Tag Archives: Thomas Jefferson

I would prefer to, but duty dictates I must not.

were I to yield to my own feelings … [or to] … so many respectable persons as have signed the petition, my path would be easy. but on mature consideration the opinion is that it would be an abusive use of the executive power, and would tend to transfer from the grand jury to the Executive the office of deciding whether a person shall be put on his trial or not. between these conflicting motives of personal feeling & of duty, the latter must be supreme.
Thomas Jefferson to John Peter Van Ness, January 9, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Must a leader sacrifice 154 opinions for the sake of a principle?
Van Ness and 153 other signatories petitioned Thomas Jefferson to pardon Robert Peacock, arrested on a credible charge of forgery. Peacock’s wife, a well-connected woman of merit with two young children, was greatly maligned by the charges against her husband. The wife promised their family would leave the country if her husband were freed.

The President had the authority to pardon and the opinion of “so many respectable persons” was significant. It would be an easy (and popular!) choice to grant their petition. Yet, doing so would undermine the judicial process while expanding executive (his) authority. He was always cautious about treading on ground occupied by the other two branches of government.

Given the choice between “personal feeling & duty,” he chose duty. It “must be supreme.”

“Those in attendance were captivated by your grasp of the subject …”
Program Committee, Rotary Club of St. Louis
Mr. Jefferson brings his knowledge for the benefit of your audience.
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It will take HOW long to get there? (2 of 2)

Congress have not yet sanctioned the measure, but there is no doubt they will do it. we shall have to open a road from Georgia to Pearl river. but as that will take time, & we want an immediate use of that line, we propose to send immediately, a mail of letters only, excluding printed papers, on horseback, along the most practicable Indian paths. we count on getting the distance from Washington to New Orleans performed in 12. days, as soon as the riders shall have learned the best route.
Thomas Jefferson to William C.C. Claiborne, January 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The man wants speed now!
President Jefferson was awaiting permission to establish 70 miles of a new southern postal route from Washington to New Orleans through land Spain possessed but claimed by the U.S.  Permanent approval had to come from Spain, but he wanted Claiborne to obtain a temporary OK from Spanish officials in New Orleans. Congress had to approve the entire route, too.

Since all that would take time, and the mail had to move, Jefferson proposed allowing “a mail of letters only,  excluding printed papers [newspapers, legal documents, etc.].” Until an official road could be established, postal riders would have to pick their way west on “the most practicable Indian paths.”

Siri said the distance today from D.C. to New Orleans is 965 miles as the crow flies, 1,087 by road. Whatever the distance was then, the President hoped to get the time down to just 12 days.

“I wanted to take a moment to tell you how enthralled our attendees were
with your guest appearance as Thomas Jefferson …”
Conference Chairman, FOCUS Conferences
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It is better to ask permission than risk offense. (1 of 2)

[Surveyor] Mr. Briggs will have explained to you our purpose of running a mail below the[Appalachian] mountains to N. Orleans by Tuckabatché & Fort Stoddart. from this last place to the mouth of Pearl river it must pass thro’ the territory possessed by Spain but claimed by us. Colo. Monroe left London the 8th. of Oct. for Madrid to settle that point. while it is under negociation we think both parties should cautiously refrain from innovating on [make changes in] the present state of things. for this reason we think it proper to ask the consent of the Spanish government.
Thomas Jefferson to William C.C. Claiborne, January 7, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders seek to minimize conflict.
Claiborne (c. 1774-1817) governed the Territory of Orleans, later to become the state of Louisiana. He knew of Thomas Jefferson’s plan to establish a new southern postal route from Washington to New Orleans that avoided crossing the mountains.

While the Louisiana Purchase conveyed what had been Spanish land west of the Mississippi River, ownership of lands along the Gulf Coast east of that river were in dispute.  Jefferson claimed them, of course, but Spain maintained they were never meant to be transferred with the western lands.

