I must think of myself as a robot. It helps, a little. — Thomas Jefferson Leadership


it is indeed far the most painful part of my duty, under which nothing could support me but the consideration that I am but a machine erected by the constitution for the performance of certain acts according to laws of action laid down for me, one of which is that I must anatomise the living man as the Surgeon does his dead subject, view him also as a machine & employ him for what he is fit for, unblinded by the mist of friendship.

Source: Thomas Jefferson letter to Benjamin Rush, 13 June 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation

Effective leaders must learn how to do the unpleasant parts of their work.
The director of the U.S. Mint was retiring and naming his replacement fell by law to the President. He felt compelled by both British and American precedent to appoint the most renowned mathematician to the job. That would be Robert Patterson.

This is the second letter Jefferson wrote to old and trusted friends, both eminent scientists, who might have been equally qualified for the job, explaining why they were not chosen. Personnel decisions were painful for him, ones involving friends especially so. In such cases, he had to regard himself as nothing “but a machine,” doing the job required by the Constitution. He compared himself to an anatomy professor, dissecting the living man as the professor did the dead one, each making the best possible use of their subject. Friendship could not be a factor.

“… Also, should you wish to use us as a reference,
feel free to do so.”
President, Linn State Technical College
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Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.

Self-Educated American, ‘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.