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Quotations - General

by Thomas Jefferson



The purpose of government:
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 the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicity.

First Inaugural Addres

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

The Hobbesian state
Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

Rebellion

The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.

Letter to Abigail Adams, Paris, Feb. 22, 1787

Freedom of the press

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

Foreign policy

Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations - entangling alliance with none.

Freedom of thought:

The care of every man's soul belongs to himself. But what if he neglect the care of it? Well what if he neglect the care of his health or his estate, which would more nearly relate to the state. Will the magistrate make a law that he not be poor or sick? Laws provide against injury from others; but not from ourselves. God himself will not save men against their wills.

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.

Political parties

I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to Heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.

Letter To Francis Hopkinson, Paris Mar. 13, 1789

Divine guidance from Washington

If we were directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we would soon want for bread.

Tyranny

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 of 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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Declaration of Independence

The fall of Napoleon

To us alone this brings misfortune.

Voltaire's Candide.

The truth of Voltaire's observation offers itself perpetually, that every man here must be either the hammer or the anvil. It is a true picture if that country to which they say we shall pass hereafter, and where we are to see God and his angels in splendor, and crowds of the damned trampled under their feet.

Slavery

He [King George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incure miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for supressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. (Struck out of the first draft of the United States Declaration of Independence.)

Constitutional interpretation

On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or intended against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.

Letter To Justice William Johnson, Monticello, June 12, 1823

Gun control

No free man shall ever be de-barred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.

Abolition of slavery

We have the wolf by the ears; and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale and self-preservation in the other.

John Chester Miller, The Wolf by The Ears, Thomas Jefferson and Slavery, Page 241.

The Bill of Rights.

A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on Earth... and what no just government should refuse.

Letter to James Madison, Paris, Dec. 20, 1787

Literature as a whole
I cannot live without books.

Interpersonal relations
Be polite to all, but intimate with few.

Lust
We rarely repent of having eaten too little.

Fiscal policy
I place economy among the first and important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our choice between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy. Back up? Immigration. ...a right which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them, of going in quest of new habitations, and of there establishing new societies, under such laws and regulations as to them shall seem most likely to promote public happiness.

A Summary View Of The Rights Of British America

Freedom of speech
...error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

Voting
...a jealous care of the right of election by the people -- a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided... Back up? Taxation The suppression of unnecessary offices, of useless establishments and expenses, enabled us to discontinue our internal taxes. These covering our land with officers, and opening our doors to their intrusions, had already begun that process of domiciliary vexation which, once entered, is scarcely to be restrained from reaching successively every article of produce and property. If among these taxes some minor ones fell which had not been inconvenient, it was because their amount would not have paid the officers who collected them, and because, if they had any merit, the state authorities might adopt them, instead of others less approved. Back up? God and country. Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.

Notes On The State Of Virginia

Human judgement
Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail.

A Summary View Of The Rights Of British America

Back up? Activism. Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.

Letter to P. S. Dupont de Nemours, Poplar Forest, April 24, 1816

Back up? How much freedom. It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.

Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, with a Syllabus, Washinton, Apr. 21, 1803

What price freedom.
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure.

Letter to William S. Smith, Paris, Nov. 13, 1787

A favorable note on the press.
Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

A not so favorable note on the press.
The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.

Organized religion.
In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot ... they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer engine for their purpose.

to Horatio Spafford, March 17, 1814

Uniform religion
Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth. -- Notes on Virginia
Faith
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.

Letter to Peter Carr, Aug. 10, 1787

Christian history.
But a short time elapsed after the death of the great reformer of the Jewish religion, before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their oppressors in Church and State. To S. Kercheval, 1810 Back up? Freedom and established religion. 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 political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.

To Baron von Humboldt, 1813

The background to the Thomas Jefferson Bible

But the greatest of all reformers of the depraved religion of his own country, was Jesus of Nazareth. Abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by its lustre from the dross of his biographers, and as separable from that as the diamond from the dunghill, we have the outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man. The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent morality, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted fro artificial systems, invented by ultra-Christian sects (The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of the Hierarchy, etc.) is a most desirable object.

Letter to W. Short, Oct. 31, 1819

His comparison and contrast with Jesus Christ.
It is not to be understood that I am with him (Jesus Christ) in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentence toward forgiveness of sin; I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it. Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others, again, of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate, therefore, the gold from the dross; restore him to the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, the roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and imposters, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and the first corruptor of the doctrines of Jesus.

Letter to W. Short, 1820

Jesus the reformer
The office of reformer of the superstitions of a nation, is ever more dangerous. Jesus had to work on the perilous confines of reason and religion; and a step to the right or left might place him within the grasp of the priests of the superstition, a bloodthirsty race, as cruel and remorseless as the being whom they represented as the family God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, and the local God of Israel. That Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God, physically speaking, I have been convinced by the writings of men more learned than myself in that lore.

Letter to Story, Aug. 4, 1820

Puritanism
The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man. But compare with these the demoralizing dogmas of Calvin. 1. That there are three Gods. 2. That good works, or the love of our neighbor, is nothing. 3. That faith is every thing, and the more incomprehensible the proposition, the more merit the faith. 4. That reason in religion is of unlawful use. 5. That God, from the beginning, elected certain individuals to be saved, and certain others to be damned; and that no crimes of the former can damn them; no virtues of the latter save.

Letter to Benjamin Waterhouse, Jun. 26, 1822

A few Christian sects
The metaphysical insanities of Athanasius, of Loyola, and of Calvin, are, to my understanding, mere lapses into polytheism, differing from paganism only by being more unintelligible.

Letter to Jared Sparks, 1820

Spelling
Its a small mind that can think of only one way to spell a word