President Jefferson answers listener questions about Jefferson as a guide for our troubled times, Jefferson’s views on slavery, and his thoughts on J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur's Letters from an American Farmer, published in 1782.
Crèvecœur, the French physiocrat, wrote a beautiful book about agrarianism that Jefferson found fascinating. We also answered a question from a teacher at David Crockett Middle School in Amarillo, Texas, and Mr Jefferson had a bit of criticism for the state of Texas. Texas did not follow the Jeffersonian paradigm of development, and Jefferson found that a little hard to take. We've got a great letter from Mr. Jeff Woods, who sort of reinforced the idea that Jeffersonianism can still work, that those checks and balances and Jeffersonian harmony are still possible, even in the crazy world that we live in today.
In this week's Jefferson watch, a journey to Yellowstone National Park.
What Would Jefferson Do?
The following is a rush transcript:
David Swenson: 00:00 Good day listeners and welcome to this week's podcast edition of the Thomas Jefferson Hour. I am pleased to say that this week we are joined by president, Thomas Jefferson. It's been a few weeks. We've been talking about books and so many things and live performances and things like that. So this week we finally got Jefferson to come back.
Clay S. Jenkinson: 00:20 Back into the barn.
DS: 00:21 Yeah, we had great questions. We had questions from Mr Jeff Woods, he's the one who, he ended his letter with a Jefferson, slavery, fossil fuels thing
CSJ: 00:30 Tried to cheer Jefferson up a little.
DS: 00:30 And we also had one from Tim Bryant.
CSJ: 00:36 The Texan.
DS: 00:36 Mr Jefferson, and you, were a bit hard on him, but you did answer his question very well. And then we also talked about a letter from Joe Mello, which was really fun. That was the letters,
CSJ: 00:48 Hector St. John de Crèvecœur, Letters from an American Farmer, that classic book of agrarianism that was written in Jefferson's time. You know, it's so interesting. I got started, you know, people always ask me, how'd you get into this? How'd you get into this? As if it were my life's dream to dress up in tights.
DS: 01:02 Yeah, it was, wasn't it?
CSJ: 01:02 It was not. No, I was talked into it and the first thing that I learned about Jefferson and I knew nothing except that he was on Mount Rushmore and that he was a great man. The first thing I learned about him, David, was this statement from Notes on Virginia, Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God.
DS: 01:19 Really?
CSJ: 01:19 I thought, wow, what does that, I mean, look, that's weird. I mean, why are farmers the chosen people of God? What? Why farmers? Now, I get it intuitively. I come from an agrarian background sort of, but I thought, that's a big deal. Jefferson's not saying painters. He's not saying philosophers.
DS: 01:37 That's way different than my first exposure.
CSJ: 01:40 What was yours?
DS: 01:42 Well, do you remember when the Ken Burns Lewis and Clark documentary came out?
CSJ: 01:44 Of course. Yes, yes.
DS: 01:46 You and I both were in Charlottesville at the same time. Now, we didn't know each other.
CSJ: 01:50 The big signature event that launched the Lewis and Clark bicentennial.
DS: 01:53 We didn't know each other. I knew of you and I know you were there and both of us were there and that was, you know, it was a big deal, but because I was there it was like, I've never seen Monticello, I got to go. So that was my first trip. And you know, you drive in and there's that museum sort of in the parking lot area.
CSJ: 02:11 Right, right.
DS: 02:11 Well, that's where I started. So my first exposure to Jefferson was, what a gadget guy!
CSJ: 02:17 He was a gear head.
DS: 02:18 You know, I mean, everything from all of this surveying equipment of his to his sunglasses. And so that was my first thing.
CSJ: 02:26 His little PDA. The ivory tablets.
DS: 02:28 You know, you think back and you have this sort of common grade school taught impression of Jefferson, which is not really.
CSJ: 02:37 Pretty shallow.
DS: 02:37 And then you start to see artifacts and things that he touched and.
CSJ: 02:42 Imagine if he had had a 3D printer.
DS: 02:44 I wish I would've known then what I know now. It would've been interesting.
CSJ: 02:48 Well, you're still young. You can go back to Monticello, you've never been to Poplar Forest.
DS: 02:53 It's a great show this week because Jefferson's back and he's answering questions.
CSJ: 02:57 These letters are great. One of them was a letter from someone we've talked to before, the Texas school teacher. We've never, I don't think, in the whole course of this program, talked about Crèvecœur's Letters from an American Farmer. That's a book now I bet you will be reading.
DS: 03:12 And let's go to the show, except there are two things we have to do. You can go first.
CSJ: 03:17 First, the cultural tours are filling up, but there's still room in each of the three. Number one, Water and the West. This is a humanities book retreat out at Lochsa Lodge on the 13th through the 18th.
DS: 03:31 Are you sure that that isn't filled?
CSJ: 03:31 I am sure. And that's 13th through 18th, January, west of Missoula. It's not a kind of blizzardy, wintery thing. It's a winter wonderland. It's like a greeting card of the ideal winter encampment.
DS: 03:45 There's pictures on the website. Go to JeffersonHour.Com and get all the details.
CSJ: 03:49 Second one is the 19th through 23rd on Shakespeare without Tears, back by popular demand. And then on March, 2nd through 12th, Steinbeck's California, headquartered in Monterrey. So those cultural tours are filling, but I want them to be available to anybody who wants to come to them. So go to the website.
DS: 04:09 Great food, great wine. You don't want any leftovers.
