Tag Archives: Writer

Your destiny is to serve the public! It is obvious.

I am sensible after the measures you have taken for getting into a different line of business, that it will be a great sacrifice on your part, and presents from the season & other circumstances serious difficulties. but some men are born for the public. nature by fitting them for the service of the human race on a broad scale, has stamped them with the evidences of her destination & their duty.
To James Monroe, January 13, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Those gifted with skills have a duty to lead, regardless of sacrifice.
A previous post detailed the President’s nomination of James Monroe (1758-1831) as ambassador to France and his unwillingness to let Monroe decline. In this letter, Jefferson buttressed case.

After outlining the positives of Monroe’s appointment and the disastrous results should he decline, and acknowledging the personal hardship this would cause, Jefferson got to the bottom line of his argument: Monroe was destined for public service and leadership. Nature obviously had gifted him to serve “on a broad scale” and made that gifting evident. It was both Monroe’s duty and destiny to fulfill that role.

I don’t recall Jefferson ever admitting the same destiny about himself, but it was obvious he was fulfilling that role, too. Had he thought only of himself, he would have happily pursued a private life at Monticello with his family, farm and books. Nature had other plans for him, and he acquiesced to a destiny different from the one he desired. Only when his Presidency was completed in 1809 (at age 66) did he allow himself to indulge those personal desires for the remaining years of his life.

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Keep my contribution anonymous!

We learn by the public papers that a great calamity by fire has happened to Portsmouth, and that yourself and some others are appointed to recieve contributions for the distressed sufferers and to distribute them. I take the liberty of inclosing to yourself an hundred dollars for this purpose. I observe the trustees say in the papers that they will make a record of the donations. I pray that in my case it may be of the sum only, without the name.
To John Langdon, January 11, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders don’t always have to grab headlines for their charitable work.
Newspapers spread the word of a disastrous fire on December 26, 1802 in Portsmouth, NH, that damaged or destroyed about 100 buildings at a loss of about $200,000. Without being asked, the President contributed $100 to the relief effort. Even though all donations were to be recorded, Jefferson asked to remain anonymous, that his contribution be noted only by the amount and not his name.

In 1802, disaster victims didn’t automatically look to governments for help. In a 19th century “crowdfunding” effort, Portsmouth dispatched three representatives to travel to other cities to encourage donations for their relief. Perhaps in response to their emissary to southern cities, Jefferson made a 2nd contribution of $100 on February 12.

John Langdon (1741-1819) was a successful businessman, early supporter of independence and a signer of the U.S. Constitution. He served in both state and national legislatures, as Governor of New Hampshire, and declined the nomination to be Madison’s Vice-President in 1812.

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and you made Thomas Jefferson real for us.”
Director of Communications and Education, Illinois Municipal League
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I am the boss. America needs you. You do not have a choice.

… the fever into which the Western mind is thrown by the affair at N. Orleans …threatens to overbear our peace. in this situation we are obliged to call on you for a temporary sacrifice of yourself … I shall tomorrow nominate you to the Senate for an extraordinary mission to France, & the circumstances are such as to render it impossible to decline; because the whole public hope will be rested on you … in the mean time pray work night & day to arrange your affairs for a temporary absence; perhaps for a long one.
To James Monroe, January 10, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes, leaders have to demand sacrifices of trusted lieutenants.
“.. the affair at N. Orleans” concerning the “Western mind” was customs-free shipping through the port of New Orleans and open traffic on the Mississippi River. The first had been withdrawn by Spain; the second faced a threat from France’s pending takeover of Louisiana, giving her partial control over the river and full control of the port.

American Ambassador Robert Livingston had been in France for some time, hoping to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans or some other land at the mouth of the Mississippi for duty-free shipping. Under the best circumstances, round trip communication between the U.S. and Paris took two months. The President thought Livingston might need help and dispatched a trusted protege.

Jefferson usually left the decision whether to take an offered job up to the individual. Not this time! He called on Monroe “for a temporary sacrifice of yourself.” The importance of the task made it “impossible to decline.” Success might rest on him. He was to get his affairs in order and depart immediately. He might be gone a short time, maybe a long time.

