… litigation has ever been to me the most painful business I could be engaged in. to this has been owing some of the delays in the present case. the discussion however in this case has been attempered [blended with] by candor & friendship. and by the honest and mutual desire of seeking nothing but what is right. that this spirit animated your father, his letters on this subject, as well as his character prove. that it is equally yours, I feel as entire confidence as I have a knolege that my own wishes have no other object. in this spirit I tender you the assurances of my esteem & respect.
To John Harvie, December 28, 1809
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Consensus leaders choose loss rather than confrontation.
The Harvies were long-standing family friends. One John Harvie was guardian for Jefferson when he was a fatherless teenager. That Harvie’s son, also named John, was a contemporary of Jefferson’s. This John Harvie was the grandson, who had inherited a competing claim for land Jefferson believed was rightly his, acquired more than 30 years before. Each man asserted an undeniable claim to the land in question.
Jefferson hated confrontation, even with his political foes. He especially disliked it when it involved friends. Twice, Jefferson unsuccessfully sought arbitration to settle the matter. This John Harvie agreed to arbitration without conceding any claim to the land. Jefferson made these points:
1. Contending in court was the “most painful business” he knew.
2. He admitted delaying settlement in dread of that confrontation.
3. Both men had been straightforward and wanted “what is right,” even though they disagreed on what “right” was.
4. Harvie’s father was an honorable man, and surely the son would be, also.
5. That spirit would enable them to settle the matter equitably.
Two months later, they agreed to divide the land’s valuable equally. Each man, though firmly believing himself entitled to the whole thing, chose half a loaf instead out of respect for the other and the desire to avoid a fight.