Unheralded

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Fly Me To The Moon, Please

As probably you know, the People’s Republic of China has a serious and robust moon landing program. Late this year or early next, China is preparing to land a probe on the moon that will dig up some rock samples and then return safely to Earth. China has made it clear that it intends to send men and women to …


Unheralded

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — The Illimitable Search For Truth

A few years ago, in an interview with the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns about Theodore Roosevelt, I said on camera that Roosevelt liked to kill wild animals, that he was, as I perhaps inauspiciously put it, a killer. When you leave a Ken Burns interview you have no idea what you said will wind up in the film, if anything. …


CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Whose Idea Was This Anyway?

Clay Jenkinson wrote this Tuesday. I don’t deserve to pretend to be Thomas Jefferson. Not only don’t I speak and write French and Italian, but I have virtually none of Jefferson’s famous organizational skills. My home library has more than 20,000 volumes now, and though I have a relatively logical library classification system, I have a hard time finding books …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — The Incomprehensible Machine

I’m fascinated and troubled by the mystery of Thomas Jefferson. I’m reading a biography in which he is working hard in 1784, spending political capital, to try to convince the Continental Congress to outlaw slavery in the American West. Jefferson is working on his celebrated Bill for the Government of the Western Territories. He reckons that if we can keep …

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — ‘Do What You Want, But Stay Off Of My Little Mo’

Here’s part of an article that appears in the November issue of Dakota Country magazine, on the newsstands now. “If we find the moral courage to save the Little Missouri River Valley today, we will congratulate ourselves 100 years from now, just as we congratulate Theodore Roosevelt for bucking the industrial zeitgeist a hundred years ago to set aside 230 …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — The Republic On The Brink Of Collapse

“Checks and balances, Mr. Jefferson. Checks and balances,” said John Adams. We are only a republic if each of the three branches of the national government has some capacity to check the excesses of one or both of the other two. The Founding Fathers sought to ensure that no single individual or entity would ever have unlimited, unchecked power. The …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — ‘Robinson Crusoe’

Over the past few days, I have had the wonderful guilty pleasure of sitting down to read “Robinson Crusoe” cover to cover. I know I should have been doing other things, some of them pressing, but I just sat there and read this famous and fabulous account of a man who is shipwrecked on a small island off Venezuela and …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Meriwether Lewis On The Ohio

The extension of the Lewis and Clark Trail from St. Louis all the way to Pittsburgh is an invitation for all of us to reboot our understanding of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The late Stephen Ambrose deserves credit for giving ample space to the Ohio River portion of the transcontinental journey in “Undaunted Courage” and for penning a sentence …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Guns And Madness

In the wake of Dayton and El Paso, we flirt again with the idea of doing something to lessen or prevent mass gun violence in America. All the polls show the same thing. The overwhelming majority of the American people want reasonable gun regulation: serious universal background checks, the banning of certain types of advanced weapons of war, the right …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — And So Once More To The River

So here comes my favorite week of the year. It’s the 18th time I head to Montana and Idaho for the Lewis and Clark Cultural Tour through the White Cliffs of the Missouri River east of Fort Benton and up on the Lolo Trail west of Missoula. I made a list Monday of the number of times on the nine-day …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Enough Already

Where will it end? I understand taking down statues of Confederate generals, especially those put up during the Civil Rights Movement to reassert white Southern pride and a grim determination to perpetuate Jim Crow as long as possible. I can even understand taking down statues of Robert E. Lee, though I personally have always seen him as a tragic figure, …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — One Brief Shining Moment

Richard Nixon said it was the “greatest week in the history of the world since the creation.” My parents and my sister and I sat in our den (there were dens then) and watched the entire thing in grainy flickering black and white on our big console color TV. I took a hundred 35mm black-and-white photos of the television screen. …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — In Search Of America

The last time I wrote to all of you I was about to embark on my John Steinbeck Jr. camper truck journey in Colorado. I had no idea what to expect. The rig I rented in Denver was really designed for back country exploring — heavy tires, a very powerful engine, shovels and other equipment latched to the side and …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Farewell To Edmund Morris

I want to take a moment to lament the passing of one of the finest scholar-biographers of our time Edmund Morris. The great biographer of Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt died May 24. He was 78 years old. Morris was born in Kenya on May 27, 1940, to South African parents. He moved to Britain in 1964. Without a college …

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 …

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 — 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 — What If Jefferson Had Not Gone To France?

What if Jefferson had not gone to France in 1784? What if he had never left the United States? How would things have been different? Jefferson had turned down two previous high-level government invitations to take up a diplomatic post in Paris. He finally made the journey in July 1784 because his wife, Martha, was dead, because he was still …

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 — 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 …