Your weekly conversation with our third president.



The Lewis & Clark Tour

This is the trip that never gets old. It will be Clay's 12th time up the Wendover Death March (which proves that anyone can do it). We'll spend three days on the White Cliffs section of the Missouri River, then a night in a wonderful historic hotel in Fort Benton, then four days on the Lolo Trail in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark on the most pristine portion of the entire national Lewis & Clark Trail. The “camping” is courtesy of our excellent outfitter (they set up your tent, feed you at tables with cloths and napkins, strike the camp, and provide excellent wine and unlimited quantities of beer). We hike, canoe, stroll, sing, tell stories, gaze at historic sites, sit around bonfires, and learn just the right amount about the most important exploration in American history.

Learn more and view the full itinerary.

This retreat is hosted by Odyssey Tours with Clay Jenkinson.


Support the Show


Donations of $250 or more will receive a signed copy of Clay S. Jenkinson's now out-of-print hardback book, Becoming Jefferson's People, along with a three-CD set of the audiobook, read by the author.

Donations of $100 will receive the three-CD audiobook.

Due to the limited quantities of Becoming Jefferson's People, this offer is limited to stock on hand. The Thomas Jefferson Hour, Inc., a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit under tax ID #46-5726534.

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Civil Discourse


Critical Thinking


Good Citizenship


Thomas Jefferson was a student of the Enlightenment, of human nature and of honorable behavior. He applied this to his personal life and to the national & global challenges he faced during the forming of the United States. 

Clay Jenkinson, the nationally-acclaimed humanities scholar and award-winning first-person interpreter of Thomas Jefferson, portrays Jefferson on the program. Clay addresses listener questions with answers grounded in the writings and actions of Jefferson.

Our mission is to generate discourse between friends and family members which will grow into a national discourse about the topics essential to our country and citizens.



Praise for Becoming Jefferson's People:

"The best of the American spirit comes from Thomas Jefferson. Clay Jenkinson has provided a truly welcome invitation for the American people to return to their best selves."

— Deepak Chopra

"Becoming Jefferson’s People is a clarion call for those who wish to take back their country and restore the promise offered by the American Revolution."

— John Ferling, author of Adams vs Jefferson and A Leap in the Dark

"Jenkinson invites his readers to think in 'the Jefferson way' about everything from good books and precious friends to fine wines and the duties of citizenship. This is a Jeffersonian profession of faith sure to attract a wide audience and spark sharp debate."

— James P. Ronda, Barnard Professor of Western American Literature, The University of Tulsa

"Jenkinson rediscovers the vital and robust Jefferson and restores our trust in boldness, optimism and self-reliance."

— Landon Y. Jones, author of William Clark and the Shaping of the West and former editor of People magazine

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What does it mean to be Jeffersonian?

The Jeffersonian consists of self-reliance, an uncompromising dedication to liberty (over security, profit, comfort and tradition), an unambiguous wall of separation between church and state, first-rate public education, thoughtfulness and diffidence about America's place in the world, and a commitment to civility.

Jefferson brought genius (not to mention reason, good sense and idealism) to everything he undertook, and he believed that the purpose of America was not to seek glory and profit in the world's arena, but to build a nation of quality, justice and cultural achievement.


Praise for the Thomas Jefferson Hour

The reason the TJ Hour works is obvious when you listen—it is Clay Jenkinson: his on-air warmth and intelligence, the breadth of his knowledge, the concerns toward which he directs the discussion, and his ability to connect with the public radio audience. The idea of using Thomas Jefferson as a framing device gives the discussion a perspective that distinguishes it from the usual public affairs discussion. It combines actual, serious discussion of important, overriding principles with the entertainment of the Thomas Jefferson set-up.  It works.  

Bill Thomas
Director of Radio
Prairie Public, North Dakota

The Thomas Jefferson Hour is a thought-provoking way of exploring contemporary issues through the lens of history. Clay Jenkinson brings listeners interesting and thoughtful perspectives in an engaging way.

