Tag Archives: Biography

I insist that you not write about me!

The enquiries in your printed letter of Aug. 1808. would lead to the writing the history of my whole life, than which nothing could be more repugnant to my feelings. I have been connected, as many fellow labourers were, with the great events which happened to mark the epoch of our lives. but these belong to no one in particular.
To Skelton Jones, July 28, 1809

This is the 700th post in the Jefferson Leadership Blog! Woo-woo!

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Servant leaders acknowledge team accomplishments over their own.
Jones was a Virginia newspaper publisher and historian who wished to compile a history of his native state and Jefferson’s role in it. Jones made several requests of Jefferson for information. The lengthy reply containing this excerpt was an earnest attempt to summarize the work of the revisors of statutes in post-independence Virginia. Jefferson was one of five revisors appointed to the task in 1776 and one of two, along with George Wythe, who did the bulk of the work.

Jones’ 1808 query referenced here was an extensive list of questions about every aspect of Jefferson’s life. Always helpful in furthering others’ intellectual and historical pursuits, he declined this request. He said he was only one of “many fellow labourers” involved in a common cause in uncommon times. He did not want anyone to write the history of his life alone. “Nothing could be more repugnant to my feelings,” he wrote.

“Although the land surveyors have had numerous types of entertainment at the conference,
they have never
responded with a standing ovation.”
Assistant Executive Director, Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors
Mr. Jefferson doesn’t seek ovations, but your audience might just give him one!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Please wait until I am dead.

I do not think a biography should be written, or at least published, during the life of the person the subject of it. It is impossible that the writer’s delicacy should permit him to speak as freely of the faults or errors of a living, as of a dead character. There is still a better reason. The letters of a person, especially of one whose business has been chiefly transacted by letters, form the only full and genuine journal of his life; and few can let them go out of their hands while they live. A life written after these hoards become opened to investigation must supercede any previous one.
To Robert Walsh, April 5, 1823
From Koch & Peden’s Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P. 643-4

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders hope for a thorough biography (after they’re dead).
Walsh was a writer and historian. He had written Jefferson, asking him to supply the material necessary to write a biography of the 80 year old statesman. Jefferson declined for three reasons:
– Earlier in this letter, he said he wasn’t up to the task. His health was too poor.
– The biographer of a living person couldn’t be objective.
– He couldn’t turn over his correspondence, essential for any biographer.

There isn’t much in Jefferson’s writing that suggests humor, but there could be a wry bit in this letter. As further justification for biographies of the dead only, he wrote, “it may be observed too that before you will have got through with the dead, the living will be dying off and furnishing fresh matter.”

“I want to thank you for your high degree of professionalism.
We have a small staff, and working with presenters who are reliable,
self-reliant and efficient makes my job a whole lot easier.”
President, National Association of Workforce Development Professionals

Thomas Jefferson is high-impact and low-maintenance!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739

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