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Category Archives: Personalities of others

What kind of a man was Patrick Henry?

he was certainly the man who gave the first impulse to the ball of revolution. were I to give his character in general terms, it would be of mixed aspect. I think he was the best humored man in society I almost ever knew, and the greatest orator that ever lived. he had a consummate knolege of the human heart, which directing the efforts of his eloquence enabled him to attain a degree of popularity with the people at large never perhaps equalled. his judgment in other matters was inaccurate in matters of law it was not worth a copper: he was avaritious & rotten hearted. his two great passions were the love of money & of fame: but when these came into competition the former predominated.
To William Wirt, August 4, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
How do leaders assess other leaders?
Wirt asked Jefferson’s detailed assistance for a book about Patrick Henry. Jefferson declined, citing the time it would require. Instead, he made these general observations. Henry was:
1. In public, almost “the best humored man” he had ever known.
2. The greatest public speaker with an unequalled ability to influence people
3. Lacking in judgment in matters other than oratory
4. Incompetent as a lawyer
5. Greedy and dishonest, motivated by money and fame

Jefferson did not comment on their political differences, which were many, but on Henry’s character as a person. Nor did he mention Henry’s accusation of his (Governor Jefferson’s) cowardice in fleeing Monticello as British soldiers ascended the mountain to capture him in 1781, charges that grieved him for years.

Wirt’s 1817 book on Patrick Henry is the source of Henry’s famous address to the House of Burgesses in 1775, claiming “… give me liberty or give me death!” None of Henry’s speeches were written down at the time of delivery. This version, given more than 40 years later, is considered fanciful, as is Henry’s most famous quote.

“… we would like to express our sincere appreciation for your excellent portrayal
of Thomas Jefferson at our Annual Volunteer Banquet and Awards Ceremony …”
National Park Service, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Mr. Jefferson will inspire your audience, too!
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Leave a comment Posted in Lawyers, Personalities of others

He is a BIG problem, but I can put up with him.

Dear Sir
The mad-man Stewart is again here. he has called on me for $:105—which I was obliged to let him have, or I supposed suffer him to go to Jail…
George Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson, November 16, 1801

… I note & approve what you did as to Stewart. he is the best workman in America, but the most eccentric one: quite manageable were I at home, but doubtful as I am not …
To George Jefferson, December 3, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some employees, no matter how skilled, need close supervison.
George Jefferson was the President’s cousin and Richmond-based business agent. William Stewart was a Philadelphia blacksmith hired by the President to move to Monticello. A ship captain’s bill for moving the family of six was $75. Stewart demanded $105 reimbursement instead. When George asked for documentation for the extra $30, Stewart cited (but didn’t produce) a letter from the President supposedly authorizing the extra funds. George thought it better to pay Stewart and get rid of him, but he made clear what he thought about the man.

Jefferson accepted George’s decision. He also acknowledged Stewart’s skill and great eccentricity. The latter could be managed if he were close by but must be tolerated from a distance.

Stewart’s wife died in 1805 and was buried in the Monticello cemetery. He was fired two years later, after fully training the slave Joe Fossett, who served in that capacity until Jefferson’s death in 1826. Fossett was freed in Jefferson’s will, but his wife and 10 children were sold because of Jefferson’s debts. Fossett eventually purchased his wife and some of their children from slavery.

”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
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1 Comment Posted in Monticello, Personalities of others, Slavery Tagged , , , , , , |

Weak leaders avoid the tough calls.

I have known mr Page from the time we were boys & classmates together, & love him as a brother. but I have always known him the worst judge of man existing. he has fallen a sacrifice to the ease with which he gives his confidence to those who deserve it not.
To Albert Gallatin, August 28, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders can’t avoid tough choices just to please people.
Jefferson sought opinions from three men about the qualifications of a certain individual for an appointment to a federal office. One of those three was fellow Virginian John Page (1743-1808), his oldest friend. They had been close since their student days at the College of William and Mary, 40 years before.

It appears that Page had already responded with a recommendation for the man being considered even though Page had not met him. Jefferson expected the other two replies soon. He affirmed his affection for Page, but said he was a poor choice of character. Page found it easier to avoid tough calls and praise people whether they deserved it or not.

