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Find a Thomas Jefferson Quote

Each Thomas Jefferson Quote on this page comes from his own letters and writings from the years 1819-1821. This period is during his retirement, about five to seven years before his death. These quotes come from his correspondence with such people as John Adams, the Marquis de Lafayette and Jared Sparks, the Revolutionary War historian. Topics covered include such things as his hatred for the Missouri Compromise which allowed slavery in new southern states and Missouri, his alarm that the Supreme Court seemed to be taking liberties it was not granted in the Constitution and thoughts on the University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson was one of the great leaders of the American Revolution. He was the main author of the Declaration of Independence, served as Ambassador to France, Secretary of State, Vice President and was elected 3rd President of the United States. Each Thomas Jefferson Quote below is listed in chronological order with links to more at the bottom of the page.


Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson


A Thomas Jefferson Quote for you!

"We were laboring under a dropsical fulness of circulating medium. Nearly all of it is now called in by the banks, who have the regulation of the safety-valves of our fortunes, and who condense and explode them at their will. Lands in this State cannot now be sold for a year's rent; and unless our Legislature have wisdom enough to effect a remedy by a gradual diminution only of the medium, there will be a general revolution of property in this state." - Letter to John Adams, November 7, 1819

"All the States but our own are sensible that knowledge is power." - Letter to Joseph C. Cabell, January 22, 1820

"But this momentous question [the Missouri Compromise], like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union... A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper. I can say, with conscious truth, that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way. The cession of that kind of property, for so it is misnamed, is a bagatelle [something of little importance] which would not cost me a second thought, if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected; and gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. But as it is, 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. - Letter to John Holmes, April 22, 1820

"...an establishment which I contemplate as the future bulwark of the human mind in this hemisphere." - Letter to Thomas Cooper, about the University of Virginia, August 14, 1820

"When the Legislative or Executive functionaries act unconstitutionally, they are responsible to the people in their elective capacity. The exemption of the judges from that is quite dangerous enough. I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them (the people) 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. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Letter to William Charles Jarvis, September 28, 1820

Monticello - Home of Thomas Jefferson
Monticello - Home of
Thomas Jefferson
"You seem... to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions: a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps. Their maxim is "boni judicis est ampliare juris-dictionem," [It is the part of a good judge to enlarge his jurisdiction] and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions or time and party, its members would become despots." - Letter to William Jarvis, September 28, 1820

"The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave." - Letter to Richard Rush, October 20, 1820

"I hold the precepts of Jesus as delivered by Himself, to be the most pure, benevolent and sublime which have ever been preached to man..." - Letter to Jared Sparks, November 4, 1820

"The truth is that the want of common education with us is not from our poverty, but from the want of an orderly system. More money is now paid for the education of a part than would be paid for that of the whole if systematically arranged." - Letter to Joseph C. Cabell, November 28, 1820

"But I am far from presuming to direct the reading of my fellow citizens, who are good enough judges themselves of what is worthy their reading." - Letter to Thomas Ritchie, December 25, 1820

"The judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working under ground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric. They are construing our constitution from a co-ordination of a general and special government to a general and supreme one alone. This will lay all things at their feet, and they are too well versed in English law to forget the maxim, boni judicis est ampliare juris-dictionem [It is the part of a good judge to enlarge his jurisdiction]. We shall see if they are bold enough to take the daring stride their five lawyers have lately taken. If they do, then, with the editor of our book, in his address to the public, I will say, that "against this every man should raise his voice," and more, should uplift his arm. Who wrote this admirable address? Sound, luminous, strong, not a word too much, nor one which can be changed but for the worse. That pen should go on, lay bare these wounds of our constitution, expose the decisions seriatim, and arouse, as it is able, the attention of the nation to these bold speculators on its patience. Having found, from experience, that impeachment is an impracticable thing, a mere scare-crow, they consider themselves secure for life; they sculk from responsibility to public opinion, the only remaining hold on them, under a practice first introduced into England by Lord Mansfield. An opinion is huddled up in conclave, perhaps by a majority of one, delivered as if unanimous, and with the silent acquiescence of lazy or timid associates, by a crafty chief judge, who sophisticates the law to his mind, by the turn of his own reasoning." - Letter to Thomas Ritchie, December 25, 1820

Read on for another
Thomas Jefferson Quote!

"A judiciary independent of a king or executive alone, is a good thing; but independence of the will of the nation is a solecism, at least in a republican government." - Letter to Thomas Ritchie, December 25, 1820

"This institution of my native state, the hobby of my old age, will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind, to explore and to expose every subject susceptible of it's contemplation." - Letter to Destutt de Tracy, about the University of Virginia, December 26, 1820

"The disease of liberty is catching; those armies will take it in the south, carry it thence to their own country, spread there the infection of revolution and representative government, and raise its people from the prone condition of brutes to the erect altitude of man." - Letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, December 26, 1820

"This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it." - Letter to William Roscoe, about the University of Virginia, December 27, 1820

"That one hundred and fifty lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected." - Autobiography, about the U. S. Congress, January 6, 1821

"I had hoped... that we should open with the next year an institution on which the fortunes of our country may depend more than may meet the general eye. The reflections that the boys of this age are to be the men of the next; that they should be prepared to receive the holy charge which we are cherishing to deliver over to them; that in establishing an institution of wisdom for them, we secure it to all our future generations; that in fulfilling this duty, we bring home to our own bosoms the sweet consolation of seeing our sons rising under a luminous tuition, to destinies of high promise." - Letter to General James Breckinridge, about the University of Virginia, February 15, 1821

"It is the last act of usefulness I can render, and could I see it open I would not ask an hour more of life." - Letter to Judge Spencer Roane, about the University of Virginia, March 9, 1821

"The great object of my fear is the federal judiciary. That body, like gravity, ever acting, with noiseless foot, and unalarming advance, gaining ground step by step, and holding what it gains, is engulfing insidiously the special governments into the jaws of that which feeds them." - Letter to Judge Spencer Roane, March 9, 1821

"The multiplication of public offices, increase of expense beyond income, growth and entailment of a public debt, are indications soliciting the employment of the pruning knife." - Letter to Judge Spencer Roane, March 9, 1821

"The Declaration of Independence... (is the) declaratory charter of our rights, and the rights of man." - Letter to Samuel Adams Wells, May 12, 1821

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