Monroe sailed for France on March 9, but the day before he arrived in Paris, Napoleon’s government offered all of Louisiana to Ambassador Livingston. Monroe’s purpose in going was now moot, but the two ambassadors negotiated the terms of the massive land deal.

“…our sincere appreciation for your excellent portrayal of Thomas Jefferson …”
Superintendent, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior
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Businessmen get it on!

Congress is not yet engaged in business of any note. we want men of business among them. I really wish you were here. I am convinced it is in the power of any man who understands business, and who will undertake to keep a file of the business before Congress & to press it as he would his own docket in a court, to shorten the sessions a month one year with another, & to save in that way 30,000. D. a year. an ill-judged modesty prevents those from undertaking it who are equal to it.
To Caesar A. Rodney, December 31, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders appreciate the focus businesspeople bring to government.
Rodney (1774-1822) was a Delaware politician, Jefferson partisan and namesake nephew of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was not a businessman but a lawyer and was about to take his place as a member of Congress after years of service in the Delaware legislature.

Jefferson thought Congress would benefit from having more successful businessmen as members. They knew how to organize, prioritize and remain focused. If they would bring those same skills to Congress, those bodies would accomplish more in less time and at less expense.

The President thought businessmen were being unfairly modest, “ill-judged” he termed it, in staying from public service.

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This will help the Indians become farmers.

… of great importance, is the establishment of a strong front on our Western boundary, the Missisipi, securing us on that side, as our front on the Atlantic does towards the East. our proceedings with the Indians should tend systematically to that object … the Indians being once closed in between strong settled countries on the Missisipi & Atlantic, will, for want of game, be forced to agriculture, will find that small portions of land well improved, will be worth more to them than extensive forests unemployed, and will be continually parting with portions of them, for money to buy stock, utensils & necessaries for their farms & families.
Memorandum for Henry Dearborn on Indian Policy, December 29, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even a leader’s clear vision is no guarantee of success.
Dearborn was Jefferson’s Secretary of War. The President wisely wanted to secure America’s western boundary, the Mississippi River in 1802. Part of that strategy was to extinguish Indian claims on western lands they had hunted for centuries and encourage farmers to settle there. Hemmed in by settlements on the east and west, with the natural decrease in game for hunting, Indians would have no choice but to become farmers themselves.

Small farms “well-improved” would yield much more for the Indians than vast forests “unemployed.” In time, they would gladly part with those forests, bit by bit, for money to outfit their families and farms.

Jefferson greatly overestimated natives’ interest in becoming farmers. While some were assimilated, many resisted that change and were later relocated, sometimes by force, west of the Mississippi and later further west.

“Your interpretation of Jefferson was inspiring
and very appropriate for our audience… you were a tremendous hit!”
Executive Director, Missouri School Boards Association
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Pissing THEM off a little can help US behave.

… nor do I foresee a single question which ought to excite party contention. still every question will excite it, because it is sufficient that we propose a measure, to produce opposition to it from the other party. a little of this is not amiss, as it keeps up a wholesome censorship on our conduct;
To Ephraim Kirby, December 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Shrewd leaders appreciate the value of opposition.
In a previous post, Jefferson wrote that the country was doing so well, there was little to recommend to Congress in his annual report (State of the Union Address as we know it today).  He expressed the same sentiment to Kirby, with nothing on the horizon to divide the republican party.

Yet they were bound to propose something, and it would of necessity cause the Federalist party to rally in opposition. That opposition in turn would keep the republican party on its toes, united in its focus and proper in its conduct.

“The address was fascinating history
and presented with a flair that kept the audience spellbound.”
Region 7 Conference Chair, National Academic Advising Association
How many of your conference speakers will keep your audience spellbound?
Thomas Jefferson will!
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Your eyes make me happy!

I am extremely happy when I can recieve recommendations for office from characters in whom I have such entire confidence; as nothing chagrins me so much as when I have been led to an injudicious appointment … the other duties of administration are easy in comparison with this. the appointment to office, where one cannot see but with the eyes of others, is far the most difficult of my duties.
To Ephraim Kirby, December 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders need and appreciate sound input from others.
Kirby had recommended a trusted acquaintance for an opening on Connecticut’s Bankruptcy Commission. He cited the man’s background, credentials and qualifications. Jefferson trusted Kirby and was effusive in his appreciation for Kirby’s insight.

