The Perilous Afterlife Of The Lewis And Clark Expedition

The explorers who set out two hundred years ago were in danger for three years. Their legacy was in danger for decade after decade—and it was Meriwether Lewis who almost killed it.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and the other members of the Corps of Discovery, thoroughly fed up with the long, rainy winter they had spent on the West Coast, left the home they had built for themselves, Fort Clatsop, in what is now Oregon, late in March 1806 and paddled into St. Louis six months later, on September 23. Of the two captains, Clark was the only one keeping a journal by then. Lewis had stopped writing when one of their men, Pierre Cruzatte, who was blind in one eye, had mistaken him for an elk and shot him in the buttocks.

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1776 225 Years Ago

“WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS…”

On July 4, in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress brought a new nation into the world by adopting the Declaration of Independence. The drama had begun on June 7, when Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced a resolution calling for the colonies to sever themselves from Great Britain. A divided Congress left the question open but appointed a committee to prepare a declaration.Read more »

Children Of Monticello

In Virginia, a quarrel is going on about who can be allowed to lie in a family graveyard. Because the family is Thomas Jefferson’s, the outcome of the dispute is important to every American.

All graveyards are sacred ground, the one at Monticello no more sacred than any other. As an acknowledged descendant of Thomas Jefferson, I have the birthright to be buried in the family graveyard at Monticello near the spot where we buried my father last year and my mother the year before.

 
 
 
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Intimate Enemies

When John Adams was elected President, and Thomas Jefferson Vice President, each came to see the other as a traitor. Out of their enmity grew our modern political system.

During the first contested presidential election in American history, the voters were asked to choose between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In this millennial year, voters will choose between George W. Bush and Al Gore. At first blush, the caustic observation of Henry Adams appears indisputable: The American Presidency stands as a glaring exception to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolutionary progress.

 
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Is Our Civic Life Really In Decline?

VOTER TURNOUT MAY BE DOWN IN RECENT YEARS, BUT THE INVOLVEMENT OF THE COMMON CITIZEN HAS GROWN TO FAR SURPASS ANYTHING THE FOUNDING FATHERS EVER DREAMED OF

If you look at the decline in voter turnout since 1960 or the steady decrease in young people’s interest in electoral politics, it is easy to get the idea that America’s democratic experiment stands on increasingly shaky ground. Voter turnout fell from 63 percent in 1960 to 49 percent in 1996. In national surveys 58 percent of college freshmen in 1966 said they considered it important to keep abreast of political affairs; by 1996 only 29 percent felt that way. Has our era broken trust with a great heritage?

 
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Tom And Sally And Frank And Me

A Jefferson descendant on luck, ancestry, and the meaning of the DNA findings

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“There Isn’t Any Such Thing As The Past”

DAVID McCULLOUGH tells why he thinks history is the most challenging, exhilarating, and immediate of subjects

 
 

“I think people are the most interesting subject of all, and I am thoroughly interested in those people who went before us,”

 
 
 
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Jefferson’s Shame?

Bernard A. Weisberger’s well-balanced look at the Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings story (“In the News,” November 1997) led me to wonder anew at both the staying power and the meaning of this tale. Just what is it that is so scandalous here? What is it that Jefferson’s detractors have trumpeted and his supporters denied for nearly two centuries? Read more »

If Lewis And Clark Came Back Today

AFTER THREE TIMES traveling the trail they blazed, the author imagines what the two captains of Jefferson’s Corps of Discovery would make of the civilization we have built on the tremendous promise they offered

 

In the Spring of 1804, in a heavily loaded keelboat and two oversize canoes, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and nearly four dozen men crossed the Mississippi River and started up the Missouri, fighting its muddy, insistent current. Sent by President Thomas Jefferson, they were embarkins on the United States’s first official exploration into unknown territory, launching a legacy that reaches all the way to the modern space program. Read more »

What Made The Government Grow

…and grow, and grow, from almost no employees to three million. Don’t blame the welfare state, or the military; the truth is much more interesting.

 

The tradition of distrusting government—almost any government—has such deep roots in the American past that a newcomer could justifiably think of the United States as a nation of a quarter of a billion near-anarchists. After all, it was Tom Paine, a major voice of the American Revolution, who declared that “government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” Is Paine too radical for you? Read more »