#1163 Jefferson 101

Marking the start of a new year, Clay S. Jenkinson begins a series of biographical shows about the life of Thomas Jefferson in order, as he puts it, "to help understand how Jefferson became Jefferson".

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The following is a rush transcript.

Clay S. Jenkinson: Hello America, it's Clay Jenkinson and David Swenson in the New Enlightenment Radio Network Barn at the beginning of the 2016 series of Jefferson Hours

David Swenson: hardly seems possible

CSJ: it's amazing that we have now moved into this year and we're talking as usual about Jefferson but out of character today and we're really doing what David Swenson calls Jefferson 101

DS: I wish I had a better title

CSJ: it's a pretty good title or how Jefferson became Jefferson would be the other way of putting it and so we're talking about we're trying to talk about Jefferson basics because we have a lot of people who are new to the Jefferson Hour program has been growing in a really wonderful way and we have our veteran listeners who like from time to time for us to sort of rewind the tape and start over because every time we do this – we've done it four or five times over the years – it kind of opens new ground new conversation because each of us brings – its Heraclitus you can never walk into the same river twice you can never be in the same barn twice with respect to Jefferson even when you're talking about subjects that have been gone over on a number of previous

DS: let me interject as a listener myself I always enjoy listening to you – well it's it's more fun for me because I get to pick your brain but I always learn something new a perspective and occurrence there's always something new to learn

CSJ: I think that's why people listen to this program David I think that – you know when whenever we try to sell this program someone says what 52 hours per year of Thomas Jefferson

DS: I don't think we missed one last year so people have a hard time

CSJ: producers have a hard time understanding what that might mean and I think they think that it's going to be Ben Franklin and his kite over and over and over and over and that's not really what we do and so I think what distinguishes our program for good or ill is that we're constantly wrestling with the character and the achievement of Thomas Jefferson – there's no finished product, it's not a Williamsburg piece where you get a polished performance of Jefferson – it's exploring the problematic nature of Thomas Jefferson and trying to figure – a) figure him out and b) decide whether he really meant all this stuff about American utopia and then c) can we the inheritors of this make this happen – can we can we quote ameliorate the condition of mankind and live in something like an American enlightenment or was that silly when he said it, unrealistic and it's never been realized and it can't be realized – that's what John Adams would say; so I think that what makes this program interesting is that work and the people listen to it because we're wrestling with the possibilities of America through the character of Thomas Jefferson – it becomes necessary therefore for us to understand how he became Jefferson and not Patrick Henry or some nameless Virginia planter of which there were hundreds of thousands – how did he become Jefferson? and so today we began by saying what were the conditions of his birth and upbringing? what were his relationships with his mother and his father? what sort of a young man was Jefferson and and how did his education begin to unfold? those are the themes that we've been sort of plucking at

DS: and next week we'll we'll go

CSJ: take him up to the revolution I suppose

DS: I hope so I I have to interject a couple things – you talked about the podcast growing and I believe right in the beginning of this show we talked about that but we're very very proud to announce that Mother Jones has picked the Jefferson Hour as one of the year’s

CSJ: under the radar best

DS: we were also picked a gentleman David Jackson has a school of podcasting and he every year asks his listeners to list a favorite well the Jefferson Hour was listed in that

CSJ: what does that mean exactly? school of podcasting?

DS: well it's a podcast you'd have to listen

CSJ: but it's about what

DS: well there's a number you know – it's a subculture really not hardly a subculture anymore podcasting – David Jackson school of podcasting and then there was Mike Dell with blubrry and he has a – well you get a unique spelling and it's yours – but he has a podcasting help desk podcast and he's been great to us which then leads me into – if you like this podcast – we are at this point completely supported by listeners; if you – we're not going anywhere but if you want us to stay here we do encourage you to support us and we're hoping to make some – some good and positive and forward changes this year in how the podcast is delivered and a number of other things so there you have it and shall we go to the show or

CSJ: I think we should go to the show – so this is the first of the 2016 series it's out of character it's Jefferson 101

DS: and if you'd like to support the podcast go to Jeffersonhour.com click on the donate button and we would both say thank you

CSJ: thanks to everyone; hello everyone and welcome to the Thomas Jefferson Hour brought to you by Bismarck State College on the banks of the Missouri River at the heart of the Lewis and Clark trail

DS: good day citizens and welcome to the Thomas Jefferson Hour, your weekly conversation with or about President Thomas Jefferson. I'm your host David Swenson and seated across from me is the creator of the Thomas Jefferson the gentleman who portrays President Jefferson when he's here, mr. Clay Jenkinson; happy New Year to you sir

CSJ: happy New Year to you my friend David Swenson the semi permanent guest host of the Thomas Jefferson Hour; what a great beginning of 2016 we're going to have