CSJ: 04:11 All comfort, no rigor.
DS: 04:13 I can be way quicker than you.
CSJ: 04:14 I'll bet you can.
DS: 04:15 We want to thank those of you who have decided to support the Thomas Jefferson Hour. We need your help. We need your support, mostly we really appreciate it. And if you go to JeffersonHour.com, you can donate.
CSJ: 04:27 It's like 113, more than 101, we did a lot of them.
DS: 04:30 Or you can become a monthly member of the 1776 Club and get access to a bunch of extra stuff, Clay's essays, unlimited access to all of the past shows, years and years of shows. And I know that right now we're in the process of finalizing the Jefferson 101 series as well. So it was like 113 more than 101. We did a lot of them. And then, we shall go to the show, but I do want to alert listeners that we had a visitor here from.
CSJ: 05:01 Oh, Beau.
DS: 05:02 Yes, we did from Virginia.
CSJ: 05:04 Beau Wright.
DS: 05:06 Beau Wright, who we kind of ran into a few years ago and he was, for a while, was our man in the White House. He was in the administration and we had several calls in.
CSJ: 05:14 He turned up.
DS: 05:15 He decided to take a vacation in the west and, well, we just couldn't help but sit down with microphones and talk to him. So that's coming up in the future. Let's go to the show.
CSJ: 05:25 Alright.
DS: 05:25 And thanks for listening.
DS: 05:29 Good day, citizens. And welcome to the Thomas Jefferson Hour, your weekly conversation with President Thomas Jefferson. Mr Jefferson is portrayed by the award winning humanity scholar, author Clay Jenkinson. I'm your host, David Swenson. Seated across for me now is President Thomas Jefferson. And so good to see you today, sir.
CSJ as TJ: 05:51 Good day to you, my dear citizen.
DS: 05:54 You know, it's been several weeks since we've had the joy of conversation and I so appreciate you coming in to speak with us today, sir.
CSJ as TJ: 06:02 My pleasure, sir.
DS: 06:04 I have a number of questions for you, sir, on varying topics from, from your many listeners.
CSJ as TJ: 06:10 Thank you. Let's hear from the people who matter most, the citizens of the United States.
DS: 06:15 First one comes from Mr Jeff Woods. He begins his question by saying, 'I don't believe that the question before us is can Thomas Jefferson still be a guide for our troubled times.' He goes on to say that your world, actually, Mr Madison's, the checks and balances can still work. Those principles will not fail us and they have not.
CSJ as TJ: 06:36 Well, I think that's right, that a republic is an experimental system in which the people are sovereign and the people then govern themselves, but through representatives that they choose freely and that government is meant to do exactly what the people have in mind and any government that veers from the purposes and the ideals of the people is discredited at the next election and we don't put any significant amount of power in the hands of any single person or any single entity. We diffuse it so that the Senate is not the house and Congress is not the courts and the courts are not the executive and the nation is not the states that make it up, and the 10th amendment of course says that those powers not delegated to the national government belong instead to the states and to the people, so we have taken the sovereign, the people with a capital P and we have given them a mechanism of enacting their will and taxing themselves and defending their coasts and harbors and distributing the goods of life and they are in charge of their own destiny, but we have divided and subdivided the focal points of their decision making into a range of different entities that meet at slightly different times and have slightly different protocols, different terms of service, et cetera. And that means that an idea must be debated and distilled until it's refined into something that really does reflect the will of all the people by majority rule. That's our system. It was devised not from our own brains. It came out of ancient Roman principles as described by the philosopher and historian Polybius. We looked at models that found their greatest expression in England, and the French philosopher and political theorist Montesquieu in his famous book, the Spirit of the Laws really laid out that set of balance principles, checks, balances, separation of powers, etc, for the modern world. So we weren't operating in a vacuum. In fact, we were going back to the time of the Roman republic in 509 BC. But those principals served us well, and I don't think that they are particularly time bound. However, I will say that we lived in a three mile per hour world. That governed everything. The pace of life was sluggish, to put it lightly, by comparison with the pace of life in your time. And our technologies were primitive. Our weaponry was rudimentary by comparison with yours. Our communications systems were either nonexistent or exceedingly crude. So the stakes were the same in my world and in yours. But the technologies of delivery and the pace of life have changed dramatically. And as you know, my favorite principal, essentially, is that the earth belongs to the living, not the dead. The question that this listener raises, of whether our principals from my time are still useful in your time, is a very good one for the people of your culture to debate.
DS: 09:59 Let me go back to his question again. He writes, 'the Newtonian world of checks and balances can still work. Those principles will not fail us and they have not.' And he goes on to say, Woodrow Wilson, a President I believe you're aware of, sir.
CSJ as TJ: 10:13 Yes.
DS: 10:14 'Woodrow Wilson and early progressives strategically chose to marginalize the old Newtonian check and balances and replace it with an organic Darwinian constitution. We are not Hamiltonians. We are all progressives. However, we still have the option to employ the old principles that have been designed to protect our individual liberties. Although, it would require going against 100 years of progressive politics and out of control, administrative government, and a political world based on identity politics.'
