malignant, as shews it is prepared for the purpose of exportation, and to poison the minds of foreign countries against their own, which is too well informed to drink of the dose.
To William Short, January 23, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Strong opposition from some of the press comes to all leaders.
The previous post, from a letter to Jefferson’s daughter, dealt with diplomatic offense taken when he did not show favoritism to British and Spanish representatives at private dinners. In this long letter to a trusted friend, Jefferson explained the conflict in much greater detail.

He was particularly concerned about a report in an opposition newspaper, the Gazette of the United States, claiming every single fact in the account to be wrong. The entirety of the paper was “so false and malignant” that its only purpose was “to poison the minds of foreign countries” against the United States. Affirming confidence in his countrymen, he said Americans were “too well informed” to drink that poison.

Jefferson regularly shared strong opinions in his correspondence with trusted friends but almost never did so publicly, where he maintained an even-handed cordiality. Yet, he wanted to reassure those who knew him well with the benefit of his thinking, to combat what opponents thought of him.

“The “Dinner with Thomas Jefferson” … was a huge success…
Your command of Mr. Jefferson’s persona and mind,
and your facility in answering complex questions were impressive.”
Chairman, “3 Flags Festival,” The Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial
Let Mr. Jefferson contribute to the success of your event.
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Keep my contribution anonymous!

We learn by the public papers that a great calamity by fire has happened to Portsmouth, and that yourself and some others are appointed to recieve contributions for the distressed sufferers and to distribute them. I take the liberty of inclosing to yourself an hundred dollars for this purpose. I observe the trustees say in the papers that they will make a record of the donations. I pray that in my case it may be of the sum only, without the name.
To John Langdon, January 11, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders don’t always have to grab headlines for their charitable work.
Newspapers spread the word of a disastrous fire on December 26, 1802 in Portsmouth, NH, that damaged or destroyed about 100 buildings at a loss of about $200,000. Without being asked, the President contributed $100 to the relief effort. Even though all donations were to be recorded, Jefferson asked to remain anonymous, that his contribution be noted only by the amount and not his name.

In 1802, disaster victims didn’t automatically look to governments for help. In a 19th century “crowdfunding” effort, Portsmouth dispatched three representatives to travel to other cities to encourage donations for their relief. Perhaps in response to their emissary to southern cities, Jefferson made a 2nd contribution of $100 on February 12.

John Langdon (1741-1819) was a successful businessman, early supporter of independence and a signer of the U.S. Constitution. He served in both state and national legislatures, as Governor of New Hampshire, and declined the nomination to be Madison’s Vice-President in 1812.

“Your presentation was original and refreshing,
and you made Thomas Jefferson real for us.”
Director of Communications and Education, Illinois Municipal League
Thomas Jefferson will refresh your audience!
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NO MORE of what I tolerated but never liked!

… and I add one further request that you will be so good as notify them my desire for their discontinuance. I shall give over reading newspapers. they are so false & so intemperate [lacking moderation] that they disturb tranquility without giving information.
To Levi Lincoln, March 11, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders avoid unnecessary aggravation.
Lincoln (1749-1829) was a Massachusetts lawyer and Attorney General in Jefferson’s first term. He was governor of his home state when this letter was written.

Lincoln had purchased subscriptions to Massachusetts newspapers for Jefferson for the previous four years. The ex-President was now sending him $45.62 in reimbursement, along with a request that Lincoln cancel the subscriptions.

From Jefferson’s description of their being “false & so intemporate,” these must have been Federalist newspapers. They provided no helpful information and upset him in the process. Retirement meant he could now be done with such unsettling influences.

” … [you] stimulated great audience interaction, interest, comments and questions.”
Executive VP, Carolina-Virginia Telephone Membership Association
Thomas Jefferson will greatly engage your audience in his message!
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Do not encourage the cockroaches.

as long as the criticisms on it [a Jefferson appointment] were confined to Jackson’s paper, I did not think it ought to be answered; because papers which are in the habit of condemning every measure, ought not to be answered on any one, lest it should give force to their unanswered criticisms.
To Henry Dearborn, August 22, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The wise leader ignores those who are always opposed.
The opposition press was critical of Jefferson’s appointment of a certain businessman to provide supplies for the Indians in the West. Jefferson didn’t respond, because that paper opposed everything he did. If he responded to an attack on one issue, it could give credibility to other issues not responded to. Better to ignore them completely.

