Tag Archives: arbitration

Let us settle this, once and for all.

Mutual confidence in the honor & friendship of each other has made us too inattentive to the settlement of the question respecting the lands claimed by us both adjoining our possessions here. it had better be settled while in our hands, for no others will be disposed to do it in a more friendly or just way … I believe we both agreed to arbitrate it. let us then proceed to name Arbitrators, and be done with it.
Thomas Jefferson to John Harvie, August 15, 1805

In March, 2020, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, I interrupted my review of Jefferson’s presidential correspondence, to focus on his writings about the yellow fever from 1793 on. That project is now complete, and I return to 1805.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Busy leaders don’t fight with friends.
This John Harvie (1742-1807) was a lifelong neighbor and friend. His father, also named John, was young Thomas Jefferson’s guardian upon the death of his father. There was a third John Harvie, son of the man receiving this letter.
Because they were friends, both Jefferson and Harvie had neglected to settle the contested ownership of land they both claimed. He wanted the two of them to conclude the matter, as none of their heirs would “do it in a more friendly or just way.” Jefferson’s presidential duties left him little time for personal affairs. They had agreed to arbitration. It was time to do that, and get it over with.

This arbitration was not successful. Two years later, this Harvie would die in an accident. Jefferson did settle the matter with the third Harvie, in this manner.

Mr. Jefferson seeks common ground with your audience.
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I would rather not fight but WILL if you force me!

When I saw you at court I requested you would not meddle with any grounds without the 8. fields of Shadwell till we should settle our difference as to Lego. yet in my ride to-day I percieve you have ploughed a considerable piece of ground outside of those fields. if we cannot settle this question between ourselves, or by disinterested neighbors, I shall not decline the umpirage of the law, although an amicable one would be more acceptable. indeed it would be very contrary to my wishes that force should be introduced between you & me, yet I must say that I will not let my property be taken without any consent on my part. I must therefore declare that if you enter on the tract of Lego for the purpose of cultivation before we settle our question, I shall consider it as an act of force, and will meet it with force.
To Eli Alexander, January 17, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even the most patient leaders can be pushed too far.
Shadwell was the plantation near Monticello where Jefferson was born. Lego plantation  adjoined Shadwell. Jefferson had leased parts of Shadwell to Alexander. That written lease also allowed for limited farming on Lego under very specific conditions. Alexander had not met his obligations at Shadwell and had encroached on Lego.

The two men had met face-to-face about the issue. Jefferson had also written Alexander the month before, reminding him of the lease terms and itemizing the infractions. In what appeared to be a generous gesture, Jefferson offered very favorable terms if Alexander would only do what he had already agreed. If not, he would seek arbitration.

A horse ride of this date proved that Alexander had ignored their conversation and Jefferson’s follow-up letter. The latter still wanted a peaceful accommodation, but he would not let his lands be sued without permission. If that meant going to court, which Jefferson hated, so be it.

Jefferson’s bark was worse than his bite. A review of all the correspondence between these men, including the last letter from Jefferson three years later, indicates he was still trying to get some measure of satisfaction from his careless tenant.

“The members … enjoyed your unique representation of Thomas Jefferson …
Thank you …”
President, Missouri Association for Adult Continuing and Community Education
Thomas Jefferson’s unique presentation will captivate your audience.
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