Joe Moore
Director of Program Content
KVPR Fresno and KPRX Bakersfield, CA

The Thomas Jefferson Hour has been a staple of WHRV's lineup since its inception. With this market's deep history as home to our nation's first region, the Jamestown Colony's founding in 1607, and our Commonwealth's ties to Thomas Jefferson, interest in this program over the years has resulted in a sizeable listener base. We have hosted debates between Thomas Jefferson (Clay Jenkinson) and Alexander Hamilton (Bill Chrystal), and they've been overwhelmingly well-attended by enthusiastic audiences. In addition to our very popular local call-in shows, it's one of our most popular public affairs programs. 

Anthony McSpadden
Director of Programming
WHRV, Norfolk, VA

Jenkinson’s TJ is more than just an entertaining impersonation. It’s a vehicle for discussing political theory and the values that shaped our nation—both for the better and for the worse.
— Sara Rathod at Mother Jones

The Thomas Jefferson Hour was named one of the "Best Under-the-Radar Podcasts" of 2015 by Mother Jones.

Read their March/April 2015 interview with Clay Jenkinson, both in and out of character.

Listen to This Week's Episode

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Clay's Publications

For the Love of North Dakota and Other Essays: Sundays with Clay in the Bismarck Tribune

"Expertise and modesty. Not a bad combination."
Richard Aregood
Grand Forks Herald, 2013
read the full review

Becoming Jefferson's People: Re-Inventing the American Republic in the Twenty-First Century


The Character of Meriwether Lewis: Explorer in the Wilderness

The Character of Meriwether Lewis: Explorer in the Wilderness takes a fresh look at Meriwether Lewis, the commander of the most important exploration mission in the early history of the United States. Jenkinson’s Lewis is not a paper cutout hero, but a hyper-serious young man of great complexity, who found the wilderness of upper Louisiana as burdensome as it was exhilarating. 

Jenkinson sees Lewis as a man who had a fissure in his soul before he left St. Charles, Missouri, in May 1804, whose experiences in lands “upon which the foot of civilized man had never trodden” further fractured his sense of himself. Jenkinson sees Lewis’s 1809 suicide not as an inexplicable mystery, but the culmination of a series of pressures that extend back into the expedition and perhaps beyond. 

Jenkinson’s argument is that Lewis’s hiring of William Clark as his “partner in discovery” was the most intelligent decision he ever made. When Clark is nearby Lewis manages to maintain a stable and productive leadership. When Clark is absent, when he is unable to provide a calming influence on his mercurial friend, Lewis tends to get into trouble. Jenkinson argues that if Clark had been with Lewis on the Natchez Trace, the Governor of Upper Louisiana would not have killed himself. 

The Character of Meriwether Lewis features chapters on Lewis’s sense of humor, his oft-stated fear that the expedition he was leading might collapse, his propensity for employing his learnedness in a self-conscious manner, and his inability to re-enter “polite society” after his return. 

Jenkinson attempts to reconstruct Lewis’s rich, troubled, and self-consciously heroic personality from his journal entries and letters. When the encrustations of American mythology are removed and Lewis is allowed to reveal himself, he emerges as a fuller, more human, and endlessly fascinating explorer.

Message on the Wind: A Spiritual Odyssey on the Northern Plains

Clay's Recommended Reading

On Lewis & Clark

Meriwether Lewis: A Biography
by Richard Dillon. New York: Coward-McCann, 1965.

Lewis and Clark: Partners in Discovery
by John Bakeless. New York: William Morrow, 1947.

The Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents: 1783-1854
edited by Donald Jackson. 2nd edition, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978.

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West
by Stephen Ambrose. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Passage Through the Garden: Lewis and Clark and the Image of the American Northwest
by John Logan Allen. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975.

Other Favorites

Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens

The thing about classics is that they are always newly great. I reread Great Expectations at the end of the summer, and I was amazed at how much was fresh to me and how powerful the book is.

