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The national government of the United States is not entitled to intrude into the religious sensibilities of the people.
— Clay S. Jenkinson portraying Thomas Jefferson

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The following is a rush transcript.

David Swenson: 00:00 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. Jefferson. 

Clay S. Jenkinson as Thomas Jefferson: 00:00 Good day to you, citizen. 

DS: 00:16 Mr Jefferson, in the month of November, during my time, sir, Americans gather to give thanks for an official holiday that a president after your time declared, and that is the holiday of Thanksgiving. You weren't much for that type of holiday. Were you, sir? 

CSJ as TJ: 00:33 No, I'm not in favor of the national government to the United States sponsoring religious holidays or holidays that have a religious feeling about them. As you know, I only celebrated two holidays per annum, including, not my birthday, by the way. I celebrated the fourth of July, the day of our national foundation, and I celebrated the first day of January, New Year's Day, because it's such an easy, arbitrary day that has no religious, traditional background whatsoever. 

DS: 01:04 I have a difficult time believing that you didn't recognize the end of the growing season, the harvest festivals that so many people have participated in, but didn't you, sir, do any of that kind of celebration? 

CSJ as TJ: 01:16 Well, as you know, in the springtime we had a little dinner party where the first peas appeared. The first of my neighbors who could produce peas for the table would have a dinner for all the rest of us, and I competed in that festival a number of times, but this was very local and private. And then in the fall, of course, we ate in abundance and toasted our neighbors and gathered people together at this very wonderful time of abundance and completion of the earth's capacity to provide food and produce and happiness for us. But I did not think that a federal holiday, per se, was a good idea. And in fact, when I was president, I received a letter from people urging me to name a national day of Thanksgiving and prayer. And I wrote back carefully but firmly saying no. The national government of the United States is not entitled to intrude into the religious sensibilities of the people. That would be a violation of the idea of a wall of separation between church and state. If the people of Massachusetts or Maryland or Virginia want to celebrate the harvest with festivals of any sort, that's their business, but it's not a function of the United States government to name and to promote such holidays. 

DS: 02:33 Well, leaving that aside and the government out of it, sir, you must agree with me that there are many things to be thankful for. I'm certain that you had a long list of things you were grateful for during your time. 

CSJ as TJ: 02:47 Of course, and beyond family and friendship, the most important things in life, I was thankful that we live 3000 miles from Europe. That the Atlantic Ocean was kind of moat between us and the madness of the old world. I was thankful for the size, the scope, the fertility, and the physical magnificence of America, room enough for the hundredth, the thousandth generation. As I put it in my first inaugural address, I was thankful for our republican system of government, the only government in the world in my time where the rights of man, the sovereignty of the people was understood and cherished. Where due process meant something. Where everyone who felt the need to go to the law would feel that he was being treated equal under the law and there was no differentiation between the richest person in a court of law or the poorest person. All that, and so much more, we Americans have to be thankful for, and I never lost that optimism and that joy about what I suppose you would call American exceptionalism, so yes, of course, but these are all private sentiments of a citizen of the United States, and a citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

DS: 03:58 Perhaps you could allow that the majority of American citizens feel that it's significant enough that they declare a day when all citizens in one way or another can band together and be grateful for that long list of things that you just stated, sir. Isn't it alright to have a day for that? 

CSJ as TJ: 04:21 Yes, although I wish that it had percolated up as a private thing, a tradition that was born from the people themselves and that the government of the United States had absolutely nothing to do with it, and it was just the gratitude at harvest time of the American people for their friendship, for their abundance, for their ties to Native Americans and ties to the bounty of this continent. 

DS: 04:43 But be that as it may, in my time, sir, it is a declared day, and I'm certain that you would join me in wishing a happy Thanksgiving to all. 

CSJ as TJ: 04:52 I do, at whatever time people privately choose to celebrate it. 

DS: 04:55 Thank you very much, Mr Jefferson. 

CSJ as TJ: 04:57 You are most welcome.

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