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Category Archives: Politics

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.

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How much do you trust that person?

Th: Jefferson … returns him Govr. Mc.kean’s letter;  … [the content of the original accusation] was so little noted that neither the person, nor manner can now be recollected …Th:J. has been entirely on his guard against these idle tales, and considers Govr. Mc.kean’s life & principles as sufficient evidence of their falsehood, and that he may be perfectly assured that no such insinuations have or can make an impression on his mind to the Governor’s disadvantage.
To Henry Dearborn, February 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders affirm other principled leaders.
A letter by someone unidentified claimed that Pennsylvania’s Governor McKean was heading a group to oppose President Jefferson’s re-election. McKean denied the charge but was concerned to learn the rumor was circulating in the nation’s capital.

McKean wrote an impassioned letter to Dearborn, Jefferson’s Secretary of War, perhaps knowing Dearborn would share the denial with the President. Dearborn did just that, and Jefferson laid the matter to rest for both men with this reply:
1. He was somewhat aware of the original accusation but paid so little attention to it that he could no longer remember the accuser or the details of the charge.
2. He was “entirely on his guard against these idle tales.”
3. Gov. McKean’s “life & principles” rendered this accusation baseless.
4. Nothing past, present or future would alter his confidence in McKean.

Thank you for, yet another, outstanding performance.”
President, Missouri Valley Adult Education Association
Schedule an outstanding presentation for your audience.
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Liars gotta lie. Ignore them. I do.

the uniform tenor of a man’s life furnishes better evidence of what he has said or done on any particular occasion than the word of an enemy … [who] prefers the use of falsehoods which suit him to truths which do not … to divide those by lying tales whom truths cannot divide, is the hackneyed policy of the gossips of every society. our business is to march straight forward,1 to the object which has occupied us for eight & twenty years, without, either, turning to the right or left.
To George Clinton, December 31, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Confident leaders give no thought to lies spread about others (or themselves).
New York Governor Clinton wrote to the President, disavowing printed allegations that he enclosed, which questioned his loyalty to the administration. Jefferson told him to ignore it. He considered “the uniform tenor of a man’s life” as the proper measurement of that man, not conduct alleged in a specific instance. Gossips always used lies in trying to divide those united in the truth.

The business of his administration was to pursue a straight course, upholding the republican (small r) principles established in 1776, and not be distracted those who had other agendas.

Jefferson replaced Vice-President Aaron Burr with Governor Clinton in 1804.

“… thanks for your excellent program …
I have received nothing but compliments … “
Past President, Cole County Historical Society
Compliments are a natural consequence following Mr. Jefferson’s presentations.
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Let us throw 1/4 of the rascals out!

the principle of rotation established by the legislature in the body of Directors in the principal bank [Bank of the United States], it follows that the extension of that principle [to subordinate banks] … was wise & proper … it breaks in upon the esprit de corps so apt to prevail in permanent bodies, it gives a chance for the public eye penetrating into the sanctuary of those proceedings & practices which the avarice of the directors may introduce for their personal emolument … and it gives an opportunity at the end of a year, or at other periods, of correcting a choice which on trial proves to have been unfortunate …
To Albert Gallatin, December 13, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders do not trust permanent office-holders.
Congress provided in 1791 that no more than 3/4 of the 25 directors of the national bank could be re-elected for a second year. The President applauded the extension of that principle to its regional branches, for three reasons:
1. It broke up the good-old-boy network arising among those who can hold office forever.
2. It allowed the public to examine their practices, especially those designed to enrich themselves.
3. It provided the opportunity to correct an appointment that had “been unfortunate.”

As a general rule, Jefferson opposed all offices and appointments that were permanent and thus shielded from public accountability. He thought Supreme Court justices should be subject to periodic review. The same principle should apply to national bank directors.