CSJ as TJ: 10:50 Well, I didn't understand all of that, and certainly I knew nothing of Charles Darwin or his theories. But it does seem to me in looking at your world from my 18th century perspective, that the executive has become exceedingly powerful. I worried about this even in the original constitution. I said, when I had a chance to read it in Paris, that the executive was already powerful enough, and that the tendency over time would be for the executive to gain more and more and more authority and power. And that really greatly concerned me. And the only check on an executive in our constitution is the quadrennial election. That the president must be elected every fourth year and stand for reelection in four years. And the articles of impeachment, which as you know, have not been a useful tool in the course of American constitutional history. And so you need checks against an aggrandizment of executive power. And from my reading of the constitution, plus an examination of your history, I would say that you don't have sufficient checks against an executive. And currently, if I may hazard an observation, the main branch of government, the congress, shows little capacity to check the administration. And that's not simply true of the current presidency, but of several recent presidencies.
DS: 12:21 I think he agrees with you. He writes, 'the only way back to the founding principles is through you, sir, and the founding fathers. Your words in the declaration of independence captured the spirit of America and just government.'
CSJ as TJ: 12:33 Well, things have veered dramatically from our time and the courts have not checked that they could have checked some of that in the course of American history and of course there are mechanisms for the amendment of the constitution and for calling a new constitutional convention or a revising convention and so on. Those tools have not much been used in the course of American history. I would urge the people who are listening, first of all, to study this, to know something more about what's at stake, and then to attempt to push their congressional representatives, their senators and congressmen, to be more assertive in promoting congressional primacy in this culture. And I would urge people to be very much concerned about any executive of any party at any time that gathers too much power onto himself or herself.
DS: 13:27 He ends his letter by thanking you for these conversations and, with a line perhaps directed more towards me, sir. He says, 'please don't come to doubt Jefferson as a guide to life. Mr Jefferson could no more erase slavery, which he predicted would ravish our country, than we can end the use of fossil fuels, which might ruin our world.' Again, that letter's from Mr Jeff Woods.
CSJ as TJ: 13:50 Well, let me say another word about this if I might, because the heart of my philosophy, and this man says that mine is the right one for this country. The heart of it is, I'm sorry to say, somewhat mystical, and here's what I mean by that. I believe that our tripartite system of government and checks and balances and so on can work, but it only works where several conditions are met. Number one, there needs to be a very, very high level of civility and mutual respect, that the minority on any question needs to respect majority rule, which is sacred under our constitution, and the majority must not be pompous or righteous or vain or hubristic, but must reach out to the minority and assure them that they are a part of the American equation and that their rights and interests are important to all of us, not just to their own faction. Secondly, there needs to be an attempt always to find the common ground. You know, we share more than we disagree about. We never have unanimity, that's impossible in any population. Certainly a population spread across distinct geographic and economic regions as our country is. But our goal should always be to seek common ground, to find compromise, to see if we can craft legislation that brings in another 15 percent on one side and another 20 percent on the other side. To find the great center of, not unanimity, but of consensus that I believe will always exist in a free society. And third, the third condition under which our system can flourish and without which it cannot, is public education and civics. The people are the only guardians of their rights. They must be very jealous of those rights, but they must also understand their rights and understand the mechanisms that they can use to protect them. If you have an ignorant population or a population that turns away from civics into mere getting and spending, if it's merely a hedonistic population that that mostly just wants to consume and entertain itself, then your government will inevitably veer from right principles and the people then will not have the civic understanding or engagement to bring it back, and so you need a belief in majority rule as sacred but not a righteous majority. You need civility and forbearance and respect and mutuality, and you need to try to carve out lively compromises that include as much of the 100 percent of the spectrum as you possibly can. If you don't do those things, if you don't educate yourselves and live by way of civility, Mr Madison can't help you. Polybius can't help you. Montesquieu can't help you, because the system is as mystical as it is mechanical.
DS: 16:50 I don't think I've ever heard you refer to the system as being mystical, Mr President.
CSJ as TJ: 16:55 It's a term I don't particularly like because I'm a rationalist, but I, what I mean is that the mechanism alone does not guarantee success. Success comes from an understanding that we are an unusual nation with a unique destiny and that we have a common understanding of the love of liberty, of our search for equality, of our commitment to justice and due process, an iron commitment to the bill of rights and all that they stand for, and an understanding that we're blessed in a way that no other country in the history of the world has been blessed. And if we jeopardize that for factional purposes, we will have squandered a birthright that no country has ever had and perhaps no country will ever have again.
DS: 17:46 Thank you very much Mr Jefferson. We're going to take a short break and refresh ourselves, but we'll be back in just a moment. You're listening to the Thomas Jefferson Hour.
DS: 17:56 Welcome back to the Thomas Jefferson Hour, your weekly conversation with President Thomas Jefferson. This week, President Jefferson has been good enough to answer listener questions. Welcome back, Mr Jefferson.
CSJ as TJ: 18:14 You too, sir.
DS: 18:14 Our next question comes from a Mr. Joe Mello and it's about a series of articles written titled Letters from an American Farmer. Are you familiar with that, sir?
CSJ as TJ: 18:26 Crèvecœur's Letters of an American Farmer. Yes, I think published in 1782.
DS: 18:31 What do you recall about it sir?
