Tag Archives: Human Resources

The hangman just does his job.

Had you hundreds to nominate, instead of one, be assured they would not compose for you a bed of roses. You would find yourself in most cases with one loaf and ten wanting bread. Nine must be disappointed, perhaps become secret, if not open enemies. The transaction of the great interests of our country costs us little trouble or difficulty. There the line is plain to men of some experience. But the task of appointment is a heavy one indeed. He on whom it falls may envy the lot of a Sisyphus or Ixion. Their agonies were of the body: this of the mind. Yet, like the office of hangman it must be executed by some one. It has been assigned to me and made my duty. I make up my mind to it therefore, & abandon all regard to consequences. Accept my salutations & assurances of respect.
To Larkin Smith, November 26, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Personnel decisions vex all leaders!
Larkin, a political supporter in Virginia, had twice written the President, asking for a job and received no reply. In a third letter, he expressed dismay at the lack of a response. Larkin thought his years of service to the nation merited at least an answer, if not a job.

In an earlier part of this letter, Jefferson explained Larkin’s failure to receive the appointment he sought was an answer. The President went on to explain one of the most difficult parts of his job was disappointing people who sought employment.
Great issues facing the country posed little difficulty, because wise, experienced men knew what to do. Personnel issues were another matter entirely. Only one person could be appointed per job, and the many not chosen would be disappointed. The losers, who might have been allies, could become private foes, maybe even public ones.

In such matters, Jefferson compared himself to the hangman. As someone had to do that unpleasant job, he had to do his, each time rewarding one and disappointing many. It came with the territory of being a leader. He accepted the responsibility and refused to worry about the consequences.

“ … please accept this letter of thanks and appreciation
for your outstanding presentation … “
University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
Mr. Jefferson will be outstanding for your audience, too!
Invite him to speak. Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739
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