The new postal route would include about 70 miles “possessed by Spain but claimed by us.” Ambassador James Monroe was en route to Spain to negotiate the matter. In the meantime, it would be best to have the consent of Spanish officers in New Orleans rather risk diplomatic offense or armed conflict.

“The Smithsonian Associates … coordinates hundreds of programs each year
in Washington, D.C. and across the nation …
Mr. Lee’s performances in Omaha were excellent.”
Program Coordinator, The Smithsonian Associates
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Two and I’m outta here!

my opinion originally was that the President of the US. should have been elected for 7. years, & for ever ineligible afterwards. I have since become sensible that 7. years is too long to be unremoveable …the service for 8. years with a power to remove at the end of the first four, comes nearly to my principle …  the danger is that … reelection through life shall become habitual, & election for life follow that. Genl. Washington set the example of voluntary retirement after 8. years. I shall follow it. and a few more precedents will …[establish this principle]. perhaps it may beget a disposition to establish it by an amendment of the constitution.
Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, January 6, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders self-limit their authority.
Taylor (1753-1824) was a Virginia lawyer, farmer, politician, political writer and close ally of Thomas Jefferson. He had written the President after hearing reports that Jefferson would serve a second term only and then retire. Taylor asked him to reconsider that decision.

Jefferson declined. One of his three objections to the new U.S. Constitution proposed in 1787 was no limit on the number of terms a President could serve. He feared that could turn into a President-for-life, either dictator or king. He credited Washington with setting the example of retiring after two terms. He would follow suit. Several more doing the same would establish the principle. Presidents Madison and Monroe continued in that vein, serving two terms only.

That principle continued until 1940, when Franklin Roosevelt was elected to a third term and then a fourth in 1944. This resulted in the 22nd Amendment (which Jefferson suggested) adopted in 1951, constitutionally limiting the President to two terms.

“After your presentation, it was truly amazing
how you answered questions from the audience without stepping out of character.”
Executive Director, Professional Land Surveyors of Ohio
Mr. Jefferson delights in a no-holds-barred question-and-answer session!
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A cherry on top! (7 of 7)

should this establishment take place on a plan worthy of approbation, I shall have a valuable legacy to leave it, to wit, my library, which certainly has not cost less than 15,000. Dollars. but it’s value is more in the selection, a part of which, that which respects America is the result of my own personal searches in Paris for 6. or 7. years, & of persons employed by me in England, Holland, Germany and Spain to make similar searches. such a collection on that subject can never again be made.
Thomas Jefferson to Littleton W. Tazewell, January 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Passionate leaders endow their own dreams.
Jefferson concluded his long letter envisioning the University of Virginia by putting a cherry on top. He would give it his personal library, several thousands of books. He had spent more than 35 years compiling that collection from the best sources in America and Europe. It had no equal.

But it was not to be. Before the University would open two decades later, an even more compelling need arose. The British burned the U.S. Capitol in the War of 1812 (“Mr. Madison’s War,” they called it.) and its small library. In 1815, Thomas Jefferson sold his beloved library to the federal government, where it would become the foundation of the Library of Congress.

In 1824, Thomas Jefferson spent maybe 100 hours compiling a list of books the University should acquire. The number of books and their cost were nearly identical to the size and value of the library he sold to Congress nine years earlier.

“I have been in association management for over 20 years
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as an entertaining, informative and educational speaker …”

Executive Director, Missouri Concrete Association
Thomas Jefferson comes well-recommended.
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Interrupted, Incomplete, Premature, Immature & ANONYMOUS!

not having written any three lines of this without interruption it has been impossible to keep my ideas rallied to the subject. I must let these hasty outlines go therefore as they are. some are premature, some probably immature; but make what use you please of them except letting them get into print.
Thomas Jefferson to Littleton W. Tazewell, January 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders know attribution can be a liability.
Jefferson was nearing the end of a long letter, describing in both grand terms and lesser ones his vision for a top-notch university in Virginia. Some letters he answered as time permitted. This one he answered immediately.

