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Thomas Jefferson Quotes

A Collection by Carolyn Abbott North Central Massachusetts Faith In Action Team

(Also see Leaders, Founder's Quotes & more & especially Warnings from the wise)

"I have collected many quotes by the Founders since becoming involved in Internet grassroots publishing 9 years ago (during the Florida recount). I have decided to make them available..., to make it easy to find relevant insights for today's events." Carolyn Abbott

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Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Founder, Declaration Author & Signer, Statesman & 3rd U.S. President (1801-1809)

Nicknames: "Man of the People"; "Sage of Monticello"
Born: April 13, 1743, in Shadwell, Virginia
Died: July 4, 1826, at Monticello (near Charlottesville, Virginia)

"The Constitution is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please."

"Taxes should be proportioned to what may be annually spared by the individual." 

"The States supposed that by their tenth amendment, they had secured themselves against constructive powers."

"Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread."

"I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground that 'all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people.' To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, not longer susceptible of any definition."

"Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare but only those specifically enumerated."

"In questions of power, then, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

"I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."

"If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy."

"Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong." (from "Notes on the State of Virginia")

"Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, and act accordingly."

"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do."

"Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations -- entangling alliances with none."

"Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us."

"I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever."

"The earth is given as a common for men to labor and live in."

"There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talent."

"Whatever enables us to go to war, secures our peace."

"He who is permitted by law to have no property of his own, can with difficulty conceive that property is founded in anything but force." -- Letter to Bancroft, Jan. 26, 1788

"I will not believe our labours are lost. I shall not die without a hope that light and liberty are on steady advance. And even should the cloud of barbarism and despotism again obscure the science and liberties of Europe, this country remains to preserve and restore light and liberty to them. In short, the flames kindled on the fourth of July seventeen hundred and seventy six have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism."

"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical." 

"In defense of our persons and properties under actual violation, we took up arms. When that violence shall be removed, when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, hostilities shall cease on our part also."

"The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest." 

"It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself." (from "Notes on Virginia.")

"Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us." (From "Declaration of the Causes and Necessities of Taking Up Arms," July 6, 1775.)

"I believe that justice is instinct and innate, that the moral sense is as much a part of our constitution as that of feeling, seeing, or hearing."

"The advertisement is the most truthful part of a newspaper." 

"When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, an hundred."

"No man will ever bring out of the Presidency the reputation which carries him into it...To myself, personally, it brings nothing but increasing drudgery and daily loss of friends."

"It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation, which give happiness."

"The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers, and be capable of reading them."

"Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights."

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive."

"Information is the currency of democracy."

"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost."

"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past."

"This institution will be based upon the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it." (On the University of Virginia.)

"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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." (From the US Declaration of Independence.)

"We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." (From the first draft of the US Declaration of Independence.)

"When a man has cast his longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct."

"How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened."

"It is part of the American character to consider nothing as desperate - to surmount every difficulty by resolution and contrivance."

"Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom."

"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them."

"I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious. (Letter to William Ludlow, 1824)

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

"In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock."

"The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them."

"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." (1800, as inscribed in the Jefferson Memorial)

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." (to Archibald Stuart, 1791.)

A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on Earth... and what no just government should refuse. (In a Letter to James Madison, Paris, Dec. 20, 1787) 

"[Oppose] with manly firmness [any] invasions on the rights of the people." (Draft Virginia Constitution, 1776. Papers, 1:338)

"No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him." (to Francis Gilmer, 1816.)

"I have a right to nothing which another has a right to take away." (to Uriah Forrest, 1787. Papers, 12:477.)

"[If government have] a right of demanding ad libitum and of taxing us themselves to the full amount of their demand if we do not comply with it, [this would leave] us without anything we can call property." (Reply to Lord North, 1775. Papers, 1:233)

"It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own." (Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, with a Syllabus, Washington, Apr. 21, 1803)

"The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to."

"I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

"In defense of our persons and properties under actual violation, we took up arms."

"Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe."

"He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truth without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good disposition."

"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are a gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever."

"I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared.... To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with public debt.... We must make our choice between economy and liberty or confusion and servitude.... If we run into such debts, we must be taxed ... in our necessities and comforts, in our labor and in our amusements.... If we can prevent the government from wasting the labor of the people, under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy."

"Only lay down true principles, and adhere to them inflexibly. Do not be frightened into their surrender by the alarms of the timid, or the croakings of wealth against the ascendancy of the people....The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen, in his person and property, and in their management. Try by this, as a tally, every provision of our Constitution, and see if it hangs directly on the will of the people...." 

"No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and...their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice.... These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government."

"The tree of liberty must be watered periodically with the blood of tyrants and patriots alike. ... Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God."

"You seem...to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all Constitutional questions: a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one, which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps. ...And their power (is) the more dangerous, as they are in office for life and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots." 

"... the spirit of the times may alter, will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless. A single zealot may commence persecutor, and better men be his victims. It can never be too often repeated, that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united. For at the conclusion of this war (for Independence) we shall be going down hill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves, but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles, therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of this war, will remain on us long, will be made heavier and heavier, till our rights shall revive or expire in a convulsion."(From "Notes on Virginia”, 1791)

"We have the greatest opportunity the world has ever seen, as long as we remain honest — which will be as long as we can keep the attention of our people alive. If they once become inattentive to public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors would all become wolves."


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