be advised then; erase it even from your memory, and stand erect before the world on the high ground of your own merits, without stooping to what is unworthy either of your or their notice. remember that we often repent of what we have said, but never of that which we have not.
Thomas Jefferson to Gideon Granger, March 9, 1814
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wounded leaders do well to hold their tongues.
Granger had written Jefferson three weeks earlier, asking his recollections in matters where Granger was now accused of acting improperly. He was preparing to make a written defense to the nation. In this lengthy reply, Jefferson offered as much background as he could remember but cited “the decay of memory consequent on advancing years.”
He concluded his letter with this advice:
1. Forget about defending yourself. (It will work against you, he wrote earlier.)
2. Forget the accusations. They deserve neither your attention nor others’.
3. Stand tall on what you know to be true.
4. We are responsible for what we do say. We do not have to answer for what we don’t say.
Many years before, George Washington had advised his young protege Jefferson to remain silent when attacked. In the time it took to answer one accusation, 10 more would spring forth. He couldn’t win at that game. Better not to play at all. It’s the same advice he was now giving Granger.
Politics can be a blood-sport. It is surprising the thin-skinned Jefferson lasted as long as he did. Granger’s 12-year tenure as Postmaster General ended a week after this letter was written. He retired to New York to manage his business interests and pursue state politics. He died in 1822, at age 57.