I do not feel myself free to answer the question you propose. it was taken up by the Senate at the last session: it may be again at this session, and may come to me from one or both houses on an official form. I ought therefore to reserve myself for a free opinion, after I may have heard what is to be said on both sides. at the same time I will freely acknolege I had rather see healing salves applied than the Caustic or knife. but I sufficiently know how hard it is to reconcile ‘the foes who once were friends’.
To Thomas Leiper, December 29, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders would rather heal a division than make it wider.
Leiper (1745-1825) was a Philadelphia businessman, tobacco merchant, civic and political leader, friend of and one-time landlord to Thomas Jefferson. He asked the President’s opinion on the wisdom of his (Leiper’s) seeking indictments against four lawyers who may have acted in a treasonous fashion.
Jefferson declined an opinion, not on merits of the case but on principle. Congress had wrestled with this question before and may do so again. If they referred the matter to him, he wanted to have an open mind. Only then would he consider both sides and make a decision.
In closing, he stressed another principle, preferring to reconcile former friends rather than punish them, but acknowledged how difficult that could be.
As an aside, Leiper is credited with building the first railway in America. In 1809, he laid two rails from his quarry to a canal 3/4 of a mile away. An ox pulled a cart filled with stone from the quarry to where it could be loaded onto a barge for Philadelphia.