I acknolege that such a debt exists, that a tour of duty, in whatever line he can be most useful to his country, is due from every individual. It is not easy perhaps to say of what length exactly this tour should be, but we may safely say of what length it should not be. Not of our whole life, for instance, for that would be to be born a slave — not even of a very large portion of it.
Source: To James Madison, June 9, 1793
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Self-limiting leaders can withdraw from power voluntarily.
Madison had encouraged Jefferson to continue in his position as President Washington’s Secretary of State, suggesting he had a debt to the public which was not yet paid off. Jefferson was determined to leave, and much of this letter was devoted to his reasoning.
Jefferson acknowledged there was a debt of public service due, not only from him but from every person. How long should that time of service be? Hard to tell, but Jefferson claimed his was paid in full. He had served now 24 years, marking that time from his election the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769. He was almost 26 then. Now, he was 50.
Of this, he was certain: It was not a lifetime debt. Nor should public service consume a large portion of one’s life. For each there was a time to serve and a time to leave. It was his time to leave, and no one, not even his dear friend Madison on behalf of the nation, could claim a portion of his debt was still unpaid.
Jefferson “retired” to Monticello at the end of 1793, but it didn’t last. Less than three years later, he would be the standard-bearer for the anti-federalist (republican) cause, standing for election as President in 1796. He came in 2nd in electoral votes, behind John Adams, thus serving under him as Vice-President. Four years later he would best Adams in a rematch, and serve eight years as President.
Even when he left politics for good in 1809, he devoted much time and energy over the following 15 years to yet another public cause. This one, however, was not a burden but a labor of love, the establishment of the University of Virginia.
“All were impressed with your … ability to actually assume the role of President Jefferson.
… thank you again for a job well done.”
President, Arkansas Bar Association
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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.