It was 1996, when the book Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West came out, that I found myself gettin’ into T.J. History always seems more enjoyable in the form of a story, and this journey’s written in such a way that it sweeps you up in characters and visuals and the feeling you’re there with them. It brings forth the excitement of discovery, the Age of Exploration, with all the intricacies of planning and packing and documenting the adventure. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and recall, upon completing the book, taking long treks from the West Side to Downtown into the bowels of the downtown library scouring through dusty tombs of pseudo-ancient reference texts on Lewis and Clark (that Stephen Ambrose probably utilized to write his book). But it wasn’t until iTunes and podcasts when I delved much further into the man who not only manifested the expedition, but played an enlightened founding father role in the vision and creation of the United States of America. And I didn’t do it bored in school, but through the internet via The Thomas Jefferson Hour. History, it seems, can also be more enjoyable when you delve deep into character.
Host, author and scholar Clay Jenkinson, plays the role of Thomas Jefferson for the first half of the “interview”, and the second half it’s Clay himself, giving some explanations, of how things were then, and how it relates in the present day. How Thomas Jefferson (yes born into slave ownership, yes not quite into women’s rights) was then and how he would have acclimated in the modern world. How the Constitution (of which Jefferson, being in Paris at the time, was not a part of*) and government was meant to evolve (or be torn up and re-written every some-odd-years – though can you imagine entrusting our current Patriot Act signing, Bill of Rights ignoring, warmongering leaders to do it?). You get a good Libertarian wiff, of what being a “Republican” then really meant (not particularly what today’s Conservatives might want to believe); the importance of the concept of revolution; and the need to revolt when a government gets too overbearing and no longer works for the people (all good stuff to immerse oneself in, if Bush confused you about the role of the President. Or if the political climate has gotten you curious but at the same time bored with rhetoric, speeches, egos**).
Anyway, he’s high IQ (or brain sexy), quick (and quick-witted) while maintaining poise and if I were apt to do a Sassy 100 list today, certainly Thomas Jefferson and Clay Jenkinson would be on it. If you’ve never listened to the Thomas Jefferson Hour before, you have an endless number of podcasts to catch up with, available via The Thomas Jefferson Hour site or to download via iTunes (or check out a few videos of Clay in action at the “35 Words” web site). I may be exposing too much here, but one of my dreams is to go on one of Clay’s Tours, like his Lewis and Clark Summer Tour coming July 30-August 7, 2009: “Take your own journey down the Lewis and Clark Trail with scholar Clay Jenkinson. A rewarding eight day vacation as enlightening as it is entertaining. You will canoe down the White Cliffs of the Missouri and hike the memorable Nez Perce trails of Lewis and Clark in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho.” Seriously, gives this surfer girl goosebumps.