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Category Archives: Personal preferences

I insist that you not write about me!

The enquiries in your printed letter of Aug. 1808. would lead to the writing the history of my whole life, than which nothing could be more repugnant to my feelings. I have been connected, as many fellow labourers were, with the great events which happened to mark the epoch of our lives. but these belong to no one in particular.
To Skelton Jones, July 28, 1809

This is the 700th post in the Jefferson Leadership Blog! Woo-woo!

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Servant leaders acknowledge team accomplishments over their own.
Jones was a Virginia newspaper publisher and historian who wished to compile a history of his native state and Jefferson’s role in it. Jones made several requests of Jefferson for information. The lengthy reply containing this excerpt was an earnest attempt to summarize the work of the revisors of statutes in post-independence Virginia. Jefferson was one of five revisors appointed to the task in 1776 and one of two, along with George Wythe, who did the bulk of the work.

Jones’ 1808 query referenced here was an extensive list of questions about every aspect of Jefferson’s life. Always helpful in furthering others’ intellectual and historical pursuits, he declined this request. He said he was only one of “many fellow labourers” involved in a common cause in uncommon times. He did not want anyone to write the history of his life alone. “Nothing could be more repugnant to my feelings,” he wrote.

“Although the land surveyors have had numerous types of entertainment at the conference,
they have never
responded with a standing ovation.”
Assistant Executive Director, Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors
Mr. Jefferson doesn’t seek ovations, but your audience might just give him one!
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I have 30 years invested in that missing trunk!

On the subject of the trunk No 28. I am not without a hope [you] may yet discover it’s fate … containing principally writing paper of various qualities, but also some other articles of stationary, a pocket telescope with a brass case, a Dynamometer… a collection of vocabularies of the Indian languages … the value was probably about 150. Dollars exclusive of the Vocabularies, which had been the labour of 30 years in collection for publication.
To George Jefferson, May 18, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes, things just go wrong despite your best efforts.
When Jefferson left Washington City to retire to Monticello, he carefully inventoried his possessions and packed them for shipment home. This is the 2nd or 3rd letter he had written on this subject. One of his trunks was missing! He wrote to his business agent and distant cousin for help. George Jefferson would have been the one to accept the trunks off the ship in Richmond, for transport by land to Monticello.

It would appear he was primarily interested in the dynamometer, explained in an earlier post. His real concern, however, may have been his “collection of vocabularies of the Indian languages.” He was always interested in languages in general and those of native Americans inparticular. It was a subject he wanted to study in depth but the time required to do so meant postponing the project until his retirement. To that end, he had collected material on that subject for three decades. Now it was missing.

He told his cousin to offer a reward of $20-30 for its return.

“Patrick Lee was our first guest speaker, and he set the bar very high
with his remarkable portrayal of Thomas Jefferson.”
Sedalia Heritage Foundation
Mr. Jefferson will set the bar very high for other speakers at your meetings!
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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
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Form must yield to function, unfortunately.

I cannot express to you the regret I feel on the subject of renouncing the Halle au bled lights of the Capitol dome. that single circumstance was to constitute the distinguishing merit of the room, & would solely have made it the handsomest room in the world, without a single exception. take that away, it becomes a common thing exceeded by many …the only objection having any weight with me is the danger of leaking … but as you state that it cannot be secured against leaking & that is more than a countervail for any degree of beauty sacrificed to it…
To Benjamin Henry Latrobe, September 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders must sometimes sacrifice pleasure to practicality.
Latrobe (1764-1820) was a professionally trained architect, Supervisor of Public Buildings in Washington City, and oversaw the construction of the U.S. Capitol Building. Jefferson, an accomplished self-taught architect, regularly contributed designs or ideas for public buildings.

The Halle au Bled was a grain market in Paris, and Jefferson loved its design! The circular domed roof was supported by wooden ribs with glass in between. The effect was continually changing light in the building’s interior as the sun moved across the sky. He insisted on the same design for the roof of the House chamber in the Capitol, to make “it the handsomest room in the world.”

