Tag Archives: George Washington

I opened it by mistake. I apologize.

Th: Jefferson presents his respectful salutations to Judge Washington and incloses him a package which came to Th:J. in a very voluminous mail. opening the letters hastily & without always reading the superscription [sender’s name], he had opened this and read some lines in M. de la Fayette’s letter before he discovered it not to be meant for him. looking at the corner & finding his mistake he instantly re-incloses it with an assurance on his honor that he did not see a word beyond the 4th. or 5th lines in la Fayette’s letter and not one in the others. he hopes Judge Washington will accept his apology & his regret for this accident
To Bushrod Washington, August 13, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders do not take advantage of another’s mistake.
Bushrod Washington (1762-1829) was George Washington’s nephew, heir, executor of his estate and Supreme Court justice for more than 30 years, appointed to the Court in 1798 by President Adams. The rift between Jefferson and the first President had grown pronounced before the latter’s death in 1799. Bushrod would be considered both a personal and political opponent of Thomas Jefferson.

Bushrod was compiling a history of the Revolutionary War and using correspondence between his late uncle and Marquis de Lafayette. A packet of that correspondence mailed to Bushrod had come to President by mistake, who opened it, not noting the addressee on the package. He read just a few lines, realized the package was not for him, and only then noticed Bushrod’s name on the outside. He immediately resealed the package and included this letter of apology.

“Some of the comments…included…
Very entertaining; A good way to close out; Fun and fitting; and Wow! What a finish”
President, Professional Event Services, for the Rural Cellular Association, Boston, MA
Mr. Jefferson will add a Wow! factor to your meeting.
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They hated him. He revered them.

I recieved yesterday evening your letter … informing me of the death of mrs Washington: [I was a]        witness of her constant course in whatsoever was benevolent and virtuous in life, had marked her in my judgment as one of the most estimable of women, and had inspired me with an affectionate and respectful attachment to her. this loss is the more felt too as it renews the memory of a preceding one, of a worthy of that degree which providence, in it’s wise dispensations, sees fit rarely to bestow on us, whose services in the cause of man had justly endeared him to the world, and whose name will be among the latest monuments of the age wherein he lived, which time will extinguish.
To Thomas Law, May 31, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders don’t sacrifice friendships over business differences.
On numerous occasions, Jefferson lamented that former friends had distanced themselves from him over political differences. It was one of the things that repelled him about public life. He maintained he was never the one to end a friendship because of politics.

Jefferson was critical of President Washington during his second term, and of President Adams, who continued his policies. Those were political disagreements only, never personal. The Washingtons took the criticisms personally and developed an intense dislike for Jefferson. (See the footnote at the link above for a description of Martha Washington’s scathing comments about Jefferson a few months prior to this letter!)

Receiving word of Mrs. Washington’s death, he had nothing but praise for her, a position he had always held. Her death reminded him of her husband’s passing two and a half years earlier, and of the stunning contributions George Washington had made to the new nation.

“I received so many great compliments
on your performance of Thomas Jefferson …”
Missouri Land Title Association
Your members will be surprised at the value Mr. Jefferson brings to your meeting.
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Being related to me has its drawbacks.

… towards acquiring the confidence of the people the very first measure is to satisfy them of his disinterestedness, & that he is directing their affairs with a single eye to their good, & not to build up fortunes for himself & family: & especially that the officers appointed to transact their business, are appointed because they are the fittest men, not because they are his relations. so prone are they to suspicion that where a President appoints a relation of his own, however worthy, they will believe that favor, & not merit, was the motive. I therefore laid it down as a law of conduct for myself never to give an appointment to a relation…
To John Garland Jefferson, January 25, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders sometimes have to disappoint members of their own family.
In 1801, J. G. Jefferson wrote to his cousin, the new President, seeking a job with the federal government. He explained that his name (and family connection!) should not be a disqualification. J.G. sent that unsealed letter to his brother, George, asking him to forward it to the President. George read his brother’s letter and included one of his own to their famous cousin, highly critical of his brother for even making the request.

President Jefferson replied to cousin George, commending him for his reasoning for not appointing his brother to a position. He did not reply to cousin J.G., who took offense at his brother’s interference, offense at the President’s approval of his brother’s reasoning and offense at not receiving an appointment. There the matter lay for eight years.

In late 1809, J.G. again wrote the now retired cousin-President, wanting to clear the air, explaining his 1801 position and admitting his anger. (To his credit, J.G. did not pursue the matter during his famous relative’s administration, lest it harm the latter’s reputation.) Thomas Jefferson replied in this letter, saying his difficult choice had nothing to do with J.G.’s qualifications and everything to do with public perception. Some would assert the only reason the younger man got the job was because of family connections. The President would not weaken his standing with the people unnecessarily, and J.G. was an innocent victim of that policy.