DS: yes I was hoping to to get you to be here today rather than president Jefferson; you know every year or every other year we do what we refer to as Jefferson 101 and where we kind of go through his life and catch up with the history for those that are new to the Thomas Jefferson Hour and don't know that much about President Jefferson and I really thought it was appropriate because we have a lot of new listeners sir

CSJ: well we have new listeners; the the podcast world coupled with it with some new stations that have signed on to the Jefferson Hour all over the United States brings us a range of new listeners and I all – but I also remember what dr. Johnson said, Samuel Johnson the Great British lexicographer, one of my heroes said, mankind requires more often to be reminded than informed – in other words even for our our veteran listeners who've been with us for many many years, hearing again the stories of how Jefferson became Jefferson and why Jefferson matters and what in summary he achieved in his life I find that always interesting myself even though I've been over this material hundreds and hundreds of times for a couple of reasons first of all when you when you read every book that comes out about Jefferson – but you don't always finish them because the press of life moves you in some other direction or the book isn't very good but you you invariably read the first hundred pages so I keep going over and over and over Jefferson before he got to the College of William and Mary

DS: I mentioned that we know we have some new listeners and we do know we have some new listeners for a couple of reasons one is I have to give a thanks to Mike Dell at blubrry which is a great service they track podcasts and mr. Dell was just terrific in helping us get all that set up there so I want to say thank you to him but also if I may brag on your behalf the Jefferson Hour was referred to as one of the year's best under-the-radar podcasts by Mother Jones magazine

CSJ: Mother Jones the leftist workers magazine; I was surprised when I learned that thanks for informing me of that

DS: actually I think it was Rick Kennerly

CSJ: so I did an interview with Mother Jones a couple of years ago and so I suppose the writer who handled that interview made the pitch for the program; I'm glad – I hope we can stay under the radar in the sense of always being authentic but come above the radar just enough to get a much wider audience because I really believe that the work that we do – in some sense it's not really about Thomas Jefferson; Jefferson is the is the springboard or the foundation or the root from which a discussion of Jeffersonian values occurs 52 times per year; you know I think that the people would stop listening if it were just purely the historical Jefferson and not the projection of Jefferson's vision of America carefully forward; I don't know I don't know what you think about that

DS: well they say ‘Jenkinson's Jefferson is more than just an entertaining impersonation it's a vehicle for discussing political theory and the values that shaped our nation both for better and for the worse’ – high praise

CSJ: very high praise and I'm I've always been a great believer in the workers movement; you know one of the things that really troubles me about our time is the way we have betrayed workers; I know a fair amount about this because I've studied the sweep of American history to a certain extent and the working people of the world, including in the United States, have had to work so hard through so much suffering with so much struggle to achieve rights that we now all take for granted – workmen's compensation, vacation, parental leave

DS: you're talking about a struggle that continues

CSJ: that struggle continues but the the high-water mark of the union movement has gone and now we're in a period of sustained slow decline of the union movement and there are lots of people who hate unions and who regard them as nuisances and think that they're just crony-ist and that – they have an unfair advantage in democratic circles because they force their workers to to pay over money to candidates that they may or may not support and so on and so forth; then of course there are many right-to-work states that that work hard to undermine the union movement but I just think that it's really important for people who who care about child welfare or sexual trafficking or the 40-hour work week or unemployment compensation or equal pay – these things these struggles were all monumental and it took decades for these things to come to pass and now every American worker is the beneficiary of good work conditions in the workplace and environmental safety regulations and machines that don't cripple the workers and a day that is not so long that it debilitates the people on the factory floor and so on – so the fact that Mother Jones, a magazine of – that really lives for the celebration of the dignity of work – the fact that they have praised our program makes me very happy – I mean I would I prefer that say to Newsweek, Newsweek would be a bigger sweep but but but Mother Jones really means something to me

DS: that's great I want to get on to Jefferson and and start with his youngest years but before we go there one last item from Mother Jones is they have settled an argument which we haven't really had to deal with in a long time but they write, ‘the Jefferson Hour is produced inside a converted farm house in North Dakota’ – well that's not exactly accurate well it's a barn

CSJ: we do have offices but

DS: it's we do but it's not recorded

CSJ: I have not slept here for many years

DS: yeah it's and it's it's cold in the winter

CSJ: we we occasionally slip into a studio

DS: but you know I said this summer we really needed to you know tighten up the insulation around the windows the doors but just didn't quite get it all done – Jefferson would have done it

CSJ: well he would have had somebody – there's one of the paradoxes of Thomas Jefferson; but the barn has been – you know back in Reno we had the New Enlightenment Radio Network tower and that that made a certain kind of sense for a large city like Reno Nevada but but here in Dakota it's much more Jeffersonian I think

