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Category Archives: Politics

They have too much pride to admit their error.

[I] had before observed what was said in the Chronicle of it’s conciliatory tendency. some are of opinion that attempts at conciliation are useless. this is true only as to distinguished leaders who had committed themselves so far that their pride will not permit them to correct themselves. but it is not true as to the mass of those who had been led astray by an honest confidence in the government & by misinformation. the great majority of these has already reconciled itself to us, & the rest are doing so as fast as the natural progress of opinion will permit.
Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Elwyn, March 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders value humility.
Elwyn wrote a political pamphlet that was published in Boston and had received a favorable review in the Chronicle newspaper. He sent a copy of his pamphlet to the President, who apparently had read the Chronicle’s review. The tone of the pamphlet must have hoped for some reconciliation between political opponents.

Jefferson disagreed with those who maintained “attempts at reconciliation are useless.” That was true of leaders whose views were so rigid that pride prevented them from changing their minds. It was not true of the “mass” of citizens who had been led astray “by misinformation.” Reconciliation had happened for most already and would for the remainder in due time.

In an 1825 letter to a child, summarizing what he had learned in 81 years, Jefferson wrote, among other things, “Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.”

“… thank you for your excellent presentation …
your portrayal and your responses to questions from the audience were right on the mark.”
Secretary/Treasurer, Virginia Association of Surveyors
Invite Thomas Jefferson 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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I make one friend & 10 enemies at the same time. (OR: HR sucks. Part 4 of 5)

… [if] you [had] hundreds to nominate, instead of one, be assured they would not compose for you a bed of roses. you would find yourself in most cases with one loaf & ten wanting bread. nine must be disappointed, perhaps become secret, if not open, enemies.
To Larkin Smith, November 26, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders sometimes must turn friends into detractors.
Five posts from this single letter detail Jefferson’s challenges in the human relations realm. Larkin had written to the President, expressing not only his dismay over losing a federal appointment he thought he had earned but also his annoyance at not receiving personal notification of the loss.

While Larkin had only himself to consider, the President had hundreds! Every federal job opening brought a flood of applicants. Each choice would make one person happy and disappoint all the rest, feed one and send the others away hungry. Some losers would become secret enemies. Some would even turn into public ones.

Instead of “a bed of roses,” with countless ones paying him compliments while seeking his favor, this aspect of his job was more a bed of thorns.

“… I had no idea what to expect.
However, we were delighted to see a very professional and accurate portrayal…”

Executive Director, MO Society of Professional Surveyors
Yes! An accurate, professional and inspiring portrayal awaits your audience!
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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I respect your principled choice, for or against me. (Or: HR sucks. Part 3 of 5)

you observe that you are, or probably will be, appointed an elector. I have no doubt you will do your duty with a conscientious regard to the public good & to that only. your decision in favor of another would not excite in my mind the slightest dissatisfaction towards you. on the contrary I should honor the integrity of your choice.
To Larkin Smith, November 26, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Secure leaders do not get overly invested in others’ choices.
Larkin had expressed his dismay over not receiving any notification that he had been passed over for what he deemed a well-deserved federal appointment. The President explained why in previous posts.

Larkin concluded his letter with the likelihood he would be chosen as a delegate from Virginia to the Electoral College, where he would certainly cast his vote for Jefferson’s reelection. Was it an honest compliment or blatant flattery … or both? Was he implying: I will have your back. Why couldn’t you have mine?

Jefferson replied he didn’t care who received Larkin’s  vote. He trusted him to vote his conscience and only with “regard to the public good.” He would not mind if Larkin voted for another, nor would it change his attitude toward him.  Rather, if Larkin voted against him, Jefferson would “honor the integrity of your choice.”

This was a common theme for Jefferson, that he didn’t let others’ political choices affect their personal relationships, unless they first withdrew from him.

“… your presentation for the New Mexico FEB [Federal Executive Board]
marks the fourth FEB you have addressed.
We can understand why and would highly recommend your presentation to others.”

Executive Director, New Mexico FEB
Mr. Jefferson makes a very good impression!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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I will not leave you, unless you leave me.

you say you are forcibly led to say something on another subject, very near your heart, which you defer to another opportunity. I presume it to be on your political situation, and perhaps the degree in which it may bear on our friendship. in the first place I declare to you that I have never suffered political opinion to enter into the estimate of my private friendships; nor did I ever abdicate the society of a friend on that account till he had first withdrawn from mine. many have left me on that account. but with many I still preserve affectionate intercourse, only avoiding to speak on politics, as with a quaker or catholic I would avoid speaking on religion…
To John F. Mercer, October 9, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know how to remain friends with their opponents.
Mercer (1759-1821), Revolutionary War veteran, lawyer and politician in Virginia and then Maryland, alerted the President to a unspecified change in his situation. In this reply, Jefferson speculated it may be a change in Mercer’s political affiliation, from ally to opponent.

