Tag Archives: Wisdom

Your mind alone will get you into trouble!

… with a heart disposed to do whatever is honest and honorable, and a head able to decide by calculation that what is not right can under no possible circumstances be useful … that by going strait forward and doing exactly what is just and moral, the way will open before you, and the mountains of difficulty subside: when by resorting to head-work and contrivence, one only gets more & more entangled in the mazes of their own cunning, and finally enveloped in a self-woven web of disgrace. but I catch myself sermonizing again, & have again to seek my apology …
To Lewis Harvie, January 25, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know intellectual cleverness alone is never enough.
The 21 year old Harvie (1782-1807) was the son of Jefferson’s childhood friend and grandson of his guardian upon the death of his own father in 1757. The young man requested an appointment as secretary to James Monroe during the latter’s service in Europe negotiating the future of American shipping on the Mississippi River.

Jefferson declined the appointment, not because Harvie was unqualified, but because Monroe would probably want to choose his own secretary. The President then outlined a deliberate and lengthy course of action for a young man who wanted a career in public service, similar to one Jefferson himself began 40 years earlier.

The President concluded with this advice for Harvie:
1. He should have the heart always to do what was “honest and honorable.”
2. His mind should be clear enough to warn him away from dubious enterprises.
3. Governed by sound mind and heart, the right course would become clear.
4. If he abandoned the moral compass of his heart and relied only on his mind, he would come to ruin and disgrace of his own making.
He then admitted he was preaching to the young man and apologized.

Later in 1803 Jefferson appointed Harvie to replace Meriwether Lewis as his personal secretary when Lewis left to lead the exploration up the Missouri River. Harvie took ill in 1805 and died two years later at the age of 25.

“Mr. Lee’s research and knowledge of Thomas Jefferson is very complete
and he plays the role comfortably and with enthusiasm and authenticity.”
President, California Land Surveyors Association
A relaxed, enthusiastic and authentic Thomas Jefferson awaits your audience!
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You will spend time to save time.

the Polygraph lately invented in our country, & as yet little known   …[will] be forwarded to you by some vessel … your turn for mechanics will render pleasing to you those little attentions necessary in the use of the instrument. you are not one of those who will not take time to learn what will save time. I have used one the last 18. months, and can truly say that it is an inestimable invention … I inclose you directions for opening and setting it to work … [emphasis added]
To Edward Preble, July 6, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders invest time now to save time later.
In a recent post, Jefferson had received a valuable gift of wine from Commodore Preble. It set a bad precedent to keep it and might give offense to send it back. He solved his dilemma by sending Preble his favorite new invention, a copying machine known as a polygraph.

The polygraph was a complex instrument with multiple parts connected by joints and hinges. It took time and concentration to set up and calibrate before it would work properly.

I included this letter for the emphasized line. Some people would not invest time now to save time later. Preble was not one of those people. Neither was Jefferson.

“We thoroughly enjoyed Patrick’s program [as Jefferson]
and would highly recommend him to other groups.”
Executive Director, Kentucky Bar Association
If Mr. Jefferson can impress lawyers, he will certainly impress your audience!
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Is 77 too old for the job?

… it is objected indeed in the remonstrance, that he is 77. years of age: but, at a much more advanced age, our Franklin was the ornament of human nature. He may not be able to perform in person all the details of his office: but if he gives us the benefit of his understanding, his integrity, his watchfulness, and takes care that all the details are well performed by himself, or his necessary assistants…
To the New Haven Merchants, July 12, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Inclusive leaders don’t rule anyone out.
The merchants in New Haven, CT, wrote a remonstrance, a letter of complaint, to the new President about his appointment of Samuel Bishop to be federal tax collector for their city. A previous office-holder died in early February. John Adams, defeated for reelection, appointed Federalist Congressman Elizur Goodrich to the post, two weeks before Jefferson was inaugurated. The new President routinely made it clear that he considered such lame-duck appointments by Adams as nullities. Jefferson removed Gingrich and appointed the Republican Blair in his place.

The merchants raised a number of objections, in particular, Blair’s age (77) and ability to do the job. Jefferson countered with the example of Benjamin Franklin, a major contributor to the American cause until his death at age 84. Second, the qualities that Blair had demonstrated in his long life (wisdom, character and caution) would be assets in this position. Finally, even if Blair could not perform all of the duties personally, they could be done by others who worked under his supervision.

Jefferson could have ignored the complaint, written from strictly partisan motivation. Instead, he wrote a long, reasoned and respectful reply.

“We will have to work very hard
to top such a wonderful program next year.”
Executive Vice-President, North Carolina Agribusiness Council
Mr. Jefferson will set a high bar for subsequent presenters!
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What advice does a dying man offer?

This letter will, to you, be as one from the dead, the writer will be in the grave before you can weigh it’s counsels. your affectionate and excellent father has requested that I would address to you something which might possibly have a favorable influence on the course of life you have to run, and I too, as a namesake, feel an interest in that course. few words will be necessary with good dispositions on your part.
adore God. reverence and cherish your parents. love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. be just. be true. murmur not at the ways of Providence. so shall the life into which you have entered be the Portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss.
and if to the dead it is permitted to care for the things of this world, every action of your life will be under my regard. farewell.
Th: Jefferson to Th: Jefferson Smith, February 21, 1825

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Dying leaders can still inspire.
A better known portion of this letter is his “Decalogue of Canons for Observation in Practical Life,” Part One and Part Two. These summed his 81 years of experience and wisdom into 10 principles for everyday living.
Here, Jefferson encouraged his namesake to:
1. Love God
2. Love your parents
3. Love your neighbor as yourself
4. Love your country more than youself.
5. Be honest and truthful.
6. Don’t complain about God’s ways.
A life lived by these principles would usher young Smith into another life of perfect and eternal happiness.

It would be 16 ½ months before Jefferson died, but his health was failing. He knew his end couldn’t be far. If he could see this world from the next, he promised to watch over his namesake.

“Mr. Jefferson’s presentation on leadership was a wonderful and unique way
to kick off an extremely successful conference.”
County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania
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Can stupid people write wise laws?

… it is generally true that that people will be happiest whose laws are best, and are best administered, and that laws will be wisely formed, and honestly administered, in proportion as those who form and administer them are wise and honest …
Preamble, A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, 1778

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise and honest laws require a well-educated citizenry.
During America’s war for independence, Jefferson devoted much of his time to re-writing Virginia’s laws. This is one of his most famous, providing for publicly-funded education for boys AND girls. It called for a system of primary and grammar schools throughout the state, plus scholarships for advanced education for the best but most impoverished students.

What was the connection between education and wise laws with honest administrators? Elsewhere in the Preamble Jefferson asserts that the only way to have these kinds of laws, honestly and wisely administered, was to have a well-educated citizenry.

Jefferson promoted this cause for the rest of his life, almost half a century. He never saw it implemented to the degree he proposed in 1778.

”Your performances during our annual summer conference
were exactly what we needed to take it over the top.”
Director of Member Services & Education, Minnesota Rural Electric Association

Let Thomas Jefferson take your conference over the top.
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