Traveling West

WWTJD_1298 Traveling West.jpg
I would have been able to produce an account of that tour — and I mean no self-aggrandizement in saying this, but just from the sheer discipline of writing every day at great length — would have been one of the classics of the literature of exploration.
— Clay S. Jenkinson portraying Thomas Jefferson

Tune in to your local public radio or join the 1776 Club to hear this episode of What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?

Listen to this week's episode.

The following is a rush transcript.

DS: 00:02 Good day, citizens and welcome to What Would Jefferson Do?, our weekly opportunity to discuss current American events with President Thomas Jefferson, who is seated across from me now. Good day to you, Mr. President. 

CSJ as TJ: 00:02 Good day to you, citizen. 

DS: 00:18 Mr Jefferson, I know you did not travel probably as much as you wanted to. You didn't get very far west. I wanted to ask you about that, sir. 

CSJ as TJ: 00:30 I never traveled farther than seventy miles west of my birthplace in Virginia. 

DS: 00:32 And yet you corresponded with folks who traveled all over the country. Really most notably Lewis and Clark. I'm wondering, sir, had you had the opportunity to, say, come to where I live, the state of North Dakota, perhaps see the Missouri River, the Little Missouri River. Would you have entertained that sir? 

CSJ as TJ: 00:32 Probably not. 

DS: 00:32 Really? 

CSJ as TJ: 00:57 I cannot live without books. I cannot live without music. I cannot. That means a Harpsichord or a piano forte or a violin or cello. I cannot live without scientific instruments. Although I did send some along with Lewis and Clark, if you added up all the things that I could not live without, probably it would have taken two or three keel boats to get me to the source of the Missouri River. I will say this though, that in a famous letter that I wrote to Maria Cosway, the woman that I fell in love with in France, and it's called my head and my heart. And I said that if she should ever know a true grief, a real loss in her life, I said I would go all the way to the source of the Missouri River and the Cordilleras of the Rocky Mountains to get a vial of pure water from that spring and bring it back to wipe away her tears. 

DS: 01:46 That sounds more like the Mr Jefferson I would expect. American character is built of adventurism and exploration. There were quite a few things that went up the river on that keel boat, I can't believe that they could not have transported enough books to keep you happy. And my goodness sir, with the writing that you would have had to do — keep records of the exploration. I would have thought you'd have little time to read. You'd be writing, and goodness a violin doesn't take much space at all, Mr. President. 

CSJ as TJ: 02:20 I don't think that I ever camped out — I think that's your term — in the whole course of my life. I think I would have had a difficult time with all of that. But if I had gone, if for some reason they had been able to produce enough comfort for me, I would have kept better records than Mr Lewis. I can assure you of that. 

DS: 02:39 We would all be the richer for that, sir. 

CSJ as TJ: 02:41 And I would have been able to produce an account of that tour — and I mean no self-aggrandizement in saying this, but just from the sheer discipline of writing every day at great length — would have been one of the classics of the literature of exploration. Mr. Lewis was a gifted journal keeper, but an inconstant one. 

DS: 03:03 So there we are, Mr. President, you could have replaced your reading with writing which would provide my generation with a very valuable asset, 

CSJ as TJ: 03:14 But they didn't carry wine, sir. They carried only whiskey. 

DS: 03:18 Oh, now now Mr. President, I'm certain — 

CSJ as TJ: 03:18 Some Bordeaux. 

DS: 03:21 My advice to you, if I could be so bold: be brave. Mr. President. I really wish you could have gone on that journey. 

CSJ as TJ: 03:29 My father was a brave man, Peter Jefferson. He was a man I deeply revered and respected, and he was a frontiersman. Our home in Albermarle was one of the first two or three in that part of the Western hills of Virginia and he made the first accurate map with a man named Joshua Fry of the college of the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia and he also had diplomatic missions to — 

DS: 03:58 It's in your heritage, Mr Jefferson, but it does provide a paradox. Had you gone off to explore the west, who would have been left in Washington, DC to buy it? 

CSJ as TJ: 04:12 And you don't want Aaron Burr running the country while I'm off with Lewis and Clark. I was so trustful of Mr Lewis. His capacities as an observer were such that if he described it, I knew implicitly that it had been an accurate and objective description as if I had seen it for myself. I just wish that he had written more. 

DS: 04:30 Well, I hope you will grant me this bit of mirth with the question this week, but it is fun to speculate. 

CSJ as TJ: 04:37 It was the most important exploration of the 18th century, how Mr Lewis saw himself as the American Captain Cook, even mentioned Columbus in a famous journal entry. I don't think it's possible to exaggerate the importance of the Lewis expedition. 

DS: 04:52 Thank you very much, Mr Jefferson. 

CSJ as TJ: 04:54 You are most welcome, sir.

More from the Thomas Jefferson Hour