When Jefferson envisioned the American character, he saw a kind of idealized agrarian republican.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that, “As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?”
This week we discuss the American character with President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson believed that the American character would be the best in the history of the world: because of our agrarianism, our distance from the havoc of the Old World, our public education, and our resourcefulness that we needed to develop because there were no outside experts. While Adams felt that without a strong American character, "the strongest Cords of our Constitution [would be broken] as a Whale goes through a Net." John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were dear friends; they disagreed about many things. One thing they agreed upon was that this experiment would only work if we had unique character.
Jefferson’s early biographer James Parton famously said the third president could “Calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, dance a minuet, and play the violin.” When I actually paused to read Parton’s statement carefully the other day, I realized, all over again, what a remarkable man Jefferson was.
Joining us this week are two special guests: the independent filmmaker Steven Lewis Simpson and author Kent Nerburn. We talk about Simpson's recent film adaptation of Nerburn’s book, Neither Wolf nor Dog, and about Jefferson’s long shadow when it comes to the United States' conduct regarding American Indians.
This week, we discuss listener questions about architecture, Sally Hemings, revolutionary war, Jefferson as a scientist, recommended books and how Clay's life has been affected by performing as Thomas Jefferson.
"What I discovered was that Jefferson embodies — in many respects, not in all of them — the world that I want to live in. I want to live in Thomas Jefferson's America." — Clay
We speak with Pat Brodowski, head gardener at Jefferson’s Monticello. Pat shares her knowledge about how and why Jefferson grew the plants he did, the experimental nature of the household gardens and what they are doing to maintain the gardens during our time. It’s a fascinating conversation which provides some real insight on Jefferson the gardener.
"The constitution ... is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist, and shape into any form they please." — Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1819
Thomas Jefferson had a unique and slightly odd view of the proper place of the judicial branch in America. He thought of judicial independence as both a strength and a weakness of our system: you want judges that are independent of popular factionalism but you want them to be accountable to the sovereign, to the American people. Jefferson, as portrayed by Clay S. Jenkinson, discusses his concept of judicial balance, his lifelong displeasure with the Supreme Court, and some of the changes that he thinks should be made. He said of life-tenured judges, 'Few die and none resign.'