He had read Tazewell’s letter the evening before, on a subject dear to his heart and responded the next day, squeezing it in among his presidential duties. As such, he said he hadn’t written more than three lines at a time “without interruption.” He claimed he couldn’t keep his thoughts clear on the project.

Still, he was so eager to contribute to the debate, he would let his thoughts go out immediately, jumbled or not, well-thought-out or not. Tazewell could pick and choose as he liked.

The only thing he insisted on was anonymity, not wanting to give his political foes more to use against him or the university-to-be.

“When Patrick Lee appeared on stage in full costume …
he commanded the surveyors’ immediate attention.”
Assistant Executive Director, Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors
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Let us be smart about this. (5 of 7)

4. buildings. the greatest danger will be their over-building themselves, by attempting a large house in the beginning, sufficient to contain the whole institution. large houses are always ugly, inconvenient, exposed to the accident of fire, and bad in cases of infection. a plain small house for the school & lodging of each professor is best. these connected by covered ways out of which the rooms of the students should open would be best. these may then be built only as they shall be wanted. in fact an University should not be an house but a village. this will much lessen their first expences.
Thomas Jefferson to Littleton W. Tazewell, January 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders occasionally upset conventional thinking.
Building were the last of four specific areas requiring the University Visitors’ attention. A student of architecture and frugal with public funds, Thomas Jefferson had specific, counter-cultural thoughts:
No Big Buildings! Do not house professors, students and classrooms in one big, ugly, expensive, disease-incubating building, where a fire would wipe out the entire university.

Jefferson proposed one “plain small house for the school” itself and separate buildings to house each professor and students. Covered walkways would protect all as they moved from building to building. More structures could be added as the school grew, lessening expenses on the front end.

He proposed an academical “village.” It would be 20 years before the University of Virginia opened, but you can see Jefferson’s vision today in the original grounds of UVa.

“Thank you for  very excellent presentation.”
Executive Director, Associated General Contractors of Missouri.
Mr. Jefferson will make an excellent presentation for your audience.
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Let us get down to specifics. (4 of 7)

The charter being granted & the Visitors named, these become then the Agents as to every thing else. their first objects will be 1. the special location. 2. the institution of professorships. 3. the emploiment of their capital. 4. necessary buildings. a word on each…
Thomas Jefferson to Littleton W. Tazewell, January 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders provide guidelines then let the experts work.
Once the legislature had authorized a university in Virginia and painted its mission in broad strokes, specific planning would be turned over to gifted, knowledgeable and unpaid trustees, to be known as Visitors. As the legislature had four broad directives, the Visitors would have four narrow ones:
1.  A specific location – “needs no explanation,” he wrote.
2. Professors – He went into great detail, insisting on the best men to teach only the most useful sciences. They were to be multi-disciplinary scholars, so that each might teach several subjects, lessening the number required. Their salaries “should be very liberal.” This would bring the brightest scholars, give the university high status from the very beginning, and attract young men from all the states.
3. How to best use their endowment – Here Thomas Jefferson did something rare for him, deferring because “on this subject others are so much better judges than myself.”
4. The campus itself, the subject of the next post.

“…[you] received a very high score for speaker as well as content.
Out of a possible 5.0, you received 4.6 …”
Executive Director, Illinois Court Reporters Association
In both presentation and content,
Thomas Jefferson will score high with your audience.
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“Hamilton”? Shmamilton!

This mini-rant is my tribute to Mr. Jefferson on his favorite day, July 4.

Of all the piling on Thomas Jefferson has endured the last 20 years, most of it unfounded and undeserved, much “credit” can be given to the incredible popularity of the play, “Hamilton.” It is a clever, rap music account of Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury and Jefferson’s arch political foe.

I have not seen the play, though I have read plenty about it. I have read Ron Chernow’s biography, Hamilton, which inspired the play. Chernow’s characterization of Jefferson was unfavorable. The play followed suit.