DS: well I think Jefferson would approve I think if he came in he would do a lot of

CSJ: he'd clean this barn

DS: yeah he would do a lot of – well he'd have somebody do it – but there would be some good organization – so can we start with Jefferson as a young man, a child we – there's only so much that we know and I love doing these programs because I always learn something new from you but could we start with his his youngest years his relationship with his father

CSJ: certainly; well first of all Jefferson was born on April 2nd 1743 but his birthday is celebrated on April 13th and that's because in 1752 england finally adopted the Gregorian calendar reforms and 11 days had to be put forward on the calendar to bring the British calendar into synchronization with the actual mechanism of the solar system so this is a very Jeffersonian moment; the Julian calendar which was created under the leadership of Julius Caesar was very accurate – was an amazing achievement for its time but it was just slightly out of sync with the actual solar year so by the 16th century the calendar was off by I think 9 days; in other words the calendar was was out of sync with the solar system and the reason that the Catholics – that Pope Gregory demanded and God a reformed calendar is because this really affects the the sighting of Easter; Easter is a moveable feast, in other words it doesn't occur on the same Sunday every year, and the Catholic world needed accurate, a more accurate calendar so that Easter wouldn't get completely out of whack with the spring season; the Gregorian reforms are amazing they gave us the calendar that we now have and highly accurate but the english-speaking world because it was Protestant and not Catholic refused to adopt the Gregorian calendar for political reasons, for ideological reasons – when in fact as Newton would have clearly told them – or Francis Bacon or any scientific mind – the Gregorian calendar was demonstrably better than the Julian one and so Jefferson was born in what's known in history as old-style under the – under the Julian calendar on April 2nd 1743 but when Britain and the United States and 1750 – finally accepted the Gregorian reforms, his birthday was pushed forward to April 13th and so we celebrated on April 13th even though if he had recorded his birth in the manner of tristram shandy he would have recorded it as April 2nd 1743 – so I know that's a digression but it's one that he would be find very interesting

DS: right yes and he was born at

CSJ: born at Shadwell which is very near our Monticello; his father Peter Jefferson was a strong, resourceful, courageous surveyor and planter who Jefferson said was the most impressive person in his childhood, and who was as Jefferson put it one of the first three or four settlers in that western part of Virginia, and Jefferson always believed that the destiny of his life was set by his father who had gone off on Indian diplomatic missions and was a surveyor and a map maker and a westerner effectively – he was a frontiersman from the overseer class; so Jefferson had some automatic advantages as a visionary of the American West because of the fact of his father's career

DS: yeah I'd like to talk to you more about that the influence his father had on him and I know that information is sparse but also the influence his mother had on him

CSJ: yes his mother Jane Randolph, that's another question

DS: well we need to take just a short break now and we'll return to this conversation in just a moment you are listening to the thomas jefferson hour [Music] welcome back to the Thomas Jefferson Hour, your weekly conversation with or about President Thomas Jefferson; this week we're speaking with the creator of the Thomas Jefferson Hour, mr. Clay Jenkinson – and we're talking – we're doing Jefferson 101; in our first segment we talked about Jefferson the child; you explained the calendar discrepancies and where he was born and where we ended was the influence his father Peter had on him; and I was asking about about that and about the influence his mother had on him that's kind of a mystery isn't it

CSJ: a little bit of a mystery so let me say a couple of things about that first of all to really in a sense begin at the beginning the key fact in Jefferson's life is that he was born in Virginia – not Pennsylvania not New York not New Hampshire not Massachusetts not Georgia but Virginia – the biggest state the most populous state the most powerful state; also a state of the upper south and a slave state; had he been born in New Hampshire or Massachusetts like John Adams his life would have been fundamentally different; the most significant single fact about Jefferson's life is that he was born at the high-water mark of the Enlightenment in 1743 but in Virginia where he grew up in a world of slavery, inherited slaves, bought and sold slaves, tracked down runaway slaves, used slaves for all of the comforts of his life, including perhaps sexually, and it's it's – this is what I've learned and you know three decades of thinking and writing about Jefferson, that you really can't understand Jefferson, period, unless you factor in slavery; his first memory, of all of the memories of his life, was being carried on a pillow on top of a horse by a trusted slave when his father Peter moved their family from Shadwell down to Tuckahoe to manage a deceased friend’s plantation; Jefferson would have been approximately two years old and so think of it – his first memory, I don't know what your first memory, and it doesn't matter what my first memory is – but his first memory in life is of being carried by a slave on a pillow on a horse for a sustained distance; first of all that's that's a story about privilege – you know that doesn't happen to average people but it's also a story about how impossibly convoluted the world of slavery is; I can assure you that Jefferson's parents would not have entrusted him to someone they didn't trust and so to put your two-year-old in the trust of a senior black slave on a horse is a very trusting thing to do