The Paris roof contained 800 panes of glass with 2,400 joints. Latrobe could not guarantee a Capitol roof that would not leak. Reluctantly, the President relinquished his 20 year dream of having an American building with such a magnificent covering. Still, in another example of delegating authority broadly, he left the final decision on the roof to Latrobe.

“The positive comments from our staff and members continued
long after the conclusion of Thomas Jefferson’s remarks.”
Executive Director, Maine Municipal Association
Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom will remain with your audience!
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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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Thanks for a job VERY well done!

… Not understanding the conveyance to you by post beyond Richmond, I have thought it safest to remit the 100. D. for you to Gibson & Jefferson, subject to your order, which is done this day. I was never better pleased with a riding horse than with Jacobin. it is now really a luxury to me to ride…
To John Wayles Eppes, May 27, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders gratefully express their appreciation.
In 1802, Jefferson asked his son-in-law Eppes to purchase a “super fine” horse for him. Here he thanked Eppes and paid him for the acquisition of Jacobin, the best riding horse he’d ever had.

Riding was almost a physical and emotional necessity for Jefferson. To be able to do so in “luxury” was a wonderful bonus.

Curiously, several online search results for Jefferson’s horses, including Monticello’s records, do not list a horse named Jacobin.

“Your portrayal of President Thomas Jefferson was superlative
and completely engaging …”
Policy Director, Washington State Association of Counties
Google defines  superlative as “of the highest quality or degree.” Sound good to you?
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What is on your wish list?

I avail myself with thankfulness of the opportunity your kindness offers of procuring certain articles from London, which I have long wanted, and only waited a special opportunity to acquire. you will find a list of them on the next leaf …


Baxter’s history of England. the 8vo. edn would be preferred, if there be one 0-15-0
Combrun on brewing [this is a 4to. vol. published some 40. or 50. years ago, & much desired.] 0-15-0
Adams’s geometrical & graphical essays by Jones. 2. v. 8vo. 0-14-0
Adams’s introdn to practical astronomy or the use of the Quadrants & Equatorials 0-2-6
Arrowsmith’s 4. sheet map of Europe }on linen with rollers &, varnished about
   do Asia
   do Africa
Olmedilla’s map of S. America by Faden. do. 4-14-6
Jones’s New 18 I. British globes with the new discoveries to 1800. in common plain frames of stained wood 7-7-0
with a compass fitted to both the frames of do. 6.
 & a pr of red leather covers 1-4-0
A new portable drawing board & seat (the board folds up for the pocket & the legs formg. a walking stick) 0-18-0
for the 2. last articles see W. & S. Jones’s catalogue No. 30. Lower Holborn. London.
an additional telescope for an Equitorial. see drawg. 2-2-0
4 double turning plates for an Equatl. to stand on see drawg. 0-10-6

To William Tunnicliffe, April 25, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What occupies leaders’ minds when they’re not leading?
Jefferson placed an order for items “which I have long wanted.” Governing demanded most of his attention, but sometimes he had the hours after dinner (which was at 3:30 pm) for personal interests, most commonly books and science. This wish list included:
1. One book on history and another on brewing (!)
2. Essays on mathematics and astronomy
3. Maps and globes
4. Telescopes
5. A portable drawing board/walking stick. (This may have been the inspiration for a chair/walking stick of his own invention.)

Jefferson estimated the cost at 20 pounds, about $100 then, perhaps $1,400 and $1,800 today. He was already in considerable debt, but that was rarely a consideration when he really wanted something.

“The manner in which you tailored your comments …
made your presentation all the more meaningful to our members.”
Executive Director, Association of Indiana Counties
Mr. Jefferson will address the interests of your audience members.
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I would rather pay too much than too little.

