Quotations by Jefferson, Thomas


Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“A Decalogue of Canons for Observation in Practical Life,” #2, Letter to Thomas Jefferson Smith (21 Feb 1825)
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We do, then, most solemnly before God and the world declare that regardless of every consequence, at the risk of every distress, the arms we have been compelled to assume we will use with perseverance, exerting to their utmost energies all those powers which our Creator hath given us to preserve that liberty which he committed to us in sacred deposit and to protect from every hostile hand our lives and our properties.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“Declaration on Taking Up Arms” (1775) [Papers 1:202]
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The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“Summary View of the Rights of British America” (1774)
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The possession of facts is knowledge; the use of them is wisdom; the choice of them, education. Knowledge is not power but riches, and like them, has its value in spending.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
(Attributed)
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In matters of style, swim with the current; In matters of principle, stand like a rock.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
(Attributed)
Added on 19-Jul-07 | Last updated 19-Jul-07
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I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
(Spurious)

Variations:

  • "I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it."
  • "The harder I work, the more luck I have."

Not found in any of Jefferson's written works. The sentiment long predates him, but this particular quotation (and variants) date to the 1920s. More here.

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When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
(Spurious)

Also attributed to Franklin Roosevelt. For more information, see here.
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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.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
(Spurious)

For more information, see here.
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Were we directed from Washington when to sow, & when to reap, we should soon want bread.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Autobiography (1821)
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The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal.

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Autobiography (1821)

Referring to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom.

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We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable 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 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.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Declaration of Independence (1776)
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And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Declaration of Independence (1776)
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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.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Declaration of Independence (4 Jul 1776)

As modified and approved by the Continental Congress.
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He 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 an other hemisphere, or to incur 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 suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the LIBERTIES of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the LIVES of an other.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Declaration of Independence [draft] (1776)

This anti-slavery clause was removed from the Declaration at the behest of the representatives of South Carolina as a requirement for their vote.
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We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Declaration of Independence, “Original Rough Draught” (Jun 1776)
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We should be wanting to ourselves, we should be perfidious to posterity, we should be unworthy that free ancestry from which we derive our descent, should we submit with folded arms to military butchery and depredation.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Declaration on Taking Up Arms (1775) [Papers 1:202]
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[I]t would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights: that confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism – free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power: that our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no further, our confidence may go. … In questions of powers, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Kentucky Resolutions (1798)
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In protest of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

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One of the amendments to the Constitution … expressly declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” thereby guarding in the same sentence and under the same words, the freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press; insomuch that whatever violates either throws down the sanctuary which covers the others.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Kentucky Resolutions, draft (1798)

In protest of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

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From the dissensions among Sects themselves arise necessarily a right of choosing and necessity of deliberating to which we will conform. But if we choose for ourselves, we must allow others to choose also, and so reciprocally, this establishes religious liberty.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Notes on Religion (1776)
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Compulsion in religion is distinguished peculiarly from compulsion in every other thing. I may grow rich by art I am compelled to follow, I may recover health by medicines I am compelled to take against my own judgment, but I cannot be saved by a worship I disbelieve & abhor.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Notes on Religion (Oct 1776)
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Truth will do well enough if left to shift for herself. She seldom has received much aid from the power of great men to whom she is rarely known & seldom welcome. She has no need of force to procure entrance into the minds of men. Error indeed has often prevailed by the assistance of power or force. Truth is the proper & sufficient antagonist to error.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Notes on Religion (Oct 1776)
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In the middle ages of Christianity opposition to the State opinions was hushed. The consequence was, Christianity became loaded with all the Romish follies. Nothing but free argument, raillery & even ridicule will preserve the purity of religion.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Notes on Religion (Oct 1776)
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It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Notes on the State of Virginia (1782)
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Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Notes on the State of Virginia (1782)
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The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Notes on the State of Virginia, ch. 17 (1782)
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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.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 16 (1782)

Full text.
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Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. 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 one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 17 (1782)
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The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they shall have gotten hold of us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Notes on Virginia (1782)
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Only aim to do your duty and mankind will give you credit where you fail.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Rights of British America (1774)
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Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself. She is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)
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That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)

Full text
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Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)
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Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do ….