DS: well it certainly defines the relationship in a way that probably a lot of listeners don't think of – I certainly didn't before you you told me that story

CSJ: and the key to understanding it David is that this is not the caricature of slavery of the vicious white overseer whipping and raping slaves and beating them to death and some sort of impossible caste system of separation between black and white; this is a story about about the intimacy of slavery; this is an intimate anecdote and Jefferson not only remembered it but he chose to have it remembered; you know we only know it because Jefferson ensured that we did by keeping the documents; Jefferson's paper trail is immense and most of what we know about him comes from his own accounts of his life and he chose to remember this story and so it just – I always try to remember the story for a couple of reasons, first of all never to forget that slavery is the central fact of Jefferson's private life and secondly to remember that slavery is a very complicated, nuanced, perplexing institution – it's not some sort of a cartoon caricature and we need to understand how interwoven the lives of slaves and masters were at this period in order to understand it and we also need to know that even though it's slavery, there could be trust, there could be friendship, there could even be love across this racial divide, and if we forget that we are always in danger of misjudging that era of American history so that really matters to me and also let me just say as we go on that it's also the case that Jefferson was lucky to be born at the high-water mark of the Enlightenment, so if he had been born 80 years earlier, we might not know of him except as a minor figure in Virginia life

DS: really you think so

CSJ: yes

DS: huh that's that's that's interesting

CSJ: because it was a colonial world it was it was pre enlightenment he might have been a much more cookie cutter Virginian

DS: well I suppose all great historical figures are somewhat a product of the time

CSJ: of course of course so

DS: I'd like to think Jefferson would have made his mark in any area

CSJ: yeah I I do I do always say genius will out – but I think that the Enlightenment really mattered and we're living in this very interesting late or post enlightenment phase of history where those those great truths that the Enlightenment was was focusing on are beginning really to come apart but privacy – the sovereignty of the individual, the rights of man, the idea that that man is a rational creature and that he can use knowledge and science to improve himself and to improve the world, the belief that the political systems need to be grounded in the consent of the governed and that the people are sovereign and they they have a right to distill from amongst their own collective will whatever form of government they please – these are the principles that are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and in the Bill of Rights and and so on, and Jefferson happened to be born when this movement this breathtakingly optimistic movement about humanity was in its full flower – and so the books that he read and the ideas that were circulating – the zeitgeist as we say – the world the world software that was that was burbling and percolating around in his lifetime was that of the Enlightenment; he might have missed it as a colonial parochial Virginian except that he went to the College of William and Mary, and there he met – we're getting ahead of ourselves but he met William small

DS: I'm going to pull you back

CSJ: but William small his mentor at William and Mary was a product of the Enlightenment and he gave Jefferson enlightenment texts and he talked with Jefferson in an Enlightenment way so – so to return, slavery but not a simple institution, and the Enlightenment are the key dynamics that produce the young Jefferson

DS: and the young Jefferson is where I wanted to slip back just for a moment because – you know all of us are affected by if not our parents those we grow up with, the circumstances that we grow up in and Jefferson's father – the effect that he had on him – what was the quote you said how he thought him to be the greatest

CSJ: he was certainly the greatest man in Jefferson's young life; he worshipped his father; his father died when Jefferson was 14

DS: which i think is pretty significant

CSJ: it's a very key fact because first of all Jefferson didn't get to know his father when he was an adult; he only knew a boy's view of his father

DS: but but his father was not what they would say in those times an educated man or was he?

CSJ: he was self educated

DS: and he encouraged – he had books

CSJ: he had 40 books

DS: which was a lot

CSJ: yes that's a lot of books; that's that that's a very large private library for that time, and he read them too, and he wasn't just a collector, he was a reader; he was an autodidact, the self-taught man for the most part; he was really of a lower class from his wife Jane Randolph; Jane Randolph belonged to one of the best social classes

DS: so he married up

CSJ: because he was so extraordinary and resourceful he was a strong man a tall man; Jefferson told these stories about his sheer strength that he could lift two hogsheads of tobacco and from a down position into an upright one then one time he was asking slaves to pull down a shed and they couldn't do it so he took the rope and pulled it down himself that he slept in trees when he was out on Indian delegations and mapping the The Virginian or North Carolina boundary; so Jefferson looked upon him as as a kind of heroic figure a westerner a frontiersman, which he was; Jefferson wasn't that, Jefferson was a very highly educated highly privileged very comfortable man; it's really impossible to think of Jefferson sleeping in a tree

