Tag Archives: Retirement

This is my problem, not yours. Go. (Part 2 of 2)

I must now turn to the painful task of finding a successor. altho you had prepared me for this event, I am as much unprovided as if it were now for the first time mentioned. I see not who is to fill the chasm. but this labour is my lot. be yours that of domestic felicity, of health & long life: and with this wish accept my affectionate salutations & assurances of great & constant esteem & respect.
Thomas Jefferson to Levi Lincoln, December 28, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Departing trusted lieutenants are one of a leader’s greatest challenges.
In the previous post, Thomas Jefferson reluctantly but with understanding accepted the resignation of his Attorney General for family reasons. Filling the vacancy now posed a “painful task.”

In a series of recent posts, the President explained how personnel issues were the most difficult part of his job. Governing was easy. Picking the people who would govern with him was not. Although Jefferson knew this day was coming, he was still unprepared with a successor. No one could “fill the chasm.”

Stoic in this regard, Jefferson acknowledged his job was to deal with it. Lincoln’s was to enjoy family, “health & long life.” Although unspoken, Jefferson must have envied Lincoln’s escaping Washington. It would be four more years before he could enjoy what Lincoln would have immediately.

John Breckenridge and then Caesar Rodney would serve as Attorney General in the President’s second term.

“Not only was the portrayal realistic,
but it was technically and historically accurate.”

Conference Chairman, Nevada Association of Land Surveyors
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You plant trees at age 61?! I will plant flowers!

We hope Mr. Short will do us the honor of transmitting the things we entrusted to him, in order to bring us back to the extravagance of planting and sowing after age 60.
Woe to him who lives only for his own lifetime!
From Madame de Tesse to Thomas Jefferson, May 21, 1802

… I cannot but admire your courage in undertaking now to plant trees. it has always been my passion; insomuch that I scarcely ever planted a flower in my life. but when I return to live at Monticello, which may be in 1805. but will be in 1809. at the latest … I believe I shall become a florist. the labours of the year, in that line, are repaid within the year, and death, which will be at my door, shall find me unembarrassed in long-lived undertakings.
To Madame de Tesse, January 30, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Visionary leaders long for some short-term gratification!
Jefferson met Madame de Tesse (1741-1813) during his service in France in the late 1780s. An educated woman, she ran a salon, a gathering of individuals for intellectual discussion. Such women always appealed to Jefferson.

They also shared an interest in horticulture, which was the subject of his letter. “Mr. Short” was William Short, a mutual friend who facilitated their exchange of seeds and plants. Some of the plants she requested of Jefferson must have been trees, whose maturity she would never live to see. Yet, she concluded her letter, ” Woe to him who lives only for his own lifetime!”

Jefferson admired her long-term vision but sounded a contrary interest for himself. His political life had been characterized by long-term vision, but he was already looking forward to retirement, two or six years hence, when he could become a florist! Whatever he planted would pay him back in beauty that same year. When he died, he wouldn’t be embarrassed by plantings that hadn’t yet reached maturity.

“… your participation, as always, helped make this year’s
Constitution Day celebration
at the Old Court House a success”
Acting Superintendent, Jefferson National Expansion Museum, National Park Service
Mr. Jefferson will help make your event a success, too.
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Enough of politics. Now, about me.

So much as to my country. now a word as to myself. I am retired to Monticello, where, in the bosom of my family, & surrounded by my books, I enjoy a repose to which I have been long a stranger. my mornings are devoted to correspondence. from breakfast to dinner I am in my shops, my garden, or on horseback among my farms; from dinner to dark I give to society & recreation with my neighbors & friends; & from candlelight to early bed-time I read. my health is perfect … as great as usually falls to the lot of near 67 years of age.
To Tadeusz Kosciuszko, February 26, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Retired leaders can enjoy the benefits that come from no longer leading.
In a long letter, Jefferson wrote frankly and at length on the nation’s strength and preparation for a likely war with England. Business taken care of, he wanted his old friend to know how he was personally.

He enjoyed great rest to be amid his family and books. He rose at dawn each day and wrote from then until breakfast at 9:30. After breakfast and until dinner at 3:30 (only 2 meals a day), he was outside, supervising his multiple agricultural endeavors. After dinner and until dark, he enjoyed the company of family, friends and neighbors. Once daylight was gone, he read by candlelight until an early bedtime.

He claimed his health was as good as any 67 year old man could enjoy and credited his retired and relaxed lifestyle for that result.

“This letter is to recommend a both talented and fascinating performer …
His professional abilities show that he’s done his homework – extensively!”
Runge Nature Center, Missouri Department of Conversation
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THIS is the life!

