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 in court appointments, and it can produce great political tension at unsettled moments in American life. Like now.

Presidents nominate Supreme Court justices and the Senate has to confirm. There has been occasional trouble since the very beginning.

The first justice to be denied a seat on the court was a man named John Rutledge. It was 1795, just seven years into the new constitutional order. Rutledge had written an op ed piece critical of the Jay Treaty — a 1794 treaty with Britain that tried to resolve certain lingering issues from the War of Independence. That was enough for a Federalist Senate to scotch his candidacy.

Jefferson came into office in 1801 in what he called the Second American Revolution. But poised to prevent that revolution was Chief Justice John Marshall, Jefferson’s distant cousin. He was put into his life-tenured position in the last months of John Adams’ failed one-term administration. Adams, who distrusted Jefferson’s democratic radicalism, essentially engaged in last-minute court packing — Marshall and dozens of other midnight appointments — to make sure Jefferson did not take things too far to the left.

Marshall went on to serve for 34 years. He was perhaps the greatest of all Supreme Court justices. He was indeed a thorn in Jefferson’s side. Marshall wanted America to be a great centralized nation state, not a confederation of sovereign states. Marshall envisioned a nation that prized the sanctity of contract above any temporary notion of social justice. He despised Jefferson’s vision of a lightly governed, inward-looking, agriculturally based loose association of proud commonwealths like Virginia and Pennsylvania. We now live in Marshall’s America, not Jefferson’s.

Jefferson struck back at the judiciary in 1804 by convincing his partisans in the House of Representatives to impeach Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who had become an obnoxious and outspoken anti-democrat from the bench. The question was this: Can you impeach a justice for what you regard as his nasty politics. The U.S. Senate chose not to convict Chase.

Jefferson seems to have sensed that he was playing a dangerous game, one that could erode constitutional stability. In the aftermath, he admitted that such impeachments were a bungling enterprise and he desisted from meddling with the independence of the judiciary thereafter. Jefferson appointed three justices to the Supreme Court. Every one of them wound up disappointing him.

The last attempt to pack the court was in 1937, when Franklin Roosevelt, just re-elected in a landslide, attempt to increase the number of justices from nine to 15 so that his emergency New Deal legislation would not be struck down by judicial conservatives any longer. Congress balked. Even Democrats in Congress, including senators and representatives devoted to the New Deal, refused to give Roosevelt such unprecedented power. He was frustrated, but this is how our system is supposed to work.

What we should want is a justice with a first-rate mind, great analytical powers, an unusually high capacity for legal discernment and nuance, a deep grounding in the history of law, the history of natural rights and the history of constitutions, particularly “our” Constitution. What we want is someone who knows a great deal about original intent but is not a slave to original intent (that was then, this is now, and by the way “that” constitution was written to protect slavery, so how “original” do we really wish to be?) We want someone who prizes a strict protection of human rights over government efficiency or economic prosperity. What you most want on a court is a few crabby civil libertarians who understand that the whole genius of America is to leave as many people alone as possible as often and emphatically as possible.

So why are we already locked into an angry national cage match on Roe V. Wade, the abortion decision issued by the Supreme Court in 1973?

Both parties are behaving in a deplorable manner: The Republicans want the nominee to pledge to overturn Roe V. Wade. The Democrats insist that he or she hint that she will leave current abortion law in place.

Not only is this the wrong basis on which to give someone life tenure, but it trivializes the third branch of our national government into a public policy club consisting of nine unelected and largely unaccountable persons. The great questions of a great nation should not be decided by nine unelected individuals.

They are men and women like other men and women, capable of nobility and capable of pettiness, vengefulness, ignorance, prejudice, bigotry, pride and self-aggrandizement. They have good days and bad. They see some issues with great clarity and others with the kind of muddled gut reactions that characterize all of the rest of us.

The future of this country should be in the hands of an infinitely wider body than the Supreme Court. Our current approach is not much different from letting the starting lineup of the Chicago Cubs determine the future of the United States.

I believe the nomination process should be taken out of the hands of American presidents, who misunderstand and misuse their appointment power for narrow and often temporary purposes, and put it instead into the hands of a severely nonpartisan think tank of constitutional experts who look for raw judicial talent irrespective of the person’s political views. Once the foundation designated someone of outstanding merit, the Senate would confirm or deny with a straight up and down vote.

America is awash in men and women who would be outstanding Supreme Court justices. But the very last questions we should want to ask them is where they stand on Roe V. Wade, or the Affordable Care Act, or affirmative action.

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 she is born in Berlin or Bombay, Cairo or Cambridge or Calcutta, Manhattan or Madrid or Mexico City. Two arms, two legs, one heart, two kidneys, finger nails, hair, a brain, a belly button, a unique capacity for language. As Shakespeare’s Shylock puts it:

“Hath not a person eyes? hath not a person hands, organs,

dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with

the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject

to the same diseases, healed by the same means,

warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as

a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison

us, do we not die?”

Both President John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush (to take two quite different examples) said that every human being wants the same basic things. Food, shelter, clothing, the rule of law, a respect for basic rights, basic opportunity. On Jan. 6, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously spoke of the Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear.

I remember reading the United Nations Declaration of Rights incised on the high wall of the magnificent new Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg not long ago. The museum designers clearly felt that the rights and dignities articulated in the U.N. Declaration of Rights were so universal, so irrefutable, so obvious — if you think about it — that they must be writ large and inset into the walls of the museum itself to make sure everyone who ever walked through those doors had to have a visceral encounter with the self-evident truths of human aspiration. I bought a poster of the Declaration as my only souvenir of that trip to Winnipeg.