DS: well but what I'm always gonna get to is is that you you said it Jefferson was a highly educated man – my impression is is that started with his father – now do we know what books his father had that Jefferson may have read did he ever speak

CSJ: we know some of them; so this was kind of the standard set of books that a not very well off but but intellectually ambitious colonial would have – so Addison and Steele, they were journalists slash essayists from Britain who helped to set the style of 18th century English prose; the poetry of Alexander Pope who was who was the greatest poet of the age everyone read Pope's essay on man, essay on criticism is done si add the rape of the lock etc; the works of Jonathan Swift who was a magnificent satirist; John Dryden a poet of a slightly earlier period but a great British poet, no longer much read but but extremely fashionable then; and so on and so forth so; going back to the Bible and then picking it up with the King James translation of the Bible and some Chaucer and milton and Pope and Addison and Steele and dr. Johnson

DS: I guess my point is is these were not lightweight books

CSJ: these are not grocery store fiction and his father had these books and Jefferson – the family story is that Jefferson by the time he was about five years old was reading his way through this set of books

DS: and how would he have learned to read in Virginia at that time

CSJ: probably from his sister Jane, possibly from a tutor of some sort or from his mother Jane; the slaves typically were illiterate and kept illiterate on purpose; so he either learned to read himself, which is quite possible, he's Jefferson, or he learned it from his favorite sister Jane who was a little older than he was, or he learned it from his mother Jane who and Jefferson later said to his daughter mothers in the nursery are the primary first educators of their children – so he's probably speaking in part about his own experience

DS: now you said that we agree that Peter Jefferson married up and

CSJ: he married into the Randolph clan you know that's like marrying a Rockefeller or a Carnegie or a melon

DS: the question is is he lived they had a I don't want to do I use the word affluent but they were well-to-do he could have when you said perhaps Jefferson was tutored – Peter Jefferson could have afforded that

CSJ: yes they were land rich and slave rich and cash poor like most planters and like most farmers today but they they were people of means, and and there were social expectations – so for example Peter Jefferson was a justice of the peace because that's what you do; you know there were a set of offices, you either go to the House of Burgesses or you become the governor of Virginia or you head up the militia or a judge or a justice of the peace; surveyor is slightly lower on the social scale but there was a set of of expectations of certain social classes and Jefferson, his father Peter Jefferson would have been adequate to to achieve some of them but when he married into the first or second family of Virginia, all doors began to open for him; Peter Jefferson didn't really walk through those doors but his son did; well it sort of reminds me of what John Adams later said, you know, ‘you and I must be revolutionaries so our sons can be lawyers and philosophers so that their daughters can be ballerinas’ and so on there are many versions of that famous Adams statement, but you take the point – so Jefferson's father really knocked on the door of a higher place on the social scale, achieved it then Jefferson had a very easy life, and I say again he's not the kind of person who would have slept in a tree, he could not have survived on the Lewis and Clark expedition he, was not a he-man; Jefferson – I'm using a term that I don't like very much but I want to use it anyway he was he was effeminate – he was delicate, he was, he needed his creature comforts he couldn't live without wine he couldn't live without books he couldn't live without musical instruments he couldn't live without his routines – his father was not that way at all his father was more like okay if there's a map to be made let's go out there and we'll camp in a tree and we'll take our charcoal and we'll draw that map and we'll – if we meet Indians we'll find a way to to deal amicably with them and if we have to eat bear we'll eat bear and go without cleaning up for weeks and months – for Thomas Jefferson our Jefferson that would have been unthinkable, our Jefferson is a very delicate highly fastidious highly highly highly civilized man with a with a profound need for order and routine and certain creature comforts and so people like Hamilton who was fascinated by Jefferson but fundamentally didn't like him they always saw Jefferson as effeminate and he – Hamilton famously said during the period when they were both in Washington's cabinet that Jefferson has quote a womanish attachment to France and a womanish dislike of England and and he called him an intellectual voluptuary; there was always the sense that Jefferson was was a fragile person that you had to do you had to you had to treat with great delicacy that he was – nothing rough-and-tumble about Jefferson you would never find him in a tavern playing billiards

DS: that's that's very interesting I want to come back to that if you're just joining us you're listening to the Thomas Jefferson Hour and this week we're discussing well we're really doing a Jefferson 101 with the creator of the Thomas Jefferson our mr. Clay Jenkinson you talked about him being the word you didn't like to use effeminate but we need to come back to that because I would challenge that from a couple of things you've taught me, so we've kind of talked about his his upbringing

CSJ: but not about his mother however

DS: yeah and there's not there's not a lot there is there but but I think I've learned from you you've always suspected that there was a great influence there that we don't really – there's not proof of it

