Tag Archives: John Adams

Forgiven! Friends again? Part 4 of 4

if my respect for him did not permit me to ascribe the whole blame to the influence of others, it left something for friendship to forgive, and after brooding over it for some little time, and not always resisting the expression of it, I forgave it cordially, and returned to the same state of esteem & respect for him which had so long subsisted … I have thus, my dear Madam, opened myself to you without reserve, which I have long wished an opportunity of doing; and, without knowing how it will be recieved, I feel relief from being unbosomed … that you may both be favored with health, tranquility and long life, is the prayer of one who tenders you the assurances of his highest consideration and esteem.
To Abigail Smith Adams, June 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Choosing to forgive is an empowering leadership trait.
In previous posts from this letter, Jefferson thanked Adams for the condolence for his deceased daughter, reaffirmed his esteem for her, and then described the only act of her husband, former President John Adams, that he considered personally unkind. He continued that thread in this post.

Most, but not all, of John Adams’ actions Jefferson could attribute to political foes. Yet, Adams himself was responsible in some smaller measure. Jefferson admitted brooding over Adams’ offenses, even speaking of those offenses with others. And then, “I forgave it cordially,” he wrote and resumed his long-held esteem for Mr. Adams.

Jefferson had the desire to preserve friendship despite political differences. He was able to forgive most offenses and knew the futility of holding a grudge. He was far more inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt and move on.

Abigail Adams would have none of it. Her reply contained a full-throated justification of her husband’s actions, the ones Jefferson found personally unkind. She condemned Jefferson’s involvement with the scandal-monger journalist, James Callendar. She also bore a personal offense for his denying her son John Quincy Adams, a federal position.

As a meeting planner, it was a pleasure to work with you…
I look forward to working with you in the future.”
Legislative Services Manager, Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives
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That really hurt! (But it was the only hurt.) Part 3 of 4

I can say with truth that one act of mr Adams’s life …  and one only, ever gave me a moment’s personal displeasure. I did consider his last appointments to office as personally unkind. they were from among my most ardent political enemies, from whom no faithful cooperation could ever be expected, and laid me under the embarrasment of acting thro’ men whose views were to defeat mine; or to encounter the odium of putting others in their places. it seemed but common justice to leave a successor free to act by instruments of his own choice.
To Abigail Smith Adams, June 13, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Should a leader deliberately handicap his successor?
After appreciating her condolences on the death of his daughter and affirming his unflagging respect for Mrs. Adams, he turned to the differences between himself and her husband, the former President, John Adams. Those differences he described as political, not personal … except in one instance.

When Adams had been defeated for re-election by someone of the opposite party (Jefferson), but before he left office, he filled a number of vacancies with men he knew would be strong opponents of the new President. That left Jefferson in a no-win situation. He could try to work with people who would deliberately undermine him, or dismiss them and experience considerable public backlash.

Jefferson considered it “but common justice” to let him choose his own officers. That her husband sought to deprive him of that choice was the “one act of mr Adams’s life … and one only” that was “personally unkind.”

” … the Society received more favorable comments and inquiries …
than we have had about any other program …”
First Vice President, Boone County Historical Society
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It is not necessary to lay blame when a mistake is made.

It appears that on the 31st. Mar. 1800. a paiment of cents & half cents was made into the treasury, which raised the whole amount paid in to more than 50,000. D. and that the Treasurer ought then forthwith to have announced it in the gazettes. consequently it ought, now that the omission is first percieved, to be forthwith announced … to avoid the appearance of blaming our predecessors within whose time the omission happened, I would not specify the date when the sum of 50,000. D. had been paid in …
To Albert Gallatin, April 10, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders quietly correct another’s error and move on.
A 1792 law provided for an announcement in the newspapers whenever the U.S. Mint had transferred more than $50,000 in pennies and half pennies to the Treasury Department. That threshold was reached eight years later, in President Adams’ administration, but the public notification was not made. Albert Gallatin, Jefferson’s Treasury Secretary, discovered the omission and asked his boss how he wanted to handle it.

Jefferson said the error should be corrected, but he didn’t want to lay any blame on Mr. Adams or his staff. Thus, he directed his Secretary to announce the threshold had been reached but make no mention of when it happened.

“On behalf of our annual conference participants, I’d like to thank you
for closing the event on such a memorable note.”
Conference Manager, Nebraska Association of School Boards
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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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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,
historically accurate, and very professional presented.”
Executive Director, The Missouri Bar
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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.

“Working with Patrick was wonderful.
He was very flexible and easily adjusted his program to meet the audience.”
Executive Director, Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, Washburn, ND
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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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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.

“He was one of the best speakers we have had for this event [Annual Leadership Conference] over the years, and we recommend him without qualification.”
Illinois Association of School Boards
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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.

“City officials are a “tough crowd” and the ovation they gave you was well-deserved.”
Executive Direction, Missouri Municipal Association

Mr. Jefferson hopes your audience will not be a “tough crowd,”
but if they are, he is up to the task!
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