Tag Archives: Confidentiality

I do not have to hold my tongue any longer.

I have rarely written to you; never but by safe conveyances; & avoiding every thing political, lest, coming from one in the station I then held, it might be imputed injuriously to our country, or perhaps even excite jealousy of you. hence my letters were necessarily dry. retired now from public concerns, totally unconnected with them, and avoiding all curiosity about what is done or intended, what I say is from myself only, the workings of my own mind, imputable to nobody else.
To Tadeusz Kosciuszko, February 26, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise public leaders are careful about what they say and write.
The Polish-born military engineer Kosciuszko (1746-1817) distinguished himself repeatedly serving in America’s war for independence. He returned to Europe after the war, but spent several more years in America in the 1790s. He and Jefferson shared the same political philosophy and became close friends. Correspondence between the two men was scarce and straightforward during Jefferson’s Presidency, unusual for the prolific letter writer. Here he explained why to his old friend.
1. Mail was rarely confidential. He had to send personal letters by trusted couriers.
2. He could write nothing of politics. As President, those revelations could harm the country.
3. He did not want to make people jealous of his friendship with the Polish leader.

In a reply the following year, the Pole acknowledged Jefferson’s letters were “dry and short.” He quit writing for that reason but now reassured his American friend of his never-ending esteem.

Jefferson was no longer bound by the limitations of the Presidency, could speak freely on any subject, and proceeded to do just that in the remainder of the letter, which will provide material for several more posts.

“…his performances [are] most believable and intriguing.
He easily captures the audience’s interest and attention …”
Vice-President, RiverBarge Excursions, New Orleans, LA
Mr. Jefferson stands ready to capture your audience’s attention!
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.”
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Let Thomas Jefferson highlight your event!
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Why I keep my sources confidential

Th: Jefferson presents his respects … & regrets that it is not consistent with the rule he lays down for his own conduct to communicate to them the papers asked for in their note of the 27th. applications to him for office, & information given him as to the character of applicants, he considers as confidential, to be used only for his own government … he suffers these papers to go to no office, but keeps them with the most private of his own in order that those who will assist him with information may be assured they do it with safety …
To Joseph Stanton, March 1, 1806

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders apply the rules evenly and without exception.
Stanton, along with Benjamin Howland, asked the President for any information he had gathered on them in regard to their application for employment. Jefferson said no, citing his across-the-board policy. He regarded such information as confidential and kept it under his personal control. Only those with a need-to-know would ever see it.
Jefferson offered to oblige in other matters if it could be done “with propriety,” but he would not break this rule, which he applied in all cases. He closed by assuring Stanton and Howland of his respect.

“We could not have asked for a better keynote presenter
to set the tone for our conference theme, ‘Prepared to Lead.'”
Executive Director, Nevada Association of Counties
Mr. Jefferson will firmly establish your theme with your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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