With respect to the late conduct of mr Lilly & Perry towards you as stated in your letter, I trust you know my line of conduct better than to suppose it could flow from any orders of mine … it is my rule never to take a side or any part in the quarrels of others, nor to enquire into them. I generally presume them to flow from the indulgence of too much passion on both sides, & always find that each party thinks all the wrong was in his adversary. these bickerings, which are always useless, embitter human life more than any other cause: and I regret that which has happened in the present case. I shall always be ready to render you any service I can …
To James Oldham, November 30, 1804
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders stay out of problems not their own.
Oldham, Jefferson’s highly regarded former joiner (skilled woodworker) at Monticello, wrote his patron about ugly accusations and death threats received from Lilly, a Monticello overseer, and his brother-in-law, Perry. The accusers claimed they were acting on information from Jefferson, himself.
Not so, wrote the President, claiming Oldham should know him well enough to know otherwise. Beyond that, Jefferson explained:
1. He took no part in such quarrels, not even asking questions about them.
2. Usually, the fault was “too much passion on both sides.”
3. Always, each side imputed all the blame to the other.
4. Always such useless bickering harmed personal relationships “more than any other cause.”
While staying out of the argument, Jefferson regretted Oldham found himself in such a predicament and affirmed his willingness to be of any assistance needed.