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Authors

Clay S. Jenkinson  |  Editor-at-Large

Email : cjenkinson@governing.com Twitter : @ClayJenkinson

Clay Jenkinson is the Editor-at-Large of Governing. A noted humanities scholar and historian Clay received a BA from the University of Minnesota, and an MA from Oxford where he has a Rhodes and Danforth Scholar. He is the author of twelve books, most recently Repairing Jefferson's America: A Guide to Civility and Enlightened Leadership. He has appeared in several of Ken Burns’ documentary films and is the creator of the podcast and nationally syndicated public radio program, "The Thomas Jefferson Hour," heard on many NPR stations.

Clay portrays such historical figures as Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and J. Robert Oppenheimer. He lives and works on the plains of North Dakota. He is the founder of the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in western North Dakota, dedicated to the digitization of all of Theodore Roosevelt’s Papers.

Future in Context

North Dakota’s Gold Rush: A Memoir About the Fracking Boom

A new book chronicles the stories of sometimes broken, often desperate men who ventured to the northern plains in service of an industry that exemplifies late-stage capitalism.

April 4, 2021
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The Promises and Pitfalls of a Modern-Day Boomtown

A decade ago, Williston, N.D., became a magnet for desperate men, thanks to oil in the Bakken Formation. In an interview, author Michael Smith talks about life in an oil patch and the human cost of fueling the nation.

April 2, 2021
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From Wounded Knee to Pipeline Access, the Lakota’s Enduring Power

The recent Senate confirmation of the first Indigenous American, Deb Haaland, to lead a Cabinet department gives us reason to rethink our assumptions about First Nations’ relationship to power. A new book can help.

March 28, 2021
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Living Through the Pandemic: A Review One Year Later

The author of a new book on the coronavirus discusses how political expediency and an immature public have impaired America’s ability to meet the challenges and what we have learned as a country and what we have not.

March 16, 2021
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Guy Fawkes and the Plot to Blow Up the United States Capitol

The preparations for President Biden’s as-yet-unscheduled State of the Union address are haunted by a 400-year-old conspiracy to decapitate the British government. What can we learn from the Gunpowder Plot?

March 5, 2021
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Donald Trump Has Earned Membership in the President’s Club, the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity. What Does It Mean?

When a president leaves the White House, he enters one of the most elite clubs. A book by two of America’s leading journalists looks at what binds these individuals together, given their personalities and politics.

February 26, 2021
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Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: A Tale of Two Revolutions

The printing press and social media democratized communication in their respective times. They both turned the order of things on its head — for good, for ill, and forever.

February 19, 2021
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The Double Edge of Our Digital Revolution

The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced how central technology is to modern life, but perhaps we are losing something.

February 5, 2021
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The Year Another Capitol Siege Almost Took Place on the Hill

In 1800, the country struggled to survive its first transition of power between John Adams, America’s first one-term president, and Thomas Jefferson, thanks to political intrigue, chaos and panic.

January 8, 2021
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The Bill of Rights, Federalism and the Struggles of a United America

With incoming President Joe Biden pledging to unify the country, author David French talks about the nation’s current divide, whether the country is in decline and the prospects for a lasting union.

January 6, 2021
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Presidential Transitions and the Vagaries of America’s History

Transfers of power, a hallmark of our constitutional system, often come with shocks to the system. Trump’s refusal to concede may seem unprecedented, but it’s not the first time this has happened.

December 21, 2020
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America, Rome and the Slow Erosion of Republics

Editor-at-Large Clay Jenkinson and Professor Ed Watts explore what insights can be gained studying the last years of the Roman Republic and whether that has particular relevance in our own time.

December 18, 2020
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Why Did John Adams Skip Thomas Jefferson’s Inauguration?

The election of 1800 was the first time power was transferred from one political party to another. Hoping for a smooth transition involving prominent Founding Fathers, the country ended up with a constitutional crisis.

December 2, 2020
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When Alexander Hamilton Tried to Steal the Election of 1800

Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election results isn’t the first effort to change the outcome of a close race. In 1800, Thomas Jefferson faced a similar and chaotic post-electoral problem.

November 20, 2020
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The Electoral College Explained: Its History and the Tensions of Democracy

Presidential elections, your vote, and the quest for legitimacy. Unlike Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, President-elect Joe Biden appears to have won both the popular vote and the Electoral College.

November 13, 2020
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The Presidency: From Rocky Transitions to Electoral Delays

The peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of American political life. But troubling talk from Trump, should he lose, has raised concerns and a reason to look back and examine the history of presidential changes.

November 2, 2020
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Amy Coney Barrett Is in an Impossible Position. So Are We.

If Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee is confirmed by the Senate, there is no guarantee she will continue to hold views congenial to the president. But does America still want its justices to be unelected and unaccountable?

October 19, 2020
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Is it Time for Texas and California to Leave the Union?

David French’s new book, "Divided We Fall," is a warning of what might happen to America as it becomes less united than at any time since the Civil War. But there are concrete steps the country can take to bridge the gulf.

October 15, 2020
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What Happens When a Sitting President Is Stricken?

President Trump’s illness from the coronavirus has become immediate news, with the entire country pondering what might happen. But previous presidents who became ill were able to keep their health problems under wraps.

October 2, 2020
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Looking Back at Presidential Transitions and Sore Losers

With concerns growing that this year’s election may end up in the hands of the Supreme Court or the House of Representatives, history shows this happened once before in the "dangerous election" of 1800.

October 2, 2020
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Ginsburg, Trump and Midnight Appointments to the Supreme Court

Presidential appointments to the highest level of the judicial branch, even during lame-duck sessions, have a long history in American politics, dating back to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800.