If this is true, “that all men are created equal,” why do we see those UNICEF and Oxfam Africa relief ads on television showing 3-year-old children with distended stomachs and flies perching on their lips and eyelids? Those children were born randomly into the world, just as a child in Omaha, Neb., or Santa Monica, Calif., is born randomly into the world. And yet any rational person knows that the child of Omaha has an infinitely higher chance of living a full, comfortable, secure life than the child of Upper Volta or Uganda.

If this is true, “that all men are created equal,” why does a person born Nez Perce, born Hidatsa, born Cherokee, born Navaho, born Shoshone, born Crow, born Cheyenne, have an unmistakably harder time getting her basic needs met in life than someone born 100 miles away in an Anglo-American community?

And of course, the whopping Fourth of July irony is that this continent where Anglo-Americans thrive belonged to the Crow, Cheyenne and Shoshone for centuries, for millennia, until Columbus bumped into the Western Hemisphere and touched off a series of holocausts that are not over yet. I know people in Bismarck but I could be speaking about Denver, or Spokane, Wash.,, who are aware that the Native Americans who live near and among them have a higher infant mortality rate, a higher suicide rate, a higher likelihood of dying in violence, than that other human being, born a few dozen miles away, the “same” human being, as seen from Jupiter, living in the same bioregion — and to these irrefutable facts the white folks of Bismarck merely shrug.

If this is true, “that all humans are born equal,” why did we just learn — to the consternation of many — that young women who compete in what is self-styled as the most significant women’s scholarship program in the world — the Miss America Pageant — will no long have to strip to near nakedness and strut around in front of 25 million people to win that scholarship?

Imagine for a moment if men competing for the Rhodes or Marshall or Wilson or Fulbright scholarships had to parade in public in speedos or a G-string in order to win the opportunity to study at Oxford University.

For that matter, if this is true, why is it that a woman randomly born in Yemen or Iraq, who is raped by a mere stranger, may be killed by her father to preserve his honor?

Maybe Jefferson was just wrong. Lovely, high-minded words, an agreeable fiction, but one that has no basis in the facts on the ground.

As Jefferson wrote those glorious and revolutionary words in a boardinghouse in Philadelphia, 256 miles to the south, about eight days’ travel under the conditions of the time, gangs of his 200 black slaves were hoeing his tobacco fields back home, baking bricks for his neoclassical Palladian mansion and cleaning the privies for his white wife and white young children. While he trimmed his quill and let some of the greatest words in the English language glide through his pen onto paper, a black mother gave birth at Monticello to an infant who was born: into slavery. Not born equal, born permanently and legally defined as a species of property that the Enlightened Mr. Jefferson could buy or sell, whip or caress, shackle or slap, rent out or even kill with legal impunity. We all live with some contradictions, but that would seem to be an insurmountable one.

If Jefferson and other slaveholder revolutionaries really meant those words, said Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine and Joseph Priestley and Richard Price and Benjamin Rush, Jefferson would have had to find a way to free his slaves because if he couldn’t or wouldn’t free his slaves, he must not really have meant what he wrote in the famous preamble of the Declaration of Independence to have universal application. He must instead have been speaking about his own club, his own tribe, his own fraternity.

All humans are not born equal because it depends on where you were born and what color you were born into. That if you got to choose, and you wanted to thrive on Earth not suffer for everything you achieved, from a purely rational point of view, you would really want to be born white, male if possible, in western Europe at the very least, and in America if you can make that happen. That from the view of the U.N. Declaration of Rights or FDR’s Four Freedoms you would not want to be born black or brown, in a Second or Third World country, or on an Indian reservation. Think about the implications of that.

But we don’t get to choose where we are born and to whom. You are just randomly born, just as a daffodil is randomly born or an oak or an ant. The great human aspiration — never more clearly or beautifully articulated than by my hero Thomas Jefferson — is that you will not be punished or rewarded by the accident of your birth. You may not remain equal very long in life — someone is a better sprinter, someone a better student of calculus, someone better at selling stocks and bonds, someone luckier in love — but the great idea is that you are at least born with an equal chance at thriving or at least subsisting comfortably with a living wage on Earth.

Just what Jefferson meant by his magnificent words is not clear, but Abraham Lincoln wisely told us we have no choice but to read Jefferson’s ideals in the fullest, widest, deepest possible way. And I say, as the 21st century creates economic opportunity unprecedented in the history of the planet, is it too much to ask?

On this Fourth of July, please have a conversation about the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence with the people around you. And let us know what you hear.

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 was perfectly serious, too, as her letters to others, including Mercy Otis Warren, indicate. Here’s what Abigail Adams actually wrote in the famous letter:

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

If you didn’t know the context, you would not necessarily see these words as playful. Abigail is playing the language of the revolution right back at her husband. If the Revolution is about freedom and equality, she argues, if you are really saying that human beings have an inherent right to life, liberty, property and self-government, which humans, precisely, do you have in mind? Or rather, which are you willfully choosing to exclude from your glittering and seemingly-universal formula of liberty?

Historians have tended to think Abigail’s famous pronouncement was more playful than pointed because of the mock-outrage of her husband John’s response. He called his wife “saucy.”  He said he and his revolutionary colleagues would fight rather than submit to what he called “the despotism of the petticoat.” and he dismissed her petition: “as for your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh.”

Perhaps it was a nervous laugh. Maybe he was just lame. Maybe John Adams just didn’t get it. As Thomas Jefferson was about to learn, once you throw open the doors to revolution, you cannot control everything that gets stirred up. With his usual bludgeoning wit, Great Britain’s Samuel Johnson skewered the hypocrisy of men like Jefferson: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” How do you write that all men are created equal and buy and sell them for farm profit?

