Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Thomas Jefferson

American Statesman, President of the United States, Founding Father, Principal Author of the Declaration of Independence

"War is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong; and multiplies, instead of indemnifying losses."

"War is as much a punishment to the punisher as to the sufferer."

"What country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance?"

"What has been the effect of religious coercion? To make half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites."

"When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 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; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

"Delay is preferable to error."

"Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it."

"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, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government."

"Among [European governments] under pretense of governing, they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves and sheep."

"Be polite to all, but intimate with few."

"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education."

"I never… believed there was one code of morality for a public, and another for a private man."

"I sincerely believe, with you, that banking institutions are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale."

"If there be one principle more deeply rooted than any other in the mind of every American, it is, that we should have nothing to do with conquest."

"If thinking men would have the courage to think for themselves, and to speak what they think, it would be found they do not differ in religious opinion as much as is opposed."

"Let us not be uneasy that the different roads we may pursue, as believing them the shortest, to that of our last abode; but, following the guidance of the good conscience, let us be happy in the hope that by these different paths we shall all meet in the end."

"Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the pubic interests… Call them… Whigs and Tories, Republicans and Federalists, Aristocrats and Democrats, or whatever name you please, they are the same parties still, and pursue the same object."

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

"Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists."

"Giving about two [hours], every day, to exercise; for health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes a strong mind."

"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites."

"Never spend your money before you have it."

"No man has the right to abandon the care of his salvation to another."

"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."

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

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

"Reading, reflection and time have convinced me that the interests of society require the observation of those moral precepts only in which all religions agree (for all forbid us to murder, steal, plunder, or bear false witness) and that we should not intermeddle with the particular dogmas in which all religions differ, which are totally unconnected with morality."

"Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment… I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

"That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves."

"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are only 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 spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive."

"Those who labor on 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. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth."

"Timid men… prefer the calm despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty."

"We never repent of having eaten too little."

"Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing."

"Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong."

"A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference."

"A coward is much more exposed to quarrels than a man of spirit."

"A Decalogue of Canons for Observation in Practical Life - 1. Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day. 2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself. 3. Never spend your money before you have it. 4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. 5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold. 6. We never repent of having eaten too little. 7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly. 8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened. 9. Take things always by their smooth handle. 10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, a hundred."

"A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fi fty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine."

"A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sin and suffering."

"A determination never to do what is wrong, prudence, and good-humor, will go far toward securing to you the estimation of the world."

"A first attempt to recover the right of self-government may fail, so may a second, a third, etc. But as a younger and more instructed race comes on, the sentiment becomes more and more intuitive, and a fourth, a fifth, or some subsequent one of the ever renewed attempts will ultimately succeed... To attain all this, however, rivers of blood must yet flow, and years of desolation pass over; yet the object is worth rivers of blood and years of desolation. For what inheritance so valuable can man leave to his posterity?"

"A forty years' experience of popular assemblies has taught me that you must give them time for every step you take. If too hard pushed, they balk, and the machine retrogrades."

"A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate."

"A government afraid of its citizens is a Democracy. Citizens afraid of government is tyranny!"

"A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you"

"A government held together by the bands of reason only, requires much compromise of opinion; that things even salutary should not be crammed down the throats of dissenting brethren, especially when they may be put into a form to be willingly swallowed, and that a great deal of indulgence is necessary to strengthen habits of harmony and fraternity."

"A government is republican in proportion as every member composing it has his equal voice in the direction of its concerns, not indeed in person, which would be impracticable beyond the limits of a city or small township, but by representatives chosen by himself and responsible to him at short periods."

"A government regulating itself by what is wise and just for the many, uninfluenced by the local and selfish views of the few who direct their affairs, has not been seen, perhaps, on earth. Or if it existed for a moment at the birth of ours, it would not be easy to fix the term of its continuance. Still, I believe it does exist here in a greater degree than anywhere else; and for its growth and continuance... I offer sincere prayers."