Unheralded

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 …


Unheralded

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 …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Conflict Of Interest

Thomas Jefferson had many opportunities to speculate in western lands. Many of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington, were engaged in land speculation beyond the Appalachian Mountains. Jefferson quietly refused because he knew that at some point he might have to “legislate” for the public domain, and he did not want to be guilty of conflict of interest or even …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Big Military Parades

President Trump wants a big military parade, the kind one saw in Stalin’s Soviet Union, the kind one sees today in North Korea. It might be useful to compare that notion with the republican dignity of the third president, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson broke with the habit of his two predecessors and sent his annual messages by courier to Congress. He …

CLAY JENKINSON: Poor John Adams: Right And Wrong As Always

Basic chronology: June 7, 1776: Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee presents resolution of independence to the Second Continental Congress. June 11: Committee of five appointed to draft a declaration explaining America’s right to secede: Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson. The others drop out in the following order: Sherman, Livingston, Franklin and Adams. Jefferson signs and undertakes to …

CLAY JENKINSON: Driving The Yellowstone River Valley At The Time Of The Solstice

I was out in western Montana helping my mother get her wee Thoreavian cabin ready for the summer. We had a couple of sweet days together. She is 85 years old, still strong and autonomous, but just beginning to exhibit signs of elderliness. It bothers me to see her in even modest decline. I’m sure it bothers her much more. …

CLAY JENKINSON: Sad Lessons From the Nixon White House

Given where things are headed, I’m preparing the way a humanities scholar prepares. I’m reading accounts of the life and presidency of Richard M. Nixon. I’ll place a short bibliography of books worth reading at the bottom of this essay. The constitutional crisis we are now descending into is either much less grave than Watergate or much, much more serious. …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Death Of Decorum In The White House

As a scholar not a partisan, I have been trying to think if any president in American history has behaved in a less presidential way than Donald Trump. Andrew Jackson was a frontier ruffian in some respects, a loud populist, and during his inauguration March 4, 1829, his rural supporters trashed the White House. Theodore Roosevelt called his enemies colorful …

CLAY JENKINSON: You Do the Math: A Tale Of Two Presidents

A tale of two presidents. Here’s President Obama’s statement in the guestbook at Israel’s Holocaust memorial, July 2008: “I am grateful to Yad Vashem and all of those responsible for this remarkable institution. At a time of great peril and promise, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man’s potential for great evil, but …

CLAY JENKINSON: Time To Get It Over With

Donald Trump is almost certainly going to have to resign. His behavior in the Flynn-Comey affair is nothing short of obstruction of justice. Even Republicans who have defended his hijinks until now are beginning to understand the gravity of the President’s misbehavior. We need to swallow hard and get this over with. I knew long before the election that President …

CLAY JENKINSON: Erasing The Past

Students at Columbia University recently put a Ku Klux Klan hood over the statue of Thomas Jefferson that stands in front of the journalism school. The group, known as Mobilized African Diaspora, declared that “Jefferson’s statue makes it clear that black students are merely tokens of the university.” MAD argued that “venerating” Jefferson “validates rape, sexual violence and racism,” which …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Our Gardens

When I moved back to North Dakota in 2005, I determined to plant a vegetable garden. I moved back to the Great Plains just in case the world collapsed and when it did, I wanted to be near farm country — where I could, like “The Martian,” grow just enough potatoes to survive. The moment I got all the boxes …

CLAY JENKINSON: The NEH – The Most Jeffersonian Thing In America

Thomas Jefferson would probably not have supported the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, at least in his own time. Don’t get me wrong. He loved the arts. He read in seven languages. In fact, he was reading Thucydides in ancient Greek, without a grammar or dictionary, in the 83rd year of his life. In …

CLAY JENKINSON: Theodore Roosevelt, John Steinbeck, and Pinnacles National Monument

The other day, our Steinbeck cultural tour made the journey from Monterey, Calif., to Pinnacles National Park. There is no clear and obvious Steinbeck connection, except that the National Park is part of the Gabilan Mountain system, and that range marked the eastern boundary of the Salinas River Valley, sacred to Steinbeck and the source location of several of his …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Summer Lewis And Clark Cultural Tour

Join our annual adventure — the Summer Lewis and Clark Cultural Tour on July 18-25 — through the famous White Cliffs section of the Missouri River and the most pristine portion of the entire Lewis & Clark trail, in the Bitterroot Mountains west of Missoula, Mont. Participants must be in good physical shape to participate. For those who do not …

CLAY JENKINSON: Trump’s Inaugural Address

Donald Trump delivered a 16-minute inaugural address January 20. Some have called it “the most divisive in American history.” I did not hear it — with Trump tone and delivery matter greatly — but on the page it certainly does not seem to me to be that divisive. Here are my thoughts about reading it quietly in my library. Donald …