Robinson Crusoe
by Daniel Defoe

This summer I hiked 173 miles on the Little Missouri River between Marmarth, North Dakota, to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The trip made me think about the basic rhythms of life. So, when I returned, much dehydrated and leaned up, I read Robinson Crusoe. It was a wonderful read. Jefferson believed that in civilizing (not Christianizing) Indians, the first two English texts should be Aesop's Fables and Robinson Crusoe. Of course, we now know that American Indians did not need Jefferson to teach them civilization.

by Henry David Thoreau

If there were only one American book, it would have to be Walden. I read this on the Little Missouri River. It's the only book I have read twenty times. Note: Don't blame Thoreau for not being John Muir. He was not trying to live in the wilderness. He was engaged in a simplicity experiment. If you read this book the way it demands to be read, it will change your life.

The Sorrows of Empire
by Chalmers Johnson

This is one of the most sobering books you will read this year. Johnson's view is that we are an empire, we want to be an empire, and that we do everything that is required to maintain our empire. The book doesn't have anything to do with spreading freedom and self-government around the world.

The Re-Enchantment of the World
by Morris Berman

This is a really fabulous book about how western civilization cut itself off from the life of the spirit, the life of the planet, and the soul's work. Thoreau wrote, "how many a man has dated a new era of his life from the reading of a book?" That's what happened to me with Berman's book.

When Trumpets Call
by Patricia O'Toole

This is a marvelous study of the post-Presidential life of Theodore Roosevelt. During the ten years following his retirement from the Presidency, Roosevelt went on safari on Africa, and he explored one of the last uncharted rivers in South America. He also ran for a third term, wrote one of the best Presidential autobiographies, and crusaded for progressive reforms in the United States. This is a very well written study of Roosevelt's "retirement" years. It does not necessarily put him in a wholly favorable light.

His Excellency: George Washington
by Joseph Ellis

I think Joseph Ellis has written some of the best analysis of the Founding Fathers. His American Sphinx is a quirky study of Jefferson, but marvelous in its wit and thoughtfulness, and his Passionate Sage (John Adams) is one of the best books I have read about that era. His Excellency is a fresh look at George Washington. Ellis reminds us of two parts of Washington's achievement that have not received enough attention: his commitment to do something about slavery, and his interest in seeing to it that justice was done to the Indian tribes of the West. For new reasons, Washington emerges as the greatest of the Founding Fathers, much greater in character than Jefferson.


Clay Jenkinson is one of the most sought-after humanities scholars in the United States


A cultural commentator who has devoted most of his professional career to public humanities programs, Clay Jenkinson has been honored by two presidents for his work. On November 6, 1989, he received from President George Bush one of the first five Charles Frankel Prizes, the National Endowment for the Humanities highest award (now called the National Humanities Medal), at the nomination of the NEH Chair, Lynne Cheney. On April 11, 1994, he was the first public humanities scholar to present a program at a White House-sponsored event when he presented Thomas Jefferson for a gathering hosted by President and Mrs. Clinton. When award-winning humanities documentary producer Ken Burns turned his attention to Thomas Jefferson, he asked Clay Jenkinson to be the major humanities commentator. Since his first work with the North Dakota Humanities Council in the late 1970s, including a pioneering first-person interpretation of Meriwether Lewis, Clay Jenkinson has made thousands of presentations throughout the United States and its territories, including Guam and the Northern Marianas.

In 2008, Clay became the director of The Dakota Institute through The Lewis & Clark, Fort Mandan Foundation, to further expand his humanities programs with documentary films, symposia and literary projects. He is also the Chief Consultant for the Theodore Roosevelt Center through Dickinson State University and conducts an annual lecture series for Bismarck State College.

Clay is also widely sought after as a commencement speaker (he has several honorary doctorates); as a facilitator of teacher institutes on Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, Classical Culture, the Millennium, and other topics; as a lecturer on topics ranging from the "Unresolved Issues of the Millennium," to the "Character of Meriwether Lewis"; as a consultant to a range of humanities programs, chiefly first person historical interpretation (Chautauqua). Best known for his award-winning historical impersonations of Thomas Jefferson, Clay Jenkinson also impersonates other characters, including Meriwether Lewis, John Wesley Powell, Robert Oppenheimer, Theodore Roosevelt and John Steinbeck.

Read more about Clay Jenkinson and find out how to hire Clay for your event or any other professional enterprise.