Tag Archives: Friendship

What makes for a good public servant?

there is here a mr John Barnes … he is old (between 60. and 70) but is as active as a boy, always in good health, and the most punctual and assiduous man in business I ever knew. after an acquaintance with him of 40. years, I can pronounce him in point of fidelity as to any trust whatever, worthy of unbounded confidence. there is not a man on earth to whom I would sooner trust money untold. he is an accurate accountant, of a temper incapable of being ruffled, & full of humanity. I give you his whole character because I think you may make good use of him for the public … I would deem it a great favor to myself were you to think of him …
To J.P.G. Muhlenberg, October 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Savvy leaders will occasionally set policy aside in favor of principle.
John Barnes had been required to move his business from Philadelphia to Washington when the national government relocated but was unable to prosper there and was returning to his former place of residence. Muhlenberg had been appointed Collector of Revenue in Philadelphia earlier in the year.

The President, who made a rule of staying out of personnel matters, asked his appointee to find Barnes a job paying about $1,000/year, and cited his qualifications:
1. While old, he was mature, very active and in good health.
2. He was always diligent and on time.
3. He was trustworthy in every endeavor, meriting unlimited confidence.
4. He could be trusted completely with other’s money and would account for it accurately.
5. He was incapable of losing his temper.
6. He was compassionate.

Jefferson apologized for making the recommendation, a practice he strongly avoided, but his concern for Barnes outweighed his reluctance to get involved. He did ask Muhlenberg to keep his recommendation private, so as not to stir any additional opposition in the newspapers.

Muhlenberg complied with a position paying $600/year. It allowed Barnes enough free time to make additional money until a better paying position became available.

“Thank you for a very excellent presentation.”
Executive Director, Associated General Contractors of Missouri
Mr. Jefferson will be an excellent addition to your meeting!
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You are depressed. This will help.

I am sorry to find by your letter that you are become so recluse. to be 4. or 5. months without descending your stairs … I have admired nothing in the character of your nation [France] more than the chearfulness & love of society which they preserve to great old age. I have viewed it as a pattern which I would endeavor to follow, by resisting the inclinations which age brings on, of retiring from society, & by forcing myself to mix in it’s scenes of recreation. do you so also, my friend. consider chearfulness as your physician, and seek it through the haunts of society … your excellent dispositions should not be lost to those among whom you are placed … keep your mind then on more pleasing subjects, & especially on the remembrance of your friendships among which none claims a warmer place than that I constantly bear to you.
To Madame De Corny, April 23, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sensitive leaders seek to encourage those who are in sad straights.
Jefferson’s old friend from his days as a minister to France had fallen on hard times. She wrote a sad letter and said she spent months on end alone in her room. He appealed to her that the beauty of Paris and the life-long friendliness of its people would help her, if only she would leave that room.

Jefferson noticed that advancing age brought on a tendency to withdraw from society. He fought that tendency by forcing himself to mingle with others and thus be encouraged by the beauty of life. He appealed to his friend to do the same. “Chearfullness” would be her physician if she sought it through society.

His final appeal was not to deprive others of her gifts and personality, which he had come to know and appreciate. She should focus “on more pleasing subjects,” and remember her friends, of whom he was the warmest.

“After seeing you perform several years ago, I did not expect
you could improve much on your character.
However, I have to say your program has gotten even better with age!”

Missouri Department of Conservation
Mr. Jefferson continues to get better with age!
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Let us eat and play games!

Th: Jefferson requests the favor of Mr. Clinton’s company to dinner and chess on Tuesday next at half after three, or at whatever later hour the house may rise [adjourn].
Saturday Apl. 3. 1802.
The favor of an answer is asked.
To Dewitt Clinton, April 3, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders use social gatherings and games to build relationships.
Jefferson regularly invited people to join him for dinner, which was usually at 3:30 pm. When Congress was in session, his dinner guests often were Representatives and Senators, of both parties, except perhaps for the High Federalists, who wouldn’t have dined with him, regardless.

Clinton (1769-1828) was a New York politician, serving briefly in the U.S. Senate. He is credited with being the primary inspiration for the Erie Canal, connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. He was also the nephew of George Clinton, who would become Vice-President during Jefferson’s second term.