Jefferson reassured his friend he never withdrew friendships over political differences unless someone else did so first. Many had deserted him for that reason, but many had not. With the latter, he continued his friendships, taking care to avoid politics, the subject where they disagreed. He applied the same principle to spiritual differences, maintaining friendships with Quakers and Catholics, only being careful to “avoid speaking on religion.”

“… thank you for the enlightening and education presentation …
It was wonderful … and enjoyed by all.”
Lieutenant Governor’s Office, State of Missouri
Enlightening. Educational. Wonderful. Enjoyable.
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Would honest Democrats and honest Republican today agree?

both of our political parties, at least the honest portion of them, agree conscientiously in the same object, the public good: but they differ essentially in what they deem the means of promoting that good … one fears most the ignorance of the people: the other the selfishness of rulers independant of them. which is right, time & experience will prove … with whichever opinion the body of the nation concurs, that must prevail…
I conclude with sincere prayers for your health & happiness that yourself & mr Adams may long enjoy the tranquility you desire and merit, and see, in the prosperity of your family, what is the consummation of the last and warmest of human wishes.
To Abigail Adams, September 11, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders agree on the goals, differ on the means to achieve them.
The President and former First Lady exchanged nine letters after Adams’ initial condolences on the death of Jefferson’s daughter, Maria. Each sought to explain (or justify) their position to the other. Jefferson was more conciliatory, separating political differences from personal ones. Mrs. Adams was more combative and unrelenting, unable to divorce the political from the personal.
Jefferson made three points about their differences:
1. Honest political leaders had the same goal, the public good, differing only in how to achieve that goal.
2. One party feared people incapable of self-government. The other feared self-seeking leaders unaccountable to the voters.
3. “time & experience” would prove which position was right, as determined by a majority vote of the citizens.

He concluded, as always, with a strong expression of his regard and hopes for the Adamses. It is unlikely he had an effect on Mrs. Adams. She did not respond, as she had three times before. This was the final letter between the two of them. Eight years later, Jefferson and John Adams would resume their long-derailed friendship.

“I sincerely appreciate and thank you for your outstanding
and motivation[al] presentation and for providing inspiration to our audience.”
Chair, Seattle Federal Executive Board
Invite Thomas Jefferson to inspire and motivate your audience.
Call 573-657-2739
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That really hurt! (But it was the only hurt.) Part 3 of 4

I can say with truth that one act of mr Adams’s life …  and one only, ever gave me a moment’s personal displeasure. I did consider his last appointments to office as personally unkind. they were from among my most ardent political enemies, from whom no faithful cooperation could ever be expected, and laid me under the embarrasment of acting thro’ men whose views were to defeat mine; or to encounter the odium of putting others in their places. it seemed but common justice to leave a successor free to act by instruments of his own choice.
To Abigail Smith Adams, June 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Should a leader deliberately handicap his successor?
After appreciating her condolences on the death of his daughter and affirming his unflagging respect for Mrs. Adams, he turned to the differences between himself and her husband, the former President, John Adams. Those differences he described as political, not personal … except in one instance.

When Adams had been defeated for re-election by someone of the opposite party (Jefferson), but before he left office, he filled a number of vacancies with men he knew would be strong opponents of the new President. That left Jefferson in a no-win situation. He could try to work with people who would deliberately undermine him, or dismiss them and experience considerable public backlash.

Jefferson considered it “but common justice” to let him choose his own officers. That her husband sought to deprive him of that choice was the “one act of mr Adams’s life … and one only” that was “personally unkind.”

” … the Society received more favorable comments and inquiries …
than we have had about any other program …”
First Vice President, Boone County Historical Society
Mr. Jefferson will make a lasting impression on your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Death has opened a door for me. Part 2 of 4

… [I] am thankful for the occasion … of expressing my regret that circumstances should have arisen which have seemed to draw a line of separation between us. the friendship with which you honoured me has ever been valued, and fully reciprocated; & altho’ events have been passing which might be trying to some minds, I never believed yours to be of that kind, nor felt that my own was. neither my estimate of your character, nor the esteem founded in that, have ever been lessened for a single moment, although doubts whether it would be acceptable may have forbidden manifestations of it.
To Abigail Smith Adams, June 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders seek to restore damaged friendships.
Earlier in this letter, Jefferson expressed his appreciation for Adams’ condolences on the recent death of his daughter, Maria. He used that opening to address another subject, his regret about any damage to their friendship which resulted from his replacing her husband as President.

He expressed appreciation for the honor of her friendship. He esteemed her highly. Although political differences took their toll on some friendships, he did not believe it had affected theirs. He had no doubts about the quality of her character, and his high regard for her remained unchanged.