Ellis praises Abigail for what he calls “her recognition that the very arguments her husband was hurling at Parliament and the British ministry had latent implications that undermined all coercive or nonvoluntary systems of arbitrary power.” He speaks of “the Pandora’s box that John and his colleagues in the Continental Congress had opened.” Particularly Jefferson, of course, the author of the famous preamble to the Declaration of Independence. The lesson seems to be: beware of employing universalist rhetoric. Some folks will conclude that you actually meant it to have universal application.

Although Abigail Adams could be sharp-tongued (just ask Thomas Jefferson), she was seldom tart with her husband John, whom she loved deeply, passionately, and perpetually, in spite of her awareness that he was a rotund, bald, toothless man with what he called a quiveration in his hands, in spite of the fact that she knew John Adams was vain, boastful, pompous, thin-skinned and beset with insecurities and personal demons. Managing John’s volatilities was a significant part of Abigail’s life work. She knew he was under tremendous pressure in the spring of 1776, and she did not want to be as angry-assertive as the famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

Still, she saw that there was no legitimate reason to exclude women from the revolutionary formula being bandied about by her famous husband and his male pals. She knew that the law of logical consistency meant that any attempt to deny women equal rights was arbitrary, the triumph of power over justice, and she reminded John Adams that demanding rights against those who would arbitrarily curtail or cancel them was, wasn’t it, the very principle of the American Revolution?

Did John Adams squirm or wince or sigh heavily when he read his wife’s spirited letter? We want to hope that he rejoiced to have such a wife, someone who would stretch him, challenge him, tease him, push him, lure him and at times even rebuke him. In other words, you want to hope that John Adams understood that public equality couldn’t thrive on a foundation of private inequality. You hope that he understood that human rights begin at home.

Adams’ response to Abigail’s remember the ladies letter was pretty lame, but at least it wasn’t as lame as Jefferson’s would have been. Adams had the good sense to disarm the discourse with humor — trembling over the despotism of the petticoat and all of that. Jefferson would have written one of his earnest dissertations about the God of Nature and natural gender specialization, arguing that the benign creator had designed women for the sacred duties of the nursery. Blah blah blah, Mr. Jefferson.

Still, it was Jefferson and no one else who launched those magnificent revolutionary words. As usual, he tried to pierce through the immediate issue — independence from Britain — to the universal principle, and as usual he nailed it. Nobody has ever understood this genius of Jefferson as well as the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

In a letter written in 1859, Lincoln wrote, “All honor to Jefferson — to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.”

Do you see what Lincoln is saying? Under “concrete pressure” to write a “merely revolutionary document,” Jefferson wrote “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times,” and what he wrote will forever serve as “a rebuke and a stumbling block” to even the first hint, the “harbingers of reappearing tyranny.”

In other words, under incredible pressure and on the fly in June 1776, Jefferson wrote sentences in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence that represent, better than anything else ever written, the eternal universal standard of human rights. The fact that those very sentences now convict Jefferson of being a relatively bad exemplar of his own perfectly stated principles is perhaps too bad for Jefferson the man, but they illustrate Jefferson the magnificent revolutionary genius, and they have helped to liberate hundreds of millions of people worldwide, perhaps billions, which seems to me infinitely more important than Jefferson’s personal and behavioral limitations.

In other words, Jefferson did, in some sense, remember the ladies.

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 history, together with vast estates, whole sections of London, and thousands of retainers.

In the United States, with its constitutional prohibition on titles of nobility, you perhaps cannot be called the Duke of Something-or-Other, but you can be a Rockefeller, a Mellon, a Carnegie, a Kennedy, a Bush, or for that matter a Kardashian, a Vanderbilt or a Clooney.

Adams understood that this kind of aristocracy — in which certain families somehow accumulated vast amounts of property and power — is simply a fact of life. You can rail against it until you go hoarse in the throat, but the only sensible thing to do is to get used to it and try to turn their enormous power toward philanthropic ends, the Rockefeller Foundation or the Pew Memorial Trust.

You have to keep a tight vigilance on these families, Adams believed. He thought, though we don’t, that the best place for them with the United States Senate.

The second of Adams’ foundational beliefs was that you can never build a republic in which everyone is equal. You can try, you can reshuffle all the property and divvy it up equally among the whole population. But it won’t work. Give it a few years in a free and equalitarian society, and you’ll find that a handful of individuals once again own most of the country and most of the wealth, that a large mass of people in a middling condition will exist, all wanting more, and then there will be a significant class of poor people who either barely keep their heads above water or wind up being wards of the state or the parish or some other entity.

After all of this redistribution in the name of social equality, the new rich may not be precisely the same as the old rich, though probably they will, but the new rich will hold most of the wealth and they will forget their beginnings and lord it over everyone else. They will expect, and they will get, special privileges in the society. They will mark off playgrounds for themselves that regular people cannot afford — because they lack the money, are not admitted to the exclusive clubs, don’t wear the proper clothing, don’t speak with the correct English accent.

The third and perhaps most important of Adams’ fundamental principles is that the central human impulse is not to sympathy or justice or generosity or love of truth. It’s not to gratitude or benevolence or philanthropy. In Adam’s world, the central human impulse, the dynamo right at the center of your personality, is a rage for distinction.

You want to be the captain of the football team, or at least the captain of the chess club. You want to be the greatest warrior in Afghanistan or at least the best in your neighborhood at the video game “Call of Duty.” You want to be the prettiest girl in your graduating class or at least the prettiest at your 30th reunion. You want to be tallest guy on the team, highest scorer on the team, the only one on the team named to the All-Academic All-Stars. You want to be the youngest full partner of the law firm or youngest tenured professor in southeast central Arkansas state college, or the richest man in Broken Bow, Neb., or the guy at the sports bar who knows the most NFL trivia or — even better — the one who met Michael Jordan at a celebrity golf tournament at Tahoe. Class president or class clown. The one who got into Harvard or the one who was expelled for turning loose twenty rattlesnakes at the homecoming dance.

