Tag Archives: Duty
I am sensible after the measures you have taken for getting into a different line of business, that it will be a great sacrifice on your part, and presents from the season & other circumstances serious difficulties. but some men are born for the public. nature by fitting them for the service of the human race on a broad scale, has stamped them with the evidences of her destination & their duty.
To James Monroe, January 13, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Those gifted with skills have a duty to lead, regardless of sacrifice.
A previous post detailed the President’s nomination of James Monroe (1758-1831) as ambassador to France and his unwillingness to let Monroe decline. In this letter, Jefferson buttressed case.
After outlining the positives of Monroe’s appointment and the disastrous results should he decline, and acknowledging the personal hardship this would cause, Jefferson got to the bottom line of his argument: Monroe was destined for public service and leadership. Nature obviously had gifted him to serve “on a broad scale” and made that gifting evident. It was both Monroe’s duty and destiny to fulfill that role.
I don’t recall Jefferson ever admitting the same destiny about himself, but it was obvious he was fulfilling that role, too. Had he thought only of himself, he would have happily pursued a private life at Monticello with his family, farm and books. Nature had other plans for him, and he acquiesced to a destiny different from the one he desired. Only when his Presidency was completed in 1809 (at age 66) did he allow himself to indulge those personal desires for the remaining years of his life.
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… but I expect all will go off with impunity. if our government ever fails, it will be from this weakness. no government can be maintained without the principle of fear as well as of duty. good men will obey the last, but bad ones the former only.
To John Wayles Eppes, September 9, 1814
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders understand the need for fear.
To his widower son-in-law (married to Jefferson’s younger daughter Maria, who died in 1804), Jefferson wrote about an apparent lack of preparation for the British invasion of the nation’s capital in the War of 1812. He strongly defended President Madison and suggested others were negligent. He hoped the courts or the Congress would deal with the responsible parties. That thought ends with this excerpt, his thinking that no one would be called to task, a potential fatal flaw in America’s future.
Duty was sufficient motivation for good men to do what was right. Bad men needed to be afraid of what would happen if they were not dutiful. Both principles, duty and fear, were absolutely necessary to maintain a government.
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