[We] hired Mr. Patrick Lee to perform as Thomas Jefferson
at our regional meetings around the state …
The result was far beyond our expectations.”
Executive Vice President, Missouri Bankers Association
Mr. Jefferson will exceed your expectations!
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When do you set graciousness aside?

had it [the election of 1800] terminated in the elevation of mr Burr [to the Presidency] … it would have been agreeable to the constitution. no man would more chearfully have submitted than myself … the administration would have been republican, and the chair of the Senate permitting me to be at home 8. months in the year, would on that account have been much more consonant to my real satisfaction. but in the event of an usurpation [Burr’s scheming] I was decidedly with those who were determined not to permit it. because that precedent once set, would be artificially reproduced, & end soon in a dictator.
To Thomas McKean, March 9, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Gracious leaders can’t always rollover.
Through an oversight, both Jefferson and Aaron Burr, intending to be President and Vice-President following the election of 1800, were tied for the top job in electoral college. It took more than 30 votes in the House of Representatives before Jefferson finally prevailed.
If Burr had won fairly, Jefferson said he would have been happy. The Constitution would have been preserved, the government would be republican (small r), and he could continue to enjoy his very part-time job as Vice President, presiding over the Senate.
Burr had less noble intentions though, hoping to gain the Presidency without having earned it. Thus, Jefferson joined forces against Burr, lest the Presidency descend into a dictatorship.
Jefferson chose the New York Burr to balance his political ticket. That backfired, and Burr’s Vice-Presidency last only four years.

It will be a gracious Thomas Jefferson who addresses your audience.
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What qualities characterize genius?

I sit down to petition your suffrage [vote] in favor of a friend … the Revd. James Fontaine, who offers himself as a candidate for … chaplain to the house of burgesses. I do not wish to derogate [detract] from the merit of the gentleman who possessed that office last, but I can not help hoping that every friend to genius, where the other qualities of the competitors are equal, will give a preference to superior abilities. Integrity of heart and purity of manners recommend Messrs. Price and Fontaine equally to our esteem; but in acuteness of penetration, accuracy of judgment, elegance of composition, propriety of performing the divine service, and in every work of genius, the former [Price] is left a great distance behind the latter [Fontaine].
To William Preston, August 18, 1768

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Discerning leaders appreciate goodness but give preference to genius.
The 25-year-old Jefferson was studying to become a lawyer and observing the meetings of the House of Burgesses, to which he would be elected four years later. He wrote in support of a new candidate to be chaplain of that body. He made these observations in recommending the challenger over the incumbent:
1. He would not criticize the current office-holder.
2. Genius should be encouraged.
3. When both possess equal qualities (“Integrity of heart and purity of manners”), superior abilities should be recognized.
4. Those abilities in Fontaine were:
– Keen insight
– Wise decision-making
– Excellence in writing
– Proper execution of spiritual responsibilities
– Excellence in every intellectual endeavor

Jefferson went on to encourage Preston, not to rely on his word only, but to ask others’ opinions, too.

“… we wanted an “upbeat” kind of talk.
That’s exactly what you gave us.”

Clinical Laboratory Management Association, Central NY Chapter
Mr. Jefferson will inspire your audience, too.
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Leave a comment Posted in Intellectual pursuits, Personalities of others Tagged , , , , , |

What would I have done without you?

… But why afflict you with these details [about my dire financial difficulties]? Indeed, I cannot tell, unless pains are lessened by communication with a friend. The friendship which has subsisted between us, now half a century, and the harmony of our political principles and pursuits, have been sources of constant happiness to me through that long period … If ever the earth has beheld a system of administration conducted with a single and steadfast eye to the general interest and happiness of those committed to it … it is that to which our lives have been devoted. To myself you have been a pillar of support through life. Take care of me when dead, and be assured that I shall leave with you my last affections.
To James Madison, February 17, 1826

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Old leaders appreciate faithful friends.
The first portion of this letter dealt with the University of Virginia, the Legislature’s refusal to provide more funds for it and the qualifications needed in the school’s professor of law. From there, Jefferson turned to a summary of his overwhelming debt, reasons for it, and his hopes that a lottery for some of his Monticello lands might eliminate that debt and spare his home. (It did not.) Otherwise, he could be homeless, maybe lacking even ground for burial. It was a sad account.