Whatever it takes to have distinction, preferably a unique distinction. I actually knew a guy in high school who, at beer parties, would eventually be talked into going outside and trying to urinate over the top of the garage. I’m not joking. He occasionally could accomplish this tremendous feat of sheer human athleticism and will, and we celebrated him for it, as if he had cracked the DNA code or run the three-minute mile. So far as I know that was all that he could do — his sole distinction in life — and, of course, it was not for all markets, not for church suppers or a one man Broadway show. And, if you think about the nature of the male prostate gland, he’s probably lucky now if he can pee over the lip of his toilet, but at all-class reunions people (by which I mean men who never grew up) gather around him, even now, as if he were the Joe Namath of competitive peeing.

John Adams said this was the central human impulse — this rage for distinction. Think about this in your own life. Where is your distinction from the herd — now numbering 340 million rival human beings in America alone? What do you have or do that marks you as remarkable, or perhaps unique? Is it your pineapple upside-down cake, or the size of your … hot tub? Is it the time share you have at Cabo? Is it the quality of your tube-type stereo system?

John Adams says you may not be willing to admit it (though you probably are all too willing to admit it), but there is something, some talent, some access, some achievement, some birthright or purchase that gives you a sense of competitive advantage, whether you can roll your eyes all the back into your head or flop your ears to play the national anthem in Morse code. Somewhere in your story, says John Adams, you hang your competitive hat on that distinction.

These Adams propositions — that aristocrats will always be with us, that equality is a lovely fairy tale and that the rage for distinction is at the center of all human endeavor — were designed to confound dreamers like Thomas Jefferson. For Jefferson believed that we could at the very least replace the pseudo-Aristocracy (individuals born into wealth and privilege) with what he called Natural Aristocracy, and we would call meritocracy.

Jefferson believed that we could distribute the fruits of life more equitably than in any previous civilization in the history of the world, and we could perpetuate that essential equality by enlightened redistributive laws (equal inheritance to all children, for example), and, of course, by buying a “Louisiana Purchase” now and then. And he believed that the central human impulses were actually those of sympathy, benevolence, generosity and friendship.

To which John Adams would say, “Have you looked around lately, Mr. Jefferson?” Or as he actually did say once, “No doubt you was fast asleep in philosophical tranquility,” Mr. Jefferson, while the American expression of the French Revolution roiled through the streets of Philadelphia in 1793.

Yes, I would like to be the greatest Thomas Jefferson scholar. I would like to be the Muse of the Little Missouri River Valley in the Badlands of North Dakota. I would like to write the best book ever written about Lewis and Clark. I would like to be “the” North Dakota, for what little that may be worth to you who live in better states. And though my days of garage peeing contests are long over, I would like now to be able to get through the night without having to get up to pee. There’s my rage for distinction, indeed.

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” — from St. Louis to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

The journal comes out four times per year. My fourth issue will appear in about a month. I’m so excited about it that I want to tell you what we have discovered, and I want to urge you to become members of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation and in so doing subscribe to the journal, which we Lewis and Clark obsessives call WPO, we proceeded on.

Lewis and Clark were explorers, which meant that they regarded themselves as the first white people to see whole swaths of the American West. Lewis, in particular, wanted to be first — first to see the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers; first to view the Great Falls of the Missouri, which Lewis regarded as second only to Niagara Falls in sublimity; and maybe greater, first to bestride the source of what he called “the mighty and heretofore deemed endless Missouri River.” They were traveling through what Lewis called a landscape “2,000 miles in width upon which the foot of civilized man has never trodden.”

The word “discovery” is now pretty suspect. One person’s new discovery is another’s ancient homeland. Lewis and Clark were not traveling in a vacuum, no matter what they wanted us to believe. They depended on Native American informants, Native American guides (and I don’t mean Sacagawea), and Native American maps drawn with sticks and mud on the ground, or with charcoal on animal skins, and occasionally on paper.

Cartographers have identified at least 10 places in the journals where the captains talk about the maps that their Indian hosts produced to help them figure out the lay of the land and to know which tributaries and mountain ranges stood in their path to the Pacific.

A couple of years ago, a graduate student named Christopher Steinke, then at the University of New Mexico, discovered one of those maps. It was stored in the archives of the Bibliotheque nationale de France in Paris. Steinke was not a Lewis and Clark scholar. He was searching for North American indigenous maps at the Bibliotheque nationale when he stumbled upon one by an Arikara man named Piaheto or Arketarnarshar or Too Né. He wrote an article about it, with more emphasis on indigenous than on Lewis and Clark, in the outstanding William and Mary Quarterly.

As you know, every year I lead a cultural tour on the Lewis and Clark Trail in Montana and Idaho. We canoe through the White Cliffs section of the Missouri River east of Fort Benton, Mont., for three days, and then — after a hotel room and hot showers — we spend another three days hiking up on the Lolo Trail, the most pristine part of the entire national Lewis and Clark Trail. One of my favorite young guides, an archaeologist named Kevin O’Briant, told me at a place called Eagle Camp that he wanted me to see a map he had come across.

I was stunned. The map was made by Too Né, who traveled with the expedition for a few weeks in the autumn of 1804 in what’s now North Dakota. He went upriver with Lewis and Clark to try to make peace with the Mandan Indians, with whom the Arikara had been at war. He tried to inform Clark of some of the important landmarks, including sacred places, on that stretch of the Missouri River between today’s North Dakota and South Dakota border and the earthlodge villages at the mouth of the Knife River in central North Dakota.