In 1801, both George Jefferson in his letter and Thomas Jefferson in his reply cited the examples of the first two Presidents. Washington refused to appoint relatives and was widely praised for it. Adams did appoint relatives and paid a high price in public opinion.

“I want to thank you for once again bringing your magic time machine
to [our] annual conference.

Our city officials were mesmerized by your performance …”
Executive Director, Missouri Municipal League
Mr. Jefferson delights to travel through time and amaze your audience.
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They have problems? WE had bigger ones! Get over it.

the dissensions between two members of the cabinet are to be lamented. but why should these force mr Gallatin to withdraw? they cannot be greater than between Hamilton & myself, & yet we served together 4. years in that way. we had indeed no personal dissensions. each of us perhaps thought well of the other as a man. but as politicians it was impossible for two men to be of more opposite principles. the method of separate consultation, practised sometimes in the cabinet, prevents disagreeable collisions.
To Joel Barlow, January 24, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders need wisdom to manage talented but feuding subordinates.
Barlow (1754-1812) was a lawyer, editor, acclaimed writer, public official, friend and confidante. He reported on a dispute between two men in President Madison’s cabinet. The disagreement had reached the point where the Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, was about to be driven out by the Secretary of State, Robert Morris.

Jefferson asked why a disagreement should force Gallatin to withdraw? He cited his own example of continually butting heads with Alexander Hamilton in President Washington’s cabinet, yet the two of them co-labored for four years. (Hamilton and Jefferson held the same two posts as Gallatin and Smith.) Their differences were political and philosophical but not personal, and they respected each other as individuals. Couldn’t Gallatin and Smith reach the same accommodation?

Jefferson suggested the practice “of separate consultation” with cabinet members. Rather than having opponents in the room together, Mr. Madison could confer with each man separately. He would have the benefit of each man’s counsel while avoiding the conflict that would inevitably arise if opponents were face-to-face.

It had been 16 years since Hamilton and Jefferson had served together in Washington’s cabinet and 5 1/2 years since Hamilton’s death in a duel with Vice-President Aaron Burr. Time must have softened Jefferson’s judgment or his memories. In the early 1790s, Jefferson had nothing positive to say about Hamilton. One of the reasons Jefferson resigned from Washington’s cabinet at end of 1793 was his continual conflict with the other man.

“You were great as President Jefferson …
Your remarks … could not have been more impressive or appropriate …”
Interim Director, Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Nebraska City, NE
Mr. Jefferson will be both appropriate and impressive for your audience!
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How should the President invite you to dinner?

Th: Jefferson requests the favor of Dr. Thornton, Mrs. Thornton and Mrs. Bridau’s company to dinner tomorrow at three oclock.
To William Thornton and others, May 12, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Self-secure leaders don’t have to rely on titles.
Invitations to dine with the President were pre-printed, with blanks for the recipient’s name and date to be filled in. Following are the invitations used by the first two Presidents:
“The President of the United States and Mrs. Washington request the pleasure of …”
“The President of the United States [Adams] requests the pleasure of …”

Note the difference between these and Jefferson’s?

His begin with his name only, not his title or office. He might have called that republican (small r) simplicity, a deliberate move away from the formality and emphasis on status that characterized the previous two administrations.

William Thornton (1759-1828) was a physician, scientist, inventor and architect. He submitted the winning design for the new capitol building on the Potomac and was one of three men who laid out the federal city-to-be and supervised the construction of federal buildings. Mrs. Bridau was Mrs. Thornton’s mother and formerly taught a school for girls, which Jefferson’s younger daughter Maria had attended.

Jefferson ate two meals a day, breakfast around 9 or 9:30 and dinner at 3:00, plus a light snack in the evening.

“This letter is to commend a both talented and fascinating performer …”
Missouri Department of Conservation
Mr. Jefferson will fascinate your audience, too.
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Great leaders stick to the great issues.

I served with General Washington in the legislature of Virginia before the revolution, and, during it, with Dr. Franklin in Congress. I never heard either of them speak ten minutes at a time, nor to any but the main point which was to decide the question. They laid their shoulders to the great points, knowing that the little ones would follow of themselves.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders deal in great things, not little ones.
Note the two characteristics Thomas Jefferson ascribed to both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin when they spoke to persuade others:
– They always spoke for less than 10 minutes.
– They devoted themselves only to the main point, the deciding point of an issue.

Jefferson seldom spoke in public debate, and he was impressed by those who could do so effectively. While legislators ranged from people like him, who spoke rarely, to ones like Patrick Henry, who spoke movingly and at length, Jefferson reserved his praise for those who spoke briefly and directly.

And what about the side issues, “the little ones,” Jefferson called them, the ones that distracted lesser men? Those would fall in line by themselves when great men focused on the great issues.

“… our sincere appreciation for your magnificent portrayal of Thomas Jefferson
to our worldwide guests during the Caterpillar ThinkBIG Global Conference.”
President, Linn State Technical College
Mr. Jefferson will be magnificent for your audience, too!
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Should facts or fears govern us?