He waffled a little at the end when he expressed doubt whether she would have received any earlier affirmation of his esteem. That doubt “may have forbidden” his making that position known. In other words, he had said nothing out of concern that she wouldn’t accept it, rather than taking the initiative to repair any misunderstandings.

“We have used Mr. Lee on various trips over the last five years …
We intend to use Patrick Lee on future trips …”
Vice-President, RiverBarge Excursions, New Orleans, LA
Audiences invite Mr. Jefferson back time and again.
You can do the same. Call 573-657-2739
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I have to serve again, and it is THEIR fault.

I sincerely regret that the unbounded calumnies [false and damaging statements] of the Federal party have obliged me to throw myself on the verdict of my country for trial, my great desire having been to retire at the end of the present term to a life of tranquility, and it was my decided purpose when I entered into office. they force my continuance. if we can keep the vessel of state as steady in her course for another 4. years, my earthly purposes will be accomplished, and I shall be free to enjoy as you are doing my family, my farm, & my books.
To Elbridge Gerry, March 3, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Do principled leaders step aside … or fight?
Since no one else had the necessary reputation in 1800, Jefferson agreed to lead the republican cause and stand for election as President. His hope to cement the nation’s future in four years and retire was not to be.

By early 1804, Jefferson could claim considerable progress in re-orienting the America’s course, but that new direction was not solid. It was continually being undermined by his political opposition. He claimed their on-going character assassination necessitated his serving another four years to secure the nation’s new foundation. Only then could he return to “my family, my farm, & my books.”

On this same day, Jefferson learned his younger daughter Maria had not recovered from her third childbirth on February 15. Maria was frail, like her long-deceased mother, and had suffered slow recoveries after her first two deliveries. (Her firstborn boy in late 1799 lived only a few weeks.) The President was greatly frightened that one of his two remaining children might succumb to the same fate as his late wife. Judge for yourself the decision (and sacrifice) he made to serve his nation rather than flee to his family’s side.

Maria would die six weeks later.

“The California [MO] Chamber of Commerce would highly recommend you …”
President, California Chamber of Commerce
Mr. Jefferson comes highly recommended.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Politics really suck in 2019!

you now see the composition of our public bodies, and how essential system and plan are for conducting our affairs wisely with so bitter a party in opposition to us, who look not at all to what is best for the public, but how they may thwart whatever we propose, tho they should thereby sink their country.
To Caesar Rodney, February 24, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders are still creatures of  human nature.
Delaware native Rodney (1772 – 1824), namesake of his uncle who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was elected to Congress in 1802. In a letter to the President, Rodney explained that he would not continue in office for personal, political and financial reasons. Jefferson sincerely regretted the loss of his strong supporter. He hoped Rodney would be one to “give cohesion to our rope of sand.” Whether that “rope” was the government or the republican party is not clear.

Note the points Jefferson made in this excerpt:
1. Consider the bitterness of the opposition in the Congress.
2. Their goal was not the public good but to “thwart whatever we propose.”
3. They were unconcerned that their actions imperiled the nation.

My purpose in these posts is to highlight Jefferson’s perspective. Still, I’m reasonably sure the Federalists could have made the same observations about the President and his republican partisans.

Human nature does not change. In 2019, consider how each party makes the same charges against the other, 215 years later.

“… it is the attention to detail that you put into your impersonations
that really brings your historical characters to life.”
Executive Director, Missouri Municipal League
Watch Mr. Jefferson come to life for your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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I’d rather not herd cats.

… I rode to the Hamburg hill from whence you suppose a bridge [over the Potomac River] … it will rest with the legislature to decide at which place … in this clashing of interests between different points of the territory to all of which I sincerely wish prosperity, I hold myself aloof from medling, no law calling on me to do otherwise. should it be made my duty to take any part in it, I shall certainly place every local interest out of view and regard the general interest only.
To George W. P. Custis, February 23, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders don’t meddle.
Congress was considering a bridge from the nation’s capital across the Potomac River. Competing interests were making their preferences known for the location.
George Washington Parke Custis (1781 – 1857) was the adopted grandson of the late President George Washington. The estate he owned across the Potomac from the nation’s capital would eventually pass to his son-in-law, Robert E. Lee, and later become the site of the Arlington National Cemetery. Custis lobbied the President for a specific location, which the city of Georgetown opposed as detrimental to their interests.
Jefferson summarized this sticky-leadership-wicket as follows:
– If, when and where to build a bridge was Congress’ responsibility.
– Since he wished all the competing interests well, and his involvement was not required, he was staying out of it.
– If the time came when his input was required, he would keep “every local interest out of view,” and concern himself only with the overall public welfare.

Invite Thomas Jefferson to bring his wisdom to your audience.
Call 573-657-2739
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