This letter went on to address criticism of this appointment by a friendly newspaper. That was much more of a concern to Jefferson, and he explained to Dearborn his reasoning in selecting that individual.

“Our profession faces difficult challenges, and we needed and “upbeat” kind of talk.
That’s exactly what you gave us.”
Clinical Laboratory Management Association, Central New York Chapter.
Mr. Jefferson will encourage your audience.
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Is your hide thick enough?

you have indeed recieved the federal unction of lying & slandering. but who has not? who will ever again come into eminent office unanointed with this chrism [oil]? it seems to be fixed that falsehood & calumny are to be the ordinary engines of opposition: engines which will not be entirely without effect … I certainly have known, & still know, characters eminently qualified for the most exalted trusts, who could not bear up against the brutal beatings & hewings … I may say, from intimate knolege, that we should have lost the services of the greatest character of our country [George Washington] had he been assailed with the degree of abandoned licentiousness now practised.
To James Sullivan, May 21, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Great leaders are lost for fear of public attack.
Sullivan [1744-1808] was the Republican attorney general in Massachusetts and would soon become governor. Jefferson commiserated with him on the “lying & slandering” both had endured, the only weapons in their opponents’ arsenal. Although their accusations were without merit, they still stung.

Some “eminently qualified” individuals avoided public service because of those attacks. Even President Washington, known for his fearlessness, would have abandoned public life had he been subjected to the current level of abuse.

Jefferson was considered thin-skinned but able to heed the advice Washington had given him years before, that when attacked, do not respond. He vented to friends in his private correspondence, but publicly, he suffered in silence.

“Mr. Jefferson’s presentation on leadership was a wonderful and unique way
to kick off an extremely successful conference.”
County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania
Let Mr. Jefferson enliven your conference in a unique way!
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What are insults among friends?

Lest your rural tranquility should become insipid for want of a little seasoning, I have thought it might not be amiss to animate it from the pepper pots of the tories. their printers, when they have any thing very impudent, send it to me gratis. I will freely give therefore what I freely recieve. I this week send you a dish of the Monitor. the next perhaps it may be of the Palladium, or of Timothy of Charleston &c.
To Stevens Thomson Mason, October 28, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some leaders share the persecution, just for fun.
Mason (1760-1804) was a lawyer and Republican U.S. Senator from Virginia. In a bit of humor, rarely expressed in his correspondence, Jefferson offered to spice up the too-tranquil life of his younger friend by forwarding an opposition newspaper. Always a target of the Federalist press, he suggested he might forward several more.

Those Federalist printers, hoping to pour salt into a wound, often sent Jefferson a free copy of any edition that was particularly critical of him. Subverting a statement of Jesus in the New Testament (Matthew 10:8) as he instructed his disciples, Jefferson also offered to give freely to his neighbor what had been freely given to him.

The “Monitor” was a opposition newspaper in Connecticut, the “Palladium” one in Boston, and Timothy published one in South Carolina. In a July letter to Jefferson, his Attorney General claimed the Palladium was given for free to Boston clergy, for the purpose of using it from their pulpits and encouraging paid subscriptions.

“Again, thanks for helping to make this one of our best conventions ever.”
Sr. Vice President, Community Bankers Association of Illinois
Mr. Jefferson will raise the bar at your convention.
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Some are so jaded they gripe about everything.

[Some news] papers will make a noise about it [replacing federalist appointees with republicans]. but we see they are determined to blame every thing … & therefore consider their clamours … consequently not to be regarded.
To Benjamin Hitchborn, July 29, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders know some will always stand in opposition.
Jefferson wrote of his plans to remove certain office-holders whose views were openly antagonistic to his administration. He knew some newspapers would oppose him, no matter the issue. Since they would not give him the time of day, regardless of his actions, he had no regard for their criticism.

“The decision to bring Patrick Lee was a wise one … “
Schoor-Depalma, Engineers & Consultants, Manalapan, NJ
Your audience will think your decision to bring Mr. Jefferson was a wise one.
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What should be done about abusive newspapers?