CLAY JENKINSON: Anger And Hypocrisy

I find it interesting that for eight years the anti-Obama legions kept their eyes open at all times for signs that Barack Obama was “an angry black man.” If at any time, he showed the slightest impatience or raised his voice above a certain level, or spoke in something that could be thought to resemble black street English, the conservative …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Fallacies of the Dakota Access Pipeline ‘Argument’

There is a dreary predictability about the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, especially in the words that come out of people unsympathetic to the protest. I’m listing those I hear most often: 1. There are lots of non-Indians down there. They have no business here. They discredit (here’s the special kicker in this argument) “what otherwise would have been a perfectly legitimate …

CLAY JENKINSON: Steinbeck Country

Of the great American writers, John Steinbeck is the most accessible. His masterpiece, “The Grapes of Wrath,” is perhaps the most widely read of all American classics. He wrote it in the white heat of anger — how the 1 percent were mistreating displaced Americans, “Okies,” good agrarian men and women of the Plains, who had made their way to the fields of …

CLAY JENKINSON: A New Year — Perhaps a New Era

Jan. 11 — Today my mother (85), my daughter (22) and I drove down to the encampment on the north bank of the Cannonball River. It was an astonishingly beautiful day on the northern Great Plains: cold, but clear, with an azure sky that contrasted perfectly with the snow. We took the long way around thanks to the road closure. What …

CLAY JENKINSON: American Podium —Clay Jenkinson As President Theodore Roosevelt

Watch history come alive when scholar Clay Jenkinson appears in costume and character as President Theodore Roosevelt. President Roosevelt served seven years, 171 days as the 26th president of the United States. He was an accidental president, “kicked upstairs” into the vice presidency in 1900, ascending to the presidency on Sept. 14, 1901, after President William McKinley died of gunshot …

CLAY JENKINSON: Rome Journal — Bruno, Pantheon And More

A good night of sleep. Now I feel equal to it. After class yesterday, I ventured into the heart of Rome. There, I found my way to the statue of Bruno in the Campo di Fiori. He, a Renaissance humanist, heretic and memorization master, was burned at the stake in 1600 for a range of unacceptable views, including that Jesus …

CLAY JENKINSON: Rome Journal — Arrival

It’s a big planet. I flew from Bismarck to Minneapolis, from Minneapolis to Paris, from Paris to Rome. I started at noon Saturday and arrived in Rome at noon Sunday, though, of course, I had lost seven hours in time zone. It’s a big planet. By the time I arrived I wanted to burn my clothes. But I had done …

CLAY JENKINSON: Rome Journal — To Rome

Journal of a journey to Rome. I’m teaching a capstone humanities course for a Catholic university. Twenty-five students. They have been there all semester, staying in a convent that has plenty of room for the campus. My job is to show them things about Rome that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to see. Long day of flying ahead. Bismarck, …

CLAY JENKINSON: Thanksgiving

To all my friends around the United States and beyond, I am writing to give thanks for your friendship, for your interest in my work, for your commitment to the principles of Enlightenment. In the wake of the raucous election and the American circus of failed political civility; in the wake of the appalling and unnecessary crisis on the Standing …

CLAY JENKINSON: Let Us Now Praise The Robustness Of American Democracy

To my friends who are feeling frightened and damaged by the election of Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016, I offer the following thoughts. First, the people have spoken. Virtually the entire American establishment —mainline politicians, the media, the major religious leaders, Hollywood, the pundits of both parties, former and current national security personnel, the diplomatic corps, the leaders …

CLAY JENKINSON: A Clash of World Views — Kevin Locke

I had the honor today to hear the world renowned Lakota flute player and hoop dancer Kevin Locke perform in Bismarck. He’s in his 60s now. He has been performing all over the world since he was in his early 20s. He’s a national and international treasure. Someone I know, who knows these things, says Kevin Locke is the greatest …

CLAY JENKINSON: Standing Rock Sioux Crisis — A Plea for Understanding

I know many of you have little respect for the Standing Rock Sioux (Lakota) in the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline crisis. Your views by now are pretty well known: A) The Sioux leadership should have been at the negotiating table long ago, when it might have made a difference; b) the pipeline is off the reservation, so the Lakota don’t …

CLAY JENKINSON: Concession V. Concussion

When Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in the presidential election of 1800, Adams was bitter for several reasons. First, he was an important American patriot and revolutionary who believed he deserved to be re-elected by the American people. He could not understand why someone of his historical significance would be retired after a single term. He had the notion that …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Winter Humanities Retreats

One of the principal joys of my life is hosting humanities retreats at Lochsa Lodge, just west of Missoula, Mont., in the first weeks of January. People gather from all over the country to talk about books for four days. It’s not just about books, of course. It’s about the art of genuine, mutually respectful conversation. It’s about reading and thinking …

CLAY JENKINSON: Our Sad Fractured Republic

As the election lurches toward us, I find myself in a deep sadness, even a depression. Probably Hillary Clinton is going to win. If she does, it will not give her a mandate or even a reasonably good chance of proving herself as president. She will be wounded from the moment she declares victory. If you think the conservatives did what …