In his journal Clark said he was indifferent to the geographic, historical and sacred information Too Né was explaining to him through an interpreter. But the discovery of the map shows that Clark was listening more closely than he let on, and Too Né’s information did actually find its way into Clark’s journal.

All of this is spectacular news. It’s one of the most important discoveries in Lewis and Clark studies for a generation, since folks in Louisville, Ky., found a packet of 51 William Clark letters in an attic in the late 1980s. It may be more important because it sheds important light on the expedition’s dependence on Native American maps, on the previously neglected role of Too Né as a Native American guide, interpreter and diplomat and on the significance of the expedition’s encounter with the Arikara in northern South Dakota.

When Kevin showed me the map, I immediately decided to dedicate a full issue of “We Proceeded On” to the Too Né map. I asked Kevin to write the lead article. He has written a wonderful essay about the ways in which Native American maps read the land differently from Euro-American Enlightenment maps. We’re publishing the map in a pull-out centerfold. I call it Lewis and Clark porn.

I asked the two leading Lewis and Clark cartographers, both eminent individuals, Herman Viola and John Logan Allen, to assess the map. Before fulfilling my request, they made me send them wonderful huge laminated copies of the map. Their assessments are amazingly generous and insightful.

I interviewed Chris Steinke, the discoverer of the map. I found Jefferson’s letter of condolence to the Arikara — Too Né visited the Great Redheaded Father in Washington, D.C., and unfortunately died there on April 6, 1806. And I found a multipage description of Too Né in the nation’s capital by a painter, man of letters, playwright and actor William Dunlap. And I wrote an essay about the ways Too Né’s map tracks with Clark’s journal from Oct. 8 to Nov. 10, 1804.

This will be one of the most important issues of “We Proceeded On” in a very long time, perhaps forever. I even got an artist friend of mine, Katrina Case-Soper, to paint a courtroom-like watercolor of Too Né in the Washington boarding house where he stayed in the weeks before his death.

You can sense how excited I am about this and how proud I am to serve as editor for this critically important moment in the long history of Lewis and Clark studies. I hope you will subscribe to WPO starting immediately. Just go to the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage website. Their headquarters is in Great Falls, Mont. You will find more information about all of this on our website.

A couple of weeks ago I made a pilgrimage to one of the sacred places on Too Né’s map. It’s called Medicine Rock, located near the Cannonball River in southwestern North Dakota. It’s a lonely outcropping in the middle of the middle of nowhere. Virtually no non-Indian North Dakotans know that Medicine Rock exists.

It was a windy, cold, gray, winter day on the northern Great Plains, with ground blizzarding on the narrow two-lane roads, followed by gravel roads, followed by a two-trail path in the middle of an immense grassland. I had to walk a mile into a stiff wind, wind chill about 10 below zero, to get to the sacred place. And there, in this nondescript bit of sandstone in the infinite expanse of the Great Plains, where a protective chain link fence surrounds the perimeter of the Medicine Rock site, I found prayer bundles — thumb-sized plugs of tobacco wrapped in bright cotton handkerchiefs — tied to the fence.

Think about this. It’s the second decade of the 21st century, and I got to the site partly by using the Google earth app on my smartphone. We need these  reminders that there are still sacred places all around us and that the white history of America, particularly the Great Plains, is very recent.

Robert Frost was right. “The land was ours before we were the land’s.”

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 family?”

I go ahead and provide an answer in character, but I want to ask, “What do you know about this exactly and why do you care and what do you think it means for our understanding of Thomas Jefferson?” But I don’t.

Some people think Jefferson raped Sally Hemings, repeatedly, over a period that may have amounted to 34 years. If you listen to this program you know Jenkinson’s law: All bets are off below the waist. So I could not swear that Jefferson did not rape Sally Hemings.

Once you learn that the sportcaster Marv Albert likes to bite his lovers on the backside, that presidential consultant Dick Morris enjoyed sucking the toes of the prostitutes he hired and that Bill Clinton liked to play hide the cigar with Monica Lewinsky, you just have to accept that human beings are aroused by a very wide and strange set of practices (of which these examples are in fact tame).

Still, I find it virtually impossible to imagine that Jefferson ever forced himself on Sally Hemings. But we weren’t there, of course, and we have no way of knowing what went on behind those tightly closed doors. It seems to me that slavery had to produce psychological damage in a highly evolved human being like Thomas Jefferson. It may have played itself out sexually in ways that we would rather not know or face.

The British explorer John Speke, one of the questors for the source of the Nile, like to eat the fetuses of the big game animals he killed in Africa and India.

De gustibus non est disputandum. There is no accounting for taste.

Jefferson may not have forced himself on Sally Hemings, but it depends on what you mean by force. He owned her. She was his property. He could sell her at any time. He could whip her. He could give her as a hospitality token to his male guests for the night. This very often happened in the plantation South.

Look at it this way. If Jefferson made it clear that he intended to have sex with Sally Hemings, but never would have overpowered her with his physical strength, it could still be rape — if she didn’t want his sexual attention. It might be rape even if she did, given the vast differential between his status and hers, the profound difference in power and freedom of movement and action, the implicit threat of what might happen if you disappoint the master and the myriad ways in which the slaveholders were able to coerce their slaves to conform to their habits and notions.

It may have begun in France with some tacit coercion — what choice did she really have, so far away from the enslaved community in Virginia? — and over time morphed into something that can be said to resemble “consensual intimacy.” Or she may have been both vulnerable and impressionable when it started — more seduction than coercion.

She was after all just 14 years old when she arrived in Paris. Jefferson was 44. He was a famous man, a great man, the ambassador to France, the author of the celebrated Declaration of Independence. It might have been intoxicating to receive the attentions, possibly romantic attentions, of one of the most elegant and fastidious men of the Enlightenment.