CSJ: well we don't know a great deal about this first of all because Jefferson was a very very private man, even secretive in many respects and thought that his private life was effectively off-limits to historians and burned some of his private correspondence, particularly that with his wife Martha, but secondly there's a there's a fire – so in 1770 Shadwell burned – Jefferson's young manhood home burned; he's just entering adult life; he's not there when it burned, he's in Williamsburg and he learns that Shadwell has burned to the ground and the trusted slaves have saved a few of his books and his violin, which he's very grateful for, but with the fire at Shadwell, we lose anything that Jefferson – any records Jefferson kept up till that point and so there's this gap; he's born in 1743 the fire occurs in 1770 – during that period we there may be a great deal of Jefferson; we can't have access to it because most of that was destroyed in the fire, and so we we have to, we know a great deal about Jefferson from 1770 on and of course more and more as he becomes an important national figure, but the but the childhood of Jefferson has a relative problem from the Shadwell fire syndrome, and so we have to reconstruct some of this – so so here's what we know about his mother; she was from this extraordinarily powerful clan the Randolphs; Jefferson always said the Randolphs were a little odd that they that they had interbred too much and they were there was a sign of mental instability in the Randolph clan; his mother had been born in England, she married down but I'm sure she lifted Peter Jefferson; she was a letter writer she was resourceful she was intelligent she was strong and so even though most historians say that was a strained relationship, I don't agree with that; I think we don't know enough to make such a judgment

DS: do you have any supposition that you would share

CSJ: I think that that he preferred his father but I think

DS: that can be pretty normal

CSJ: yeah I think he gained more from his mother she she taught him how to be a gentleman and she was a great letter writer and if Jefferson is anything he's a great letter writer

39:10 DS: agreed we're going to take just a short break who are listening to the Thomas Jefferson Hour and we'll be back in just a moment [Music] welcome back to the Thomas Jefferson Hour your weekly conversation with President Thomas Jefferson; this week's conversation is with the creator of the Thomas Jefferson Hour and the gentleman who normally would portray President Jefferson mr. Clay Jenkinson; Clay we've talked a bunch about – we're doing but – give me a better title that Jefferson 101 but that's that's essentially what we're doing is going through his life and we've talked about his boyhood we talked about the influence his father had on him and when we stopped for the break we were talking about the influence his mother may have had on him

CSJ: his father's last request was that jefferson be classically educated; so his father wanted jefferson to be more than he was – a very common American trait – and Jefferson was classically educated, he was educated by tutors

DS: how do we know that?

CSJ: that his father said this?

DS: yes

CSJ: Jefferson writes it

DS: he does

CSJ: Jefferson wrote a fragmentary autobiography when his 70s; he got tired of it and put it down but we owe to that fragmentary, and not really very compelling, autobiography a great deal about the early years of Jefferson because he of course like all of us he concentrates in a book on that which comes first; so we know this from letters that he wrote and from reminiscences of his grandchildren and from this fragmentary autobiography, which anyone who wishes can read online, it's freely available, so his father wanted him to be classically educated; Jefferson was; he had tutors – so these were neighborhood Anglican preachers who supplemented their very tiny income as pastors by taking children to teach – essentially boarding schools family boarding schools – and Jefferson had three such tutors

DS: now what would his age have been at this time?

CSJ: started when he was about nine

DS: oh very young

CSJ: but he would have been educated at home before that, and so he had these tutors – and that's neither here nor there just exactly who they were and what they did – but he learned Latin and Greek

DS: at nine?

CSJ: well beginning at nine and French and later he picked up Italian and Spanish and a little anglo-saxon but he basically would have been taught French, Latin, and Greek until he went off to the William and Mary when he was 16 and a half years old – and some of these schools were very close to where he grew up, in fact the school at Tuckahoe is right on the property – but several of the schools he would have boarded at at least during the week – they'd be a dozen miles or more from Shadwell; so he didn't see a lot of his parents; I don't know why people think there was a strain between Jefferson and his mother; it comes from one sentence only and that's when he says that his mother traced her genealogy well back into British aristocracy to which let every reader assign what virtue and so on you know it's it's sort of a sarcastic thing about the British upper classes – well I don't think it's really about his mother; he's silent about his mother for the most part but that doesn't mean that the relationship was strained; it may just be that it's private and whenever you're talking about Jefferson and women – mother, daughters, girlfriends, friendships, other men's wives, there's kind of a veil of privacy that Jefferson tries to maintain; he really didn't want us having this conversation and so the fact that we don't know more about this does not in my opinion point to strain; I think it's really wrong for historians to assume that

DS: would that have been how do I say – a product of the times he lived in? I mean was it common for men to not mention female effect on them or was it was it uncommon?

CSJ: I think Jefferson is particularly private and secretive

DS: more so than the average man?