CSJ as TJ: 18:33 He was a Frenchman. He was a physiocrat, and by physiocrat I mean someone who believes that all wealth comes from the soil. This is a French school of economics and social thinking that I subscribed to, at least in part, that says that wealth comes from the soil, so you put one seed in the ground, 50 or 100 spring up. You pair a bull and a cow and they produce calves. That this is the fecundity of the world being manipulated carefully by ingenious humans. We've domesticated cattle and sheep and goats and dogs and horses, and we have taken the medley of grains that one might find in a field in the Middle East, and we have culled out the oats and culled out the barley and culled out the wheat, and from South America have gathered the potato and the maize, corn, and we've concentrated the seeds until they produce a common culture, what in your time you like to call a monoculture, and that by doing this, one person is not only able to feed himself, but he can feed a hundred or a thousand, and this ability for humans to carefully manipulate their environment, their natural resources, has led to all of the wealth of the world. If you contrast that with a banker or a stock speculator, they do no actual work. They don't grow a single bit of protein. They produce nothing that the world wants. They simply manipulate wealth already having been produced by humans cooperating with the earth. So that's physiocracy or the school of the physiocrats. And I do subscribe to that notion and Crèvecœur was one of them. And he was here as many Frenchmen were here during the course of our revolution, and he wrote a well known book, Letters from an American Farmer, which was published, as I say, during the war, and the war had ended, but the peace had not come. The book was published in 1782.
DS: 20:34 Mr Mello writes to you, sir, 'Mr Jefferson, you once described farmers as the chosen people of God. One of my favorite dissertations on the impact of farming on the American identity is Letters from an American Farmer. Among my favorite lines is when describes Americans as having a pleasing uniformity of decent competence.' What say you to that sir?
CSJ as TJ: 21:03 I agree precisely. I did know him and I knew his work. I thought very well of it and it squares completely with my own philosophy, not only of economics but of the ideal way for Americans to live. And he's right that 90 some percent, and it might be as high as 98, but it's certainly 90 percent plus of all of the American people, when I became president in 1801, were self sufficient farmers. Just think of that, so more than 9 out of 10 Americans, from Georgia all the way up to new England, fed themselves, grew their own food, often made their own clothing, usually built their own shelters, gathered their own fuel from the forests around them. They were farmers who were self sufficient. They were what might be called subsistence plus farmers. That doesn't mean they weren't producing for the markets. They were. American people have a genius for capitalism and for producing commodities for the world market, and we had a lively shipping industry that was springing up to take care of all of that, but fundamentally, 9 out of 10 Americans in my time were 100 percent self sufficient. They might wish to buy some ink that they couldn't produce. They might wish to buy a violin or some books, but for the most part they could do everything they needed to do on what might be called the republic of their farm and their surplus then was sold and they used the surplus cash to buy things that they could not or did not wish to make for themselves on their farms. And that's what Crèvecœur was talking about, is a decent competency.
DS: 22:47 It really made me think, sir. You know, I would go back to the beginning of Mr. Mello's letter and him stating your quote of, 'those who labor in the earth as the chosen people of God.' And how often you and I have talked about your ideals for America. I was not familiar with this work, Letters from an American Farmer. So I, after I read Mr Mello's letter, I took time to find it and I've presented you, sir, with some quotes from the second letter in that book. And I read it myself and thought, this must be what Mr Jefferson was speaking of. Would you mind sharing that with our audience, sir?
CSJ as TJ: 23:31 I'd be happy to. Here's one paragraph from it. "This formerly rude soil has been converted by my father into a pleasant farm, and in return it has established all our rights; on it is founded our rank, our freedom, our power as citizens, our importance as inhabitants of such a district. These images I must confess I always behold with pleasure, and extend them as far as my imagination can reach: for this is what may be called the true and the only philosophy of an American farmer."
DS: 24:01 But he also writes, "The instant I enter on my own land, the bright idea of property, of exclusive right, of independence exalt my mind. Precious soil, I say to myself, by what singular custom of law is it that thou wast made to constitute the riches of the freeholder? What should we American farmers be without the distinct possession of that soil? It feeds, it clothes us, from it we draw even a great exuberancy, our best meat, our richest drink, the very honey of our bees comes from this privileged spot." That must be what you had in mind, sir.
CSJ as TJ: 24:40 It reminds me of the poetry of Horace from the ancient Roman world and also of Virgil, the author of the Eclogues and the Aeneid. The point that Crèvecœur is making in Letters from an American Farmer is a very important one. First of all, that land is essential to human happiness and human independence. And think of it, that's not true in the rest of the world. In Britain, the land's all been taken up. There's no free land. There's no surplus land in Britain. None in France, none in Germany. All the land has been divided and subdivided over generations, and primogeniture and entail and all sorts of feudal land laws keep the land of the country in the hands of the few, while the masses either are peasant farm workers, effectively slaves, or they are a, what I call the [...], kind of an urban mob. And that sort of living without landedness, without roots in the soil, leads to disease and social conflict and so on. So the answer is land. Well, what country in the history of the world has had land? We do. When I was president, most of the continent was empty with respect to Europeans. It was a Tabula Rasa on which we could expand over decades and centuries and everyone who wanted a piece of land would effectively be able to have one, so that's the guarantee of happiness and independence, but once the land is all been shuffled away, as in say Britain, then the government, by which I mean the people need to devise ways in which the landless can also enjoy what Crèvecœur is calling a self sufficient and decent life, and that has proved to be one of the great problems, one of the great challenges in political theory. Thank goodness we have just in my time 6 million people clutching the eastern seaboard with this immense continent to the west. That meant, for me, that I could be an optimist because it signified that for decades, even centuries, there would always be land in the west and the fundamental problems of distribution of wealth and opportunity that have ruined European life would not be a significant factor in the United States. Let me say one more word about this, that the farmer, in feeding himself and clothing himself and so on, is truly independent. He is not dependent on entities that he can't control for his basic life. Once you live in a city that's not true, your food supply comes from some other entity. Your clothing is made by a tailor somewhere. Everything that you need comes from a purveyor and you can't control all of those entities. You may not even be able to understand the institutional basis of some of those entities and so it creates a whole range of dependencies. So the more people who can live on farms, the better, or put it this way, if the whole system collapsed tomorrow and everyone listening to this program became entirely responsible for feeding himself, clothing himself, sheltering himself, gathering his own fuel and so on. What do you suppose would happen? There would be social collapse followed by riots and civil war. If the country collapsed in 1803, while I was president, more than 9 out of 10 people would simply go about their lives cutting down trees for firewood, growing rutabagas and potatoes and turnips and wheat to provide food for the table, using herds of sheep or cattle or goats to provide themselves with meat or milk. Those people would have been just fine. They would hardly have known that their nation had collapsed or the economy had collapsed because they were self sufficient. And that's why I said those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God if ever God had chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.
