Unheralded

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Is It Time For A New Constitutional Convention?

The 250th birthday of the United States is coming in four years. Already the great cultural institutions of America (National Endowment for the Humanities, Library of Congress, Smithsonian, prestigious universities) are thinking about the appropriate way to celebrate this important anniversary. We can expect fireworks, parades, festivals, orations — and protests, criticism, demands for a full-on national recognition of all …


Unheralded

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — The History Behind The Separation Of Church And State In America

The overturning of Roe v. Wade and the striking down of a longstanding New York City gun law have received most of the attention at the close of this year’s U.S. Supreme Court, but many court watchers are equally focused on recent decisions about the separation of church and state in America. On June 27, 2022, in the case Kennedy v. Bremerton School …


CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Where Does The Lewis And Clark Trail Begin?

The late Stephen Ambrose liked to begin his lectures on the Lewis and Clark Expedition by saying that the men (and one woman) of the Corps of Volunteers for Northwestern Discovery traveled “from sea to shining sea.” And yet typically, accounts of the journey begin with Lewis and Clark leaving St. Charles, Mo., on May 14, 1804, with three heavily laden boats, a couple of horses, …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Do Economic Sanctions Work? A Brief History

In 2014, Vladimir Putin’s Russia invaded Crimea, a peninsula of southern Ukraine that juts into the Black Sea. The West grumbled and imposed economic sanctions, expelled Russia from the Group of Seven (G7) political and economic forum but chose not to go to war against Russia. Although the sanctions hurt the Russian economy, and no doubt impaired the lives of the 144 …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Life Tenure On The Supreme Court: Appointments and Disappointments

This is the third in a Governing series on a historical look at the Supreme Court to coincide with nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation process, which continued this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. With hearings under way to fill an opening on the U.S. Supreme Court, it may be useful to look back on the history of court appointments. “Appointments,” Thomas Jefferson said, “and disappointments.” Since 1789, 115 …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Myths Of The U.S. Supreme Court

This is the first in an occasional Governing series on the Supreme Court in preparation for nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation process, which enters its next phase on March 21 when she appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee to publicly make her case for why she should win approval to sit on the nation’s highest court. The Supreme Court has been more than usually visible in …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — A Centuries-Old Travel Guide Unlocks Clues To Our Future

When Thomas Jefferson left the United States in 1784 to serve as his fledgling country’s ambassador to France, he was still reeling from the death of his wife, Martha, and the remnants of political scandal in Virginia. Looking for a new beginning, Jefferson traveled in and beyond France whenever his job allowed, collecting items and ideas he would bring home …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — A Dose of Liberty After Death For Patrick Henry

We lose a lot in our understanding of the Founding Fathers, says John Ragosta, a historian at the Robert H. Smith Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, when we see them only as marble statues. They were real people who made mistakes and who got mad at one another. Patrick Henry so angered fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson in 1781, Ragosta maintains, that …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — The Early Republic Was Stress Tested For Times Like Ours

America’s consciousness is indelibly shaped by the competing legacies of three distinct personalities: a fast-talking New Yorker, a quintessential Yankee and a Virginia squire. In his book, “Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding,” historian Darren Staloff explores the social, intellectual and personal dynamics that shaped these men and helped define the nation. Staloff teaches courses …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Can Political Parties Reform Themselves To Guide The Country Forward?

Party politics have always been controversial, but they have evolved into an unattractive piece of American democracy in recent decades. They have helped fuel fires of polarization and choked down legislative efforts at all levels of government. As a result, political parties themselves are under assault. Conservative journalist and historian Jay Cost, however, believes these efforts are misguided. He argues …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — On Big Problems: Expect More From States, Less From Supreme Court

In today’s polarized political climate, Americans nervously anticipate U.S. Supreme Court rulings with the same fervor with that they enjoy sports, and with the same goal in mind: namely, to win. But American government is not a game, cautions U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton. By forcing the Supreme Court to make notably divisive, winner-take-all decisions, he argues, …

CLAY JENKINSON: The Future In Context — Living A Good Life In A Broken Republic

As I reflect on the purposes of the retreat I attended this past weekend in the Little Missouri Badlands of western North Dakota, I have been asking myself hard questions about my approach to what the retreat hosts have called “the situation.” I inquired. Turns out they mean the whole enchilada: borders and immigrants, health care, global warming, the 1 percent and the 99 …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Is “All Men Are Created Equal” A Declaration, Promise Or Question?

Thomas Jefferson, speaking for the Second Continental Congress, wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” He either meant this to be a universal proposition (self-evident) and therefore was a contemptible hypocrite since he owned as many as 600 slaves in the course of his life, or he meant the statement to serve as what …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — America’s Declaration Of Independence On Its 245th Anniversary*

With the 245th Independence Day and the first national Juneteenth commemoration now behind us, here is the question: If we could only keep one document from American history, and one only, which would it need to be? Opinions will vary. Some might say the Emancipation Proclamation, others the Bill of Rights, still others the U.S. Constitution itself. Or perhaps Lincoln’s magnificent Second Inaugural Address, delivered …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — America’s Constitution In 2021: What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?

