Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, in Shadwell, Virginia. He was a draftsman of the U.S. Declaration of Independence; the nation’s first secretary of state (1789-94); second vice president (1797-1801); and, as the third president (1801-09), the statesman responsible for the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson died in bed at Monticello (located near Charlottesville, Virginia) on July 4, 1826.
Thomas Jefferson Quotes
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.
Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now.
I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.
“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.” (Quoting Cesare Beccaria)
The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.
The policy of the American government is to leave their citizens free, neither restraining nor aiding them in their pursuits.
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 take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father’s 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 every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.
I think myself that we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious. (Back then!)
When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.
I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.
Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely 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 blindfolded fear.
The god who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.
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.
In matters of style, swim with the current;
In matters of principle, stand like a rock.
What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?
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 majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.
When wrongs are pressed because it is believed they will be borne, resistance becomes morality.
Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread.
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.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
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 its 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.
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.
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.
Liberty is the great parent of science and of virtue; and a nation will be great in both in proportion as it is free.
He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.
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 have sworn on the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others.
To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.
In a government bottomed on the will of all, the…liberty of every individual citizen becomes interesting to all.
I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.
Say nothing of my religion. It is known to God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life: if it has been honest and dutiful to society the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.
The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.
Most bad government has grown out of too much government.
Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.
The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.
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 and bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.
I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others.
Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?
A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.
The right of self-government does not comprehend the government of others.
An elective despotism was not the government we fought for.
History, in general, only informs us what bad government is.
If there is one principle more deeply rooted in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.
It is better to tolerate that rare instance of a parent’s refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings by a forcible transportation and education of the infant against the will of his father.
The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.
I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.
The man who reads nothing at all is better than educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.
I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.
In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to Liberty.
Death and Legacy
Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 — the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence — only a few hours before John Adams also passed away in Massachusetts. In the moments before he passed, John Adams spoke his last words, eternally true if not in the literal sense in which he meant them, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”
As the author the Declaration of Independence, the foundational text of American democracy and one of the most important documents in world history, Thomas Jefferson will be forever revered as one of the great American Founding Fathers. However, Jefferson was also a man of many contradictions.
Jefferson was the spokesman of liberty and a racist slave owner, the champion of the common people and a man with luxurious and aristocratic tastes, a believer in limited government and a president who expanded governmental authority beyond the wildest visions of his predecessors, a quiet man who abhorred politics and the most dominant political figure of his generation. The tensions between Jefferson’s principles and practices make him all the more apt a symbol for the nation he helped create, a nation whose shining ideals have always been complicated by a complex history.
Jefferson is buried in the family cemetery at Monticello, in a grave marked by a plain gray tombstone. The brief inscription it bears, written by Jefferson himself, is as noteworthy for what it excludes as what it includes. The inscription suggests Jefferson’s humility as well as his belief that his greatest gifts to posterity came in the realm of ideas rather than the realm of politics: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and father of the University Of Virgina.”