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)
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Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)
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   That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,
   That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;
   That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)
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When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Conversation with Baron Humboldt (1807)

In Raynor, Life of Jefferson (1832).
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Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1801)
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Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1801)
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Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We are all Republicans; we are all Federalists.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1801)
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Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1801)
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All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1801)
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My principle is to do whatever is right, and have consequences to Him who has the disposal of them.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter (20 Sep 1813)
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I have never been so well pleased as when I could shift power from my own, on the shoulders of others; nor have I ever been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy (1811)

Often just the second clause is quoted: "I have never been able to conceive how ..."
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The execution of the laws is more important than the making of them.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Abbe Arnold (27 May 1789)
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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.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Abigail Adams (22 Feb 1787)

Full text.
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It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it [the Apocalypse], and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Alexander Smyth (17 Jan 1825)
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Always a friend to peace and believing it to promote eminently the happiness and prosperity of mankind, I am ever unwilling that it should be disturbed as long as the rights and interests of the nations can be preserved. But whensoever hostile aggressions on these require a resort to war, we must meet our duty and convince the world that we are just friends and brave enemies.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Andrew Jackson (1806) [ME 19:156]
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I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Archibald Stuart (23 Dec 1791)

Full text.
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To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Benjamin Rush (12 Apr 1803)
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It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Benjamin Rush (21 Apr 1803)
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The clergy … believe that any portion of power confided to me will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion ….

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Benjamin Rush (23 Sep. 1800)

On members of the clergy who had "a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity thro' the U. S.; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians & Congregationalists." Full text. Usually elided to: "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
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The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man.

  1. That there is one only God, and he is all perfect.
  2. That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.
  3. That to love God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself is the sum of religion.

These are the great points on which he endeavored to reform the religion of the Jews. 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, are nothing.
  3. That faith is every thing, and the more incomprehensible the proposition, the more merit in its 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.

Now, which of these is the true and charitable Christian?

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Benjamin Waterhouse (26 Jun 1822)
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The animosities of sovereigns are temporary, and may be allayed; but those which seize the whole body of people, and of a people too, dictate their own measures, produce calamities of long duration.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to C. W. F. Dumas (1786)
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Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy, and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it. But the temper and folly of our enemies may not leave this in our choice.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to C. W. F. Dumas (1786)
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Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Charles Yancey (6 Jan 1816)
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I wish to see this beverage become common instead of the whisky which kills one-third of our citizens and ruins their families.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Charles Yancey (6 Jan 1816)

On beer.
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We have solved by fair experiment, the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government, and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason, and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Chesterfield Baptists (21 Nov 1808)
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Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Col. Edward Carrington (16 Jan 1787)
Added on 2-May-13 | Last updated 2-May-13
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Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours its own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich upon the poor.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Col. Edward Carrington (16 Jan 1787)
Added on 26-Oct-18 | Last updated 26-Oct-18
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If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Colonel Charles Yancy (6 Jan 1816)
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The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Colonel Edward Carrington (16 Jan 1787)
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Priests … dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subversions of the duperies on which they live.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Correa de Serra (11 Apr 1820)
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In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion, and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to David Harding (20 Apr 1824)
Added on 10-Sep-12 | Last updated 10-Sep-12
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Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Dr. James Currie (28 Jan 1786)
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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.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Edward Dowse (1803)
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There is no act, however virtuous, for which ingenuity may not find some bad motive.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Edward Dowse (19 Apr 1803)
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I know well that no man will ever bring out of that office the reputation which carries him into it.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Edward Rutledge (1796)

On the Presidency.
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The second office of the government is honorable and easy, the first is but a splendid misery.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Elbridge Gerry (13 May 1797)