Jefferson’s correspondence is sprinkled with these dinner invitations. This is the first one I’ve seen that mentioned playing chess as part of the evening’s activity. He loved chess! This link demonstrates that. Near the end of those references, is this 1853 excerpt from his granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge:
“So he was, in his youth, a very good chess-player. There were not among his associates, many who could get the better of him. I have heard him speak of ‘four hour games’ with Mr. [James] Madison.”

“I sincerely appreciate and thank you
for your outstanding and motivating presentation ….”
Chair, Seattle Federal Executive Board
Mr. Jefferson will be an inspiration to your audience!
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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!
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Thanks for the geese. Have some cigars.

Having recieved a box of fine Havanna segars & knowing your fondness for them, I cannot make any use of them so gratifying to myself as by sending them to you. having occasion to send a cart to Washington, it will go by Fauqr C.H. [Fauquier Court House] to deposit this charge with you. it will return by Dumfries for a pair of Wild geese promised me there, as I have had the misfortune to lose the goose of the pair you were so kind as to give me. ever affectionately yours
To Doct. James W. Wallace, August 24, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Thoughtful leaders remember kindnesses shown them by others.
While Jefferson raised tobacco, the only cash crop available besides wheat, there is no record he used it other than on rare ceremonial visits from Indian chiefs. So, what to do with a box of “fine Havanna segars” that must have been a gift to him?

In other correspondence the same day, he said “Davy,” a servant (slave) would leave the next day with a horse and cart to retrieve a “big-tailed ram” promised him to replace two that died. The route would take him near Wallace’s home. Remembering his friend’s fondness for cigars, he would have Davy leave them at a convenient place for Wallace to retrieve. He was returning the kindness Wallace had shown earlier in giving him a pair of geese.

The female of Wallace’s pair died. Davy would return by another route to pick up a replacement pair offered to the former President.

“…your presentation brought to life not only the spirit of Thomas Jefferson
but also the sense of commitment to discovery and exploration …”
Executive Director, Association of Partners for Public Lands
Would spirit, commitment, discovery and exploration appeal to your audience?
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I am sorry, my old friend. We really tried.

It is with much concern I inform you that the Senate has negatived [vetoed] your appointment [as ambassador to Russia] … mr Madison, on his entering into office, proposed another person (John Q. Adams.) he also was negatived … our subsequent information was that, on your nomination, your long absence from this country, & their idea that you do not intend to return to it had very sensible weight … I pray you to place me rectus in curiâ [innocent] in this business …
To William Short, March 8, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes circumstances conspire to defeat a leader’s best intentions.
William Short (1759-1849) was Jefferson’s protégé and friend. He served in various diplomatic roles in Europe from 1785-1802, including five years as personal secretary to Ambassador Jefferson in France. After a few years back in America, Short returned to Europe in 1808 on a temporary assignment in Russia. Jefferson proposed to the U.S. Senate to make Short’s appointment permanent. The Senate turned him down cold. There were several reasons.
1. Short’s 17 year residency in Europe had made his allegiance suspect.
2. Elsewhere in this letter, Jefferson explained the Senate was interested both in detangling America from European matters and reducing the size of the diplomatic core.
3. While not stated, Jefferson’s influence was waning. He was a lame duck President when Short was nominated.
4. The Senate was equally independent-minded in vetoing John Quincy Adams, President Madison’s nominee for the same position.

Jefferson began this letter with, “It is with much concern I inform you …” That is probably a great understatement. Most likely, he would have been mortified that  his faithful friend and supporter for a quarter century,a well-qualified man, had been cast aside.

” …what a magnificent and delightful job you did as President Thomas Jefferson
in our substantive program…”
Substantive Program Chair, United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Mr. Jefferson even impresses constitutional lawyers and judges!
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Who exactly is in charge here? Part 11 C (OR Hooray for optimistic leaders!)

 [This is the 13th post in a series abstracted from Jefferson’s famous “My Head and My Heart” dialogue written to Maria Cosway. This is part of Heart’s final reply.]

