Tag Archives: Reputation

Risk 38 years of esteem? No way! Part 2

and with respect to myself particularly, after eight & thirty years of uniform action in harmony with those now constituting the republican party, without one single instant of alienation from them, it cannot but be my most earnest desire to carry into retirement with me their undivided approbation [approval] & esteem. I retain therefore a cordial friendship for both the sections now so unhappily dividing your state.
Thomas Jefferson to Michael Leib, August 11, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders near retirement safeguard their legacy.
In the previous post, Jefferson wrote as matter of policy and as a federal official, he must take no side in state political quarrels. Here, he went from the philosophical to the personal.

For almost four decades, he had allied himself consistently with the republican (small r) cause. No person of that persuasion had ever distanced themselves from him over intra-party differences. He was nearing the end of his public life and wished to carry with him into retirement “their undivided approbation & esteem.” Thus, he would remain friends with both sides, regardless of the damage they were doing to the republican cause in Pennsylvania.

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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Liars gotta lie. Ignore them. I do.

the uniform tenor of a man’s life furnishes better evidence of what he has said or done on any particular occasion than the word of an enemy … [who] prefers the use of falsehoods which suit him to truths which do not … to divide those by lying tales whom truths cannot divide, is the hackneyed policy of the gossips of every society. our business is to march straight forward,1 to the object which has occupied us for eight & twenty years, without, either, turning to the right or left.
To George Clinton, December 31, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Confident leaders give no thought to lies spread about others (or themselves).
New York Governor Clinton wrote to the President, disavowing printed allegations that he enclosed, which questioned his loyalty to the administration. Jefferson told him to ignore it. He considered “the uniform tenor of a man’s life” as the proper measurement of that man, not conduct alleged in a specific instance. Gossips always used lies in trying to divide those united in the truth.

The business of his administration was to pursue a straight course, upholding the republican (small r) principles established in 1776, and not be distracted those who had other agendas.

Jefferson replaced Vice-President Aaron Burr with Governor Clinton in 1804.

“… thanks for your excellent program …
I have received nothing but compliments … “
Past President, Cole County Historical Society
Compliments are a natural consequence following Mr. Jefferson’s presentations.
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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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I accept THEIR opinion, but I trust in YOURS.

I gladly lay down the distressing burthen of power…the part which I have acted on the theatre of public life, has been before them [the citizens of the nation]; & to their sentence I submit it: but the testimony of my native county, of the individuals who have known me in private life, to my conduct in it’s various duties, & relations, is the more grateful as proceeding from eye witnesses & observers … of you then, my neighbors, I may ask, in the face of the world, ‘whose ox have I taken, or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed, or of whose hand have I recieved a bribe to blind mine eyes therewith’? on your verdict I rest with conscious security
To the Inhabitants of Albemarle County, April 3, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders have no fear of going home to stay.
Albemarle County, Virginia was Jefferson’s home county. Its citizens had welcomed his return to Monticello after his retirement, and he prepared this acknowledgement.

He was glad to be done with power! He believed he had acted honorably in office and was willing to accept whatever verdict came from the nation. He was far more concerned with the verdict of his neighbors and friends, people who had known him for decades.

In addressing his friends, he also made his response to distant observers who questioned his judgment, morals and faith. To these who knew him well, he quoted the prophet Samuel from the Old Testament (1 Sam. 12:3), asking whom had he cheated, oppressed or deprived of justice? He would live out his remaining years among those friends and neighbors in the confidence (“conscious security”) of their judgment.

“Mr. Lee has presented as Thomas Jefferson …
on two different occasions and in two very different formats.
In both instances, the presentations were of exceedingly high quality …”

Executive Director, Missouri Humanities Council
Whatever your meeting, Mr. Jefferson will bring a relevant message.
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be advised then; erase it even from your memory, and stand erect before the world on the high ground of your own merits, without stooping to what is unworthy either of your or their notice. remember that we often repent of what we have said, but never of that which we have not.
Thomas Jefferson to Gideon Granger, March 9, 1814

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wounded leaders do well to hold their tongues.
Granger had written Jefferson three weeks earlier, asking his recollections in matters where Granger was now accused of acting improperly. He was preparing to make a written defense to the nation. In this lengthy reply, Jefferson offered as much background as he could remember but cited “the decay of memory consequent on advancing years.”
He concluded his letter with this advice:
1. Forget about defending yourself. (It will work against you, he wrote earlier.)
2. Forget the accusations. They deserve neither your attention nor others’.
3. Stand tall on what you know to be true.
4. We are responsible for what we do say. We do not have to answer for what we don’t say.

Many years before, George Washington had advised his young protege Jefferson to remain silent when attacked. In the time it took to answer one accusation, 10 more would spring forth. He couldn’t win at that game. Better not to play at all. It’s the same advice he was now giving Granger.

Politics can be a blood-sport. It is surprising the thin-skinned Jefferson lasted as long as he did. Granger’s 12-year tenure as Postmaster General ended a week after this letter was written. He retired to New York to manage his business interests and pursue state politics. He died in 1822, at age 57.

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Mr. Jefferson will captivate your audience, too.
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