Tag Archives: common sense

What? Me, a fair weather friend? Never!

… My intention … was, to have some Conversation with you … you have not only shewn no disposition towards it, but have, in some measure, by a sort of shyness, as if you stood in fear of federal observation, precluded it. I am not the only one, who makes observations of this kind.
From Thomas Paine to Thomas Jefferson, January 12, 1803

… you have certainly misconcieved what you deem shyness. of that I have not had a thought towards you, but on the contrary have openly maintained in conversation the duty of shewing our respect to you and of defying federal calumny in this as in other cases, by doing what is right. as to fearing it, if I ever could have been weak enough for that, they have taken care to cure me of it thoroughly.
To Thomas Paine, January 13, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders can’t please all the people all the time, not even their friends.
In November, 1802, Thomas Paine (1737-1809), the British-born American patriot and author of the highly influential pro-revolution pamphlet Common Sense in 1776, delivered models of bridges and wheels to the President. He sought Jefferson’s comments, perhaps his support, and hoped to profit from his designs. Two months passed with no response. That prompted his letter of 1-12-03, suggesting Jefferson was shy about being associated with him and feared some guilt-by-association. Paine twisted the knife more by suggesting others felt the same way. (Paine’s anti-Christian writings had made him highly unpopular in many circles.)

Jefferson, always sensitive to criticism, replied immediately and returned Paine’s models. He was not shy in his friendship and had defended Paine publicly. He had no concern for what his political opponents might say. If he had ever been weak enough to be swayed by them, he had endured enough of their invective now to be immune to it.

As to Paine’s models and Jefferson’s lack of comment, he explained that his Presidential responsibilities were so pressing that he no longer had time to devote to personal interests, though he was complimentary in general about Paine’s ideas.

“We had Patrick Lee portray Thomas Jefferson [for our annual educational conference].
The presentation was well done and extremely well received by our attendees.”
Executive Director, Township Officials of Illinois
Mr. Jefferson will do well for your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Even if I have it, I will not give it to you.

Your letter of Dec. 10. is safely recieved … I have not examined my papers to see if I have the letter … which you ask for. I have no recollection whether I recieved such a letter. but it is not on that ground I decline looking for & communicating it. besides the general principles of law & reason which render correspondences even between private individuals sacredly secret, in my late official station [as President] they are peculiarly so … I have therefore regularly declined all communications of letters sent to me in order that they might be used against the writer: and I trust so much in your candor & good sense as to believe you will, on reflection, think I am right in so doing …
To Elias Glover, January 13, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders understand the importance of maintaining confidentiality.
Glover had requested a copy of a letter written by another to Jefferson, thinking that letter might provide vindication for a charge made against him. If Jefferson didn’t have that letter, Glover asked where else he might find a copy. The former President declined both requests. While he didn’t recall the letter, he didn’t even bother to look. (Jefferson had a very good filing and retrieval system!)

By both nature and common sense, correspondence between individuals was private. Eight years as President had reinforced that belief, especially when the one requesting the correspondence might use it against the original writer.

“Your well-researched portrayals of President Thomas Jefferson
and Captain William Clark were highlights of the five-day event.”
Director, Prairieland Chatauqua, Illinois
Let Thomas Jefferson highlight your event!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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