Having determined never while in office to accept presents beyond a book or things of mere trifling value, I am sometimes placed in an embarrassing dilemma by persons whom a rejection would offend. in these cases I resort to counter-presents. your Polygraph, from it’s rarity & utility offers a handsome instrument of retribution to certain characters.
Thomas Jefferson to Charles Willson Peale, June 9, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders look for innovative ways to avoid giving offense.
It was common for people to give the President gifts. Some were simply expressions of gratitude while others may have been from people seeking favor. Either way, Jefferson would not accept anything of value, often returning the gift with a ‘thank you but I cannot accept.’ He would not be beholden to any gift giver.
Sometimes, though, to return a gift would give offense to the giver. Jefferson, usually sensitive to others’ opinions, hated giving offense. He found the answer in Peale’s marvelous copy machine, the polygraph. Jefferson owned several of these and was so delighted with them, he would commission one to give as a gift to donors whose sensitivities he wished to safeguard.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.