How do the poor people live?

Thomas Jefferson’s Leadership

… I fell in with a poor woman walking at the same rate with myself and going the same course. Wishing to know the condition of the labouring poor I entered into conversation with her … and thence proceeded to enquiries into her vocation, condition and circumstance.

She told me she was a day labourer, at 8. sous or 4 d. sterling the day; that she had two children to maintain, and to pay a rent of 30 livres for her house (which would consume the hire of 75 days), that often she could get no emploiment, and of course was without bread. As we had walked together near a mile and she had so far served me as a guide, I gave her, on parting 24 sous. She burst into tears of a gratitude which I could perceive was unfeigned, because she was unable to utter a word. She had probably never before received so great an aid.

This little attendrissement [tenderness], with the solitude of my walk led me into a train of reflections on that unequal division of property which occasions the numberless instances of wretchedness which I had observed in this country and is to be observed all over Europe. The property of this country is absolutely concentered in a very few hands …

Source: Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, October 28, 1785
http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch15s32.html

Patrick Lee’s Explanation

Wise leaders seek to understand people and their situations.

Jefferson was on a long walk to a neighboring village in France when he encountered this woman. He was always interested in how people lived, so he questioned her as they walked on together. She was all-too-representative of the European poor who had nothing, while a very few controlled all the land.
When this single mother could find work, she made 8 sous per day. I don’t know how much money that was in 1785, but for a half hour of her time and information, Jefferson gave her three day’s wages.

Further on in this letter he decried property that lay fallow for the hunting pleasure of the very rich, while people went hungry. That land could be farmed to provide food for people like this woman and her children. He also speculated to Madison about laws that might tax property progressively, to provide opportunity for the hopelessly poor to escape their fate.

He saw such concentration of wealth and squandering of the land’s potential while millions went hungry a violation of natural law.


Jefferson was a 1%-er who cared strongly about the 99%.
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The Moral Liberal Thomas Jefferson Editor, Patrick Lee, is a professional speaker, actor and writer. Since 1990, he has inspired, entertained and educated audiences from Maine to Hawaii with his authentic, first person leadership presentations as President Thomas Jefferson, Frontiersman Daniel Boone, and Lewis & Clark Co-Leader William Clark. He also appears as himself, The Hopeful Humorist™, with a program of motivational humor, patriotism and inspiration.

His business address is ThomasJeffersonLeadership.com.