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Category Archives: Personalities of others

Your destiny is to serve the public! It is obvious.

I am sensible after the measures you have taken for getting into a different line of business, that it will be a great sacrifice on your part, and presents from the season & other circumstances serious difficulties. but some men are born for the public. nature by fitting them for the service of the human race on a broad scale, has stamped them with the evidences of her destination & their duty.
To James Monroe, January 13, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Those gifted with skills have a duty to lead, regardless of sacrifice.
A previous post detailed the President’s nomination of James Monroe (1758-1831) as ambassador to France and his unwillingness to let Monroe decline. In this letter, Jefferson buttressed case.

After outlining the positives of Monroe’s appointment and the disastrous results should he decline, and acknowledging the personal hardship this would cause, Jefferson got to the bottom line of his argument: Monroe was destined for public service and leadership. Nature obviously had gifted him to serve “on a broad scale” and made that gifting evident. It was both Monroe’s duty and destiny to fulfill that role.

I don’t recall Jefferson ever admitting the same destiny about himself, but it was obvious he was fulfilling that role, too. Had he thought only of himself, he would have happily pursued a private life at Monticello with his family, farm and books. Nature had other plans for him, and he acquiesced to a destiny different from the one he desired. Only when his Presidency was completed in 1809 (at age 66) did he allow himself to indulge those personal desires for the remaining years of his life.

“Your presentation … was outstanding! …
we wanted an upbeat kind of talk. That’s exactly what you gave us.”
Clinical Laboratory Management Association, Central New York Chapter
Does your audience need an outstanding and upbeat presentation?
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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What makes for a good public servant?

there is here a mr John Barnes … he is old (between 60. and 70) but is as active as a boy, always in good health, and the most punctual and assiduous man in business I ever knew. after an acquaintance with him of 40. years, I can pronounce him in point of fidelity as to any trust whatever, worthy of unbounded confidence. there is not a man on earth to whom I would sooner trust money untold. he is an accurate accountant, of a temper incapable of being ruffled, & full of humanity. I give you his whole character because I think you may make good use of him for the public … I would deem it a great favor to myself were you to think of him …
To J.P.G. Muhlenberg, October 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Savvy leaders will occasionally set policy aside in favor of principle.
John Barnes had been required to move his business from Philadelphia to Washington when the national government relocated but was unable to prosper there and was returning to his former place of residence. Muhlenberg had been appointed Collector of Revenue in Philadelphia earlier in the year.

The President, who made a rule of staying out of personnel matters, asked his appointee to find Barnes a job paying about $1,000/year, and cited his qualifications:
1. While old, he was mature, very active and in good health.
2. He was always diligent and on time.
3. He was trustworthy in every endeavor, meriting unlimited confidence.
4. He could be trusted completely with other’s money and would account for it accurately.
5. He was incapable of losing his temper.
6. He was compassionate.

Jefferson apologized for making the recommendation, a practice he strongly avoided, but his concern for Barnes outweighed his reluctance to get involved. He did ask Muhlenberg to keep his recommendation private, so as not to stir any additional opposition in the newspapers.

Muhlenberg complied with a position paying $600/year. It allowed Barnes enough free time to make additional money until a better paying position became available.

“Thank you for a very excellent presentation.”
Executive Director, Associated General Contractors of Missouri
Mr. Jefferson will be an excellent addition to your meeting!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Miscellaneous, Personalities of others Tagged , , , , , , , |

They hated him. He revered them.

I recieved yesterday evening your letter … informing me of the death of mrs Washington: [I was a]        witness of her constant course in whatsoever was benevolent and virtuous in life, had marked her in my judgment as one of the most estimable of women, and had inspired me with an affectionate and respectful attachment to her. this loss is the more felt too as it renews the memory of a preceding one, of a worthy of that degree which providence, in it’s wise dispensations, sees fit rarely to bestow on us, whose services in the cause of man had justly endeared him to the world, and whose name will be among the latest monuments of the age wherein he lived, which time will extinguish.
To Thomas Law, May 31, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders don’t sacrifice friendships over business differences.
On numerous occasions, Jefferson lamented that former friends had distanced themselves from him over political differences. It was one of the things that repelled him about public life. He maintained he was never the one to end a friendship because of politics.

Jefferson was critical of President Washington during his second term, and of President Adams, who continued his policies. Those were political disagreements only, never personal. The Washingtons took the criticisms personally and developed an intense dislike for Jefferson. (See the footnote at the link above for a description of Martha Washington’s scathing comments about Jefferson a few months prior to this letter!)

Receiving word of Mrs. Washington’s death, he had nothing but praise for her, a position he had always held. Her death reminded him of her husband’s passing two and a half years earlier, and of the stunning contributions George Washington had made to the new nation.

“I received so many great compliments
on your performance of Thomas Jefferson …”
Missouri Land Title Association
Your members will be surprised at the value Mr. Jefferson brings to your meeting.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Personalities of others, Presidency Tagged , , , , , , |

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!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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
Let Mr. Jefferson transport your audience to another era!
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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!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Human nature, Leadership, Personalities of others Tagged , , , , , |

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.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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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.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739

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!
Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739

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