Tag Archives: John Adams

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
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Why are Virginians giants and New Englanders but Pygmies?

Your letter of March 25th has been a cordial to me, and the more consoling as it was brought by your Grandsons Mr Randolph and Mr Coolidge … how happens it that you Virginians are all sons of Anak, we New Englanders, are but Pygmies by the side of Mr Randolph; I was very much gratified with Mr Randolph, and his conversation …
Public affairs go on pretty much as usual, perpetual chicanery and rather more personal abuse than there used to be …
My love to all your family—and best wishes for your health—
FROM John Adams TO Thomas Jefferson, April 17, 1826

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The personal abuse of leaders is on the rise!
In honor of President’s Day (Monday, February 20), this week’s posts are devoted to the last letters exchanged between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Tuesday was Jefferson’s letter, today, Adams’ reply.

Jefferson’s letter to Adams requesting an audience for his grandson, T.J. (Jeff) Randolph, must have been presented personally by Jeff to the elder statesman, who was delighted with their conversation. Jeff’s younger sister, Ellen, had married Joseph Coolidge of Boston the year before and now lived there. The “Mr. Coolidge”Adams referred to must have been Jeff’s brother-in-law, Ellen’s husband.

Jeff Randolph was probably tall like his grandfather, who was 6′ 2 1/2″. Adams was only 5′ 7”. He wanted to know why New Englanders were short while Virginia produced “sons of Anak,” a tall race described in the Old Testament books of Numbers and Deuteronomy.

In a deleted portion of this letter, Adams complained about two current politicians, at least one of whom was contesting the legality of his son John Quincy Adams’ election as President. That probably explains his reference to “more personal abuse.”

Health was a concern for both men, who had far exceeded normal life expectancy. Jefferson was almost 83, and Adams was 90. He died 2 1/2 months later on the same day as Jefferson, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

“Your portrayal of President Thomas Jefferson was intellectually stimulating,
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My grandson wants to meet you!

My grandson Th: Jefferson Randolph, being on a visit to Boston, would think he had seen nothing were he to leave it without having seen you … like other young people, he wishes to be able, in the winter nights of old age, to recount to those around him what he has heard and learnt of the Heroic age preceding his birth, and which of the Argonauts particularly he was in time to have seen …my solicitude for your health by enabling him to bring me a favorable account of it. mine is but indifferent, but not so my friendship and respect for you.
To John Adams, March 25, 1826

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Near-death grandparent leaders want their grandchildren to remember.
In honor of President’s Day (yesterday, February 20), this week’s posts are devoted to the last letters exchanged between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Today will be Jefferson’s letter, Thursday Adams’ reply.

Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1792 – 1875) was the 2nd child and 1st son of his eldest daughter, Martha. Always a favorite of his grandfather, Jeff as he was known, supervised the elder man’s lands and perilous finances. Now, the 34 year old grandson was coming to Boston and wanted to meet Adams. Jefferson apologized for the intrusion but asked Adams for the indulgence, so that when Jeff was old, he might have some first-hand accounts to give his grandchildren.

Jefferson, almost 83, reported his health as “indifferent,” but hoped his grandson would bring a “favorable account” from the 90 year old Adams. Jefferson died just over three months later on the same day as Adams, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

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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
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What should one expect from the King?

Mr. Adams wrote to me pressingly to join him in London immediately …I accordingly left Paris on the 1st. of March, and on my arrival in London we agreed on a very summary form of treaty … On my presentation as usual to the King and Queen at their levees [receptions], it was impossible for anything to be more ungracious than their notice of Mr. Adams & myself. I saw at once that the ulcerations in the narrow mind of that mulish being left nothing to be expected on the subject of my attendance;
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
It is hard, but often wise, for leaders to overlook past offenses.
In June 1785, John Adams was appointed Minister to England. A month later, Jefferson succeeded Benjamin Franklin as Ambassador to France. Adams thought he saw a softening of England’s position toward the U.S. and asked Jefferson to join him in hopes of negotiating a new commercial treaty between the two nations.

Those hopes were dashed when the two ministers were presented to the King. He ignored them. Jefferson concluded he could expect nothing from the King, whom he called stubborn, narrow-minded, and damaged in his thinking.

Not sticking up for the King, you understand, but consider the situation: In the preceding nine years, America had savaged the King in the Declaration of Independence, beaten him on the battlefield, deprived him of wealthy colonies and humiliated him before the world. Now, two representatives of those same upstart colonies stood before him seeking a trade agreement. It would have taken a very wise and open-minded leader to accept them.

Jefferson and Adams were willing to leave the past behind and move forward in a manner that would benefit both nations. The King was not.

“Clearly, the visits with President Jefferson and Captain Clark
have set the standard for future conferences.”

Indiana Historical Society
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July 2 is Independence Day, not July 4.

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776
(For the full text of Adams’ letter, see http://bit.ly/iHfcB8)

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
238 years ago today, on July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted for independence from England. When John Adams reported the previous day’s activities to his wife Abigail, he thought July 2 would be America’s day of celebration. Adams penned a ringing affirmation about the significance of Congress’ action and how it should be celebrated throughout the land forever, personally and publicly, with both reverence and exuberance.

Two days later, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, which set forth the reasons for that action. The original draft of the Declaration was written by Jefferson. It was amended by the drafting committee and again by the Congress before it was adopted on July 4. The final version was still essentially Jefferson’s creation.