In our time and according to our codes, a 44-year-old man having sex with a 14- year-old girl is regarded automatically as rape — statutory rape. Think of the revulsion most people felt when they learned of Roy Moore’s alleged statutory proclivities in Alabama.

Today we automatically think 14 is too young for consensual sex with an adult, and we have a special place in our Inferno for men who prey on young impressionable women and men: preachers, priests, college professors, politicians, coaches, team doctors, Scout leaders.

I’m with John Adams, in this as in almost all of his judgments about human nature. When he read about the Sally Hemings story in the newspapers — this was THE scandal of the years 1802-04, during Jefferson’s first term as president, he said he could not of course be sure that Jefferson was guilty of this transgression. And in fact, it seemed out of character for the graceful and exquisite Jefferson.

BUT it was, said Adams, precisely what one would expect in the miasma of slavery. Owning another human being had its implications, all transgressive, and there was no good reason to try to draw some sort of line at the sexual frontier.

 

 

That seems right to me.

My own theory, and I do not say this to try in any way to exonerate Jefferson, is that Sally Hemings was a shrewd young woman. Her mother had been the mistress of a white man. Her grandmother had been the mistress of a white man. By making herself available to Jefferson, she increased her status and improved her life: better clothing, better food, a better job at Monticello (housekeeper inside the mansion), better sleeping quarters, some spending money, better doctors, etc.

And we know from the testimony of her son Madison, from his 1873 interview in an Ohio newspaper, that his mother struck a hard bargain with Jefferson while they were still in France, where she was free under international law, and therefore did not have to return to Virginia with her master Jefferson. According to Madison Hemings, Jefferson agreed to free her brother, James, once he taught other slaves the art of French cookery, and he agreed to free any children he might have with Sally Hemings.

And he did. Two walked away from Monticello and passed seamlessly into the white world. The other two were freed in Jefferson’s will.

In other words, I give Sally Hemings credit for being savvy and strategic.

That doesn’t mean she didn’t love Thomas Jefferson or learn to love him. But she knew how to look out for her interests and particularly those of her children.

If this is true, it doesn’t exonerate Jefferson from abusing his power and status to take as bedfellow someone who had very limited options in that situation and someone who today would be regarded as criminally too young to enter into such a bargain, no matter how shrewd she was. In other words, it might still be rape in some sense of that term. If true, it certainly reveals something fascinating and very troubling in Jefferson’s sexual persona and indeed character.

We need to be troubled. But we also need to be fair, circumspect and to seek understanding rather than to swagger in judgment. The DNA makes it a near certainty that Jefferson was the father of one or more of Sally Hemings’ children, but the genetic code does not get us very far into this story because it does not tell us anything about that most mysterious of human mysteries, just what their relationship was behind doors that we have not been invited to open.

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 to give the appearance of possibly being guilty of conflict of interest.

An exaggerated image of Jefferson’s Mammoth Cheese.
An exaggerated image of Jefferson’s Mammoth Cheese.

Jefferson needed the money that such speculation might have brought to his always troubled finances, but he chose to stay aloof from such temptations.

When Elder John Leland of Massachusetts sent President Jefferson the world’s largest cheese in 1802 — 1,235 pounds, 4 feet wide, 15 inches thick — Jefferson immediately sent the pastor a check for $200.

Not the largest, but world’s dumbest cheese.
Not the largest, but world’s dumbest cheese.

Jefferson understood that the so-called “mammoth cheese” was an innocent and lovely gift, a kind of gimcrack or prodigy, and that Leland had no political agenda (unlike today’s American Dairy Association, for example), but he wanted to maintain his principle of not accepting gifts, however whimsical or harmless, because A, it would set a bad precedent, and B, accepting such gifts might constitute a slippery slope. Integrity and republican virtue were the very basis of Thomas Jefferson’s Idea of a republic.

These are just two examples of Jefferson’s lifelong habit of ethical high-mindedness as a government official. He understood what is at stake in a republican society.

So:

  • President Trump’s hotels, including the Trump International in the District of Columbia, are bustling with guests, banquets, receptions and barroom meetings. His Mar-a-Lago resort is bringing in record profits. These facilities are filled with foreign diplomats, princes and foreign government representatives who could just as easily stay at any one of the hundreds of hotels in Washington, D.C., or the scores of five-star resorts in Florida. This in spite of the emoluments clause in the U.S. Constitution: “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” — Article I, Section 9, Clause 8.
  • The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, we have learned, has conducted meetings in the White House with bankers and business groups from whom he has borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars for his personal business holdings in New York City.
  • The president’s daughter, Ivanka, has a product line that was granted several trademarks in China on the same day that she sat in on a meeting between President Xi Jinping of China and her father at Mar-a-Lago. Hmmm.

This list could be much longer.

Even if these transactions could be interpreted as “perfectly innocent and/or coincidental,” the appearance of conflict of interest, of the president’s smug indifference to ethical norms and the laws of the United States, including clauses of the U.S. Constitution itself, puts PresidentTrump at the far other end of the spectrum from President Jefferson, and virtually every other president in American history.

The only thing worse than these improprieties and (perhaps) crimes is the steadfast refusal of the Congress of the United States to hold the president and his family accountable.

To those who wish to argue that President Trump’s bombastic and narcissistic style is a wise strategy to “shake up the dysfunctional world of Washington, D.C.,” I ask, what is the beneficial purpose of this brand of ethical negligence? How does the republic benefit from the Trump family’s determination to use their time in the White House to line their own pockets and increase the profits of their businesses?

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.

President Jefferson in his White House Office with Meriwether Lewis.
President Jefferson in his White House Office with Meriwether Lewis.