I am constantly in my garden or farm, as exclusively employed out of doors as I was within doors when at Washington, and I find myself infinitely happier in my new mode of life.
To Etienne Lemaire, April 25, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A radical change of scenery can do a leader great good!
Lemaire managed the President’s House during both Jefferson administrations and had since moved to Philadelphia. In this letter, he asked his former butler to secure several cooking ingredients not available nearer to Monticello. His grandson, Jefferson Randolph, was in Philadelphia and would pay for the items. He sent on several other tidbits of common interest and concluded with the sentiment above.

Over the previous 35 years, Jefferson’s time at Monticello was overshadowed by the great events of war, independence, diplomacy and governance. His hands-on involvement with those events was now behind him. He could dig in the dirt and putter around his farms to his heart’s content. He was much happier now, “infinitely” so.

“This is a key thought – you are a serious student of Thomas Jefferson, not just an imitator –
and it quickly became evident that… [we were] listening to Thomas Jefferson,
not Patrick Lee portraying Thomas Jefferson.”

Deputy Executive Director, Missouri Rural Water Association
Your audience will suspend disbelief
and know they are hearing from Mr. Jefferson himself.

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Hell is behind me, paradise ahead!

… for altho’ I too have written on politics, it is merely as a private individual, which I am now happily become. within two or three days I retire from scenes of difficulty, anxiety & of contending passions to the elysium [paradise] of domestic affections & the irresponsible [not accountable to anyone] direction of my own affairs. safe in port myself, I shall look anxiously at my friends still buffeting the storm, and wish you all safe in port also.
To John Armstrong, March 6, 1809

NOTE: I have excerpted most of Jefferson’s significant correspondence from the first year of each of his two Presidential terms (March 4, 1801 – March 3, 1802 and March 4, 1805 – March 3, 1806) for the most recent blog posts. I will now turn the clock ahead and work from the first year of his retirement, which began March 4, 1809, when James Madison succeeded him as President.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders look forward to retirement!
Armstrong (1758-1843) had been a U.S. Senator from New York and was now America’s ambassador to France. Jefferson wrote about America’s failed embargo, continued conflict involving American ships at sea and the prospect of war, and Napoleon’s attempts to subdue much of Europe. He also thanked Armstrong for acquiring a “dynamometer” for him, a device that measured pulling force, something he had wanted for many years.
He concluded by stressing, thankfully, that his views on politics were now simply as a private individual. Within days, he would leave the non-stop stress of Washington City for peacefulness of Monticello. There he would reside as a ship safely arrived at its final port and hope the same destiny for those he left behind.

“Patrick Lee is a professional … easy to work with …
and very effective portraying Thomas Jefferson …”
Director, Living History Associates, for OpSail 2012, Norfolk, VA
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Can leadership make you a prisoner?

Within a few days I retire to my family, my books and farms; and having gained the harbor myself, I shall look on my friends still buffeting the storm, with anxiety indeed, but not with envy. Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power.
To P. S. Dupont de Nemoirs, March 2, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Retiring leaders need to walk away … and rejoice.
Two days after writing this letter, President Jefferson’s second term ended, and he turned the reins over to James Madison, his close friend of more than 30 years. He would trade the “shackles of power,” which he compared to a prisoner’s chains, for all the delights of home.

He had gained the “harbor” of retirement. While he was anxious for his friends as America teetered on the brink of war with England, he did not envy them. Jefferson now had his fondest wish: The prisoner had been set free.

“…how excellent it was having Mr. Jefferson
be our conference keynote speaker …”
Missouri Rural Water Association
Mr. Jefferson will be excellent for your audience!
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Is ambition essential for leadership?

Before I ventured to declare to my countrymen my determination to retire from public employment, I examined well my heart to know whether it were thoroughly cured of every principle of political ambition, whether no lurking particle remained which might leave me uneasy when reduced within the limits of mere private life. I became satisfied that every fibre of that passion was thoroughly eradicated.
To James Monroe, May 20, 1782

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
isinterested” leaders might make the best leaders.
In the previous post, also excerpted from this letter, Jefferson gave some reasons for not heeding his county’s call to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. Those reasons were preceded by the one above.

Before he determined to retire from public life, he asked himself, “Is my political ambition gone? Completely gone? Can I be happy and fulfilled in the much smaller arena of private life?” His answer to those questions was “Yes.” A year later, he was still at rest with his decision.

Jefferson appears to say that ambition, in some amount at least, is essential for leaders. Examining himself and finding none, he concluded that he was justified in declining any leadership role.

Yet, Jefferson would come out of retirement twice and log 21 more years as a public leader. Did the ambition come back? I think not, and that’s what made him such an effective leader. He could lead or govern motivated by principle rather than ambition. He had become “disinterested,” a word he used to describe someone who had no personal agenda, only the best interests of the people he served.