Referring to the Vice-presidency and the Presidency.
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The second office of this government is honorable & easy, the first is but a splendid misery.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Elbridge Gerry (13 May 1797)
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I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Elbridge Gerry (1799)
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You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Ezra Stiles Ely (25 Jun 1819)
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Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp (30 Jul 1816)
Added on 28-Feb-11 | Last updated 28-Feb-11
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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 rights of the individual.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Francis Gilmer (1816)
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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 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.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Francis Hopkinson (13 Mar 1789)
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Nothing gives one person so great advantage over another, as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Francis Wayles Eppes (21 May 1816)

Often updated as "Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances."
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Men are disposed to live honestly, if the means of doing so are open to them.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to François de Marbois (14 Jun 1817)
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I hope we shall take warning from [England’s] example and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to George Logan (12 Nov 1816)
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Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests, & nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to George Wythe (13 Aug 1786)
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That government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to H. D. Tiffin (2 Feb 1807)
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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 knew that age well; I belonged to it and labored with it. It deserved well of its country. It was very like the present but without the experience of the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book-reading; and this they would say themselves were they to rise from the dead.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to H. Tompkinson (Samuel Kercheval) (12 Jul 1806)
Added on 3-Oct-13 | Last updated 3-Oct-13
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In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is easier to acquire wealth and power by this combination than by deserving them, and to effect this, 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 purposes.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Horatio G. Spafford (17 Mar 1814)
Added on 12-Jul-10 | Last updated 12-Jul-10
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If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Isaac McPherson (13 Aug 1813)
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Every religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas. In the first they all agree.All forbid us to murder, steal, plunder, bear false witness &ca. and these are the articles necessary for the preservation of order, justice, and happiness in society. In their particular dogmas all differ; no two professing the same. These respect vestments, ceremonies, physical opinions, and metaphysical speculations, totally unconnected with morality, and unimportant to the legitimate objects of society. Yet these are the questions on which have hung the bitter schisms of Nazarenes, Socinians, Arians, Athanasians in former times, and now of Trinitarians, Unitarians, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists, Baptists, Quakers &c. Among the Mahometans we are told that thousands fell victims to the dispute whether the first or second toe of Mahomet was longest; and what blood, how many human lives have the words “this do in remembrance of me” cost the Christian world!

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to James Fishback (Sep 1809)
Added on 7-Feb-13 | Last updated 13-Apr-15
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We all agree in the obligation of the moral precepts of Jesus; but we schismatize and lose ourselves in subtleties about his nature, his conception maculate or immaculate, whether he was a god or not a god, whether his votaries are to be initiated by simple aspersion, by immersion, or without water; whether his priests must be robed in white, in black, or not robed at all; whether we are to use our own reason, or the reason of others, in the opinions we form, or as to the evidence we are to believe. It is on questions of this, and still less importance, that such oceans of human blood have been spilt, and whole regions of the earth have been desolated by wars and persecutions, in which human ingenuity has been exhausted in inventing new tortures for their brethren. It is time then to become sensible how insoluble these questions are by minds like ours, how unimportant, and how mischievous; and to consign them to the sleep of death, never to be awakened from it.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to James Fishback (Sep 1809)
Added on 21-Feb-13 | Last updated 21-Feb-13
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We see good men in all religions, and as many in one as another. It is then a matter of principle with me to avoid disturbing the tranquility of others by the expression of any opinion on the innocent questions on which we schismatize, and think it enough to hold fast to those moral precepts which are of the essence of Christianity, and of all other religions.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to James Fishback (Sep 1809)
Added on 28-Feb-13 | Last updated 28-Feb-13
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I have ever deemed it fundamental for the United States never to take an active part in the quarrels of Europe. Their political interests are entirely distinct from ours. Their mutual jealousies, their balance of power, their complicated alliances, their forms and principles of government, are all foreign to us. They are nations of eternal war.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to James Madison (11 Jun 1823)
Added on 14-Mar-13 | Last updated 14-Mar-13
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A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to James Madison (20 Dec 1787)
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Europe … have totally mistaken our character. Accustomed to rise at a feather themselves, and to be always fighting, they will see in our conduct, fairly stated, that acquiescence under wrong, to a certain degree, is wisdom, and not pusillanimity; and that peace and happiness are preferable to that false honor which, by eternal wars, keeps their people in eternal labor, want, and wretchedness.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to James Madison (23 Mar 1815) [ME 14:290]
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Wherever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to James Madison (28 Oct 1785)
Added on 10-Mar-10 | Last updated 10-Mar-10
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I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to James Madison (30 Jan 1787)

