Thomas Jefferson Quotes


All, too, will 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 laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression.
Certainly one of the highest duties of the citizen is a scrupulous obedience to the laws of the nation. But it is not the highest duty.
Happiness is not being pained in body or troubled in mind.
If ignorance is bliss, why aren't more people happy?
It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.
Do not bite the bait of pleasure till you know there is no hook beneath it.
We are firmly convinced, and we act on that conviction, that with nations as with individuals, our interests soundly calculated will ever be found inseparable from our moral duties.
The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.
I have no fear but that the result of our experiment will be that men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master. Could the contrary of this be proved I should conclude either that there is no God, or that He is a malevolent Being.
With all the imperfections of our present government, it is without comparison the best existing, or that ever did exist.
Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong.
If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy.
It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation, that gives happiness.
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.
No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... such laws serve rather to encourage than to prevent homocides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man. ('Commonplace Book' 1775)
Truth is certainly a branch of morality and a very important one to society.
It is strangely absurd to suppose that a million of human beings, collected together, are not under the same moral laws which bind each of them separately.
Bonaparte was a lion in the field only. In civil life, a cold-blooded, calculating, unprincipled usurper, without a virtue; no statesman, knowing nothing of commerce, political economy, or civil government, and supplying ignorance by bold presumption.
Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.
That government is best which governs least.
Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread.
In every country and every age, the priest had been hostile to Liberty.
The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches, and we must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time and eternally press forward for what is yet to get. It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.
The god who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.
I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.
What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?
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 right of an individual.
The new Constitution has secured these [individual rights] in the Executive and Legislative departments; but not in the Judiciary. It should have established trials by the people themselves, that is to say, by jury.
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. (1820)
...the Federal Judiciary; an irresponsible body (for impeachment is scarcely a scarecrow), working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped from the States, and the government of all be consolidated into one. When all government... in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre 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. (1821)
The opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action, but for the legislative and executive also in their spheres, would make the judiciary a despotic branch.
Let this be the distinctive mark of an American that in cases of commotion, he enlists himself under no man's banner, inquires for no man's name, but repairs to the standard of the laws. Do this, and you need never fear anarchy or tyranny. Your government will be perpetual.
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.
Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure.
It is more dangerous that even a guilty person should be punished without the forms of law than that he should escape.
Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day.
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 am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.
But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life; and thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine.
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.
It should be remembered as an axiom of eternal truth in politics, that whatever power in any government is independent, is absolute also; in theory only at first while the spirit of the people is up, but in practice as fast as that relaxes.
The man who fears no truth has nothing to fear from lies.
He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.
Difference of opinion leads to enquiry, and enquiry to truth.
The concentrating [of powers] in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one.
Power is not alluring to pure minds.
In matters of power let no more be heard of the confidence in man but bind them down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.
The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.
Thank you for your interest in the history of the greatest nation that has defended freedom for the entire world. There are so many people that feel a one world government is the savior of the human race. This goverment.
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.
The loss of the battle of Waterloo was the salvation of France.
Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.
The glow of one warm thought is to me worth more than money.
Never spend your money before you have it.
Nothing gives a person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.
My only fear is that I may live too long. This would be a subject of dread to me.
Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are serviley crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God, because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blind faith.
With respect to our state and federal governments, I do not thing their relations correctly understood by foreigners. They generally suppose the former subordinate to the latter. But this is not the case. They are co-ordinate departments of one simple and integral whole. To the state governments are reserved all legislation administration, in affairs which concern their own citizens only; and to the federal government is given whatever concerns foreigners and citizens of other states; these functions alone being made federal. The one is the domestic, the other the foreign branch of the same government - neither having control over the other, but within its own department.
from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Major John Cartwright, of June 5th, 1824 (vol. 4, p. 396)
Does the government fear us? Or do we fear the government? When the people fear the government, tyranny has found victory. The federal government is our servant, not our master!
When governments fear people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.
The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.
Life is of no value but as it brings us gratifications. Among the most valuable of these is rational society. It informs the mind, sweetens the temper, cheers our spirits, and promotes health.
Bodily decay is gloomy in prospect, but of all human contemplations the most abhorrent is body without mind.
Always take hold of things by the smooth handle.
The sovereign invigorator of the body is exercise, and of all the exercises walking is the best.
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.
Liberty is the great parent of science and of virtue; and a nation will be great in both in proportion as it is free.
Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.
The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.
And the day will come, when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His Father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva, in the brain of Jupiter.
Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.
Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear.
Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy, and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it.
Unlike those nations whose rulers use their country's resources to seek conquests, to carry on warring contests with one another, and consequently plunge their people into debt and devastation, free societies are organized for the happiness and prosperity of their people, and this is best pursued in a state of peace.
The spirit of monarchy is war and enlargement of domain: peace and moderation are the spirit of a republic. (copied into his Commonplace Book)
The central bank is an institution of the most deadly hostility existing against the Principles and form of our Constitution. I am an Enemy to all banks discounting bills or notes for anything but Coin. If the American People allow private banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the People of all their Property until their Children will wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered.
The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management.
...judges should be withdrawn from the bench whose erroneous biases are leading us to dissolution. It may, indeed, injure them in fame or fortune; but it saves the Republic...
Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.
Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
If we run into such debts as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our callings and our creeds, as the people of England are, our people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, and give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses; And the sixteen being insufficient to afford us bread, we must live, as they do now, on oatmeal and potatoes, have no time to think, no means of calling the mismanagers to account; But be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains around the necks of our fellow sufferers; And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second, that second for a third, and so on 'til the bulk of society is reduced to mere automatons of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering...and the forehorse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.
The accounts of the United States ought to be, and may be made, as simple as those of a common farmer, and capable of being understood by common farmers.
Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy and not confidence, which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power.
Pride costs more than hunger, thirst and cold.
Honesty is the first chapter of the book of visdom.
We confide in our strength, without boasting of it; we respect that of others, without fearing it.
I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others.
Nothing...is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.
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, or rest on inferences.
The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed and that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of press.
Take not from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.
Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation and freedom in all just pursuits.
Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.
The art of life is the art of avoiding pain.
This should be a man's attitude: 'Few things will disturb him at all; nothing will disturb him much.'
Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.
I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.
I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.
Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.
Epitaph of Jefferson at Charlottesville, Virginia, written by himself, 1825.

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