September 22, 2020
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How Did America Lose Its Confidence?

Great nations have shared values, shared aspirations and a shared historical narrative. That does not mean everyone agrees, but there has to be at least a baseline understanding of our national purpose that we can agree on.

September 17, 2020
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America and Race: When Sports Players Refuse to Play

Most Americans would prefer not to mix sports and politics. But when NBA players protested by canceling playoff games, they brought the issue of race relations to the forefront better than any politician or protest group.

September 8, 2020
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A Lesson from Jefferson on How the Nation Can Heal

If we are genuinely searching for national healing and reconciliation, look at the aftermath of the election of 1800, which was as angry and mean-spirited as any in our history.

August 27, 2020
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Let Us Now Praise the U.S. Postal Service

It is deeply imbedded into the idea of what we expect from our national government. Able to reliably deliver letters, prescriptions and ballots anywhere in the country, the Post Office has become more important than ever.

August 21, 2020
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Playing the Religious Card: A Long American History

Trump is not the first president to portray his opponent as anti-religion or of the wrong faith. The tradition goes back to the beginning of the republic. But the controversy has gained momentum recently.

August 13, 2020
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America Is More Than Its Broken National Political Rhetoric

During the pandemic, a vehicle breakdown in the middle of Montana becomes a teaching moment on how a good Samaritan is seldom a person of one’s own stamp, which is the point of Luke 10: 25-37.

July 29, 2020
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James Earle Fraser and the Legacy of His ‘Vanishing Indian’

Who was the man who sculpted the controversial statue of Theodore Roosevelt in front of the Museum of Natural History? He was no racist, but the messages of his famous figures have become problematic.

July 22, 2020
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Theodore Roosevelt, His Statue and the Problem of the Past

Of all the ways the 21st century might wish to memorialize Roosevelt, that statue was the least representative of the whole man, his staggering achievement and his largely untarnished place in American memory.

July 15, 2020
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The Very First Fourth of July

Thomas Jefferson was not the first choice to write the Declaration of Independence. He accepted the assignment reluctantly, but he brought genius to the project, including the 35 most important words in the English language.

July 3, 2020
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The Year We Couldn’t Breathe

The act of breathing, which we take for granted, has become the focal point in how we deal with racism, the COVID-19 pandemic and the air our modern society pollutes, killing millions every year.

June 25, 2020
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Racism and Rights: America’s Long, Complicated History

Many of America’s founders were slaveholders yet wrote eloquently about the rights of man. To understand Jefferson, Washington and the rest, we need to see them for what they are, not for what we wish they had been.

June 17, 2020
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George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution

In his review of Lindsay Chervinsky’s ‘The Cabinet,’ Editor-at-Large Clay Jenkinson finds a well-researched, thoughtful and fascinating book that points to the strength and the weakness of the U.S. Constitution.

June 11, 2020
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The American Ethos and the Betrayal of Expertise

History provides us with numerous examples of how knowledge and, most importantly, leadership either withstood the strain of a crisis, or unraveled. We are in one of those periods right now.

June 4, 2020
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THE FUTURE OF What’s Happening Now

A Shattered Complacency: When Silence Equals Violence

The haunting images of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer have triggered widespread protests and unrest. Will it be enough to change how America, its police force and the black community live together?

June 2, 2020
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Drawing Lessons from a Government Protest in North Dakota

A rally at the steps of the state capitol in Bismarck presents an important moment to revisit the unique federalist form of our republic that Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers created more than 200 years ago.

May 20, 2020
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Why We Should Be Reading Albert Camus During the Pandemic

The author’s masterpiece, The Plague, will make you think, ask all sorts of Socratic questions of yourself and form resolutions about how you intend to measure your life after getting through this global catastrophe.

May 26, 2020
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How Jefferson and Franklin Helped End Smallpox in America

As the world eagerly awaits a vaccine for the coronavirus, 200 years ago a smallpox cure struggled to gain acceptance. This is how our founding fathers helped promote the medical breakthrough that saved countless lives.

May 1, 2020
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As the Pandemic Closes the World, the Internet Keeps It Open

Two centuries ago, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had to wait months, sometimes years, for a new book to arrive from Europe. Today, technology has removed boundaries to knowledge that would amaze our founding fathers.

April 24, 2020
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Smallpox and Indians: When Pandemic Warnings Go Unheeded

We’re at the height of this epidemic, so the collapse of the Mandan Indian Nation in North Dakota in the late 18th and early 19th centuries from outbreaks of smallpox is a reminder of how ignorance can be so deadly.

April 22, 2020
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Who’s in Charge? Coronavirus and the Tenth Amendment

As governors take leading positions on how to manage the pandemic, the nearly forgotten cornerstone of the Constitution is relevant again. It’s a reminder of how federalism and our form of government works.

April 17, 2020
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The Plague Years: A Brief History and Lessons Learned

Throughout the ages, writers and historians who have witnessed pandemics have chronicled their impact and provided us with a valuable history lesson on how not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

April 15, 2020
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The Pandemic, Captain Crozier of today's U.S.S. Roosevelt and the Rough Rider

The removal of Captain Brett E. Cozier of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt for his handling of the coronavirus evokes the sometimes-controversial career of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt.

April 6, 2020
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Thomas Jefferson, Epidemics and His Vision for American Cities

Jefferson's experience with the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 reinforced his dislike of cities and shaped a radical plan for the development of a new nation that even included his concept of urban design.

April 1, 2020
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Learning to Deal with the Coronavirus Through Literature

In uncertain times, we search for assurances. The humanities, including stories about coping with past plagues, provide a powerful reference to how things can be made right again.

March 20, 2020
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