Unheralded

CLAY JENKINSON: In Search Of America — Trying To Make Sense Of It All

Well, here are my preliminary thoughts. My rig is the smallest, most pitiful in the whole KOA complex. I’ve walked around once — several more to come as the night lights up here at Weedpatch Camp! Some of the RVs are so luxurious and massive that the pickup-like vehicle that pulls them is more like the cab of an 18-wheeler …


Unheralded

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Genius And Eccentric

Thomas Jefferson was a genius and he was also an eccentric. It didn’t really matter that he was odd in his own time because the average American didn’t really know anything about Jefferson, except perhaps that he was the author of the Declaration of Independence, lived on a mountain in Virginia and was more “for the people” than most of …


CLAY JENKINSON: In Search Of America — Leadville, Adventure And Gratitude

To all of you who are following my little journey in search of America (or a bit of it), I am having a splendid evening. I arrived at this remote and understated camp, not far from Leadville, Colo., about 2 p.m. I did the minimum to set up camp. Only one other couple is here. They have a pickup on …

CLAY JENKINSON: In Search Of America — Traveling With Each Of My Characters

UNDER TWIN PEAKS, NEAR ASPEN, Colo. — What would each of my characters think of this trip? Starting with John Steinbeck: He would be amazed at how much more comfortable pickup trucks are now, with tilting steering wheels, heated seats, air conditioning, better shocks, tinted glass, etc. And how much more convenient a truck camper is. The one I stepped into the other day …

CLAY JENKINSON: In Search Of America — I Fell In Love With America All Over Again

ASPEN, Colo — Last night, I camped about a dozen miles from Aspen, but you would not have known that billions, even hundreds of billions, of dollars were spending themselves nearby. This morning, I drove in to check my email and post this report, but I will leave soon. I wanted a Starbucks because I knew there would be free WiFi. But, …

CLAY JENKINSON: In Search Of America — I Know The Path Well Enough

Sundays always remind me of my father, Charles Everett Jenkinson. He has been dead for a quarter of a century now, but Sundays, I often miss him acutely. But he would never come on such a trip, not for all the money in the world. He thought camping was very silly: Why jettison 10,000 years of improvements in comfort to …

CLAY JENKINSON: In Search Of America — Water, Stubble And The Enlightenment

No internet last night, which is mostly good. But it is amazing how wired in we are and “helpless” when we are off that grid. Starbucks in Silverthorne, Colo. I thought of staying two nights at the Blue River campsite, but part of this experiment is trying a variety of experiences. I am even determined to do time in a …

CLAY JENKINSON: In Search Of America — The Rig Under A Billion Stars

GRANBLY, Colo. — So I survived the first night in the Steinbeck rig. Lots of little rituals are required. You scout your camp site. Almost nobody accepts the first option, so you circle the campground a couple of times. Later, when you have chosen the best available site or what in your panic you think is the best available site, …

CLAY JENKINSON: In Search Of America — Crazy Horse And Carhenge

All the news is D-Day. The late Stephen Ambrose would be elderly now, had he lived, but he would have been part of this last great celebration of that historic day. I did not get to Sand Creek. I ran out of day. Eventually, I got to Denver — Brighton and then Aurora — and stayed in a dismal motel, …

CLAY JENKINSON: In Search Of America — ICBMs, Wall Drug And The Badlands

I made a false start, but only by a couple of miles, doubled back to gather a few items, then drove south from Mandan, N.D. No destination in mind, but I reckoned I might get as far as Nebraska, certainly southern South Dakota. The great luxury of this sort of travel is that you don’t have to barrel through. I …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — The Zen Master At Table

I’m trying to imagine a dinner party hosted by Thomas Jefferson. Perfect food, cooked in the avant-garde French fashion, and a flight of fine wines. And Jefferson presiding, a man of perfect manners who seems to have no discernible ego. He does not hold forth about anything. There is nothing boisterous about him. He never calls attention to himself. In …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — The Courage To Face The Truth

Wherever I go to talk about the Lewis and Clark Expedition, someone tries to talk me out of the idea that Meriwether Lewis committed suicide. The other day, I was in Phoenix, and someone mansplained to me that Lewis could not have done it because how do you first shoot yourself in the head and then in the gut? Everywhere …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — The U.S. Senate: The Backbone Of A Chocolate Eclair

We have been living for a very long time with the idea of executive supremacy. Some misguided attorneys have argued, since the presidency of George W. Bush, for what they like to call the Unitary Executive. By this they mean that the power of the president is virtually unlimited not only throughout the executive branch of government but in the …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — The Best Of The Rest

Let us now praise a few of the unsung heroes of Thomas Jefferson’s world. We spend so much time talking about the major figures — Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Madison, Monroe, John and Abigail Adams and John Marshall — that we often forget that the era was filled with remarkable people of the second and third ranks. Great times make for …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — So, This Is Representation?