“Your presentation kept everyone’s undivided attention.”
Executive Vice-President, North Carolina Agribusiness Council
There will be no nodding off or distracted listeners when Thomas Jefferson speaks.
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We are all imperfect. Let us accept that and work together. Part 2 of 2

I see too many proofs of the imperfection of human reason to entertain wonder or intolerance at any difference of opinion on any subject; and acquiesce in that difference as easily as on a difference of feature or form: experience having taught me the reasonableness of mutual sacrifices of opinion among those who are to act together, for any common object, and the expediency of doing what good we can, when we cannot do all we would wish.
To John Randolph, December 1, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Practical leaders understand the need for mutual sacrifice.
This complicated passage could be summarized:
1. Everyone’s reasoning is different, and all of it is imperfect.
2. Thus, I am neither amazed nor angered at differences of opinion.
3. I accept major differences as easily as minor ones.
4. Laboring for the common good requires “mutual sacrifices of opinion.”
5. Accomplishing some good work together is worthwhile, even “when we cannot do all we would wish.”

“I look forward to working with you in the future
if Mr. Jefferson remains in the area.
President, Hawthorn Foundation, New and Expanding Business Conference
Mr. Jefferson is still in the area.
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Leave a comment Posted in Diplomacy, Human nature, Politics

Do not speak of politics (or religion). Part 1 of 2

we rarely speak of politics, or of the proceedings of the house but merely historically, and I carefully avoid expressing an opinion on them, in their presence, that we may all be at our ease.
To John Randolph, December 1, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders avoid subjects that unnecesarily promote controversy.
The prickly Congressman Randolph had written the President the day before. He disclaimed a newspaper account on a disagreement in the House of Representatives, which involved him and one of Jefferson’s two sons-in-law, both House members. Jefferson replied immediately that no explanation was needed. Jefferson vouched for the independence of his sons-in-law and his unwillingness to influence their opinions.

The President preferred to keep peace in their family relationship, the same as he preferred in all his relationships. To do that, it was necessary that they not speak of politics or any other divisive issues. He kept his opinions to himself unless asked and would not debate those who disagreed, “that we may all be at our ease.”

“…our delegates greatly enjoyed your ability to portray President Thomas Jefferson
from a humorous yet meaningful perspective.”
Meetings Administrator, Iowa Association of Counties
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Haters gonna hate. *

I find our opposition is very willing to pluck feathers from Munroe [James Monroe], although not fond of sticking them into Livingston’s coat. the truth is, both have a just portion of merit, & were it necessary or proper it could be shewn that each has rendered peculiar services, & of important value. these grumblers too are very uneasy lest the administration should share some little credit for the acquisition, the whole of which they ascribe to the accident of war. they would be cruelly mortified could they see our files from May 1801, the first organisation of the administration, but more especially from April 1802.
To Horatio Gates, July 11, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Like the tortoise, smart leaders know the value of slow and steady.
Gates (1727-1806), a controversial Revolutionary War general, wrote an effusive letter praising the President’s acquisition of Louisiana. He also made a strong recommendation for William Smith, son-in-law of former President John Adams, to be named as head of a new government to be formed in New Orleans.

Jefferson acknowldeged Gates’ praise, and in turn, gave credit to both of his ambassadors, Robert Livingston and James Monroe, for their essential roles in securing Louisiana. He noted the Federalist opponents not only criticized both men but were also unwilling to give his administration any credit for the happy result. They claimed it had come about as an accident, a by-product of pending war between France and England. What the detractors didn’t know was that for the previous two years, Jefferson’s administration had actively pursued every possible diplomatic effort to secure New Orleans and avoid war with France over use of the Mississippi River.

Jefferson did not comment on Gates’ recommendation of Smith, nor did he appoint him to the position.

“… should you wish to use us as a reference, feel free to do so.”
President, Linn State Technical College
College Presidents recommend Thomas Jefferson!
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*Songwriters: Taylor Swift / Max Martin / Karl Johan Schuster
Shake It Off lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
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It is not necessary to lay blame when a mistake is made.

