Thomas Jefferson Leadership


I do not need to impress you with my title.

Th: Jefferson requests the favor of Mr. Wolcott’s company to dinner the day after tomorrow at half after three oclock.—
To Oliver Wolcott, Jr., December 27, 1801

Answered—Mr Wolcott presents his respectful Compts. to the Pr. of the U.S. and will have the honour to dine with him tomorrow agreably to invitation. Monday Decr. 28. 1801
Oliver Wolcott, Jr. to Thomas Jefferson, December 27, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation

Citizen leaders decline some of the trappings of power.

Jefferson ate two meals a day, breakfast at 9:30 and dinner at 3:30. He often had a small snack near bedtime. Like the two Presidents before him, he regularly invited people to join him for dinner. Both Washington and Adams sent invitations that included their title, as in “President Washington invites …” Jefferson disliked the pomp and status associated with that approach, and sent his invitations under his name only, no title.

Some invitations were pre-printed with blanks left for the date, time and invitee’s name. Some Jefferson wrote in his own hand. This one was in the handwriting of Meriwether Lewis, obviously dictated to his personal secretary, who lived with him in the executive mansion.

The invitation was hand-delivered. Wolcott penned his acceptance on the same note and returned it. He must have been given the invitation as a souvenir, because he later wrote on it, “Dined with Mr. Jefferson in Company with Mr. Grainger solely—Very Philosophic conversation in which I took an active part. OW.” Gideon Granger was Jefferson’s Postmaster General.

Wolcott (1760-1833) served as Alexander Hamilton’s successor as Secretary of the Treasury during parts of the Washington and Adams administrations. He resigned in 1800 and later became one of Adam’s midnight appointments to the federal bench, an attempt to load the judiciary with judges who would oppose the new President Jefferson.

Wolcott was not one of the “high Federalists,” those who opposed Jefferson at every turn. In fact, he was in a slow transition to a more republican approach. That may have been why Jefferson invited him to dinner. (I can’t say for certain, but I doubt the high Federalists were invited to dine with the President. If they were, they might have declined.)


“It felt as if we were transported back to those times,
and we came away with a much better understanding … “
Council of State Governments – WEST, Vancouver, WA
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