Referring to Shays' Rebellion.
Added on 9-May-13 | Last updated 9-May-13
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Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital. and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to James Madison (Sep 1821)
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Politics, like religion, hold up the torches of martyrdom to the reformers of error.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to James Ogilvie (4 August 1811)
Added on 29-Aug-13 | Last updated 29-Aug-13
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Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to James Smith (1822)
Added on 13-Jun-11 | Last updated 13-Jun-11
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What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! Who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment and death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment […] inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Jean Nicholas Demeunier (24 Jan 1786)
Added on 17-Jan-13 | Last updated 17-Jan-13
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The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Jeremiah Moor (1800)
Added on 25-Oct-12 | Last updated 25-Oct-12
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I cannot live without books.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Adams (10 Jun 1815)
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I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Adams (11 Apr 1823)
Added on 20-Jun-11 | Last updated 20-Jun-11
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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. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Adams (11 Apr 1823)
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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.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Adams (11 Jan 1817)

Instructions he gave to a biographer. Full text.
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The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Adams (24 Jan 1814)
Added on 2-May-11 | Last updated 2-May-11
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The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ leveled to every understanding, and too plain to need explanation, saw in the mysticism of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system, which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power and pre-eminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child ; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them; and for this obvious reason, that nonsense can never be explained.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Adams (5 Jul 1814)
Added on 19-Sep-13 | Last updated 19-Sep-13
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A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John B. Colvin (20 Sep 1810)

Full text.
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It is incumbent on those only who accept of great charges, to risk themselves on great occasions, when the safety of the nation, or some of its very high interests are at stake. An officer is bound to obey orders; yet he would be a bad one who should do it in cases for which they were not intended, and which involved the most important consequences. The line of discrimination between cases may be difficult; but the good officer is bound to draw it at his own peril, and throw himself on the justice of his country and the rectitude of his motives.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John B. Colvin (20 Sep 1810)
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Added on 16-Aug-12 | Last updated 16-Aug-12
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Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into 4 chapters, heading the 1st, Truths. 2d, Probabilities. 3d, Possibilities. 4th, Lies.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Norvell (14 Jun 1807)
Added on 11-Nov-09 | Last updated 11-Nov-09
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It is the old practice of despots to use a part of the people to keep the rest in order.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Taylor (1 Jun 1798)
Added on 17-Sep-09 | Last updated 17-Sep-09
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An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Taylor (1 Jun 1798)
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No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Tyler Washington (28 Jun 1804)
Added on 18-Feb-11 | Last updated 18-Feb-11
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The firmness with which the people have withstood the late abuses of the press, the discernment they have manifested between truth and falsehood, show that they may safely be trusted to hear everything true and false, and to form a correct judgment between them. As little is it necessary to impose on their senses, or dazzle their minds by pomp, splendor, or forms. Instead of this artificial, how much surer is that real respect, which results from the use of their reason, and the habit of bringing everything to the test of common sense.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Tyler Washington (28 Jun 1804)
Added on 16-May-11 | Last updated 16-May-11
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I hold it, therefore, certain, that to open the doors of truth, and to fortify the habit of testing everything by reason, are the most effectual manacles we can rivet on the hands of our successors to prevent their manacling the people with their own consent.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Tyler Washington (28 Jun 1804)
Added on 23-May-11 | Last updated 23-May-11
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