DS: 28:39 I was struck, sir, reading this, Letters from an American Farmer, and the images described, and your dream, your personal dream of an American agrarian society.
CSJ as TJ: 28:53 Well, it goes back again to Horace. The passage about the farmer by his hearth with his amiable wife and some modest wine that they're drinking, and so on, comes straight out of one of the great odes of the Roman poet Horace. But I certainly subscribe to it and I wanted to build something like that into my own life. Unfortunately, I was a plantation owner. I had a large farm, a production farm, and I grew something that nobody really wants, or nobody should want, tobacco. A crop that is ruinous on the land and ruinous to the people who have to work that land. I was always trying to emancipate myself at Monticello from the dependence on tobacco. But tobacco was the most important cash crop in the American south at the time. And we found ourselves producing it even though we in many respects knew better, so that, I don't ever put myself up as an exemplar of that Horatian, that Virgilian, that Crèvecœurian ideal.
DS: 29:57 But it is a nice image is it not?
CSJ as TJ: 29:59 And it's one that we can pursue in our farms. We were self sufficient at Monticello, but we were also what would be called an industrial village by your standards. And it certainly wasn't the brand of family farming that I had in mind for this country.
DS: 30:15 Another area that I know you've always had, shall we say, a soft spot for is educators, teachers, professors. A couple of years ago you took time to answer a question from a teacher in Amarillo, Texas, a teacher at the David Crockett middle school. His name was Tim Bryant, do you recall sir?
CSJ as TJ: 30:37 Yes, sir.
DS: 30:37 He said he got quite a kick of humor out of you wondering if he was a federalist, if that helps share.
CSJ as TJ: 30:44 Some sort of a Hamiltonian.
DS: 30:46 Yeah, he wrote us again sir and he writes, 'recently while reading a book by Joseph Ellis entitled the Quartet: Orchestration of the Second American Revolution, I read that on March 22nd, 1784, you wrote a report concerning a plan for the government of the Western territory. In this report, you called for the end of slavery in the territory no later than the year 1800, knowing you admired the works of Thomas Paine, I wonder if this idea to stop the spread of slavery comes from Paine's assertion that 'we have it in our power to begin the world over again.' In this case, settling the territory west of the Appalachians afforded an opportunity to begin a society without slavery. Southern politicians who followed you saw the expansion of slavery as basic to survival of the institution, but perhaps that mindset had not appeared in 1784, and America missed a great chance to limit the spread of slavery.'
CSJ as TJ: 31:45 Well, a good and thoughtful question. Let me say that I was the principal author of the plan for the government of the western territories in 1784. I was a Virginia congressman at that time. This was just before I went off to France as an American diplomat for five years and we were trying to bring in western, new states on an equal footing with the existing states. In other words, we wanted to solve the problem of self colonialism. How could we not subordinate the west as Britain had subordinated us, and so I spent a lot of time thinking about the conditions for equality in new territories and new states and you can talk further about the plan for the government of Western territories if you wish. It's a very, very interesting idea, where there would be identically sized square states all the way from the Appalachians at least to the Mississippi River. That would solve the problem of the large versus small states that had been one of the principle sources of tension at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787, but to the point of slavery, I put into that proposed bill a provision that would outlaw slavery after 1800, that there would be no slavery in the new Western states. I can tell you that that provision of the 1784 land ordinance failed of passage in the United States Congress by one vote. States voted as units then, so Virginia had one vote and Massachusetts had one vote and New Hampshire had one vote. It failed of passage by a single vote, and I can tell you that every member of the Virginia delegation, except for myself, voted to deny that principle. In other words, they voted to allow slavery to extend itself into the West. I was the only one in the Virginia delegation that voted to keep slavery from crossing the Appalachians. And I wrote about this and I said, heaven was silent in this awful moment. Now, millions of unborn negroes will be enslaved to men they never offended through the lack of a single vote in the congress of the United States. Think of that, the destinies of nations, are sometimes determined by something as small as a single vote.
DS: 34:02 Again, that came from middle school teacher Tim Bryant, who teaches at David Crockett middle school of Amarillo, Texas.
CSJ as TJ: 34:08 Texas. Now I should say that in the Land Ordinance, I created the cadastral rectangular survey grid system, the square miles and townships and 640 acres and 40 acres, the way that the whole west was divided and subdivided. If you took a hot air balloon over the country, you could see this perfect patchwork of rectilinearity that we imposed upon the vast wilderness of the American west so that things would be orderly and there would be no disputes over boundaries and so on. This was not my invention alone, but I was the person who was most delighted by the idea of a beautiful geometrically perfect rectangular survey grid system to replace the old metes and bounds system that existed in Britain. However, Texas, where this gentleman lives.
