I learn, with the liveliest sentiments of gratitude and respect, your approbation [approval] of my conduct …that my continuance in that office [President} after its present term, would be acceptable to you. But, that I should lay down my charge at a proper period, is as much a duty as to have borne it faithfully.
If some termination to the services of the chief magistrate [President] be not fixed by the Constitution, or supplied by practice, his office, nominally for years, will in fact become for life; and history shows how easily that degenerates into an inheritance. Believing that a representative government, responsible at short periods of election, is that which produces the greatest sum of happiness to mankind, I feel it a duty to do no act which shall essentially impair that principle; …
Truth also obliges me to add, that I am sensible of that decline which advancing years bring on; and feeling their physical, I ought not to doubt their mental effect.
Source: To the General Assembly of North Carolina, January 10, 1808
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders are self-limiting and know when to step aside.
The North Carolina legislature expressed its approval of Jefferson’s Presidency and desired a third term. In very proper language, Jefferson responded, “No way!”
Let me paraphrase his reasoning:
1. Leaving office and knowing when to do so is just as great a public service as being in office.
2. If I don’t continue the precedent and step down voluntarily after two terms, following Washington’s example, the Presidency could become an office one might hold until death.
3. An office-holder who can serve forever comes to see his office not as privilege but as a right, even “an inheritance.”
4. A government whose representatives are elected for brief terms and always answerable to the public for re-election “produces the greatest sum of happiness to mankind.”
5. Besides, I’m getting old. (He was 64.) I can tell my body is declining. My mind can’t be far behind.
What wisdom does Jefferson the leader have for your audience?
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.