It appears that on the 31st. Mar. 1800. a paiment of cents & half cents was made into the treasury, which raised the whole amount paid in to more than 50,000. D. and that the Treasurer ought then forthwith to have announced it in the gazettes. consequently it ought, now that the omission is first percieved, to be forthwith announced … to avoid the appearance of blaming our predecessors within whose time the omission happened, I would not specify the date when the sum of 50,000. D. had been paid in …
To Albert Gallatin, April 10, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders quietly correct another’s error and move on.
A 1792 law provided for an announcement in the newspapers whenever the U.S. Mint had transferred more than $50,000 in pennies and half pennies to the Treasury Department. That threshold was reached eight years later, in President Adams’ administration, but the public notification was not made. Albert Gallatin, Jefferson’s Treasury Secretary, discovered the omission and asked his boss how he wanted to handle it.

Jefferson said the error should be corrected, but he didn’t want to lay any blame on Mr. Adams or his staff. Thus, he directed his Secretary to announce the threshold had been reached but make no mention of when it happened.

“On behalf of our annual conference participants, I’d like to thank you
for closing the event on such a memorable note.”
Conference Manager, Nebraska Association of School Boards
Your attendees will remember Mr. Jefferson’s remarks.
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I will deal with the devil if I have to.

you mentioned that the receipt of the 400. D. in March would be quite sufficient, or even later if it should be inconvenient to me. I am not yet certain how that will be; but either then, if I have it not in hand, or at any other moment when your calls require it, I can get it from the bank here; but that being in the hands of federalists, I am not fond of asking favors of them. however I have done it once or twice when my own resources have failed, and can do it at all times.
To John Wayles Eppes, February 21, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Indebted leaders are humbled by their financial insecurity.
Eppes was married Maria Jefferson, the President’s younger daughter. Always solicitous of his two daughters and their families, Jefferson was quick to come to their financial aid, even when his own resources were lacking.

There was little cash in circulation. Financing was most often by credit – personal loans, advances on future tobacco and wheat crops, and mortgages on property, plus the buying and selling of the “paper” created by those advances. Borrowing money from one source to pay another was a common practice, one Jefferson had been forced into since his ambassadorship to France in the late 1780s. Only those prudent enough to buy only with cash, or “ready money,” had control over their financial health. Jefferson was rarely in that category.

Eppes had $400 coming due in March and had asked his father-in-law for help in meeting those “calls.” Jefferson didn’t have the cash and didn’t know if he would when the time came. If so, he would go to the bank for another advance. He hated that last resort, as the bank was controlled by his political opponents. Whether they charged him harsher terms or simply exulted in humbling the President or both is unknown, but his liberal personal spending, coupled with political and economic reverses he had no control over, left him at their mercy.

“Your presentation as Thomas Jefferson was a definite highlight
of our meeting
and enjoyed by all.”
Associate Executive Director, Arkansas Bar Association
Mr. Jefferson will be a definite highlight of your meeting!
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Pissing THEM off a little can help US behave.

… nor do I foresee a single question which ought to excite party contention. still every question will excite it, because it is sufficient that we propose a measure, to produce opposition to it from the other party. a little of this is not amiss, as it keeps up a wholesome censorship on our conduct;
To Ephraim Kirby, December 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Shrewd leaders appreciate the value of opposition.
In a previous post, Jefferson wrote that the country was doing so well, there was little to recommend to Congress in his annual report (State of the Union Address as we know it today).  He expressed the same sentiment to Kirby, with nothing on the horizon to divide the republican party.

Yet they were bound to propose something, and it would of necessity cause the Federalist party to rally in opposition. That opposition in turn would keep the republican party on its toes, united in its focus and proper in its conduct.

“The address was fascinating history
and presented with a flair that kept the audience spellbound.”
Region 7 Conference Chair, National Academic Advising Association
How many of your conference speakers will keep your audience spellbound?
Thomas Jefferson will!
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