Tag Archives: Lies

Publicly, I shut up. Privately, I explain.

seeing the impossibility that special vindications should ever keep pace with the endless falshoods invented & disseminated against me, I came at once to a resolution to rest on the justice & good sense of my fellow citizens, to consider from my general character and conduct thro’ life, not unknown to them, whether these [false or slanderous statements] were probable: and I have made it an invariable rule never to enter the lists of the public papers with the propagators of them. in private communications with my friends I have contradicted them without reserve.
To David Redick, June 19, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders have to know when to hold ’em, when to fold em’.
Redick had relayed to Jefferson an unfavorable report he’d heard from a missionary about comments Jefferson was purported to have made to Indians visiting him in Washington City. Redick wanted to give the President an opportunity to rebut the charges. His reply stated:
1. There was no end to the falsehoods invented against him.
2. He would respond to none of them publicly or in the press.
3. Instead, he would trust “the justice & good sense of my fellow citizens.”
4. They knew his “general character and conduct.”
5. From that knowledge, they could judge for themselves whether such charges were true.
6. To his friends, he had no hesitation in contradicting the charges.

Thus, he wanted to reassure Redick of the baseless nature of the charge by giving the details of his interaction with the Indians. He invited Redick to share this information with others, especially with the one who brought the accusatory report. He specifically warned Redick that his written reply was for Redick’s use only, and this letter was not to escape his possession.

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CHILL! Your reputation precedes you.

Happily withdrawn from the knolege of all the slanders which beset men in public life, I am totally uninformed of the tale respecting yourself alluded to in your letter, & equally unable to conjecture the author of it … I presume it impossible that in a state where you are known by character to every individual, their representatives can be led away by tales of slander, a weapon so worn as to be incapable of wounding the worthy. that the views of the person [Cong. John Randolph of VA] who procured the appointment of a committee of investigation were merely malignant, I never doubted, but his passions are too well known to injure any one.
To Samuel Smith, Maryland, July 26, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Public leaders have to expect slander.
Smith (1752-1839) was a successful businessman, Jefferson supporter and Maryland politician for many years. He had written to Jefferson about a proposed Congressional investigation into alleged improprieties regarding his private funds and public responsibilities. Smith knew but declined to identify to Jefferson the source of the accusations, the former President’s trusted Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin.

Interesting observations from Jefferson:
1. All public leaders should expect slanders, spoken untruths intended to defame.
2. He was happily ignorant of the case and would not speculate about the source of accusations.
3. Smith’s well-known reputation was all the defense he needed.
4. Without mentioning John Randolph by name, he alluded to Randolph’s attack-dog personality and his general lack of credibility.

The investigation was derailed when Smith’s brother Robert, Jefferson’s Secretary of Navy, brought forth facts which established Samuel’s innocence.

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NO MORE of what I tolerated but never liked!

… and I add one further request that you will be so good as notify them my desire for their discontinuance. I shall give over reading newspapers. they are so false & so intemperate [lacking moderation] that they disturb tranquility without giving information.
To Levi Lincoln, March 11, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders avoid unnecessary aggravation.
Lincoln (1749-1829) was a Massachusetts lawyer and Attorney General in Jefferson’s first term. He was governor of his home state when this letter was written.

Lincoln had purchased subscriptions to Massachusetts newspapers for Jefferson for the previous four years. The ex-President was now sending him $45.62 in reimbursement, along with a request that Lincoln cancel the subscriptions.

From Jefferson’s description of their being “false & so intemporate,” these must have been Federalist newspapers. They provided no helpful information and upset him in the process. Retirement meant he could now be done with such unsettling influences.

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What should be done about abusive newspapers?

I am sensible, with you, of the distortions and perversions of truth and justice practised in the public papers, and how difficult to decypher character through that medium. but these abuses of the press are perhaps inseparable from it’s freedom; and it’s freedom must be protected or liberty civil & religious be relinquished. it is a part of our duty therefore to submit to the lacerations of it’s slanders, as less injurious to our country than the trammels which would suppress them.
To Elijah Brown, June 7, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders know bad sometimes comes with the good.
A congratulatory letter from the 16th regiment of South Carolina observed that it was difficult to obtain a clear view of the new President from the newspapers. Jefferson acknowledged the “distortions and perversions of truth and justice” evident in the papers, partisan mouthpieces with no concern for balance or objectivity.

Yet, Jefferson defended newspapers and the freedom they represented. If that freedom were restricted, other liberties would suffer, too. Better to endure the abuses of the newspapers than the greater abuse that would come from restricting them.

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