When the American Revolution started, Jefferson represented Virginia in the Continental Congress. He was also the Governor of Virginia during the war (1779-1781). After the war, he became a U.S. diplomat in Paris. In 1785, Jefferson became the U.S. Minister to France. He was also the first U.S. Secretary of State. Jefferson argued against the Jay Treaty and Hamilton’s efforts to establish a national bank.
Thomas Jefferson Quotes
The way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, law, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body.— , government
Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by rendering them my supreme delight. But the enormities of the times in which I have lived have forced me to commit myself on the boisterous ocean of political passions.—
When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.—
Agriculture, manufacturers, commerce, and navigation, the four pillars of our prosperity, are then most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise.— , First annual message to Congress; December 8, 1801
An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens.—
Laws that forbid the carrying of arms… disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes… Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.—
We established however some, although not all its [self-government] important principles . The constitutions of most of our States assert, that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves, in all cases to which they think themselves competent, (as in electing their functionaries executive and legislative, and deciding by a jury of themselves, in all judiciary cases in which any fact is involved,) or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed.—
A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.—
On every question of construction (of the Constitution) let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.— , Letter to William Johnson, June 12, 1823, The Complete Jefferson, p322.
Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.— , Letter to Dr. James Currie (28 January 1786)
To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.—
Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.—
I think myself that we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious.— , Letter to William Ludlow (6 September 1824)
Whensoever hostile aggressions…require a resort to war, we must meet our duty and convince the— , Letter to Andrew Jackson (3 December 1806)
world that we are just friends and brave enemies.
God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … And what country can preserve its liberties, if it’s rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.— , In a letter to William Stephens Smith on 13 November, 1878.
It is not only vain, but wicked, in a legislator to frame laws in opposition to the laws of nature, and to arm them with the terrors of death. This is truly creating crimes in order to punish them.— , 1779
I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.— , Letter to William Hunter (11 March 1790)
If ever there was a holy war, it was that which saved our liberties and gave us independence.— , Letter to John W. Eppes (6 November 1813)
Everyone must act according to the dictates of his own reason.— , Letter to Samuel Miller, 1808
The policy of the American government is to leave its citizens free, neither restraining them nor aiding them in their pursuits.—
Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he then be trusted with the government of others?— , First Inaugural Address
Whenever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.— , Kentucky Resolutions, 1798
The moral sense is as much a part of our constitution as that of feeling, seeing, or hearing.—
A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.—
The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.— , First Inaugural Address; 1801
I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.—
The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.— , Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVII, 1781
I, however, place economy among the first and most important republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.— , Letter to William Plumer (21 July 1816)
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free … it expects what never was and never will be.—
The glow of one warm thought is to me worth more than money.—
The idea is quite unfounded, that on entering into society we give up any natural right.— , Letter to Francis W. Gilmer (27 June 1816)
A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse to rest on inference.— , Letter to James Madison December 20, 1787
The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the dispensation of the public moneys.—
One loves to possess arms, though they hope never to have occasion for them.—
With all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens – a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it had earned.— , government,socialism
Ignorance of the law is no excuse, in any country. If it were, the laws would lose their effect, because it can always be pretended.— , Letter to André Limozin (22 December, 1787)
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.—
Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
Never spend your money before you have it.
Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold.
We never repent of having eaten too little.
Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
Take things always by their smooth handle.
When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.
All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or— , Draft Constitution for Virginia (June 1776)
maintain any religious institution.
Those who don’t read the newspapers are better off than those who do insofar as those who know nothing are better off than those whose heads are filled with half-truths and lies.—
No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms.— , Draft Constitution for Virginia (June 1776)
Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’, because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.—
The judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working under ground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric. They are construing our constitution from a co-ordination of a general and special government to a general and supreme one alone.—
I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.— , A letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison (20 December 1787)
Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.—
The law of self-preservation is higher than written law.—
A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.— , First Inaugural Address, 1801
The man who reads nothing at all is better than educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.—
I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.—
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 Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 (16 November 1798)
Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms [of government] those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.—
I have so much confidence in the good sense of man, and his qualifications for self-government, that I am never afraid of the issue where reason is left free to exert her force.— , Letter to Comte Diodati, 1789.
To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, ‘the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it.’—
For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well organized and armed militia is their best security.—
Our tenet ever was . . . that Congress had not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but were restrained to those specifically enumerated; and that, as it was never meant that they should provide for that welfare but by the exercise of the enumerated powers, so it could not have been meant they should raise money for purposes which the enumeration did not place under their action.—
Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.— , Whether Christianity is Part of the Common Law (1764)
When all government, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the Center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.—
We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a feather bed.— , Letter to Lafayette (2 April 1790)
The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all.— , In a letter to Abigail Adams on 22 February, 1787
Bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.— , 1801
The general (federal) government will tend to monarchy, which will fortify itself from day to day, instead of working its own cures.—
…I am persuaded myself that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. They may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct themselves. The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right:…Cherish therefore the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, judges and governors shall all become wolves….— , A letter to Colonel Edward Carrington about the perpetrators of Shays’s Rebellion.
Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add “within the limits of the law” because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.— , Letter to Isaac H. Tiffany (1819)
To preserve the freedom of the human mind then and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom.— , June 18, 1799
I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.— , Letter to William Charles Jarvis, (28 September 1820).
Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct— , Letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp (30 July 1816)
before reason can act upon them.
I am mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, the sale of a book can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too.—
An individual, thinking himself injured, makes more noise than a State.— , 1785
I am for a government rigorously frugal and simple. Were we directed from Washington when to sow, when to reap, we should soon want bread.—
I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and— , Letter to John Adams (28 October 1813)
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.— , Letter to Francis W. Gilmer (27 June 1816)
…Societies exist under three forms, sufficiently distinguishable. 1. Without government, as among our Indians. 2. Under governments, wherein the will of every one has a just influence; as is the case in Enngland, in a slight degree, and in our States, in a great one. 3. Under governments of force; as is the case in all other monarchies, and in most of the other republics. To have an idea of the curse of existance under these last, they must be seen. It is a government of wolves over sheep….The second state has a great deal of good in it. The mass of mankind under that, enjoys a precious degree of liberty and happiness. It has its evils, too; the principal of which is the turbulence to which it is subject. But weigh this against the oppressions of monarchy, and it becomes nothing. Malo periculosum libertatum quam quietum servitutum. Even this evil is productive of good. It prevents the degeneracy of government, and nourishes a general attention to the public affairs. 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. Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people, with have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions, as not to discourage them too much. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.—
Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.—
I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus, building a wall of separation between Church and State.— , Quoted in Andrew A. Lipscomb’s Writings 16:281
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never— , Letter to Colonel Charles Yancey (6 January 1816)
One single object…[will merit] the endless gratitude of the society: that of restraining the judges from usurping legislation.—
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, no longer susceptible of any definition.