He found some solace in sharing his difficulties with James Madison, his closest political ally and perhaps his best friend. They had labored together for a half century. He thanked Madison for his faithful friendship and support of the government they helped create, with a single-minded devotion “to the general interest and happiness” of all.


Jefferson knew the end was near and told his old friend so. Death came three and a half months later.

“Your characterization of Jefferson is wonderful …
It was a delight working with you from the moment of our first phone conversation … “
Conference Coordinator, Iowa League of Cities

Mr. Jefferson will delight your audience, too!
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Leave a comment Posted in Aging, Debt, Grief & loss, Personalities of others Tagged , , , , , , , |

How much do you trust people to govern themselves wisely?

He [President Washington] was neither an Angloman [pro-England], a monarchist [pro- king], nor a separatist [pro-seceding from the American union]. He sincerely wished the people to have as much self-government as they were competent to exercise themselves. The only point on which he and I ever differed in opinion, was, that I had more confidence than he had in the natural integrity and discretion of the people, and in the safety and extent to which they might trust themselves with a control over their government.
To John Melish, January 13, 1813

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders did, and still do, differ on this question!
More than a dozen years after Washington’s death in late 1799, Jefferson challenged the thought that he and the first President were great opponents. He affirmed Washington’s support for America’s independence and continuing union, and its peoples’ self-government. Any issue of division between the two had its root in how much self-government.

Jefferson claimed to have more confidence in the judgment of the people than Washington did.  Alexander Hamilton, influential during the Washington and Adams administrations, had very little confidence in people. Thus, Hamilton continually lobbied for more concentration of power in the national government. In contrast, Jefferson never wavered in his belief that most power was best left to the states, their counties, townships, wards and ultimately, in the hands of the individual.

“Everyone felt as if they actually were in the presence
of the Third President of the United States.”
Assistant to the Executive Director, Illinois Association of School Boards

Give your audience the opportunity to be in President Jefferson’s actual presence!
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3 Comments Posted in Leadership styles, Personalities of others Tagged , , , , , |

Can an honest man be a dishonest politician?

The [My] room being hung around with a collection of the portraits of remarkable men, among them were those of Bacon, Newton and Locke, [Alexander] Hamilton asked me who they were. I told him they were my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced, naming them. He paused for some time: “the greatest man,” said he, “that ever lived, was Julius Caesar.” Mr. Adams was honest as a politician, as well as a man; Hamilton honest as a man, but, as a politician, believing in the necessity of either force or corruption to govern men.
To Dr. Benjamin Rush, January 16, 1811

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders are both honest people AND honest politicians.
Jefferson recalled a working dinner he hosted at Monticello several decades earlier for the Cabinet secretaries and Vice-President Adams. Dinner and business accomplished, the conversation, “sitting at our wine,” turned to other topics. Here, in a nutshell, Jefferson explained the difference between himself and Treasury Secretary Hamilton.

Jefferson’s heroes were Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and John Locke, men of intellect, reason, merit and integrity. Hamilton’s hero was the dictator Julius Caesar.


Jefferson believed men capable of self-government,  employing the same talents as his heroes. Hamilton believed men incapable of leading themselves, that they had to be coerced or bribed into following.


John Adams was honest both as a man and a politician. Hamilton was credited with honesty only as a man, not as a leader.

“[One] board member … wrote, ‘Well done, enjoyable, and timeless.’
That sums up what I was looking for in a closing speaker and what you provided so well.”
Conference Manager, Nebraska Association of School Boards

Would “Well done, enjoyable, and timeless” inspire your audience?
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2 Comments Posted in Leadership styles, Personalities of others, Politics Tagged , , , , , , , |

Can anyone damage your closest friendships?

I had for some time observed, in the public papers, dark hints and mysterious innuendoes of a correspondence of yours with a friend, to whom you had opened your bosom without reserve … And now it is said to be actually published. It has not yet reached us, but extracts have been given, and such as seemed most likely to draw a curtain of separation between you and myself. ..The circumstances of the times, in which we have happened to live … placed us in a state of apparent opposition, which some might suppose to be personal also … It would be strange indeed if, at our years, we were to go an age back to hunt up imaginary, or forgotten facts, to disturb the repose of affections so sweetening to the evening of our lives … Beseeching you then not to suffer your mind to be disquieted by this wicked attempt to poison it’s peace, and praying you to throw it by, among the things which have never happened, I add sincere assurances of my unabated, and constant attachment, friendship and respect.
To John Adams, October 12, 1823

