Unheralded

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — The Fierce Urgency Of Now

We need an honest debate about race in America. We now also need an honest debate about the uses of violence in the quest for justice. The shocking aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd has precipitated a national conversation about the paramilitarization of our police forces, the sad repetition of urban policemen killing black suspects in what — …


Unheralded

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Silence Equals Violence

I am writing these words on a quiet Sunday morning in Bismarck, North Dakota, because my conscience tells me that neither I nor any other white American can justify silence in the face of the police murder of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis on May 25. Every American, and especially every white American, has to speak up now …


CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Jefferson’s Symposium

The Beatles asked, do you believe in love at first sight, and answered, “Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time.” Do you believe in the idea of the soul mate, that there is someone out there somewhere who represents a perfect fit for your own cluster of values, principles, habits, perspectives, and desires? That idea goes all the …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Radicalized

I’ve been writing recently about the ways in which I am being radicalized by the collapse of American civilization. I no longer think we need only to undertake a few thoughtful reforms to save the country. The colossal farce of the Trump impeachment, wherein the most important material witness to the central allegation of the articles of impeachment was not …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — You Say You Want A Revolution

Thomas Jefferson has somehow gotten under my skin. As I’ve grown older in my tights and wig, in some respects I’ve become a radical and even, at times, a paper revolutionary. When I began investigating Mr. Jefferson 30 years ago, tentatively beginning to portray him, I was mostly interested in his agrarian vision for this country. The sentence that then …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Who’s the Snowflake Now?

The silly controversy over Shane Balkowitsch’s proposal to mount a 7-foot-high portrait of the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on the outside wall of a downtown building in Bismarck comes just as we learn that Antarctica has experienced the two hottest days on historical record and just when an iceberg the size of Malta has broken free from the Pine …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — A Tale of Two Presidents, 100 Years Apart

This is the Thomas Jefferson Hour. Why are we talking about Theodore Roosevelt today? Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States. He took office 100 years after Thomas Jefferson became the third president. They are condemned to spend eternity on Mount Rushmore together. Right next to each other, in fact. There is no way that Jefferson could …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — The Death Of The American Republic

My friends, When the Senate of the United States voted on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, not to call John Bolton or any other witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, death rattled in the throat of the American republic. It’s over now. We will, of course, continue to be a great and powerful nation, a rich nation, with …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — A Day To Remember

Four things happened on the last day of January 2020. 1. We crossed the Rubicon: The United States was envisioned as a republic. In a republic, the protection the people have against tyranny is our system of checks and balances. The judiciary checks the legislative branch when it passes unconstitutional laws. The executive has the power to veto congressional legislation, …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Jefferson, Beccaria And Incarceration

Thomas Jefferson wanted us to be the most enlightened nation on Earth, then and forever, the most enlightened nation in human history. That meant we had to be the best-educated, best-informed, most peaceful and most harmonious nation on Earth. We had to become the very template for rational, productive, thoughtful and harmonious living. This is the real American Dream. We …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Samuel Johnson’s ‘A Dictionary Of The English Language’

During the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s recent impeachment hearings, I was surprised to hear several constitutional law scholars cite Samuel Johnson’s “A Dictionary of the English Language” for definitions of treason, misdemeanors, bribery, etc, a reference to Dr. Johnson’s 1755 dictionary of the English language. It is not altogether uncommon to hear the name Dr. Johnson — usually in …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Jefferson Watch — Trump’s Impeachment

What do you do when Republicans refuse to take seriously what they would find absolutely appalling and outrageous, criminal and treasonous, disgusting and Constitution-threatening if it were done by a liberal Democrat? We all know that if the situation were reversed and Barack Obama had reached out to Pakistan to demand that it pretend to investigate Jeb Bush or Donald …

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — ‘I Rise With The Sun’ — OK, Never Mind

Sunday morning addendum No. 1: Lillian and I went to a Christmas party last night. I drank some wine. We came home and I drank some more wine and stayed up late and watched “Saturday Night Live.” I woke up this morning at 5:59 a.m. I rolled over and went back to sleep and got up at 8:44 a.m., 19 …

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 — 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 — 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 — Farewell To Edmund Morris

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

CLAY JENKINSON: In Search Of America — Traveling With Each Of My Characters

UNDER TWIN PEAKS, NEAR ASPEN, Colo. — What would each of my characters think of this trip? Starting with John Steinbeck: He would be amazed at how much more comfortable pickup trucks are now, with tilting steering wheels, heated seats, air conditioning, better shocks, tinted glass, etc. And how much more convenient a truck camper is. The one I stepped into the other day …

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 — 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 …