Two authors have taken a little of the bloom off the “Hamilton” rose in the article below. I wrote to them immediately, with an email that began and ended:
“Hello, Valerie & Cameron –
FINALLY! Finally someone has taken on the myth of “Hamilton.” Thank you! … “Hamilton,” like “1776,” might be great entertainment, but they are lousy history.””


Enough With Hamilton, Say Fans of Other Founding Fathers

By Valerie Bauerlein and Cameron McWhirter
https://www.wsj.com/articles/enough-with-hamilton-say-fans-of-other-founding-fathers-11561312822

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—It’s a hard time to be a Founding Father if your name isn’t Alexander Hamilton.

The runaway Broadway success of “Hamilton: An American Musical” has meant that Thomas Jefferson isn’t even the sole attraction in his own home-turned-museum, Monticello. Visitors can take a standard house tour—or a $40 “Hamilton Takeover” one that focuses on Jefferson’s political adversary.

Long after its 2015 Broadway debut, “Hamilton” continues to make the Revolutionary period hip, and to the dismay of many history buffs, steal the limelight from other Founding Fathers. Fans of the other giants of early American history have been trying to fight the tide and grab some attention for their overlooked favorites. It hasn’t been easy.

On a recent afternoon, Monticello tour guide Carrie Soubra stopped in the library of Jefferson’s sunlit private suite to try to shore up the former president’s reputation, taking a dig at Hamilton along the way. Yes, the musical portrays Jefferson as a self-absorbed patrician, she said, but he trusted the voice of the people more than his rival did.

“Alexander Hamilton declared we should have a president for life,” Ms. Soubra said, pointing to an engraved copy of the Declaration of Independence, of which Jefferson was the principal author. “That sounds a lot like what this was trying to get rid of.”

In Philadelphia, crowds line up for a Hamilton exhibit at the National Constitution Center, but a beer-trolley tour led by a Benjamin Franklin impersonator is no longer offered because of lack of interest.

Warren Royal, the owner of Royal Bobbles in suburban Atlanta, says he produced a run of nonpresidential Founding Father bobbleheads a few years before the musical. He made Hamiltons, Franklins, Thomas Paines, John Hancocks and Sam Adamses.

After the musical hit Broadway, sales of the Hamiltons skyrocketed, outselling all other founders but George Washington. Hamilton is now closing in on Negan, a zombie-apocalypse survivor on AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

Mr. Royal discontinued Paine and Hancock. Other founders are foundering, including the nation’s fourth president, James Madison. “He’s no Elvis, I’ll put it that way,” Mr. Royal says.

Historian Nancy Isenberg, author of “Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr” and other books on Revolutionary leaders, published a series of essays saying Burr was principled and progressive, not the “stand-for-nothing” sycophant portrayed in the musical. She says she was inundated with emails from “rabid fans with an attachment to an imaginary, invented Hamilton.”

“That’s not history,” she says. “That’s rooting for your favorite team.”

Sarah Maria Everett, a 30-year-old James Madison superfan and impersonator living in Juneau, Alaska, says she is “appalled and confused” by the hit musical’s depiction of Madison as unstable. She says the biggest problem for her favorite president is public ignorance.

Yet she has scant opportunity to don her tricorn hat and plead his case, with a lone coming appearance this summer in a July Fourth parade. No theater groups have agreed to perform her five-hour play, “Jemmy Madison: The Mind and the Man Behind Religious Liberty.” Jemmy was Mr. Madison’s nickname.

“There is not a lot of demand for James Madison in Alaska,” says Ms. Everett, who is considering impersonating German composer Richard Wagner in the future.

One Philadelphia-area Franklin impersonator, Brian Patrick Mulligan, posted a tongue-in-cheek audition video when casting directors were recruiting for a “Hamilton” national tour. His headshot was the $100 bill. The show’s casting director didn’t reach out, and Franklin remains absent from the show.

“It’s so young and hip and fresh,” Mr. Mulligan, 58 years old, says of the musical. “I can understand why they wouldn’t have an old man in the show.”

