The subject of your letter of April 20, is one on which I do not permit myself to express an opinion, but when time, place, and occasion may give it some favorable effect. A good cause is often injured more by ill-timed efforts of its friends than by the arguments of its enemies. Persuasion, perseverance, and patience are the best advocates on questions depending on the will of others.
The revolution in public opinion which this cause requires, is not to be expected in a day, or perhaps in an age; but time, which outlives all things, will outlive this evil also. My sentiments have been forty years before the public. Had I repeated them forty times, they would only have become the more stale and threadbare. Although I shall not live to see them consummated, they will not die with me; but living or dying, they will ever be in my most fervent prayer …
To James Heaton, Monticello, May 20, 1826
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders understand that big change comes very slowly.
The subject is slavery. (There’s a new book, a grossly inaccurate one, I think, on Jefferson, the evil slaveholder.) Consider this letter, written by the frail, ailing Jefferson just six weeks before his death. These are his last words on this grievous issue.
1. He expressed an opinion only when it could have “some favorable effect.” Otherwise, he kept his thoughts to himself.
2. By poor timing, friends could injure a good cause more than its enemies.
3. When change depends on the will of others, rely on “persuasion, perseverance and patience.”
4. Revolutionary change in thinking comes not in a day and maybe not in a lifetime.
5. Time will outlive slavery, which he called evil. The practice would end … sometime.
6. Since the late 1760s, his views on slavery were well-known. To harp on them year after year would have made his voice irrelevant.
7. He wouldn’t live to see this evil ended, but he wouldn’t give up. Slavery’s end would be his “most fervent prayer,” even in death.
Do these principles apply today where a “revolution in public opinion” is required?
Let Thomas Jefferson express his thoughts on change to your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739