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Category Archives: Politics

“Fake news” is as old as the hills. And it appears to be true!

you will see in the papers an extra letter of Elliott’s of extraordinary aspect. it contains some absolute untruths. but what is most remarkeable is that expressions are so put together as to be literally true when strictly considered & analysed, and yet to convey to 99 readers out of 100. the most absolute & mischievous falsehoods. it is a most insidious attempt to cover [conceal] his own opinions & passions … and to fill with inquietude the republicans who have not the means of good information.
Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, May 27, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Manipulative leaders also manipulate the facts.
The content of Elliott’s letter in the newspapers is unknown as is the identity of Elliott himself. It may have been Vermont Congressman James Elliott. The President alerted his widowed son-in-law and Congressman about the that content.

This Elliott published “some absolute untruths” presented in such a manner as to appear “to be literally true,” with the effect of deceiving almost everybody. He did it in such a way to conceal his own interests while causing “inquietude [restlessness]” among faithful republicans, the President’s supporters, who had no way of discerning the truth.

“The folks really admire the ease and friendliness you show.
They were impressed with your wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm …”
Tour Director, Foretravel Motor Club
Invite us 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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Your thick skin just gets thicker!

if we suffer ourselves to be frightened from our post by mere lying, surely the enemy will use that weapon: for what one so cheap to those of whose system of politics morality makes no part? the patriot, like the Christian, must learn that to bear revilings & persecutions is a part of his duty: and in proportion as the trial is severe, firmness under it becomes more requisite & praiseworthy. it requires indeed self-command. but that will be fortified in proportion as the calls for it’s exercise are repeated.
Thomas Jefferson to James Sullivan, May 21, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders must stand in the face of slander.
Sullivan (1744-1808) was a Massachusetts lawyer, politician and Jefferson ally. The President commiserated with him regarding lies from the opposing party and suggested George Washington himself would not have been able to bear up against the current slanders.

Fleeing public office because of lies would only encourage the liars to use the same tactic against others. It was a cheap weapon for those without any moral sense. Enduring slander was simply one’s duty. The worse the slander, the more important and noble resistance became. That resistance, while never easy, would become less difficult with practice.

“… Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts about democracy, responsibility and leadership
at the local level surely succeeded in reinforcing the call to serve …”
Executive Director, Maine Municipal Association
Mr. Jefferson will sound a strong call to serve!
Invite him 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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Not unless they’ve changed their minds!

… [choose] a sound preponderance of those who are friendly to the order of things so generally approved by the nation. men hostile to that, & whose principal views are to embarras & thwart the public measures, cannot be too carefully kept out of the way of doing it. I do not mean by this to proscribe honest, well meaning men, heretofore federalists, and now sincerely disposed to concur with the national sentiment & measures.
Thomas Jefferson to Robert Williams, April 28, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Reasonable people wake up and smell the coffee!
This letter to soon-to-be Territorial Governor Williams (1773-1836) of Mississippi is very similar to the previous post, a letter to the corresponding official in the Indiana Territory. The President had been asked by the legislature in each territory to pick five men from a list of 10 for a legislative council. In each case, not knowing the individuals nominated, Jefferson delegated the decision to the Governor and suggested criteria for the selection.

One standard for Indiana was no Federalist appointments. It appeared to be a blanket rejection of anyone from the other party and an endorsement of strict political patronage. He moderated that position in this letter, written the same day.

To Indiana, he cited an opposition with no interest but to obstruct. To Mississippi, he allowed for political opponents who understood that in the election of 1800, citizens had changed political direction and reinforced that choice in 1804. He would not prohibit the appointment of “honest, well-meaning men, heretofore federalists” who recognized the political climate had changed and had shifted with it.

“…our sincere appreciation to you for your exceptional presentation
at our recently concluded convention.”
President/General Manager, Missouri Association of Mutual Insurance Companies
Do you want an exceptional speaker for your meeting?
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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No cheats! No hacks! No speculators!

… I can only recommend an adherence to the principles which would have governed myself in making the selection. 1. to reject dishonest men. 2. those called federalists even the honest men among them, are so imbued with party prejudice … that they are incapable of weighing candidly the pro and the con … their effect in the public councils is merely to embarras & thwart them. 3. land-jobbers [speculators] are undesirable. it is difficult for them, even with honest intentions, to act without bias in questions having any relation to their personal interests.
Thomas Jefferson to William Henry Harrison, April 28, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know even honest men can act dishonorably.
The President had been asked to pick five men out of ten nominated to serve on a legislative council for the Territory of Indiana. He knew none of the nominees and delegated the selection to Harrison (1773-1841), Territorial Governor. He recommended three standards:
1. No “dishonest men”
2. None from the political opposition – Even honest ones were so partisan they could not fairly weigh an issue. Their only motivation was “to embarrass & thwart.”
3. None who could benefit financially – Again, even honest men could not “act without bias” where money was to be made or lost.

Thirty six years later, in 1841, Harrison became the 9th President of the U.S., defeating Martin Van Buren. He died just 31 days after his inauguration and was succeeded by his Vice-President, John Tyler. His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, served one term as President, 1889-1893.

“Mr. Lee’s creative energy and talent were a major factor
in making this critical event the success it was.”
Program Coordinator, The Smithsonian Associates, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Jefferson will make a significant contribution to your meeting!
Invite him 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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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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