Is this how it was supposed to work? A person runs for Congress from somewhere in Texas. The candidate is not exactly called from the plow to serve briefly in the public arena. She or he has already established a public life back home — the school board, city council, mayor of Lubbock, the community development foundation — and now …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — That America

What Jefferson wanted more than anything else was severely limited government, administered by modest and reluctant representatives who would rather be home tending their fields. He wanted well-educated, self-sufficient and vigilant citizens to do whatever it took to protect their liberties and their natural rights. He wanted our leaders and representatives to be high-minded, virtuous (in the Roman sense of …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — A Jeffersonian Among The Seed Chippers

I had the most interesting experience recently. I was asked by a friend to portray Mr. Jefferson at a seed conference. More than 100 gathered on the Great Plains to learn about the latest work in agricultural seed development. It’s a fascinating and even breathtaking enterprise — to manipulate what’s going on inside seeds to maximize production on America’s farms. …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — To Vaccinate Or Not: Ask the Mandan Indians

The great French essayist Montaigne (1533-1592) wrote about everything. He’s one of the inventors of the essay as a genre, though there are roots as far back as Plutarch and Seneca in the ancient world. Montaigne used the word “essais” to mean something like “informed trial balloons,” and he very frequently ended some passage or assertion or conclusion by saying, …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Let Us Read the Mueller Report

A Jefferson Hour listener wrote me a snarky letter last week after Attorney General William Barr released a four-page summary of the Mueller Report, apparently clearing President Trump and his closest aides of colluding with the Russians in the 2016 election. After informing me that I have been embarrassing myself with what he called my anti-Trump rhetoric, the writer asked …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — We Can Fix This Broken System

The American people regard the U.S. Constitution as a sacred document — even though Jefferson specifically asked us not to — and historically we have been very reluctant to tamper with it. Too bad because it is badly in need of fundamental revision. Our Constitutional order has broken down. After years of thinking about this, I offer the following amendments. …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Essential Reading In The National Crisis

Hello, everyone. I’m urging you to do me the following favor. Get a copy of Robert Kagan’s recent book, “The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World,” and read it over the next few weeks. It’s a short book. It’s a brilliant book. It’s an exceedingly important book. And it explains a lot of things that may seem puzzling …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Centennial Of Theodore Roosevelt’s Death

The Old Lion is Dead Jan. 6, 2019 — Theodore Roosevelt died 100 years ago today. He was just 60 years old. As he said when he determined to run South America’s River of Doubt against the stern warnings of the American Museum of Natural History, “Tell Osborn I have already lived and enjoyed as much of life as any nine other men I know; I have had my full share, and …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Happy New Year, Everyone

I’ve been thinking about Lewis and Clark, dispatched into the wilderness by President Jefferson, who lived his long and productive life at a very high level of comfort. It’s impossible to imagine Jefferson roughing it. The closest he ever came, probably, was his first years in the White House, when it was still unfinished — not even proper entrance stairs …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — A Very Dickens Christmas

This was written just before Christmas. Happy holidays, everyone, from all of us at the Thomas Jefferson Hour. I’m going to be alone this Christmas for the first time in 20 years — so do feel free to send presents — cognac, figs, books, music, frankincense and myrrh, whatever they are. Don’t cry for me Argentina. I have plans. I …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Jefferson’s Second American Revolution

Every era faces its own set of issues, and every president attempts to address the challenges and opportunities of American life and to reset the country to the extent that it is possible. It was easier to influence what Jefferson called “the course of human events” back then because we were just beginning. Decisions made then were going to percolate …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Madison’s Gift

Sometimes I wonder what it must have been like to be James Madison. He was a diminutive genius who did not call attention to himself. He was a balding hypochondriac who was always sure he did not have enough vitality for the hurly burly of our early national politics. He was a profound reader, a digester of the history of …

CLAY JENKINSON: An Interview With Dan Flores

As the editor of the Lewis and Clark journal We Proceeded On, I conduct a number of longform interviews per year. The November issue of WPO was about critters — bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, horses and beaver. You can become a member of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation by going to lewisandclark.org. Please do! The journal is a quarterly, …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Midterm Election Of 2018

So what did the midterm election of 2018 tell us? I’m going to try to make sense of it from a purely analytical view. If, as President Trump said repeatedly, he was on the ballot in 2018, the results are mixed. The election was certainly not a ringing endorsement of his character, behavior, policies and the first two years of …

CLAY JENKINSON: Water and the West – Lochsa Lodge

As I prepare for the great “Water and the West” humanities retreat at Lochsa Lodge west of Missoula, Mon.t, in mid-January, I’m rereading Marc Reisner’s water classic, “Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water.” Here’s the first paragraph of Chapter Three: First Causes: “When archaeologists from some other planet sift through the bleached bones of our civilization, they …

