Accounts five & thirty years, since the Date of this Transaction, spent in the regular Discharge of public, & private Duties, with an Uniformity of Tenor which I am not afraid to rest on the Verdict of those who have been known me—
They will judge of me by my whole Life, & not by a single false Step taken at the Commencement of it
To you I have said these Things, because I have known you from our early youth, & wish to stand approved by you—
Thomas Jefferson to William Fitzhugh, Jr. July 1, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders reassure friends who might have reason to doubt.
Fitzhugh (1741-1809) was a Virginia plantation owner, statesman, and life-long friend of Jefferson’s, who was responding to newspaper accounts alleging multiple accounts of his immoral behavior. Specifically, Jefferson addressed a charge regarding his improper conduct toward a neighbor’s wife in 1768 or ’69. He acknowledged the truth of that charge, then laid out his defense:
1. For 35 years, he had conducted his public and private life with a “Uniformity of Tenor.”
2. He did not fear the verdict of those who knew him well.
3. They would judge him by the whole of his life, not by a single youthful indiscretion.
4. You (Fitzhugh) are one of those who’ve known me since my youth, and I care what you think about me.
Another letter written the same day was the subject of a 2016 post. It dealt with this subject but in a more detailed manner. In essence, by admitting to the Walker indiscretion, Jefferson denied the allegations regarding Sally Hemings.