It was Jefferson’s stirring and memorable prose, adopted on the 4th of July, which sealed that date instead of the 2nd  as the one to be celebrated.

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Whose voices are most important?

..whether the power of the people, or that of the aristoi [aristocracy] should prevail..
… we broke into two parties, each wishing to give a different direction to the government; the one to strengthen the most popular branch, the other the more permanent branches, and to extend their permanence. here you & I separated for the first time …

To John Adams, June 27, 1813

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders seek to understand differences of opinion.
Jefferson was a year and a half into his resurrected friendship with Adams. They had taken different paths 25 years earlier over the direction the new nation should pursue. Jefferson summed up one of their main differences:
– Those who favored “the power of the people” wanted a stronger Congress, which was more responsive to citizens’ voices.
– Those who favored “the aristoi” [the elites, well-connected, wealthy or well-born]  wanted to empower “the more permanent branches” of government, Executive and Judicial. The Executive [President] didn’t have to answer to the voters as often. The Judicial [courts] didn’t have to answer at all.

Jefferson stood at the head of the first camp, Adams of the second. The years-long breach between the two patriots began here.

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Mr. Jefferson hopes your audience will not be a “tough crowd,”
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John Adams, please don’t die!

… no one more sincerely prays that no accident may call me to the higher and more important functions which the constitution eventually devolves on this office. These have been justly confided to the eminent character which has preceded me here, whose talents and integrity have been known and revered by me thro’ a long course of years; have been the foundation of a7 cordial and uninterrupted friendship between us; and I devoutly pray he may be long preserved for the government, the happiness, and prosperity of our common country.
Address to the Senate, March 4, 1797

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Servant leaders don’t seek power. It seeks them.
This was the conclusion of Jefferson’s address to the Senate when he was inaugurated as Vice-President. He lauded President Adams’ character and prayed that he would suffer “no accident” and “be long preserved for the government,” because Jefferson didn’t want the Constitutional succession to the Presidency.

There is debate whether Jefferson sought power, or whether power sought him.  Jon Meacham, in his 2012 biography, Thomas Jefferson – The Art of Power, asserts that Jefferson actively sought control, not only in the political world but in his personal life. I am more persuaded that political power found Jefferson, rather than the other way around.
Once found, he was willing to use it, but it was not his nature to go after it.

Regardless, three and a half years later, Jefferson again stood as the leader of those opposed to the Federalist policies of Hamilton and Adams in the Presidential election of 1800. That time he bested Adams for the job he said he didn’t want.

Jefferson did get an answered prayer for Adams’ good health. Both men lived another 29 years.

“We heard nothing but praise from audience members.”
Policy Director, Washington State Association of Counties

Mr. Jefferson will prove himself praiseworthy with your audience, as well.
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Do pain and ingratitude appeal to you? If so, be President.

I leave to others the sublime delights of riding in the storm, better pleased with sound sleep and a warm birth [berth] below, with the society of neighbors, friends and fellow laborers of the earth, than of spies and sycophants [yes men]. No one then will congratulate you with purer disinterestedness than myself … I have no ambition to govern men. It is a painful and thankless office.
To John Adams, December 28, 1796

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders understand the drawbacks to high-profile leadership.
Jefferson wrote to Adams, congratulating him on his election as President. In that same election, Jefferson stood as the leader of the opposition. With the 2nd highest number of electoral votes, Jefferson became Vice-President. He was delighted to let Adams have the top spot, among the “spies and sycophants.” He would enjoy the quiets of home, family, friends and his fellow farmers.
The closing statement, “I have no ambition to govern men. It is a painful and thankless office,” is an interesting one. Four years later, Jefferson would defeat Adams’ re-election bid and would govern men for the eight years to come. Jefferson would say it was the times that forced that role upon him. His detractors offer it as an example of ambition or hypocrisy.

“You were remarkable and I highly recommend you… “
Chair, Seattle Federal Executive Board

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Can you do both, hang on and be ready to let go?

There is a ripeness of time for death, regarding others as well as ourselves, when it is reasonable we should drop off, and make room for another growth. When we have lived our generation out, we should not wish to encroach on another. I enjoy good health. I am happy in what is around me; yet I assure you, I am ripe for leaving all, this year, this day, this hour.
To John Adams, August 1, 1816

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders are both willing to serve and ready to step aside.
The 73 year-old Jefferson and the 79 year-old Adams corresponded several times on aging and end-of-life considerations. Jefferson saw his physical abilities waning and worried that the mental ones would follow. Most of all, he feared a mind that was gone but in a body that lingered, no longer of benefit to those around him but a burden.

On the whole, Jefferson believed life was far more good than evil, more pleasure than pain, something to be enjoyed but not grasped too tightly. Still, he recognized his generation was coming to an end. A younger generation could flourish quite well without him.


This excerpt affirms his good health and happiness, but he was ready to give it up any time, even at that very moment.


Both men would live another 10 years, dying on the same day, July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after voting to adopt America’s Declaration of Independence. They would experience increasing physical difficulties but would remain mentally alert until the end.

“You did a remarkable job of interpreting Jefferson’s character
and transplanting him, his thoughts and ideas into the 21st century.
MFA Oil Company / Break Time Convenience Stores

Your audience will be delighted with the 21st century relevance of Jefferson’s wisdom!
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