Mr. Mulligan has a few gigs lined up as Franklin, including an AARP internet commercial. He supplements his income with appearances as his backup characters, which include Winston Churchill and Uncle Fester from the 1960s sitcom “The Addams Family.”

Descendants and supporters of Burr, who killed Hamilton in an 1804 duel in Weehawken, N.J., have debated how hard to push back on the play’s characterization that Burr dishonorably fired on Hamilton.

“The play adopts the theory as true that Hamilton deliberately missed Burr,” says Stuart Fisk Johnson, a criminal-defense attorney distantly related to Burr who heads the Aaron Burr Association. “Throwing away your shot, they called it. But no one really knows what happened.”

The association debated sending a letter of protest to playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda. Its members couldn’t agree on whether to take a stand.

A spokesman for Mr. Miranda didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“Some members really leaned on me to make a big stink,” Mr. Johnson says. “We thought it’s going to make the Aaron Burr Association look like a bunch of kooks.” going to make the Aaron Burr Association look like a bunch of kooks.”

Some of the group’s 80 or so members complained when the association took no action, and one, the group’s webmaster, quit in protest, a blow since no one else knows how to update the website, Mr. Johnson says.

The group did decide to protest statues of Burr and Hamilton erected in Weehawken, recently sending a sternly worded letter to township Mayor Richard Turner.

“The statues are despicable,” explained Antonio Burr, an association member who has impersonated his forebear at debates and a duel re-enactment. “Burr looking at Hamilton with intense hatred, and Hamilton is shooting in the air and looking like he is receiving the Good Lord.”

Mayor Turner didn’t reply to the letter, according to the association. The mayor didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“What are we going to do about it?” Mr. Johnson says. “We can’t issue a duel anymore.”

Veteran Jefferson interpreter Bill Barker recently joined the staff at Monticello as curators experiment with programming to reverse a recent dip in attendance.

He made his debut at a “Pursuit of Happiness Hour” on the west lawn earlier this month. Mr. Barker prepared a raft of responses to questions about Hamilton, ready to respond to questioning teens while posing for selfies.

But he says it is possible that Jefferson ends up a bad guy to a generation of fans.

“They would have every right if they should choose,” he said, speaking in character. “That is a founding principle of our nation.”

For now, boosters of non-Hamilton founders are pinning their hopes on the planned 2021 revival of the Tony Award-winning musical “1776.” It stars Franklin, Jefferson and Adams. There is no Hamilton.

Write to Valerie Bauerlein at valerie.bauerlein@wsj.com and Cameron McWhirter at cameron.mcwhirter@wsj.com

Appeared in the June 24, 2019, print edition.

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Duh! First things first! (3 of 7)

The first step in this business [creating a university in Virginia] will be for the legislature to pass an act of establishment, equivalent to a charter. this should deal in generals only. it’s provisions should go 1. to the object of the institution. 2. it’s location. 3. it’s endowment. 4. it’s Direction.
Thomas Jefferson to Littleton W. Tazewell, January 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Far-sighted leaders build a strong foundation first.
These four broad principles, in this case for a new university, could guide the establishment of any grand new endeavor:
1. Object – Why are we doing this? ”for teaching the useful branches of science”, not something for everyone
2. Location – Where will we do this? “the …[ ge]neral position, within certain limits,” rather than a specific spot, allowing for local input and control
3. Endowment – How will we protect the funding source? “bank stock, or public stock … should be immediately converted into real estate,” an appreciating asset rather than a speculative one
4. Direction – Who will provide oversight?” “in the hands of Visitors.” No more than five curators or trustees, men “of real science,” not political appointees. They were to be unpaid, but of such significance as to be “properly rewarded by honor, not by money.”

“Even though there was no formal evaluation of the speakers,
many of the participants remarked on the value of Lee’s presentation.”

Executive Director, Greater St. Louis Federal Executive Board
Your audience members will value Mr. Jefferson’s presentation!
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