On this week's 1776 Club broadcast, Clay is in character at David's behest, to sing Jefferson's song of America. Today's episode is an optimistic one to combat whatever anxieties you may be feeling this election eve. It's a show — a song — meant to remind us of the boundless possibilities at the core of our republic.
The 1776 Club is a subscription service (which gives you complete access to our decade-long archive of past radio broadcasts, plus exclusive bonus episodes like this one) that you can sign up for here. But today's 1776 Club episode may also be streamed freely above. We offer it to you with the hope that its historical perspective and Jeffersonian optimism will bring you some solace.
President Thomas Jefferson, as portrayed by Clay S. Jenkinson:
We have a wide and fruitful nation with room enough for the hundredth & the thousandth generation. We're a people, huddled on the eastern seaboard; in my time, the population was about six million and 75% of those lived within 50 or 60 miles of the Atlantic shoreline. It was a nation of forests that had never been cut down. In fact, it was said in my time that a squirrel could jump from tree limb to tree limb all the way from the Chesapeake to the Mississippi River — and maybe beyond.
Thanks to George Rogers Clark & his heroic gallantry during the revolutionary war, in the settlement that came in 1783, we got everything all the way up to the Mississippi — much larger than we could have expected. Then, in 1803, I was able to double the size of our republic for three cents per acre with a single stroke of my pen, creating what I called an empire for liberty such as the world has never previously seen.
Here we were, these people with fertility: the Mississippi River valley, the most fertile river valley in the world; the Great Lakes with two-fifths of all of the fresh water on the planet Earth; the Rocky Mountains, which we had heard of and Lewis & Clark began carefully to explore. At some far distance off the horizon, here we were: this tiny population, well-educated, with a Constitution and a Bill of Rights, a sense of due process — infinite opportunity — as we would slowly make our way west across the Appalachian Mountains and into the Ohio valley, and then come up to the banks of the Mississippi and linger, and then cross the Mississippi into the Missouri country, into the Louisiana country, and then go, as Lewis & Clark did through the Bitterroots and on over, into the Oregon country.
I knew, without any question, that this was the greatest birth right that any people in the history of the world had ever received.
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The public domain image of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. comes from Wikimedia Commons. The photograph was shot by a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy.