"The Actual Truth Is, I Was a Racist"Historians in the News
tags: Thomas Jefferson, Clay Jenkinson
"Good day to you, citizen." That's how America's third president opens The Thomas Jefferson Hour, a weekly radio program and podcast in which the 271-year-old founder discusses politics and wine, expounds on the virtues of farming and footbaths, rails against Alexander Hamilton, and answers listeners' questions.
This reanimation of Jefferson is the work of Clay Jenkinson, a 60-year-old humanities scholar who has been portraying our most idiosyncratic president in person and on air since 1984. He's recorded more than 1,000 episodes of the Jefferson Hour (many produced inside a converted farmhouse outside Bismarck, North Dakota). His other historical impersonations include Meriwether Lewis, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Theodore Roosevelt, but he keeps coming back to TJ because "if ever there were an interesting man, it's Thomas Jefferson."
I spoke with Jefferson—and Jenkinson—about getting into character, the Sally Hemings controversy, and why the Jeffersonian vision still matters.
Mother Jones: When you look at modern America, what do you recognize and admire most?
Thomas Jefferson: I see you're still a constitutional republic with a doctrine of separation of powers, and that there's still federalism. The states are laboratories of democracy, and the American people are the most prosperous and in many respects the freest people on Earth. In all of those respects, you continue to be the nation we intended. ...
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