DS: 35:00 They didn't quite follow your plan, did they sir?
CSJ as TJ: 35:02 They would not do it. They did not accept the cadastral rectangular survey grid system, and if you look at a survey grid system map of the United States, it works in Iowa. It works in Colorado. It works in Nevada, it works in Oregon, and the state of Texas is outside of the boundaries of human good sense.
DS: 35:23 Pardon me, Mr Jefferson, but I almost detect a sense of irritation.
CSJ as TJ: 35:26 I am very irritated because order matters, and why should Texas be allowed to come in as a state without adopting the systems of orderliness and good sense, enlightened legislation, that were prepared by people benign and generous about Texas, but Texas came in, under its own dispensation and did you know it has the right to secede at any time and it can divide itself into five constituent Texas republics if it wishes to?
DS: 35:57 Well now, Mr. President, we all know that Texas is a lovely state and I do apologize for bringing this up and irritating you so, sir, but that perhaps we could end on a more positive note, perhaps Mr Bryant would consider putting some of your views into his lesson plan, sir.
CSJ as TJ: 36:18 I hope he will, and I hope that he will attempt to persuade the legislature of Texas to do the right thing in this as in all other cases.
DS: 36:26 Well, here's hoping we hear from Mr Tim Bryant at the David Crockett middle school of Amarillo, Texas. He can let us know how his students reacted to your answers and let us know what he's doing with your advice.
CSJ as TJ: 36:38 Thank you very much.
DS: 36:39 Right now, we need to take a short break. When we return, we'll be speaking with the creator of the Thomas Jefferson Hour demand who portrays President Jefferson, Clay Jenkinson. We'll be back in just a moment. You're listening to the Thomas Jefferson Hour.
CSJ: 36:58 Hello everyone. It's Clay Jenkinson. Just sneaking in a little announcement between segments of the Jefferson Hour. I want you to join me this winter at Lochsa Lodge west of Missoula for two humanities cultural retreats: the first one, water and the west, January 13th through 18th, and the second, Shakespeare without tears, January 19th through 24th. For more information, go to our website, Jeffersonhour.com/tours. We'll see you in the mountains.
DS: 37:28 Welcome back to the Thomas Jefferson Hour, your weekly conversation with President Thomas Jefferson, and now our weekly conversation with the creator of the Thomas Jefferson Hour, Mr Clay Jenkinson and it is he who is seated across from me now. Good day to you, sir.
CSJ: 37:44 Good day to you, my friend, the semi permanent guest host of the Thomas Jefferson Hour, beloved by many. And wherever I go people ask, where's Swenson?
DS: 37:54 We had fun questions this week. We started with a one from a gentleman, Jeff Woods, and you know, Jefferson probably couldn't respond to this, but I particularly got a kick out of this. His last paragraph. He says, 'gentlemen, thank you for your work.' Our pleasure, sir. 'Please don't come to doubt Jefferson as a guide. Mr Jefferson could no more erase slavery than we can end the use of fossil fuels.' Is that a little too thick or do you take that?
CSJ: 38:21 I do take that, but it also has to be resisted. In other words, we can say Jefferson was stuck, but remember, there were people in Jefferson's time who did free slaves.
DS: 38:33 Also I wanted to revisit Tim Bryant, the teacher, Mr Jefferson was a bit hard.
CSJ: 38:39 I love to beat up on Texas because Texas loves to be Texas.
DS: 38:43 He works Mr Jefferson's responses into his class. I just think that's great. And he ended by thanking you for the stimulating conversation each week. 'And I have especially enjoyed relistening to the Jefferson watch essays'
CSJ: 38:56 Oh, nice.
DS: 38:58 'via the 1776 Club.'
CSJ: 38:59 I love writing these essays. I'll tell you.
DS: 39:01 Tim Bryant, I hope you took Mr Jefferson's criticism in the spirit, which would. Well then again, I can't really guess what Mr Jefferson's spirit was.
CSJ: 39:10 I was just having fun with Texas because Texas did come under its own dispensation it can break up into five sub republics. It did not accept, although it later adopted something like the cadastral survey grid system.
DS: 39:20 He wanted squares.
CSJ: 39:20 And Texas is irrationally shaped.
DS: 39:20 And then there was the letter from Joe Mello about Letters from an American Farmer and I did actually, I wasn't aware of this
CSJ: 39:20 It's a beautiful book. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur.
DS: 39:20 I found it on Gutenberg.Org. You can download it for free and I read and I thought, gosh, this has got to be what he was talking about.
CSJ: 39:43 Of course, they come from the same school of agrarianism and but, but one thing I really want to go back to David is Crèvecœur's view that farmers are equalitarian, that you have a big farm or a little farm, but what you have to do is produce enough food for yourself and your family. And so there's a fundamental equality about this and an independence of spirit. I want to read just one more little piece from Crèvecœur's Letters from an American Farmer. He said, "I bless God for all the good he has given me; I envy no man's prosperity, and with no other portion of happiness than that I may live to teach the same philosophy to my children; and give each of them a farm, show them how to cultivate it, and be like their father, good substantial independent American farmers," that's what Jefferson had in mind. We are not that people. And even in our beloved North Dakota, which is a family farm state, it has a family farm protection law. Corporate gigantism has changed the nature of agriculture fundamentally and there are literally now people who can do farm business with drones, with combines that drive themselves more effectively than any worker could drive them. We're moving into a world of hyper industrialization using artificial intelligence and robotics. It's going to be great for production. It is not exactly the philosophy of agrarianism.