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Faithful leaders have their friends’ backs, regardless.
Apparently, a “friend” of Adams’ had published Adams’ confidential letters to him.  Adams, always outspoken, may have written about the differences that estranged Jefferson and him decades earlier. (That breach was repaired in 1812.) Brief references to that violation of Adams’ confidence had already reached Jefferson in Virginia.
Jefferson wrote to his old friend to reassure him that nothing would interfere with their lifelong friendship: “Be assured, my dear Sir, that I am incapable of recieving the slightest impression from the effort now made to plant thorns on the pillow of age, worth, and wisdom, and to sow tares between friends who have been such for near half a century.”

You were great as Thomas Jefferson …
I’ve seen a lot of historic portrayers and many of them are just actors.
You bring a background of scholarship to your portrayal.”
Interim Director, MO River Basin L&C Interpretive Trail & Visitors Center
Your audience will experience the real Thomas Jefferson, not an actor!
Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739

Leave a comment Posted in Aging, Human nature, Personalities of others Tagged , , , |

Keep your name out of the debate!

When the Declaration of Independence was under the consideration of Congress, there were two or three unlucky expressions [condemning slavery] in it which gave offense to some members … Although the offensive expressions were immediately yielded these gentlemen continued their depredations on other parts of the instrument. I was sitting by Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, who perceived that I was not insensible to these mutilations.
“I have made it a rule,” said he, “to avoid becoming the draughtsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident I will relate to you. When I was …
Biographical Sketch of Benjamin Franklin, Dec. 4, 1818
Koch & Peden’s The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P. 167-8

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Too-sensitive leaders should keep as low a public profile as possible.
In the day or two prior to July 4, 1776, the young Thomas Jefferson (age 33) sat in the Continental Congress and fumed in silence as the delegates made changes to his draft of the Declaration of Independence. They began by deleting Jefferson’s condemnation of the slave trade and went on to find fault and make changes in other areas, too. The wise and aged Ben Franklin sat next to Jefferson and smoothed his ruffled feathers, with a principle and a story to illustrate it.
The principle was to avoid being the author of anything subject to public debate. In that manner, the focus could remain on the issues at hand. It was a principle Jefferson adopted. Many times in the years to come, he would write positions on issues and offer them to others to put forth publicly, with the condition that his authorship remain private. He did this for two reasons: 1. So the debate would be confined to the issue, that he not be a distraction to the debate, and 2. Jefferson was thin-skinned. Keeping himself out of the public debate helped deflect some of the personal attacks he found so wounding.
Jefferson is often criticized for this approach, as being scheming, manipulative or even deceptive. Perhaps. More likely, he really did prefer to keep the debate on the issues themselves while protecting his own thin skin. At least he didn’t stoop to publishing his positions under pseudonyms, as certain others were fond of doing.
Nevertheless, young Jefferson learned from his old mentor to avoid becoming a lightning rod unnecessarily.
I try to keep the Jefferson-excerpt portion of these posts short, so as not to scare readers off. The story that Franklin went on to tell, however, is a delightful one. Every writer and every student of marketing should consider it. There could be a life-lesson for others, as well. For those reasons, I reproduce that story below. It can be found on page 168 of the citation above.

“I personally want to thank you.
It is a delight to have speakers like you who make me look good.”
Meetings Administrator, IA State Association of Counties
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“I was sitting by Dr. Franklin, who perceived that I was not insensible to these mutilations.’I have made it a rule,’ said he, ‘whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draftsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident, which I will relate to you. When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome sign-board, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words, John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells Hats for ready Money, with a figure of a hat subjoined. But he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to, thought the word hatter tautologous [obvious], because followed by the words makes hats, which showed he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed, that the word makes might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats; if good and to their mind, they would buy, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words for ready money were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one, who purchased, expected to pay. They were parted with; and the inscription now stood, “John Thompson sells hats” “Sells hats?” says his next friend; “why, nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?” It was stricken out, and hats followed, the rather, as there was one painted on the board. So his inscription was reduced ultimately to John Thompson, with the figure of a hat subjoined.”

Leave a comment Posted in Congress, Human nature, Personalities of others, Politics Tagged , , , , |