For observe, it is not the possibility of danger, which absolves a party from his contract: for that possibility always exists, & in every case. It existed in the present one at the moment of making the contract. If possibilities would avoid contracts, there never could be a valid contract. For possibilities hang over everything.
Opinion on the French Treaties, April 28, 1793

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders should govern by what is, not what might be.
President Washington asked Secretary of State Jefferson and Secretary of Treasury Hamilton to submit opinions on whether the United States was still obligated by its treaties with France. Those treaties were made when France was a monarchy, and the king had since been beheaded. In fact, it wasn’t clear what kind of government would result from all of France’s internal turmoil.

Hamilton’s opinion was that the U.S. made treaties with a government that no longer existed. Either we were not bound by them, or we had a right to suspend them until the issue of their government was settled. He raised a lot of “what ifs” and speculated what future danger those treaties might pose to America.

Jefferson didn’t buy it. He described the “what ifs” as possibilities of danger, not danger itself. Those possibilities existed when they treaties were made. They still existed. He said we should governed by the facts and the commitments we had made (the treaties), not by fears of what might happen.

In a larger sphere, Jefferson would advise one to be governed by what is, not what might be. Very late in life (1825, age 81) he would write as #8 in his Decalogue of Canons, “How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.”

“… your command of Mr. Jefferson’s persona and mind
and your facility in answering complex questions were impressive.”
Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial Three Flags Festival, St. Louis
Your audience will find Mr. Jefferson impressive, too.
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Would you say “No!” to the President?

No circumstances, my dear Sir, will ever more tempt me to engage in any thing public.  I thought myself perfectly fixed in this determination when I left Philadelphia, but every day and hour since has added to its inflexibility.
To Edmund Randolph, September 7, 1794
(Eighth letter down)

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes, leaders have to say no, regardless who’s asking.
Jefferson resigned as President Washington’s Secretary of State at the end of 1793. Randolph had been Attorney General but took over at State after Jefferson’s departure. Ten days earlier, Randolph had written to Jefferson at the request of President Washington.
America’s ambassadors to Spain had been unable to secure that nation’s guarantee of unrestricted shipping down the Mississippi River. Kentucky was up in arms. All of her exports had to go down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and beyond. She feared an economic stranglehold. Randolph mentioned Kentucky going to war with Spain or separating from the Union as two possibilities of the stalemate.
President Washington asked Jefferson to go to Spain as a special envoy to resolve the conflict. Jefferson said no. He acknowledged the confidence the President had in him. Disappointing him was the only thing that made Jefferson reluctant to decline. Still, that didn’t change his answer.
Despite his protest that “no circumstances” would ever draw him back to public life, less than two years later he would stand as the head of the anti-federalist movement, challenging Vice-President Adams for the top job.
Nine years later, President Jefferson would finally resolve this threat to America’s west (which ended at the Mississippi River) by purchasing Louisiana from France. The Mississippi would become completely an American river.

“I highly recommend Patrick Lee for his portrayal of Thomas Jefferson.”
Executive Director, Township Officials of Illinois

Mr. Jefferson comes well-recommended!
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Will you serve where you are needed most?

…  I received a letter from the President, Genl. Washington … to be Secretary of State … with real regret. My wish had been to return to Paris … to see the end of the Revolution …   to return home, to withdraw from Political life …
In my answer of Dec. 15. I expressed these dispositions candidly to the President … but assured him that if it was believed I could be more useful in the administration of the government, I would sacrifice my own inclinations without hesitation … this I left to his decision.
I arrived at Monticello on the 23d. of Dec. where I received a second letter from the President, expressing his continued wish that I should take my station there, but leaving me still at liberty to continue in my former office, if I could not reconcile myself to that now proposed. This silenced my reluctance, and I accepted the new appointment.

Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation

Servant leaders lead where they are needed most.


In late 1789, Jefferson temporarily returned home from France, where he served as ambassador. Within days, President Washington’s letter reached him, asking him join the new government as Secretary of State. Jefferson didn’t want the job. He preferred to return to France, witness the peaceful end of their revolution within a year, come home and retire to private life.


He told Washington exactly how he felt, but offered willingly to set his desires aside if the President thought his services would be more helpful at the State Department. Washington reaffirmed his position in a second letter but respected Jefferson’s judgment, to serve in either capacity. With this affirmation from a man he respected greatly, Jefferson agreed to join the new government in New York City.


Had he made the other choice, he would have waited a long time for peace in Paris! The rebellion he thought would end within a year dragged on for many years, with great bloodshed and destruction.

“The positive comments from our staff and members continued
long after the conclusion of Thomas Jefferson’s remarks.”
Executive Director, Maine Municipal Association
Thomas Jefferson’s influence on your audience will endure!
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