The Thomas Jefferson Hour


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The Thomas Jefferson Hour, hosted by Clay Jenkinson and David Swenson: Thursday at 9:00 AM

The Thomas Jefferson Hour is a weekly radio program dedicated to the search for truth in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson.

Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, was a man of the Enlightenment, a student of human nature and gentlemanly behavior, and he applied this to his personal life as well as to both the national and world wide challenges he faced during the forming of our nation. Nationally acclaimed humanities scholar and award winning first person interpreter of Thomas Jefferson, Clay Jenkinson, portrays Jefferson on the program, and he answers listener questions while in the persona of Jefferson–his answers are grounded in the writings and actions of the great man.

Our mission is to generate one-on-one discourse between friends and family members, then to help broaden it to national discourse (replace the 30 second two position only sound bites) about important, and many times sensitive, topics to our country and to our citizens. We do this in a unique and entertaining way—through the voice of our third president Thomas Jefferson.

The program is funded by The Thomas Jefferson Hour, a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation and by its listeners. Prairie Public Radio provides the up-linking of the program, making it currently downloadable from satellite for radio stations.

Our listeners have encouraged us to sprinkle the program lineup with out-of-character programs. The format is one of Clay Jenkinson, the humanities scholar and social commentator, examining a current or historical event using both a Jeffersonian lens and a modern-day humanities lens. The gift we bring to both program formats is the ability to help people strip through the advertised message and look for the truth of the situation. The truth may be painful and self-revealing, but it is always uplifting to the spirit.

The Thomas Jefferson Hour appeals to Public Radio listeners, not just history buffs. While some of our primary stations are in historical areas (Norfolk and Radford, Virginia) or areas that are Jeffersonian (North Dakota, Kansas, Texas), our largest listening audience occurs in postmodern regions such as Fresno, California and Colorado Springs, Colorado. Our appeal truly is our ability to bring out the truth in a non-dramatic, unthreatening manner then to help our audience think through the complexity of the decision making process, bringing clarity to the steps and the events.

We gauge our success by the number of questions our listeners submit, by the voice mails we receive exclaiming how much better the person feels after listening to our show, and by the growing number of stations that are broadcasting our program.


“Sometimes when I portray Jefferson I find myself saying things—in character—that I disagree with. Sometimes I find Jefferson’s views objectionable. My duty is to portray him as he actually was, warts and all, not as a kind of idealized version of the Thomas Jefferson who lived between 1743 and 1826. My mentor Ev Albers gave me the best humanities advice I ever received: judgement is easy, understanding is hard. I try to explore the life, character, achievement, and outlook of Thomas Jefferson as carefully as possible, without over-implying a complex man or ‘adjusting’ Jefferson to be the ideal man of Enlightenment in the 21st Century. I do not endorse Jefferson’s views on race, American Indians, or women, but I try to present them candidly—in character—for the historical benefit of our listeners. Host David Swenson usually re-centers the program when Mr. Jefferson says ‘illiberal’ things. Our goal is to do good history. The primary reason that I ‘break character’ for the third portion of the program is to distance myself from some of what passes in character. The humanities attempt to explore ideas in all of their nuance and complexity, and to avoid taking historical pronouncements out of context.”

Clay S. Jenkinson


Thomas Jefferson was the principal dreamer of the Founding Fathers. Pragmatic Utopian and practical visionary, Jefferson was one of the most creative men who ever lived. He penned the thirty-five most revolutionary words in the history of the English language: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson has written a bold call for a Jeffersonian renewal in America. “We need the Sage of Monticello’s vision as we begin what is going to be one of the most difficult periods of American history.” The Jeffersonian consists of self-reliance, an uncompromising dedication to liberty (over security, profit, comfort, and tradition), an unambiguous wall of separation between church and state, first-rate public education, thoughtfulness and diffidence about America’s place in the world, and a commitment to civility. Jefferson brought genius (not to mention reason, good sense, and idealism) to whatever he undertook, and he believed that the purpose of America was not to seek glory and profit in the world’s arena, but to build a nation of equality, justice, and cultural achievement. Becoming Jefferson’s People is part manifesto, part call for a new political persuasion in the United States, part self-help book, and part critique of the consumerist world empire that the United States has become at the beginning of the twenty-first century.


  • Thursday - 9:00 am - 10:00 am

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  • Avatar DeWitt Whittington says:

    This is one of my favorite programs on WRIR. Clay Jenkins does a marvelous job of bringing the “real” Thomas Jefferson to life in a way my American history never did in my Amelia County public school years back in the 1950s. At times he comes out of character and comments on Jefferson from the perspective of the present time. And at other times he talks about or interviews authors who write about Jefferson and his contemporaries and their view of our third president of the United States.

    Don’t miss it!

  • Avatar Thomas Norton says:

    Im retired now and enjoy listening the public radio. At work I listen to Thomas Jefferson hour. Is it still broad cast in the Richmond area

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