DS: 41:09 Okay, well let. Can I respond to that?
CSJ: 41:11 Of course.
DS: 41:11 Two things. One is, and I don't think I'll get an argument from you.
CSJ: 41:15 We'll see.
DS: 41:16 If Jefferson knew about drones.
CSJ: 41:18 He'd have one of everything.
DS: 41:19 Yes, he would.
CSJ: 41:20 He'd have them all.
DS: 41:20 He would love that technology.
CSJ: 41:22 Of course. No question.
DS: 41:25 I grant you that corporate thing, but you know, it all comes down and that's why I was so struck by that, that one passage that I read, it all comes down to the farmer, the family, the end of the day, your children, they're, okay. They might not be reading books by the fire. And the Mrs Farmer might not be crocheting or knitting by the fire, but it's still, it's still a unique thing and you know that.
CSJ: 41:57 I have friends who are true agrarians.
DS: 41:59 And you've spent time on your grandparents' farm.
CSJ: 42:02 That was another era. But yes.
DS: 42:03 And you spent time on farms in Kansas. And don't you think that that sense of independence still exists? I mean, even for me in my tiny little garden in the backyard when I'm done and I set out and look over it, I mean there's a, there is that Jeffersonian sense of being even a little bit independent and not, don't have.
CSJ: 42:27 Of course, I'm 100 percent with you that even our farming, industrialized, computerized, artificial intelligence farming still has something of that deep sacred quality to it that Jefferson was seeing, and I always say on this program and elsewhere, that growing a tomato or a potato or a cob of corn is a liberating and enlightening experience. It doesn't feed you, but it gets you into the zone of what it means to be an agrarian. An agrarian and to have your hands in the soil.
DS: 43:03 Something we all profit from an shouldn't lose track of.
CSJ: 43:06 But we are losing track of it more and more so that little flame. Remember Jefferson said at the end of that famous passage, those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God. Jefferson says it is the focus of that sacred fire which otherwise might disappear from the earth. That's a key sentence.
DS: 43:24 Wait a minute. Once more?
CSJ: 43:24 That farming is the focus of that sacred fire, which otherwise might disappear from the earth.
DS: 43:32 That's great. You know, I wish I could have said it that same way, you express that much.
CSJ: 43:37 But I feel the fire might blink out as you get more and more and more removed from the soil. And a farm is merely an extraction device rather than a place where the farmer families walking around, raising sheep, engaged in rodeo, whatever it might be.
DS: 43:58 Thanks to Joe Mello for that letter.
CSJ: 44:00 It's a great letter.
DS: 44:01 And it was fun to hear Jefferson respond to it. So before we go to this week's essay, which I'm excited to hear because I know it's about your recent trip to Yellowstone, I want to just take a moment to remind people that you have cultural tours coming up. They can find out all the information at JeffersonHour.com.
CSJ: 44:20 Two humanities retreats January 13th through 18th and January 19th through 23rd on Shakespeare and Water and the West. That's out at Lochsa Lodge west of Missoula, a magnificent place. And then March 2nd through 8th, Steinbeck's California out in Monterey, the most beautiful part of California. So those are all on JeffersonHour.com.
DS: 44:42 That's right. JeffersonHour.com. Go to the website. You can find out all sorts of stuff about the Jefferson Hour. You can read Clay's essays, listened to his essays, listen to the show at JeffersonHour.com. You can support the show. You can join the 1776 Club and this week we've spent an entire program devoting it to President Jefferson answering listener questions. So if you have a question for President Jefferson, you can submit your question at JeffersonHour.com. And with that sir, it is now time for this week's Jefferson Watch.
CSJ: 45:21 Thank you David.
CSJ: 45:23 Seventeen years ago, my mother purchased a tiny cabin near Cooke City, Montana, right at the northeast portal of Yellowstone National Park. It's a blonde log cabin, 12 by 14 feet, but with the sleeping loft it was her idea. She loved that cabin. She spent about six weeks per year there usually all alone with her miniature schnauzer, Boswell, though she had a few friends in nearby cabins that are better than most of our homes. She read a book a day. It wasn't Tolstoy or even Jane Austen, but still. My mother gave me that cabin two years ago and she died this summer on July ninth in Bismarck, North Dakota, so I went out there this last weekend to close up for the long Montana winter and to clear out her clothing and other personal effects. I filled 15 large black garbage bags with things that no longer had any reason to be in that cabin, some for the landfill, some for goodwill and a few for me.
CSJ: 46:24 It was a melancholy business. Every item had been brought there by my mother over the last 17 years, perhaps the happiest years of her life. Certainly the happiest zip code of her life. Things that I unceremoniously now tossed into bags had significance for her, a gift from a friend, a memento from a journey in the park. A book that she read on the deck of the cabin on a particularly beautiful summer day. Had she had been with me last weekend and I had proposed such a purge she would have fought for well more than half of everything I plucked off the shelves, out of cabinets, bins and drawers, and by the way, she would have won those fights and she would also have said, physician, heal thyself. My mother didn't give a rip about Henry. David Thoreau I'm using her very words. She found him righteous and preachy, and she was never a minimalist with respect to material possessions, but her cabin is almost precisely the size of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond in Massachusetts.