I formerly mentioned to you that I should want another fine horse, a match for Castor … I must pray you to look out for a fine one. I need not say here of what sort, as you know my ideas fully on that subject as well … respecting price. where the animal is superfine, we must not stand [opposed to?] giving something more than he may be worth; because in buying one not superfine the whole money is thrown away.
To John Wayles Eppes, March 3, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What leadership principle can be drawn from this?
Next to his books, riding a horse was Jefferson’s favorite personal activity. He owned horses throughout his life, often naming them for characters in ancient history or mythology. Here he enlisted his son-in-law’s help in finding another. Jefferson’s taste in horses was well-known within his family, because he didn’t bother to describe what he wanted. Eppes already knew.

Jefferson did not want just any horse but one that was “superfine.” He was prepared to pay a premium for such an animal, almost regarding it as an investment. He would rather waste a little extra money to buy the best than waste the entire purchase price settling for something that was just average.

“Thank you for your excellent presentation at the Business and Marketing … Seminar
in historical Boston. …a very memorable experience …”
Rural Cellular Association, Boston, MA
For an excellent and memorable presentation,
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Welcome! These are my boundaries.

Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to mr Ellery. he is glad to recieve visits either of business or society at any hour of the forenoon. he generally goes out for exercise at noon. and is then engaged with company till candle-light, after which his friends will again find him entirely disengaged. he takes the liberty of mentioning this to mr Ellery, lest doubts on his part might deprive Th:J. of the pleasure of his visits which he shall be glad to recieve as often as convenient.
To Christopher Ellery, December 12, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders share their boundaries with others.
Ellery (1768-1840) had just been elected to the U.S. Senate from Rhode Island as a Democratic-Republican (i.e. Republican). The President was welcoming the newcomer to town and invited him to visit, either for business or pleasure. He wanted Ellery to know his schedule and personal habits, so nothing would interfere with a pleasant meeting.

Referring to himself in the third person, he gave these guidelines:
1. Any time in the morning was acceptable for Ellery to visit.
2. At noon he left for exercise (a horseback ride).
3. From his return until dark, he was occupied with commitments to others.
4. From dark until bedtime, he kept to himself.

The President wanted to encourage Ellery’s visits while at the same time honoring his other commitments and personal habits.

Thomas Jefferson has spoken from Maine to Hawaii, from Minnesota to Louisiana.
If your meeting is anywhere in between, Invite him to speak.
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If I do not leave I might die.

I consider it as a trying experiment for a person from the mountains to pass the two bilious months on the tidewaters. I have not done it these 40. years, and nothing should induce me to do it. as it is not possible but that the administration must take some portion of time for their own affairs, I think it best they should select that season for absence. Genl. Washington set the example of those 2. months. mr Adams extended them to 8. months. I should not suppose our bringing it back to 2. months a ground for grumbling. but grumble who will, I will never pass those months on tide water.
To Albert Gallatin September 18, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders choose their own time away from the job.
The sometimes-fatal yellow fever stalked the coastlines (tidewater) in August and September. In 1793, one epidemic killed 5,000 of Philadelphia’s 45,000 residents. People did not yet know the fever was spread by the mosquito which flourished in the late summer marshes. They did know the disease was far less prevalent inland. Anyone who had the means to leave the coast in those two months did so.

Jefferson was spending his first two-month hiatus as President back at Monticello. Not only did he want to escape the scourge of illness, he missed his mountaintop home, his family and the environment he’d known since boyhood. He also needed time to tend to his own interests.

President Washington set the precedent of a two month tidewater absence from the nation’s capital, at the time in New York City and then Philadelphia. President Adams, often criticized for his long retreats to home in Massachusetts, took eight months away. Jefferson returned to a two month absence. A review of his correspondence in that time reveals that he continued to supervise the nation’s business closely from home.

Perhaps there were Federalist complaints about the President’s absence. Let them complain, he said, for “I will never pass those months on tide water.”

“You were great as Thomas Jefferson …
Your remarks … could not have been more impressive or appropriate …”
Director, MO River Basin Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Nebraska City, NE
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