CSJ: yes

DS: but could we see John Adams writing with love about the influence –

CSJ: much more; he does

DS: it wasn't a historical thing

CSJ: on the other hand they were very deep male chauvinists, much more than we are; there have been social revolutions and gender revolutions of astonishing potency since then, especially in our own era, and Jefferson had a particular squeamishness about these private relationships but I think even another Virginia gentleman – Madison or Monroe or Patrick Henry – would have been quite reluctant to talk about their private lives; this is part of the Virginia character, which differentiates it I think so itself from the New York character or the New England character

DS: so perhaps we should honor his wishes and move on to his tutors; you said he probably about nine when he began to learn these things and studied until he was 16

CSJ: so we know what that's like

DS: yeah what you know I've always had this impression of like you know Jefferson and how many hours a day did this and how many – was it really that intense – he'd travel 12 miles he'd spend the entire day studying – do we know?

CSJ: well he wouldn't be traveling; he wouldn't be commuting – so he's either at the tutors place or he's at Shadwell but the family tradition is – which is corroborated by the way by his classmates at William and Mary – that he was a total student – and I can tell you this as someone who's learned Latin, and learned some Greek and I have a daughter who's now mastering Latin and knows a good deal of Greek more than I do this is not for the faint of heart – or French either – so in order to master those languages – as Jefferson assuredly did – to be able to read them and to write in them and to read anything in those languages that he might wish to read – that takes an almost unbelievable amount of labour – and you've heard of the concept of the 10,000 hours to master this or that – to learn Greek the way that Jefferson learned it and Latin the way he knew it and then to learn French to speak it and to write it and later anglo-saxon so that he could trace the beginnings of British Liberty and so on – this is an enormous amount of work there are people who are gifted with languages – I don't think Jefferson was particularly one of them, but even if he were gifted with them, it's still an enormous amount of work; so between the ages of say six and certainly after nine until he was in his late 20s you can imagine that on any given day Jefferson is spending 6 7 8 10 12 and up to 15 hours studying; when he's not doing that he's writing letters because there's no way to communicate in the 18th century except by sitting down with a piece of paper and a quill pen and sharpening that quill and writing the letter – and Jefferson of course kept copies and made drafts and so on and then playing the violin; so obviously you can't do all of that every day and get and get any sleep so we have to assume that some of this is an exaggeration and that historians extrapolate from slender evidence but I think you can honestly say that on any given day between the ages of 6 and 26, Jefferson was mostly in his books – now that's not true today, if you take a gifted American today between 6 and 26 on any given day they are not mostly in their books but Jefferson was and it was even unusual in his time and his classmates at William and Mary said he could he could tear himself away from any temptation in the world and return to his Greek and that it frustrated his friends that he that that Jefferson didn't play enough, he wasn't convivial enough he didn't he didn't relax enough he wasn't a good friend to them because although he was loyal and solicitous and would write them letters and do anything he could for them, he didn't want to go into recreation because he wanted to be studying

DS: I think about this how you describe it and what an effect – well two things really why he was doing this – if he was if it was self motivation he was trying to please somebody he really enjoyed it – and also what an effect it must have had on his mind for the rest of his life; now you’re a Rhodes Scholar, you've been through this, you've learned languages – as a young person that has to have some sort of a an effect on how you think for the rest of your life; you you compartmentalize things and you organize things in your in your way of thinking; or is that fair to say?

CSJ: yes let me say this first of all obviously whatever little learning I have is pitiful by comparison with the man that we're talking about so as long as that's understood I can extrapolate a little; if you do this if you do what Jefferson did and frankly what I did for different reasons and you and you give your youth and your adolescence in your early adulthood to almost obsessive compulsive study – which is certainly what Jefferson did and it's absolutely what I did – you gain something extraordinary, you get opportunities academic opportunities that might not otherwise come to you, you impress mentors who take you under their wing and shape your life, you win awards and have access to a range of communities that might not otherwise be available to you – and of course more importantly than all of that you get to read the greatest books that were ever written in the history of civilization and know them and use them in your own outlook and your vocabulary your conversation your way of understanding the the rituals and the crises and the tragedies and the comedies and the farces of life – so he had all of that, but when you do this when you give that much of yourself to grinding, solitary study, you have – you have shouldered off of the stage important life rituals – in other words, if you if you postpone the recreational romantic social agenda of your life because you're instead learning to parse Greek, those developmental things that that others are doing – that all of your friends are doing – drinking roistering wenching whatever – they don't go away, they're just postponed or driven underground and so Jefferson was always an odd duck is my point, because he was always the most educated man in the room; any room that Jefferson walked into, people would sort of draw back and they'd look on him and think, that's a very intense, shy, brilliant, extremely well-prepared young man but they were a little detached from Jefferson; they'd much rather have a beer with X John Marshall or John Adams

DS: right I'm I'm wanting to ask this question correctly – help me if I'm if if you can but you've painted a picture of Jefferson – when he walked into a room he was the most educated – how much of that was his unique character and assets, mental assets, and how much of that was just simple honest hard work – what's your take?

