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Category Archives: Presidency

It is not personal. It is business. It is life.

I have duly recieved your favor of the 7th. and have taken care that it shall be communicated to the Secretary at war, within whose province it is to consider of the best means of promoting the public interest within his department, and of the agents whom it is best to employ … the duty is a very painful one, which devolves on the Executive [President], of naming those on whom the reductions are to fall which have been prescribed by the law. we trust to the liberality of those on whom the lot falls, to consider the agency of the Executive as a general not personal thing, and that they will meet it, as they would any other of the numerous casualties to which we are exposed in our passage through life.
To Frances Mentges, July 15, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Tough minded leaders accept the good and bad effects of their decisions.
Mentges, now unemployed, had been a U.S. military agent and buyer, distinguishing himself by his diligence and economy. In two pleading letters, he asked the President’s help in recovering $1,700 in unpaid commissions. He also begged for a government job, or he would have to sell his land to support himself, an asset he needed for old age.

With regard to unpaid commissions, Jefferson delegated the decision to the proper subordinate, his Secretary of War. Employment prospects were slim, as the President was reducing the size of the military. Down-sizing was a painful duty for him, because he knew what job losses meant to those affected.

He trusted in the “liberality” of those affected by loss of employment, that they would see it as necessary but not personal. He asked Mentges to treat the setback as he would any other, just one of the “numerous casualties” that come with life.

“On behalf of the WMTA, I would like to say how much we enjoyed
your leadership addresses as Thomas Jefferson and Daniel Boone.”
Past President, Washington Municipal Treasurer’s Association
Thomas Jefferson (& Daniel Boone) want to share their leadership with your audience!
Invite them to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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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
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I do not have to hold my tongue any longer.

I have rarely written to you; never but by safe conveyances; & avoiding every thing political, lest, coming from one in the station I then held, it might be imputed injuriously to our country, or perhaps even excite jealousy of you. hence my letters were necessarily dry. retired now from public concerns, totally unconnected with them, and avoiding all curiosity about what is done or intended, what I say is from myself only, the workings of my own mind, imputable to nobody else.
To Tadeusz Kosciuszko, February 26, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise public leaders are careful about what they say and write.
The Polish-born military engineer Kosciuszko (1746-1817) distinguished himself repeatedly serving in America’s war for independence. He returned to Europe after the war, but spent several more years in America in the 1790s. He and Jefferson shared the same political philosophy and became close friends. Correspondence between the two men was scarce and straightforward during Jefferson’s Presidency, unusual for the prolific letter writer. Here he explained why to his old friend.
1. Mail was rarely confidential. He had to send personal letters by trusted couriers.
2. He could write nothing of politics. As President, those revelations could harm the country.
3. He did not want to make people jealous of his friendship with the Polish leader.

In a reply the following year, the Pole acknowledged Jefferson’s letters were “dry and short.” He quit writing for that reason but now reassured his American friend of his never-ending esteem.

Jefferson was no longer bound by the limitations of the Presidency, could speak freely on any subject, and proceeded to do just that in the remainder of the letter, which will provide material for several more posts.

“…his performances [are] most believable and intriguing.
He easily captures the audience’s interest and attention …”
Vice-President, RiverBarge Excursions, New Orleans, LA
Mr. Jefferson stands ready to capture your audience’s attention!
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Being related to me has its drawbacks.

… towards acquiring the confidence of the people the very first measure is to satisfy them of his disinterestedness, & that he is directing their affairs with a single eye to their good, & not to build up fortunes for himself & family: & especially that the officers appointed to transact their business, are appointed because they are the fittest men, not because they are his relations. so prone are they to suspicion that where a President appoints a relation of his own, however worthy, they will believe that favor, & not merit, was the motive. I therefore laid it down as a law of conduct for myself never to give an appointment to a relation…
To John Garland Jefferson, January 25, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders sometimes have to disappoint members of their own family.
In 1801, J. G. Jefferson wrote to his cousin, the new President, seeking a job with the federal government. He explained that his name (and family connection!) should not be a disqualification. J.G. sent that unsealed letter to his brother, George, asking him to forward it to the President. George read his brother’s letter and included one of his own to their famous cousin, highly critical of his brother for even making the request.

President Jefferson replied to cousin George, commending him for his reasoning for not appointing his brother to a position. He did not reply to cousin J.G., who took offense at his brother’s interference, offense at the President’s approval of his brother’s reasoning and offense at not receiving an appointment. There the matter lay for eight years.

In late 1809, J.G. again wrote the now retired cousin-President, wanting to clear the air, explaining his 1801 position and admitting his anger. (To his credit, J.G. did not pursue the matter during his famous relative’s administration, lest it harm the latter’s reputation.) Thomas Jefferson replied in this letter, saying his difficult choice had nothing to do with J.G.’s qualifications and everything to do with public perception. Some would assert the only reason the younger man got the job was because of family connections. The President would not weaken his standing with the people unnecessarily, and J.G. was an innocent victim of that policy.

In 1801, both George Jefferson in his letter and Thomas Jefferson in his reply cited the examples of the first two Presidents. Washington refused to appoint relatives and was widely praised for it. Adams did appoint relatives and paid a high price in public opinion.

“I want to thank you for once again bringing your magic time machine
to [our] annual conference.

Our city officials were mesmerized by your performance …”
Executive Director, Missouri Municipal League
Mr. Jefferson delights to travel through time and amaze your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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I am DISinterested!

… in a government like ours it is the duty of the Chief-magistrate [the President], in order to enable himself to do all the good which his station requires, to endeavor, by all honorable means, to unite in himself the confidence of the whole people. this alone, in any case where the energy of the nation is required, can produce an union of the powers of the whole, and point them in a single direction, as if all constituted but one body & one mind: and this alone can render a weaker nation unconquerable by a stronger one. towards acquiring the confidence of the people the very first measure is to satisfy them of his disinterestedness, & that he is directing their affairs with a single eye to their good, & not to build up fortunes for himself & family …
To John Garland Jefferson, January 25, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
An effective leader’s priority must be to gain the confidence of his followers.
From his experience as President for eight years, Jefferson cited the supreme importance of rallying all the people behind him toward a common cause. It was a matter of national defense. Such unity of body and mind could make “a weaker nation unconquerable by a stronger one.”

The first step toward gaining the people’s confidence was “to satisfy them of his disinterestedness.” Disinterested didn’t mean uninterested. Rather, it meant being objective about leadership, being a steward with no personal agenda or ax to grind. A leader’s only goal should be a single-minded determination to work for the good of all the people and not to enrich himself or his family in any way.

“I appreciate the research and literature you explored …
It was apparent you understood [our] strengths and challenges …”
Conference Co-Chair, Missouri School-Age Care Coalition
Mr. Jefferson will endeavor to understand your audience’s strengths and challenges, too.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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