CLAY JENKINSON: Clay’s Notebook — The Joy Of Reading In A Distracted Time

I’ve been writing a long essay called the “Joy of Reading in a Distracted World.” I don’t know why I started down this path, exactly. I have long lists of books I want to write. All I need is more time, more energy, some clarity in my thinking and a Muse. Jefferson was a great reader, especially when he was …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Let Us Now Visit France

I’m organizing a cultural tour of Jefferson’s France, so I have been reading about those amazing years, between 1784 and 1789. If ever we had a perfect ambassador to France, it was Thomas Jefferson. His oral French was never great, but he was precise and disciplined, and his command of French prose was excellent. He loved France almost as much …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Off The Grid

I spent a fair amount of time this summer off the grid. Ten days out on the Lewis and Clark trail, four days horse camping in the Little Missouri River Badlands in western North Dakota, a week in London with a lousy U.S.-only cell phone. Every time I came back, every time I came up for air, after days of …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — The Digital Revolution

When people say that the internet and the digitization of culture represent something as important as the invention of movable type by Gutenberg in the 15th century, I usually wonder if that can be true. The Gutenberg revolution gave us the Reformation. Luther was the first publishing phenomenon in human history, and later, when it had settled down a bit, …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — On Jefferson And Leadership

Just a note about Jefferson and leadership. First, he was reluctant. Thanks to the influence of classical culture, all of the Founding Fathers had to pretend that they would rather be home tending their garden than hold political power, but Jefferson seems actually to have meant that. He was a shy, thin-skinned, scholarly man who had a poor speaking voice …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — The Supreme Court: Political From The Get-Go

We like to think of the Supreme Court as a nonpartisan and completely independent branch of government that makes sure laws passed by Congress and the states conform to the provisions of the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court aspires to that Olympian detachment and judicial neutrality but seldom achieves it. Like it or not, there is a political substratum …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Realizing The Dream

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So Jefferson wrote, 242 years ago. It “is” self-evident, if you think about it. According to Scientific American, 150 human beings are born somewhere on Earth every minute. In the eyes of God or from the perspective of the planet Jupiter, a human is a human, whether …

CLAY JENKINSON: Pivotal Moments In History

Clay Jenkinson wrote this June 11, the day President Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jon Un in Singapore. I am glued to the coverage of the summit between Donald Trump and Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. We can have no idea what this will mean six months from now or six years from now. But it …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Who Killed Meriwether Lewis?

When I heard a few weeks ago that a new biography of Meriwether Lewis has been published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, I immediately ordered it. It’s called “Bitterroot: The Life and Death of Meriwether Lewis,” and the author is a woman named Patricia Stroud, whom I had never heard of until now. In a sense, the title gives …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch —The Price of Power

Jefferson famously wrote, “No man will ever carry out of the Presidency the reputation which carried him into it.” Think of the diminishment of the presidents even of my own lifetime. Lyndon Johnson had been so consumed by the War in Vietnam that he withdrew from the 1968 presidential race. Johnson loved and lusted for power as much as anyone …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — So Far Ahead Of Her Time

One of Joseph Ellis’ contributions to the historiography of the revolutionary era is that he proves that when Abigail Adams wrote her famous, “remember the ladies” letter to her husband, John, in the spring of 1776, she meant it. She was being playful — it was another episode in the never-ending, good-humored “war” between the sexes — and yet she …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Have You Looked Around, Mr. Jefferson?

John Adams believed three things that drive an utopian like Jefferson nuts. First, he believed that aristocracy will always be with us in one form or another. In Europe, this works by hereditary emoluments and privileges. The Duke of Northumberland is always the father of the next Duke of Northumberland and the son of the last one, downhill forever through …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Abigail Adams: Awesome And A Little Frightening

My daughter and I were wandering about the J.P. Morgan Library in New York City last week, vaguely looking for whatever they had about Edward S. Curtis, the Seattle photographer who took those incredible black-and-white images of Native Americans at the turn of the 20th century. We saw a range of amazing things in two hours — one of the …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Exploration Legacy Is Not Over Yet

As perhaps you know, I’m now the editor of the quarterly journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, “We Proceeded On.” That’s one of the refrains of William Clark’s journal of the 28-month expedition that was the brainchild of the great Jefferson. Whatever else was true, virtually every day (there were 1,123 of them), Clark announced that “we proceeded on” — …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — What Could We Possibly Really Know?

I get so tired of the Sally Hemings story. At almost every public presentation I give in the costume and character of Thomas Jefferson, someone sashays up to the microphone in the aisle and says, “Tell us about Sally Henning” or some other slight botching of her name. “Or tell us about your family, and I mean all of your …