CSJ: well you cannot master these things without just a tremendous amount of hard work

DS: but he was a special character

CSJ: he was a genius and then this set of disciplines shapes you – so it takes a certain person to want to do that – and then once you've done it it sort of perpetuates that persona; so we know this, that Jefferson was an extremely shy person all of his life, that he did not do well on first acquaintance and we have many accounts by people who met him who said at first he was cool, naive and cold and detached and it wasn't clear that we were going to be able to get along very well, and he was very formal, and and in didn't see, you know held us hands across his chest, and he didn't make eye contact ,and he was very he was a little stiff – we hear this again and again and again from people who met him and then they say but if you if you persevere and you talk about the right things and so you're not talking about the Vikings and the Steelers and the you know and whether Michael Jordan was the greatest ball player of all time if you talk about the right things and you have civility and you have a delicacy and you have the right manners – if Jefferson thinks you're worth it then suddenly his arms open and he embraces you and then he's very warm and convivial but always in a slightly formal way – so that was that's almost universally held to be Jefferson's character, so number one, shy; number two very earnest – not of he's not the kind he's not high-fiving anyone ever

DS: he's into it

CSJ: he's intense he and people think he get into a conversation at the Second Continental Congress and they get into some situation where they're thinking was it Livy or Tacitus who said that in the Roman world and Jefferson sort of raises his little hand and says well I believe it's Livy – and gives the actual date and quotes it in Latin and talks about the best translation and where you can buy it and he would be happy to order it for you if you'd really like to have it – and he's that kind of person who – he's like he's the encyclopedia in the room – but he doesn't he's not forthcoming, he's not standing up and for proclaiming his knowledge – that would be John Adams; Jefferson hangs back and when people get into a corner they look over at him and he's got the answer because he's the best prepared person in the room and everyone gets that and so they see him as sort of this magnificent philosopher, scholar and brilliant prose stylist but they can't quite embrace him because he's always detached and he's ready with information but he's not – there's no ego he's not standing up and calling attention to himself ever and he's not a know-it-all; whenever he tells you something, he says ‘you know you probably already know this and even if you've forgotten I'm sure that I'm only reminding you of things that you have learned on your own but perhaps I should recall that it was when Tacitus wrote such and such in his annals that,’ and so he never he's never a know-it-all, he's never lording it over anyone, it's always civil, gracious, humble maybe false humble at times, modest

DS: maybe false humble at times?

CSJ: well at a certain point Jefferson must have realized that his persona really worked – that that the shy the retiring person who's never egotistical – he must have realized ‘this really works it's true it is me but it also is an enormously effective strategy’ – and so I think that over time Jefferson's natural profile, let's put it, hardened into something that he also knew how to use at times because – this frustrates you when we do in character programs – you you're talking about some subject and then we have to wait for Jefferson to disclaim that he didn't really know much and that he's not very important and that if he had never been born you know – and we go through – he realized at some point even though he believed all of that that that really works as a social strategy too, if that makes any sense

DS: it does and this has really been fun; we're obviously

CSJ: we’ve gotten him to college

DS: we're gonna have to revisit this next week and perhaps again beyond that

CSJ: and Jefferson is this brilliant young man, perhaps a genius, extraordinarily well educated – not very well socially integrated but exquisite at everything that he does – incredibly impressive but a little distant and alienated, and he's going to make a difference in the world but he's also

DS: next week come back and send him send him off to college

CSJ: We can follow up

DS: very good; thank you so much mister Jenkinson

CSJ: and Happy New Year to all of our listeners; we'll see you next week for another exciting edition of the Thomas Jefferson Hour

The Thomas Jefferson Hour is brought to you each week by Dakota Sky Education. The program is distributed nationally by Prairie Public Radio. President Thomas Jefferson lived from 1743 to 1826, and this program presents his views. President Jefferson is portrayed by the award-winning humanities scholar and author Clay S. Jenkinson. To obtain a copy of this or any show for $12 donation, please call (888) 828-2853. This program is also available online at jeffersonhour.org and on iTunes. If you'd like to correspond with President Jefferson, or submit a question for him to answer on the program, please visit the website at jeffersonhour.org. The Thomas Jefferson Hour is produced at Makoché Recording Studios in Bismarck, North Dakota. Music by Steven Swinford. Thank you for listening. Please tune in again next week for another thought-provoking, historically-accurate program through the eyes of Thomas Jefferson.


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