Jefferson broke with the habit of his two predecessors and sent his annual messages by courier to Congress. He believed that appearing in person before Congress smacked of monarchy, European court culture and a false aggrandizement of what an American president should represent in a free society.

He walked to the Capitol in Washington to deliver his first inaugural address March 4, 1801. He wore plain gentlemen’s clothes, eschewed all pompous ceremonial rituals and delivered his address so nearly inaudibly and with such meekness that those who gathered to hear his vision of America had to go out on the street afterward to buy printed copies of the speech. When he finished his address, Jefferson walked back to the boarding house where he was staying and took his seat at the foot of the table, farthest from the fire, in his accustomed way.

Jefferson met White House visitors in plain, sometimes slightly shabby, clothes.  In fact, he caused an international incident when he greeted British Minister Anthony Merry in his house slippers, his linen “none too clean,” wearing an ill-fitting great coat.

Jefferson rode his horse freely and without a military escort around the District of Columbia, often stopping at greengrocers to inspect their fresh vegetables. He corresponded with average Americans in a frank and thoughtful manner. He called the presidency “splendid misery” and on the eve of his voluntary retirement after two terms, he wrote, “Never did a prisoner released from his chains feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power.”

Jefferson understood political theater, but rather than use his office to puff himself up or compensate for a lack of understanding of the constitutional process, he carefully shaped his public life to remind himself and those around him that while he was perhaps the first citizen of the country (for a limited time), he was not king, dictator or high priest. To his Postmaster General Gideon Granger, Jefferson wrote, “our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization, and a very unexpensive one; a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants.”

That’s what it means to live in a republic.

Jefferson knew how much discipline it takes to maintain a free society. He knew that “the tendency of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” He understood that the genius of America is undermined whenever our leaders forget that sovereignty resides in the people, not in their own persons or their short tenures as stewards of the people’s will.

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 write the document, “consulting neither book nor pamphlet.” (Showoff!)

  • June 28: Committee presents Jefferson’s draft to the Continental Congress.
  • July 2: Congress passes resolution of independence — the die is cast.
  • July 4: After two days of intense debate, Congress adopts a chastened (TJ said mutilated) version of Jefferson’s declaration of independence.
  • Aug. 2: There was never a formal signing ceremony. The document certainly wasn’t signed on the Fourth of July. Once the engraved copy had been prepared, most delegates signed on or around Aug. 2, 1776.
Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr …
Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr …

The great John Adams, who played a much more significant role in the American Revolution than did Jefferson, developed both a short-term and later a long-term reaction to the events of the first week of July 1776. In the moment, overwhelmed with pride and revolutionary excitement, Adams wrote a letter to his “dearest friend,” Abigail, his wife, on July 3. The great letter contains the following exuberant paragraph:

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Well, sir, you were half-right. At the instant when this was all unfolding, Adams rightly predicted the ways in which the American people would come to celebrate the birth of their republic. But he was off by two days on the celebration date.

for a list of OSHA violations, see …
for a list of OSHA violations, see …

Much later, when Jefferson’s fame and popularity had soared beyond that of many of the other figures of the Revolution, including Adams, Adams attempted to restore the balance in his own favor. He made it clear that he could have written the Declaration of Independence if he had wanted to but that, in an act of selfless nobility, he handed the assignment off to young Jefferson. He suggested in letters that there was nothing original in Jefferson’s document; in fact, Jefferson had merely copied from a range of state and local declarations to produce his synthesis. And when he was truly upset with his former “protege,” the earthy Adams raged, “You have run away with” the Revolution.

Among other things, exquisite penmanship. Genius: “an infinite capacity for taking pains.”
Among other things, exquisite penmanship. Genius: “an infinite capacity for taking pains.”

All that historians can conclude is this. Jefferson had nothing to do with America’s preference for the fourth of July over the second of July — unless you credit what even Adams called Jefferson’s “peculiar felicity for expression” for lifting what might have been a routine state paper into global immortality.

Jefferson did not seek to write the Declaration of Independence. In fact, he tried to talk his way out of the assignment.

The simple fact is that on the Fourth of July 1776, one of the handful of most important documents in the history of the world was adopted by a group of principled intellectuals from Britain’s colonies in North America. If you start to make a list of the most important and influential documents ever written — the Magna Carta, the Emancipation Proclamation, the U.N. Universal Declaration of Rights — there can be no list that does not place Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence in the top 10, indeed top five.

Why?

Because Jefferson had spent a lifetime to hard reading and composing lucid prose in order to be ready when the moment came. As a young man, he read 12 to 15 hours a day. Doesn’t leave much time for firecrackers. Jefferson had a genius for piercing through the immediate to the universal significance of things. The Revolution wasn’t finally about Britain. “It was about the aspirations of humankind.” Jefferson was a humanist in the profoundest sense of the term.

The irony is that Jefferson would probably have been happy to steer fireworks, parades and bratwurst to the Second of July and devote the Fourth of July to seminars on liberty, a thoughtful toast with a fine glass of Bordeaux, a rigorous checklist survey of how well human liberty is doing against the forces of creeping bureaucracy, regulation, taxation and big government.

He never did figure out how to fire off a Roman candle.

So today, July 2, 2017, I lift my glass to irascible, contentious, prickly, earthy, vain, self-pitying and unbearably honest and virtuous John Adams. Let the parades begin.

It may be worth noting that in 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the American Revolution, Adams and Jefferson died on the same day — on the FOURTH OF JULY.

Checkmate, Mr. Adams.