In an earlier article, Editor-at-Large Clay Jenkinson described America’s Three Constitutions: The Capital C Constitution drafted in 1787, the small c constitution of norms and traditions not specified in the written Constitution and the ways the American people actually constitute themselves. In this second in a series, Jenkinson looks at the Constitution circa 2021. “Some men look at constitutions with …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Gutenberg To Zuckerberg: A Tale Of Two Revolutions

To put it in a nutshell. No Gutenberg, no Luther. No Luther, no Reformation. At one point, Luther (1483-1546) was publishing a book (more like a pamphlet) every three or four weeks. The advent of moveable type and the printing press (ca. 1440) made it possible for an obscure monk’s critique of late medieval Catholicism to travel all over Europe. The …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — The Year Another Capitol Siege Almost Took Place On The Hill

The election of 1800 keeps coming back to inform, console and trouble us. John Adams was the incumbent. Thomas Jefferson was the challenger. After one of the most vituperative elections in American history, Jefferson emerged the winner. He had 73 electoral votes, Adams just 65. Thus, Adams became America’s first one-term president. There have been nine, depending a bit on …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Thomas Jefferson, Epidemics And His Vision For American Cities

The yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia changed Thomas Jefferson’s thinking. Always anti-urban in his social outlook, the future president now began to formulate a radical plan for the development of new states and new communities west of the Appalachian mountains. In an age before antibiotics and systematic vaccination, Jefferson sought to design healthier communities on the tabula rasa, …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Presidential Transitions And The Vagaries Of America’s History

The Nov. 3, 2020, election is seven weeks behind us. After more than 50 legal challenges to the fairness and legality of the election have been exhausted, and now that the Electoral College has performed its constitutional duty in certifying the election, it is a matter of real constitutional significance that the current President of the United States continues to …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — America, Rome And The Slow Erosion of Republics

Dr. Edward Watts is a professor of history at the University of California at San Diego. He earned his Ph.D. from Yale and is the author of five books, most recently, “Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny.” The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. Governing: We’re suddenly in this situation where the wear and tear on …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Why Did John Adams Skip Thomas Jefferson’s Inauguration?

The election of 1800 was the first time power was transferred from one political party to another. The first president, George Washington, and the second, John Adams, were both Federalists, so there was not much to transfer in the spring of 1797 when Washington retired to Mount Vernon for the last time. As the first U.S. vice president, Adams considered …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — When Alexander Hamilton Tried To Steal The Election Of 1800

Some Trump supporters and advisers have suggested that if the certification of the 2020 election can be delayed beyond Dec. 8, Republican-controlled state legislatures could step in to name their own set of presidential electors who would cast their Electoral College votes for Donald Trump, not the individual who appears to have won the election in those swing states. Others …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — The Presidency: From Rocky Transitions To Electoral Delays

At the time I write this, the day before the 2020 presidential election, we don’t know whether Donald Trump will be a one-term president or whether he will be elected to a second term. Trump has repeatedly declared that he may not accept the election results if he is defeated. If he loses, it is hard to imagine a smooth …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Amy Coney Barrett Is In An Impossible Position; So Are We

In 1958, President Dwight David Eisenhower is reported to have said, “I made two mistakes and both of them are sitting on the Supreme Court.” The story may be apocryphal, but it continues to be widely quoted because it so perfectly expresses presidential exasperation with the behavior of U.S. Supreme Court appointees once they are confirmed by the U.S. Senate. …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Is it Time For Texas And California To Leave the Union?

David French begins his book about the disintegration of America along what is by now a well-worn path: “We increasingly loathe our political opponents.” “A person belongs to their political party not so much because they like their own party but because they hate and fear the other side.” “The number of Americans who live in so-called landslide counties— counties …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Looking Back At Presidential Transitions And Sore Losers

We don’t know how the election of 2020 is going to play out or what the post-election interim will be like, between Nov. 3, 2020, and Jan. 20, 2021. President Trump has announced several times that he may not accept the results of the election. Whole batteries of lawyers are lining up on both sides to contest or confirm the …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Ginsburg, Trump And Midnight Appointments To The Supreme Court

First, the hard facts. An individual is president of the United States from the moment she or he takes the oath of office in the January after the election and remains president until the next person takes that oath, except in cases of assassination or successful impeachment. The sitting president has an unquestionable right to do all the things a …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — A Lesson From Jefferson On How The Nation Can Heal

Is it possible to heal this great nation? At the moment, we are all fixated on Donald Trump — his leadership style, his desire to disrupt, his tweets — but whether he wins or loses in November, the fundamental brokenness of our political system does not cease. In fact, it is likely to worsen. However painful it is to admit, …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Let Us Now Praise The U.S. Postal Service

Since the pandemic shut down much of American life back in March, I have worked mostly at my kitchen table in a suburban house in Bismarck, N.D. I chose the kitchen table because it has seven big bay windows around it. I like to work in the natural light. But I also like to watch for the moment when the …

CLAY JENKINSON: Future In Context — Playing The Religious Card: A Long American History

“Take away your guns, take away your Second Amendment. No religion, no anything. Hurt the Bible. Hurt God. He’s against God.” When President Trump uttered these words this past week, he sparked the usual outrage in the world beyond his base. His accusations against Joe Biden, who is a serious Catholic Christian and who has not indicated distaste for the …

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 — …

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. …