Unheralded

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 …


Unheralded

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 — 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 — 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 — The Digital Revolution

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

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — On Jefferson And Leadership

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

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

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

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Realizing The Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Conflict Of Interest

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

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Big Military Parades

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

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

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

CLAY JENKINSON: The Death Of Decorum In The White House

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

CLAY JENKINSON: Erasing The Past

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

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Our Gardens

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

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

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

CLAY JENKINSON: Trump’s Inaugural Address

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

CLAY JENKINSON: Concession V. Concussion

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

CLAY JENKINSON: Campaign Diary — One

The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton won the first presidential debate Monday. I was less certain. She was clearly better at talking policy, but I doubt that she really drew many undecided voters to her side. If she had been debating an inspired or charismatic opponent, she would come off as dull and uninspiring. My own study of American …