I am sensible, with you, of the distortions and perversions of truth and justice practised in the public papers, and how difficult to decypher character through that medium. but these abuses of the press are perhaps inseparable from it’s freedom; and it’s freedom must be protected or liberty civil & religious be relinquished. it is a part of our duty therefore to submit to the lacerations of it’s slanders, as less injurious to our country than the trammels which would suppress them.
To Elijah Brown, June 7, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders know bad sometimes comes with the good.
A congratulatory letter from the 16th regiment of South Carolina observed that it was difficult to obtain a clear view of the new President from the newspapers. Jefferson acknowledged the “distortions and perversions of truth and justice” evident in the papers, partisan mouthpieces with no concern for balance or objectivity.

Yet, Jefferson defended newspapers and the freedom they represented. If that freedom were restricted, other liberties would suffer, too. Better to endure the abuses of the newspapers than the greater abuse that would come from restricting them.

“I personally want to thank you.
It is a delight to have speakers like yourself who make me look good.”
Meetings Administrator, Iowa State Association of Counties
Mr. Jefferson will make you look good to your audience, too.
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What do newspapers and priests have in common?

the mild and simple principles of the Christian philosophy, would produce too much calm, too much regularity of good, to extract from it’s disciples a support for a numerous priesthood, were they not to sophisticate it, ramify it, split it into hairs, and twist it’s texts till they cover the divine morality of it’s author with mysteries, and require a priesthood to explain them. the Quakers seem to have discovered this. they have no priests, therefore no schisms. they judge of the text by the dictates of common sense & common morality. so the printers can never leave us to a state of perfect rest and union of opinion. they would be no longer useful, and would have to go to the plough.
To Elbridge Gerry, March 29, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some leaders complicate issues to justify their own existence.
Gerry was an ardent Massachusetts republican, a friend many years. In this curious passage, the President took on the rabble-rousing printers, the “media” of the day, and compared them to priests who perverted the gospel.

Jefferson likened ” the mild and simple principles of the Christian philosophy” to the mild and simple principles of republican philosophy. Both could be embraced and practiced, as the Quakers did religion, without a priesthood (leaders) and without divisions (political parties). But that was too simple. In the same way priests complicated religion to the point where people needed priests to explain it, the newspaper printers (media) so roiled the political waters that the people needed the printers to explain political issues to them.

But “common sense & common morality” were too much for both priests and printers. If the latter couldn’t divide the people and make them unhappy, they would serve no purpose and would have to become farmers. Jefferson loved farmers.

His reference to “priests” was not directed to any one sect or denomination but described all who complicated a simple message from Jesus, inserting themselves between that message and the people, as its interpreters.

“From all the comments, Thomas Jefferson was big hit.”
President, Hawthorne Foundation,
for the Missouri Conference on New and Expanding Business
Thomas Jefferson’s “mild and simple principles” will be a hit with your audience, too.
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Who is to blame for trashy media?

Defamation is becoming a necessary of life; insomuch, that a dish of tea in the morning or evening cannot be digested without this stimulant. Even those who do not believe these abominations, still read them with complaisance [Webster’s 7th Collegiate: “a disposition to please or oblige”] to their auditors [ibid, “one that hears or listens’], and instead of the abhorrence & indignation which should fill a virtuous mind, betray a secret pleasure in the possibility that some may believe them, tho they do not themselves. It seems to escape them, that it is not he who prints, but he who pays for printing a slander, who is it’s real author.
To John Norvell, June 14, 1807

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Does this sound like 2014 to you?
Jefferson was on a rant about slander in the newspapers. In an earlier post from this letter, he summarized four categories for newspaper content, “Truths, Probabilities, Possibilities, and Lies.” He said the first category would be the smallest, the last the largest.
The language in this excerpt is a bit confusing. Here’s a summary:
1. Reading another’s trashed reputation had become such a stimulant that people could not begin or end their day without it.
2. Even those who didn’t believe the lies read them anyway, to please those who did read them.
3. Instead of having a “virtuous mind,” horrified by lies, they “betray a secret pleasure” that others may actually believe the slander, even though they don’t.
4. Who is to blame, then, for slander? Not the one who offers the slander but the one who pays for it. (By reading it. Or watching it. Or listening to it.)

“Thank you so much for your enormous contribution
to the success of our recent workshop … “
The Smithsonian Associates, Washington, D. C.
Mr. Jefferson desires to contribute to the success of your meeting!
Invite him to speak. Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739
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