… I wish I were able to assist you in doing it, as I should do it with great pleasure. but the heavy debt, which on winding up my affairs at Washington, I found I had contracted there, has placed me under great difficulties, & will keep me long in a crippled state, as I have to pay it out of the profits of my estate, & the sale of a part of it, which I am endeavoring to effect …
To Joseph Dougherty, June 26, 1809
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know: “Never spend your money before you have it.”
The line above is from Jefferson’s “Decalogue of Canons for Observation in Practical Life,” 10 points of advice he wrote late in life. Unfortunately, he never followed it himself.
Dougherty had asked Jefferson’s help in building a flock of Merino sheep, a breed both men preferred. The retired President gave some practical advice but declined to invest any money in the operation, citing his “heavy debt” from his years in Washington City.
Some of his financial difficulties were not of his making. Some very definitely were. Taken together, they had rendered this naturally generous man unable to help. His money woes, which began in the 1770s with circumstances imposed by the Revolutionary War, compounded through the decades. By the late 1780s, he was borrowing money to pay off previous loans. At his death in 1826, he was about $100,000 in debt, necessitating the sale of Monticello and most of his possessions.