Over the past few days I have had the wonderful guilty pleasure of sitting down to read Robinson Crusoe cover to cover. I know I should have been doing other things, some of them pressing, but I just sat there and read this famous and fabulous account of a man who is shipwrecked on a small island off of Venezuela and spends 28 years there, 26 alone with a parrot and some semi-domesticated flocks of goats.
The extension of the Lewis and Clark Trail from St. Louis all the way to Pittsburgh is an invitation for all of us to reboot our understanding of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The late Stephen Ambrose deserves credit for giving ample space to the Ohio River portion of the transcontinental journey in Undaunted Courage and for penning a sentence that has been much reproduced in Lewis and Clark literature, especially by those who wish to bring greater prominence to the Eastern Legacy: “When they shook hands, the Lewis and Clark Expedition began.”
Drifting down the river in the afternoon, gazing up at the blue blue sky, slipping past golden eagles as if they were sparrows or wrens, examining the famous White Cliffs that Lewis said had the feeling of “scenes of visionary enchantment,” and at times just pulling the paddles into the canoe to feel the gentle but inexorable tug of the continent, this too is paradise on earth.
Where does it end? I call this the de-Stalinization of America. If we are going to topple the statues of everyone who was complicit in slavery, that’s all the Founding Fathers, but especially Patrick Henry, George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall, and of course the individual who wrote “all men are created equal.”
We need to have a more nuanced national dialogue about every possible issue. But it cannot occur as long as we decide we are baked in and nothing is going to change my mind about X, or Y, or Z. And it cannot occur until we agree upon a genuine commitment to truth.
The psychological fallout came screaming out in Query XIV—a kind of dark racist diatribe against African-Americans, a subterranean fantasy projection of Jefferson’s guilt, anger (including self-anger), eroticism, self-protection, and what is known as casuistry—making the case for something you know is wrong.
What if he had never left the United States? How would things have been different? Jefferson had turned down two previous high-level government invitations to take up a diplomatic post in Paris. He finally made the journey in July 1784 because his wife Martha was dead, because he was still reeling from his frustrating and unsuccessful tenure as the wartime Governor of Virginia, and of course he wanted to see the Old World, especially France.
It’s Tax Day. I’m supposed to be grumpy.
Let us now praise a few of the unsung heroes of Thomas Jefferson’s world.