“Your presentation was an excellent blend of history, education and inspiration,
and your knowledge … down to the last detail, was remarkable.”
Washington Association of County Officials
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Am I obligated forever?

If we are made in some degree for others, yet in a greater are we made for ourselves…
I may think public service & private misery inseparably linked together …
I am persuaded that having hitherto dedicated to them the whole of the active & useful part of my life I shall be permitted to pass the rest in mental quiet. …
To James Monroe, May 20, 1782

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders have a natural right to say no.
Monroe had been elected to the Virginia House of Delegates from his home county. Jefferson’s county elected him to serve, too, but he refused. Monroe wrote to him on May 11, 1782, “you should not decline the service of your country.”
These three excerpts come from a lengthy rebuttal to his good friend.
1. By natural law, his personal rights were greater than the state’s.
2. One sacrificed personal peace for public service.
3. He had earned his private rest after 13 years of public service.

Jefferson cited compelling family and financial reasons, too. Also, he was still smarting from accusations of cowardice and treason at the end of his second term as governor a year before. He was done with public life, and no one would convince him otherwise.

Jefferson would soon re-enter public life, but for a reason he could not have imagined. He would serve 11 more years before retiring again, just as adamant to remain a private citizen forever. That retirement would last only three years.

“The presentation he brings is sure to be professional,
unique and enjoyed by all.”
Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society National Conference
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“Know when to walk away. Know when to run.”*

… but to the mass of that political sect [my opponents] the 4th. of Mar. 1809 [the Presidential inauguration] will be a day of Jubilee. but it will be a day of greater joy to me … I hail the day which is to relieve me from being viewed as an official enemy. in private life I never had above one or two.
To William Short, May 19, 1807

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know when to step down.
In the previous post (12-18-13) from December, 1796, Jefferson congratulated John Adams on his election as President. Although Jefferson was on the ballot, too, and thus, became Vice-President, he had no interest in the top job. He wrote, “I have no ambition to govern men. It is a painful and thankless office.” Now, 10 ½ years later, with his own retirement from that top job in sight, he could hardly wait.
William Short had been a protégé and trusted friend for many years. Jefferson described some of the reasons why he would not accept a third term as President.
First, as he saw his physical abilities waning, he worried that his mental ones might be slipping, too. Second, while a transition in leadership would never be easy, it would be the least difficult then. Either of his lieutenants, Madison or Monroe, were capable replacements. But then, there were the harshest of his opponents, who would cheer his retirement on March 4, 1809.
None would greet that day more happily than he. In another example of his wry humor, he was weary of being “an official enemy.” He longed to retire to private life, where his enemies were never more than “one or two.”
*”The Gambler,” written by Don Schlitz, performed by Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash and others

“Your presentation on Thomas Jefferson was outstanding and very realistic.”
Utah Council of Land Surveyors

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What’s a polite way to say, “Hogwash!”?

… I may think public service & private misery inseparably linked together. I have not the vanity to count myself among those whom the state would think worth oppressing with perpetual service … I am persuaded that having hitherto dedicated to them the whole of the active & useful part of my life I shall be permitted to pass the rest in mental quiet … I dare say you did not expect by the few words you dropped on the right of renunciation to expose yourself to the fatigue of so long a letter …
To James Monroe, May 20, 1782

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Thin-skinned leaders have a tougher time.
Monroe had written his older friend, challenging his (Jefferson’s) intention to decline any further public service, and suggesting the public had a right to make that claim on his life. Jefferson would never write, “Hogwash!,” but that is the essence of his reply.

In mid-1781, Jefferson had completed two difficult years as war-time Governor of Virginia. His tenure was followed by accusations of cowardice and an investigation into his official actions as British soldiers overtook his state. Though vindicated of all charges, Jefferson was deeply wounded.

At this point, he thought “thirteen years engaged in public service” was enough, and he had earned the right to renounce any more. He cited business and family matters that needed his full attention. He apologized to his friend for such a lengthy reply, “the fatigue of so long a letter,” but he felt a strong compulsion to defend his decision.

Five months later would find him once again accepting a public appointment, but for reasons he couldn’t have imagined. A clue is given near the end of this letter, “Mrs Jefferson has added another daughter to our family. She has been ever since & still continues very dangerously ill.” This was her 7th childbirth, and she would die in September. Two months later, he again accepted a public role, this time to escape his private torment.

Maybe all public servants on occasion would agree with Jefferson’s opening line, “I may think public service & private misery inseparably linked together.”

“Our attendees raved about Mr. Jefferson
and the words of wisdom he had to offer them.”
County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

Mr. Jefferson has wisdom for your audience, too.
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