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 names (he said McKinley had the backbone of a chocolate éclair, and he called William Jennings Bryan a human trombone). His roughhousing with his rambunctious children in the White House raised the eyebrows of the Victorian stuff shirts of his time. As president, Roosevelt rattled the nerves of Charles Elliot, the president of Harvard, when he showed up at his old alma mater packing a loaded pistol. When one of his old pals from the Dakota Bad Lands fretted that he might not be admitted into the White House through the usual doors, TR urged him next time just to shoot out one of the windows. Probably he was joking.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Bill Clinton famously spoke with foreign diplomats while receiving oral ministrations in the Oval Office from Monica Lewinski and fiddling creatively with cigars. He was not the only president to have opportunistic sex in the White House, of course, but his sexual style always felt a little like it belonged in a trailer park. JFK is said to have taken LSD in the White House with one of his girlfriends, in the middle of the workday. One hopes it was a relatively quiet day during the nuclear-tipped Cold War.

The always elegant Thomas Jefferson.
The always elegant Thomas Jefferson.

Most presidents either have or adopt proper Presidential deportment. Think of Ronald Reagan (a conservative populist) or George Bush senior (a patrician) insisting on always wearing a coat and tie in the Oval Office, never propping their feet on the famous Resolute desk, and invariably speaking, at least in public, with decorum, a careful and heightened diction and a demeanor that reflects an awareness that they were the prime representative of one the most powerful and important nations in history — the republic of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, Reagan, and elegant Obama.

Trump mocks a disabled reporter.
Trump mocks a disabled reporter.

No. 45, Donald Trump, behaves like a rich frat boy, your crazy unfiltered uncle at the Thanksgiving table, the loudmouth at the end of the bar at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night, the golfer who wraps his 7-iron around a tree when he misses an easy shot. Trump behaves like a psychologically damaged 70-year-old man trapped in the persona of a spoiled 13-year-old adolescent, a reality TV star who got paid millions to be brash, rude, demeaning, and narcissistic.

And here’s the astonishing thing. For about 35 percent of the American people, it works! In fact, some significant percentage of the electorate thinks this is precisely what American most needs. When you mock a disabled person by waving your arms in what you think is a spastic parody, declare that your wealth and celebrity allow you to grab women by their sexual parts with impunity, when you call Mexicans “hombres,” shove the prime minister of Montenegro out of the way during a photo op or call terrorists who just blew up the bodies of several dozen British young people “losers, a bunch of losers, OK,” you would seem to prove yourself unfit for the presidency of the United States. Who really wants to defend such behavior? And yet, this man who has never tried to hide his core persona was elected president of the United States in 2016.

I have close personal friends, decent, morally mature and sensitive men and women, who defend Donald Trump’s antics and hijinks and say that he is the victim of “fake news” and a liberal national media that is indeed the “enemy of the American people.”

This phenomenon is simply mystifying. Trump’s behavior gets denounced every day, almost every hour of every day now, but I’m much more interested in trying to understand it, or more particularly trying to understand why there is about a third of the population that defends such loutish and unpresidential behavior or even fist pumps it.

If your preacher talked this way, would you defend it? If a high school English teacher talked this way, would you defend it? If Obama had talked this way, would you have defended it? If your best friend talked this way, would you defend it?

I heard a commentator named Dylan Byers on one of the talk shows last week say that we will never recover our national social and political equilibrium until we figure out why about half the nation is so pissed off, so utterly disillusioned with America’s path, so profoundly fed up, cynical and eager to say not much more than “up yours” to the rest of us, that they routinely, even invariably defend the least presidential character in American history.

I suppose you could argue that even Thomas Jefferson had his moments. He deliberately ruffled the feathers of British ambassador Anthony Merry with his pell mell dinner protocols. Occasionally, for effect, or in philosophical absent-mindedness, he greeted White House visitors in his slippers. He blustered about Spain’s colonial presence in the western hemisphere and rattled the saber towards Madrid and Mexico City from time to time, knowing that it was highly unlikely that Spain would take the bait and actually wage war against the United States. Weary of the opposition press of his time, Jefferson eventually suggested that we divide newspapers into four sections: truth, probabilities, possibilities, and bald lies.

That’s the sum total of Jefferson’s rudenesses. Probably no president in our history had more elegance, and a finer sense of etiquette than Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson’s world was essentially no different from a Jane Austen novel: “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Emma.” Everyone is polite, euphemistic, civil, and nonconfrontational. Whatever gets resolved — and, of course, they faced the same problems all humans always face — has to be resolved by indirection, strained politeness and nuance. It’s hard to know when someone is enraged in Jane Austen’s world because they always unburden themselves using their “inside voices” and employing complete sentences. Or they faint.

Thomas Jefferson was an exquisitely civilized man. He did not Tweet or hold impromptu news conferences or mouth platitudes with tedious repetition of every phrase. “We’re going to be great again. I tell you great again. I mean great folks. Really great. So great.”

Jefferson sat down in front of a plain sheet of expensive paper and the best writing instruments of his time. He thought through just what he wanted to express before he touched pen to paper, paused to regroup between sentences, tried hard to phrase his views in a way that would find harmony in the letter’s recipient.

When he disagreed strongly with someone, Jefferson invariably attempted to lighten the tension by saying, “If we disagree, let us disagree as rational friends.” This was a personal application of the famous utterance from his First Inaugural Address: “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists.”

Much later, Jefferson wrote one of his most beautiful letters to a man named Charles Thompson. The letter epitomizes the soul of the kind of individual you want to be president of the United Sates.

“It is a singular anxiety which some people have,” Jefferson wrote, “that we should all think alike. Would the world be more beautiful were all our faces alike, were our tempers, our talents, our tastes, our forms, our wishes, aversions and pursuits cast exactly in the same mould? If no varieties existed in the animal, vegetable or mineral creation, but all moved strictly uniform, catholic and orthodox, what a world of physical and moral monotony would it be!”

Well, I guess you cannot Tweet that.

I’m Clay Jenkinson.