Heart: In a life where we are perpetually exposed to want & accident, yours [Head’s] is a wonderful proposition, to insulate ourselves, to retire from all aid, & to wrap ourselves in the mantle of self-sufficiency! For assuredly nobody will care for him who care for nobody. But friendship is precious, not only in the shade but in the sunshine of life; & thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine…
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Hooray for optimistic leaders!
Jefferson acknowledged Head’s “wonderful proposition,” striving for self-sufficiency as a means of protection from life’s difficulties. One would have to perfect that do-it-yourself mentality, because there would be no help in time of need for one who never helped others.

But friendship was more important than just giving or receiving consolation in times of trouble. Friendship was especially enjoyable “in the sunshine of life,” when there was no trouble. He affirmed, despite our difficulties and sorrows, that “the greater part of life is sunshine.”

Thomas Jefferson will bring sunshine to your audience!
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Who exactly is in charge here? Part 11 B (OR I need others to share in my sufferings.)

[This is the 12th post in a series abstracted from Jefferson’s famous “My Head and My Heart” dialogue written to Maria Cosway. This is part of Heart’s final reply.]

Heart: But let us now try the virtues of your mathematical balance, & as you have put into one scale the burthen of friendship, let me put its comforts into the other. When languishing then under disease, how grateful is the solace of our friends! How are we penetrated with their assiduities [diligence] & attentions! How much are we supported by their encouragements & kind offices! When heaven has taken from us some object of our love, how sweet is it to have a bosom whereon to recline our heads, & into which we may pour the torrent of our tears! Grief, with such a comfort, is almost a luxury!
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders need support when they suffer.
Jefferson’s Head advised his Heart to weigh all things, even potential friendships, in a balance of positives vs. negatives and choose only the weightier. Heart found the potential comforts in friendship always of more value than feared hurts or loss.
In the last post, Heart extolled the virtue of the comfort he could give to others in their suffering. Here he reversed it, appreciating the comfort he received from others when he suffered.
Afflictions of disease or great personal loss were easier to bear when others came alongside to console and encourage. Suffering almost (almost!) became a luxury when one had dear friends to share in the burden.

Mr. Jefferson stands ready to inspire hope in your audience.
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What would I have done without you?

… But why afflict you with these details [about my dire financial difficulties]? Indeed, I cannot tell, unless pains are lessened by communication with a friend. The friendship which has subsisted between us, now half a century, and the harmony of our political principles and pursuits, have been sources of constant happiness to me through that long period … If ever the earth has beheld a system of administration conducted with a single and steadfast eye to the general interest and happiness of those committed to it … it is that to which our lives have been devoted. To myself you have been a pillar of support through life. Take care of me when dead, and be assured that I shall leave with you my last affections.
To James Madison, February 17, 1826

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Old leaders appreciate faithful friends.
The first portion of this letter dealt with the University of Virginia, the Legislature’s refusal to provide more funds for it and the qualifications needed in the school’s professor of law. From there, Jefferson turned to a summary of his overwhelming debt, reasons for it, and his hopes that a lottery for some of his Monticello lands might eliminate that debt and spare his home. (It did not.) Otherwise, he could be homeless, maybe lacking even ground for burial. It was a sad account.

He found some solace in sharing his difficulties with James Madison, his closest political ally and perhaps his best friend. They had labored together for a half century. He thanked Madison for his faithful friendship and support of the government they helped create, with a single-minded devotion “to the general interest and happiness” of all.


Jefferson knew the end was near and told his old friend so. Death came three and a half months later.

“Your characterization of Jefferson is wonderful …
It was a delight working with you from the moment of our first phone conversation … “
Conference Coordinator, Iowa League of Cities

Mr. Jefferson will delight your audience, too!
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How would you describe a long-term friendship?

I find friendships to be like wine, raw when new, ripened with age, the true old man’s milk and restorative cordial.
To Dr. Benjamin Rush, August 17, 1811
Koch & Peden’s The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P. 563

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders need good friends, old & faithful friends.
Little needed other than to point out that Rush and Jefferson had been trusted friends to each other for over 35 years. Rush was responsible in the following year for helping to restore another old friendship, one damaged by political differences. That one was between two of his good friends, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

“I personally want to thank you.
It is a delight to have speakers like yourself who make me look good.”
Meetings Administrator, Iowa State Association of Counties

Let Thomas Jefferson make you look good to your audience!
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