CSJ: 47:25 My purpose now is to make it as spare and minimalist as I can. This will come in several waves as I grow more courageous. My guiding principle comes straight out of Walden. In the first grade chapter economy, Thoreau writes, I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still and threw them out the window in disgust. I love the principle and I also love the metaphor. Thoreau's argument is breathtakingly simple and 180 degrees out of sync with American life. His view was that if you actually asked yourself what you need, not what you want and pared down your life accordingly, not only would you get out from under the mountain of stuff that must be dusted or stored or shelved, not to mention paid for, but that with radical simplification of your life, your soul would be able to wake up and thrive.
CSJ: 48:28 The burden of life is partly the accumulation of material things that we, as it were, carry on our shoulders day after day, year after year, thus preventing us from really breathing or seeing or listening to the dictates of our hearts and souls. My cabin is so small that there's no room for clutter. The dishes have to be done after every meal. Each of the few things the cabin can wisely contain has a place, a shelf, a cubby a ledge. If you spent a couple of days not tending to this, you'd be tripping all over yourself. There was room for 250 books in the cabin, but not 2,500. There is a television linked to an ugly and marring satellite dish outside, but I never turned it on in the three days I spent there. The cabin can hold two sets of sheets, but not a dozen. The first day I was there, I cleared out everything I thought should go.
CSJ: 49:22 Then I slept on it, and the second day I cleared out an equal number of items though I had to stop and debate some of those things with myself and with the ghost of my mother's fist shaking over my shoulder. On the third morning I cleared out still more. How many coffee mugs does one really need? Is that plaque that says what happens in the cabin, stays in the cabin worth dusting? And wouldn't Thoreau say if you have to hide your life within boards and fences, maybe you need to rethink your life. I worked like Thoreau in the mornings and in the afternoons I ventured into Yellowstone National Park. A week ago on camera in the badlands of North Dakota, I made the claim that our man, Thomas Jefferson, was the spiritual father of the national park system because a, he wanted to celebrate all that was unique and sublime in the American landscape, and b, he purchased the natural bridge in western Virginia to make sure it was never exploited for commercial or industrial purposes.
CSJ: 50:18 He told friends, including Maria Cosway, that it was worth a trip across the Atlantic to see, and in her case, paint the natural bridge. Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, 46 years after Jefferson's death and 2052 miles from Monticello. You need only imagine what Jefferson would have thought about boiling mud pots, geysers, clusters or browsing moose or Yellowstone falls. He got what he called a violent headache merely by sitting on top of the natural bridge in his home state. In his only book, Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote, it is impossible for the emotions arising from the sublime to be felt beyond what they are at the natural bridge. Just imagine if he had seen the wonders of the American West, the Grand Canyon, the redwoods, Yosemite Glacier national park or old faithful. It's the sublime squared and the sublime cubed. My mother had favorite places in the park. I stopped at some of them to say farewell.
CSJ: 51:23 Unfortunately, she was one of the millions who prefer to view our national parks through a windshield. On Saturday, I hiked a few miles along the Lamar river trail. It was a perfect October day and the park was essentially empty. Certainly the trails were empty and I could sense in the air that the long lock of winter is not many days or weeks off. The sky was perfect. The river was the bluest blue you have ever seen. Heartbreaking in its beauty. As I strolled back to my car, a gang of 35 buffalo walked slowly past me to another pasture. They stared at me a little and the bulls snorted just to make sure I wasn't going to do anything funny. The whole scene was what the distinguished great plains historian Daniel Flores calls American Serengeti. How can we ever sufficiently thank those who did this for us, Congress in this case, but Theodore Roosevelt above all others, and at the very beginning of our national destiny, Thomas Jefferson, who realized that American exceptionalism was in part the measure of the primordial magnificence of this continent.
CSJ: 52:30 Imagine if Yellowstone had been developed like the natural bridge before the state of Virginia obtained it, or like Dollywood or a Flintstones theme park or Branson, Missouri. Someone asked me the other day whether I'm more enamored of Jefferson or Theodore Roosevelt. Jefferson by far. I replied, how about Jefferson or Meriwether Lewis? Still Jefferson though my soul responds to the parts of Lewis that Jefferson could never appreciate. How about Jefferson and Thoreau? Well, now you have me, I said. In my view, Walden is America's greatest book and Thoreau is the voice we most need to hear in an America that is now the world's leader in type two diabetes, a land where people have annual garage sales to get rid of perfectly good things in order to make room for a whole new round of perfectly good and soul crushing things and where it is in our spiritual interest. To be skeptical about global climate change because if we really took it seriously as a threat to the planet, we might just have to adjust our lives in something like a Thoreauvian direction.
CSJ: 53:38 My cabin is now a better metaphor for my values than my house in North Dakota, which desperately needs a Thoreauvian sweep. I don't even know where the three pieces of limestone are buried there and there are not enough plastic bags in the nearest home depot to contain all that I must slough off if I wished to live a life of true wisdom and integrity. In his chapter Economy, Thoreau says it perfectly. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates.
CSJ: 54:09 A life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life. Not only theoretically, but practically. I've got some problems to solve and the dust in my world is knee deep. My hope is that Walden two, my cabin out at the portal of America's first and greatest national park, will help me to find the courage and the strength simplify. I'm Clay Jenkinson. We'll see you next week for another exciting edition of the Thomas Jefferson Hour.
DS: 54:57 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.