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

"Government as well as religion has furnished its schisms, its persecutions and its devices for fattening idleness on the earnings of the people."

"Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have ... The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases."

"Government can do something for the people only in proportion as it can do something to the people."

"Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

"Governments constantly choose between telling lies and fighting wars, with the end result always being the same. One will always lead to the other."

"Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities."

"Had not a conviction of the danger to which an unlimited occupation of the executive chair would expose the republican Constitution of our Government, made it conscientiously a duty to retire when I did, the fear of becoming a dotard and of being insensible of it, would of itself have resisted all solicitations to remain."

"Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christians."

"Half a loaf is better than no bread."

"Happily for us, that when we find our constitutions defective and insufficient to secure the happiness of our people, we can assemble with all the coolness of philosophers, and set them to rights, while every other nation on earth must have recourse to arms to amend or to restore their constitutions."

"Happiness is not being pained in body or troubled in mind."

"Having always observed that public works are much less advantageously managed than the same are by private hands, I have thought it better for the public to go to market for whatever it wants which is to be found there; for their competition brings it down to the minimum value."

"Having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions."

"He [King George III] has erected a multitude of New Offices and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance."

"He alone who walks strict and upright, and who, in matters of opinion, will be contented that others should be as free as himself and acquiesce when his opinion is freely overruled, will attain his object in the end."

"He is no more than the chief officer of the people, appointed by the laws, and circumscribed with definite powers, to assist in working the great machine of government erected for their use, and consequently subject to their superintendence."

"He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors."

"He who made us would have been a pitiful bungler, if he had made the rules of our moral conduct a matter of science. For one man of science, there are thousands who are not. What would have become of them? Man was destined for society. His morality, therefore, was to be formed to this object. He was endowed with a sense of right and wrong, merely relative to this."

"He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions."

"He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper [(candle)] at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation."

"Health is worth more than learning."

"Health, learning and virtue will ensure your happiness."

"Here is an error into which most of the speculators on government have fallen, and which the well-known state of society of our Indians ought, before now, to have corrected. In their hypothesis of the origin of government, they suppose it to have commenced in the patriarchal or monarchical form. Our Indians are evidently in that state of nature which has passed the association of a single family... The Cherokees, the only tribe I know to be contemplating the establishment of regular laws, magistrates, and government, propose a government of representatives, elected from every town. But of all things, they least think of subjecting themselves to the will of one man."

"History has informed us that bodies of men as well as individuals are susceptible of the spirit of tyranny."

"His parentage was obscure; his condition poor; his education null; his natural endowments great; his life correct and innocent: he was meek, benevolent, patient, firm, disinterested, and of the sublimest eloquence. The disadvantages under which his doctrines appear are remarkable. Like Socrates and Epictetus, he wrote nothing himself."

"History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes."

"History, in general, only informs us of what bad government is."

"Honesty and interest are as intimately connected in the public as in the private code of morality."

"Honesty is a policy in the business, which does not need to be changed or adjusted to the time."

"Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom."

"Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us."

"Huge power and very powerful provide you with everything you require, is a government capable of plundering everything from you. History says that the more force the authorities decreased liberty"

"I abhor war and view it as the greatest scourge of mankind."

"I acknowledge that such a debt [of service to my fellow-citizens] exists, that a tour of duty in whatever line he can be most useful to his country, is due from every individual. It is not easy perhaps to say of what length exactly that tour should be, but we may safely say of what length it should not be. Not of our whole life, for instance, for that would be to be born a slave--not even of a very large portion of it."

"I advance with obedience to the work, ready to retire from it whenever you become sensible how much better choice it is in your power to make."

"I agree ... that a professorship of Theology should have no place in our institution. But we cannot always do what is absolutely best. Those with whom we act, entertaining different views, have the power and the right of carrying them into practice. Truth advances, and error recedes step by step only; and to do to our fellow men the most good in our power, we must lead where we can, follow where we cannot, and still go with them, watching always the favorable moment for helping them to another step."

"I agree with you that it is the duty of every good citizen to use all the opportunities, which occur to him, for preserving documents relating to the history of our country."

"I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents... The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature, for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society... Every one, by his property, or by his satisfactory situation, is interested in the support of law and order. And such men may safely and advantageously reserve to themselves a wholesome control over their public affairs, and a degree of freedom, which, in the hands of the canaille [the masses] of the cities of Europe, would be instantly perverted to the demolition and destruction of everything public and private."

"I am a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it."

"I am a sect by myself, as far as I know."

"I am an enemy to all banks discounting bills or notes for anything but coin."

"I am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greek and Roman leave to us."

"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 boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

"I am convinced man has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."

"I am convinced that, on the good sense of the people, we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty."

"I am entirely persuaded that the agitations of the public mind advance its powers, and that at every vibration between the points of liberty and despotism, something will be gained for the former. As men become better informed, their rulers must respect them the more."

"I am for a government rigorously frugal and simple, applying all the possible savings of the public revenue to the discharge of the national debt; and not for a multiplication of officers and salaries merely to make partisans, and for increasing, by every device, the public debt, on the principle of its being a public blessing."

"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 am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, and little or no diplomatic establishment. And I am not for linking ourselves by new treaties with the quarrels of Europe, entering that field of slaughter to preserve their balance, or joining in the confederacy of Kings to war against the principles of liberty."

"I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another."