I am 39. Time to retire from public life!

THOMAS JEFFERSON LEADERSHIP

Before I ventured to declare to my countrymen my determination to retire from public employment, I examined well my heart to know whether it were thoroughly cured of every principle of political ambition … I became satisfied that every fibre of that passion was thoroughly eradicated. … I considered that I had been thirteen years engaged in public service … had so totally abandoned all attention to my private affairs as to permit them to run into great disorder and ruin, that I had now a family … which require my attention & instruction, that to these were added the hopeful offspring of a deceased friend …

I am persuaded that having hitherto dedicated to them the whole of the active & useful part of my life I shall be permitted to pass the rest in mental quiet…

Mrs Jefferson has added another daughter to our family. She has been ever since & still continues very dangerously ill…

Source:  To James Monroe, May 20, 1782


Patrick Lee’s Explanation

Well-grounded leaders know they are not always obligated to lead.

Jefferson had retired from being Governor of Virginia almost a year earlier. He was still grieved by charges of cowardice and abandoning his office as British soldiers advanced up the hill toward Monticello to take him prisoner. (Technically, his term had ended two days before that raid.)

He was done with government and politics, convinced that no ambition remained. He could be happy being just a husband and father, an involved uncle to his widowed sister’s six children, and tending his farms and intellectual interests. In 13 years, he’d given enough to the public. He was done. Much of this long letter was justifying his right to retire to his young friend.

A personal note at the end will lead to a completely different course than the one he had just rationalized. Martha Jefferson would not recover from this, her 7th childbirth. She died on September 6, 1782. In recovering from that tragedy, Jefferson would accept both Congressional and ambassadorial duties.

If Martha had not died, would Jefferson have resumed a public life? I have my doubts.


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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.