Unheralded

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 …


Unheralded

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 …