I have labored long and hard to procure the reduction of duties on the lighter wines, which is now effected to a certain degree. I have labored hard also in persuading others to use those wines. Habit yields with difficulty. Perhaps the late diminution of duties may have a good effect.
Source: To Stephen Cathalan, May 26, 1819
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders realize that changing people’s habits is very hard.
This post is not about wine, although that’s the subject of this letter. Monticello’s web site reports of this source, “No single letter provides a better statement of Jefferson’s drinking habits, his tasting vocabulary, and his efforts to convert his fellow Americans than one written on May 26 to Stephen Cathalan.”
No, this post is about the four words of the next-to-last sentence, “Habit yields with difficulty.” In this context, Jefferson wrote about people’s fondness for certain types of wines, probably those with a higher alcohol content. He hoped to change that preference. He even worked to reduce the duty (import tax) on lighter wines. Today, we might say he hoped a change in tax policy might affect behavior, like higher taxes on tobacco might lower consumption.
In a much larger context, the 76 year old Jefferson, a leader for almost half a century, acknowledged how very difficult it was for people to change established patterns of behavior. (In fairness to all the rest of us, though, I should point out Mr. Jefferson wasn’t very good at changing his habits, either!)
By the way, Jefferson classified wines as either sweet, acid, dry, or silky, a combination of “the dry wine dashed with a little sweetness.” He also added the characteristic of “astringent,” which could be found in several of those classifications.
Thomas Jefferson has much more to say to your audience
about human nature.
Invite him to speak: 573-657-2739
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.