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 …

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 — Help This Program Go Viral

The semipermanent guest host rebukes me for all the begging I do on “The Thomas Jefferson Hour.” I think you know I am mostly joking — but do send books, gas cards, wine, Yeti coolers and titles to your ranch. All in good fun. But here is what I really want from you. Help this program go viral. Tell everyone …

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: 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: 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 — 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 — 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 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 — 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: 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 …

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: 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 — 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 …