Tag Archives: Credit
my great object at present is, within the course of my present term of office to get compleatly thro’ the old debts of mr Wayles’s estate & my own … if by the end of my second term of office (which will certainly be my last) I can see all of us out of debt, and my mill & farms in such a state as to supply the expences of living … if March 1809. can see me in that condition all my desires will be crowned with contentment to myself, and I hope to leave the public circumstances so much improved from what they were in March 1801. as to carry into retirement the contentment of the public.
To Thomas Mann Randolph, July 5, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Debt cripples everyone’s capacity to act, leaders included.
After reporting to his son-in-law about America’s fortuitous opportunity to buy all of Louisiana from France, the President turned to a personal matter, Randolph’s request for financial help. Jefferson was in no position to assist, because his own situation was strained.
More than 25 years before, Jefferson inherited heavily indebted lands from his father-in-law (“mr. Wayles estate”). He sold some of the land and with the proceeds, paid the English-held debt into escrow, awaiting the end of America’s war for independence. Though complicated to explain, the escrowed funds became worthless, and he had to pay the debt a second time. That debt, with its accrued interest, was still dogging him a quarter century later, as were the debts of his own making.
Jefferson thought his cash crops, tobacco and wheat, plus proceeds from his nail-making and grain-milling operations at Monticello, plus whatever he could spare from his own salary would see him debt free by the end of a second term in early 1809. He hoped to leave office, not only debt-free but with sufficient income for his retirement years, and to enjoy the public’s approval for the work he’d done.
He would be disappointed. His public standing in 1809, while generally good, was considerably diminished from what it was in 1803. His personal debt was still far from being eliminated.
Personal money-management is not what Thomas Jefferson brings to your meeting,
but his many other skills merit your attention!
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… who commenced the Revolution? is as difficult as that of the first inventors of a thousand good things. For example, who first discovered the principle of gravity ? Not Newton ; for Galileo, who died the year that Newton was born, had measured its force in the descent of gravid [pregnant, or burdened, heavy] bodies. Who invented the Lavoiserian chemistry ? The English say Dr. Black, by the preparatory discovery of latent heat. Who invented the steamboat ? Was it Gerbert, the Marquis of Worcester, Newcomen, Savary, Papin, Fitch, Fulton ? The fact is, that one new idea leads to another, that to a third, and so on through a course of time until some one, with whom no one of these ideas was original, combines all together, and produces what is justly called a new invention.
To Benjamin Waterhouse, March 13, 1818 (2nd letter)
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Real leaders know that many deserve the credit for any new thing.
Benjamin Waterhouse posed the question that opens this excerpt. Jefferson answered by example. The conclusion was no single person but rather by a combination of efforts. The last sentence is key. Eventually, someone would combine the work of others to produce something new. That final person might not have been a contributor to the result but an aggregator of others’ ideas.
Thus, Jefferson could not credit the revolution’s beginning to one person. It belonged to many. He credited others with the inspiration that he later wove into the Declaration of Independence.
Often, the final result is credited to the final person involved (Newton for gravity, Fulton for the steam engine, Jefferson for the Declaration), but it is the work of others that enables that single, final person to bring it all together.
“Your presentation was original and refreshing,
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Illinois Municipal League, Director of Communications and Education
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