Personnel issues were always the most vexing for Jefferson, far more difficult than administrative ones. He had to rely on others’ advice for many appointments and had been burned when some recommendations turned out to be faulty. Kirby’s advice would protect him from that fate and serve the public interest well.

“Your presentation on Thomas Jefferson was outstanding
and very realistic.”
Utah Council of Land Surveyors
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Things are going so well, let us do nothing at all!

Our busy scene is now approaching. the quiet tract into which we are endeavoring to get, neither meddling with the affairs of other nations, nor with those of our fellow citizens, but letting them go on in their own way, will shew itself in the statement of our affairs to Congress. we have almost nothing to propose to them but ‘to let things alone.’
To Joseph Priestley, November 29, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know the best course of action can be no action at all.
Priestley (1733-1804) was a renowned English-born scientist, philosopher and theologian. He was one of Jefferson’s closest confidantes.

The “busy scene” in Jefferson’s letter was the convening of the Congress for their legislative session. The “statement of our affairs” was what we now call the annual State of the Union Address. The “quiet tract” was the ongoing adoption of the republican vision for a smaller, frugal, hands-off  national government focused on two priorities:
1. Staying out of other nations’ business, and
2. Staying out of the lives of its citizens.
So successful had they been toward these ends, he could propose little to Congress other than to do nothing at all!

Further on in this letter, Jefferson wrote “the only speck in our horizon which can threaten anything” was the pending transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France. He was already addressing that issue in diplomacy, and its successful resolution the next year would change the course of America’s future.

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Chess, anyone?

Th: Jefferson asks the favor of Mr. E. Thornton’s company to dinner and chess on Monday next, the 8th. Inst., at half after three.
Friday Novr. 5th. 1802.
The favor of an answer is requested.
To Edward Thornton, November 5, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Strategic leaders practice thinking strategically.
Jefferson was well-known for inviting people to join him for his typical mid-afternoon dinner. (He ate only two meals a day, breakfast at 9:00 and dinner at 3:00 or 3:30, and perhaps a light snack in the evening.) He shared his dinner table with friends, fellow scientists and elected officials, those who supported him and some who did not. He used it as a time of friendship, intellectual stimulation and diplomacy. Thornton was a British diplomat serving in America.

Jefferson enjoyed chess! I have featured his dinner invitations and companions before. This is the second one I’ve seen where he invited someone to come to the President’s house for both dinner AND chess. (This is the first.) The President had many strong reservations about the way England conducted itself toward the United States. Yet, he could set those aside to dine and play a favored game. Jefferson usually took the long view, and the game kept his instincts sharp.

Since this was written on December 5 for dinner that afternoon, it would have been hand-delivered to the diplomat who would use the same courier to convey his answer.

“Your wonderful presentation as Daniel Boone
was well-received and appropriate to the interests of our group.”
Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association 
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OK. No booze for you!

I am happy to learn you have been so far favored by the divine spirit as to be made sensible of those things which are for your good & that of your people, & of those which are hurtful to you: & particularly that you & they see the ruinous effects which the abuse of spirituous liquors have produced upon them … Spirituous liquors are not in themselves bad … it is the improper & intemperate use of them, by those in health, which makes them injurious. but as you find that your people cannot refrain from an ill use of them, I greatly applaud your resolution not to use them at all …
To Handsome Lake, November 3, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders applaud the wise choices of other leaders.
Lake was a spiritual leader among the Seneca Indians of New York. After a lifetime of abusing alcohol, he had been delivered of that curse and now actively promoted wellness among his people. That included a campaign against all alcohol use.

Jefferson, who loved wine but drank no hard liquor, appreciated Lake’s efforts. He distinguished between the use of alcohol for social enjoyment or medicinal purposes, a common practice, and alcohol abuse by healthy people. Since Lake’s people could not refrain from abusing alcohol, Jefferson applauded the leader’s choice to have it banned completely.

This letter was the source for a similar post in March, 2012.

“The content of your presentation, medicine during your time, was also, of course,
particularly fascinating to our health care provider attendees.”
Conference Chair, FOCUS on Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine Conference
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