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Thomas Jefferson Quotes

Here are quotes by one of America's greatest founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, and related quotations about America's founding. For more history, see Founding Fathers.

Founding Fathers Quotes

The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Hunter, March 11, 1790

Founding Fathers Quotes

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.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Shelton Gilliam, June 19, 1808

Founding Fathers Quotes

The second office of this government is honorable & easy, the first is but a splendid misery.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, May 13, 1797

Founding Fathers Quotes

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. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Abigail Adams, February 22, 1787

Founding Fathers Quotes

The steady character of our countrymen is a rock to which we may safely moor; and notwithstanding the efforts of the papers to disseminate early discontents, I expect that a just, dispassionate and steady conduct, will at length rally to a proper system the great body of our country. Unequivocal in principle, reasonable in manner, we shall be able I hope to do a great deal of good to the cause of freedom & harmony.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, March 29, 1801

Founding Fathers Quotes

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Stephens Smith, November 13, 1787

Founding Fathers Quotes

The truth is that the want of common education with us is not from our poverty, but from the want of an orderly system. More money is now paid for the education of a part than would be paid for that of the whole if systematically arranged.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Cabell, November 28, 1820

Founding Fathers Quotes

The ultimate arbiter is the people of the Union.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, 1823

Founding Fathers Quotes

There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it; for man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him.

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 18, 1781

Founding Fathers Quotes

They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose. To consider the latter phrase not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please...Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect.

Thomas Jefferson, Opinion on National Bank, 1791

Founding Fathers Quotes

This I hope will be the age of experiments in government, and that their basis will be founded in principles of honesty, not of mere force.

Thomas Jefferson, 1796

Founding Fathers Quotes

This letter will, to you, be as one from the dead. The writer will be in the grave before you can weigh its counsels. Your affectionate and excellent father has requested that I would address to you something which might possibly have a favorable influence on the course of life you have to run; and I too, as a namesake, feel an interest in that course. Few words will be necessary, with good dispositions on your part. Adore God. Reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. So shall the life into which you have entered be the portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss. And if to the dead it is permitted to care for the things of this world, every action of your life will be under my regard. Farewell.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Jefferson Smith, February 21, 1825

Founding Fathers Quotes

This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825

Founding Fathers Quotes

Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen, people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 17, 1781

Founding Fathers Quotes

To all of which is added a selection from the elementary schools of subjects of the most promising genius, whose parents are too poor to give them further education, to be carried at the public expense through the college and university. The object is to bring into action that mass of talents which lies buried in poverty in every country, for want of the means of development, and thus give activity to a mass of mind, which, in proportion to our population, shall be double or treble of what it is in most countries.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Jose Correa de Serra, November 25, 1817

Founding Fathers Quotes

To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts, in writing; To improve, by reading, his morals and faculties; To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either; To know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor, and judgment; And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed.

Thomas Jefferson, Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, August 4, 1818

Founding Fathers Quotes

To restore... harmony,... to render us again one people acting as one nation should be the object of every man really a patriot.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas McKean, 1801

Founding Fathers Quotes

To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816

Founding Fathers Quotes

War is not the best engine for us to resort to; nature has given us one in our commerce, which if properly managed, will be a better instrument for obliging the interested nations of Europe to treat us with justice.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Pickney, May 29, 1797

Founding Fathers Quotes

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, and history bears witness to the fact that a just nation is trusted on its word when recourse is had to armaments and wars to bridle others.

Thomas Jefferson, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805



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