Thomas Jefferson Quotes

These Thomas Jefferson Quotes come from his own personal correspondence and writings from the years 1785 to 1787. During this time Jefferson was America's Ambassador to France. Many of these Thomas Jefferson Quotes come from letters he wrote to family members such as his daughter Martha, his adopted brother Thomas Mann Randolph and his nephew Peter Carr, to whom he wrote lots of advice about how to be a success and have good character as a young man. Topics in these quotes include such things as Jefferson's love for the countryside verses the city, the unjust treatment of Indians and the dangers of idleness. Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and eventually became the 3rd President of the United States. These Thomas Jefferson Quotes are listed chronologically with links to more from both before and after this period at the bottom of the page.

Thomas Jefferson Quotes

"I am savage enough to prefer the woods, the wilds, and the independence of Monticello, to all the brilliant pleasures of this gay capital (Paris)... for tho' there is less wealth there, there is more freedom, more ease, and less misery." - Letter to Baron Geismar, September 6, 1785

"Were I to proceed to tell you how much I enjoy their (the French) architecture, sculpture, painting, music, I should want words. It is in these arts they shine. The last of them particularly is an enjoiment, the deprivation of which with us cannot be calculated. I am almost ready to say it is the only thing which from my heart I envy them, and which in spight of all the authority of the decalogue I do covet." - Letter to Charles Bellini, September 30, 1785

"Reading, reflection and time have convinced me that the interests of society require the observation of those moral precepts... in which all religions agree." - Westmoreland County Petition, November 2, 1785

"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." - Letter to Jean Nicolas Demeunier, January 24, 1786

"In America, no other distinction between man and man had ever been known but that of persons in office exercising powers by authority of the laws, and private individuals. Among these last, the poorest laborer stood on equal ground with the wealthiest millionaire, and generally on a more favored one whenever their rights seem to jar." - Letter to Jean Nicolas Demeunier, January 24, 1786

"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." - Letter to Dr. James Currie, January 28, 1786

"Knowledge indeed is a desirable, a lovely possession." - Letter to Thomas Mann Randolph, August 27, 1786

"The want of (attention to the rights of Indians) is a principal source of dishonor to the American character. The two principles on which our conduct towards the Indians should be founded, are justice and fear. After the injuries we have done them, they cannot love us, which leaves us no alternative but that of fear to keep them from attacking us. But justice is what we should never lose sight of, and in time it may recover their esteem." - Letter to Benjamin Hawkins, August 13, 1786

Red, white & blue bar

"And our own dear Monticello, where has nature spread so rich a mantel under the eye? - mountains, forests, rocks, rivers. With what majesty do we there ride above the storms! How sublime to look down into the workhouse of nature, to see her clouds, hail, snow, rain, thunder, all fabricated at our feet! And the glorious Sun, when rising as if out of a distant water, just gilding the tops of the mountains, and giving life to all nature!" - Letter to Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786

"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, but to exalt it by its influence on reason alone." - A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1786

"Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, Judges, and Governors, shall all become wolves." - Letter to Col. Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787

"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." - Letter to Col. Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787

"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." - Letter to Col. Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787

"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. Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions as not to discourage them too much. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of the government." - Letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787

"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. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere." - Letter to Abigail Adams, February 22, 1787

Red, white & blue bar

"Music, drawing, books, invention and exercise will be so many resources to you against ennui." - Letter to Martha Jefferson, daughter, March 28, 1787

"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 may be done, if we are always doing. And that you may be always doing good, my dear, is the ardent prayer of yours affectionately." - Letter to Martha Jefferson, May 5, 1787

"I know of no condition happier than that of a Virginia farmer might be, conducting himself as he did during the war. His estate supplies a good table, clothes itself and his family with their ordinary apparel, furnishes a small surplus to buy salt, sugar, coffee, and a little finery for his wife and daughter, enables him to receive and to visit friends, and furnishes him pleasing and healthy occupation... My habits are formed to those of my own country. I am past the time of changing them and am therefore less happy anywhere else than there." - Letter to James Currie, August 4, 1787

"The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body. This sense is submitted, indeed, in some degree, to the guidance of reason; but it is a small stock which is required for this: even a less one than what we call common sense. State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules." - Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

"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." - Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

"Above all things, lose no occasion of exercising your dispositions to be grateful, to be generous, to be charitable, to be humane, to be true, just, firm, orderly, courageous, &c. Consider every act of this kind, as an exercise which will strengthen your moral faculties and increase your worth." - Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

"Your reason is now mature enough to examine this object (religion). In the first place divest yourself of all bias in favour of novelty & singularity of opinion. Indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. It is too important, & the consequences of error may be too serious. On the other hand shake off all the fears & servile prejudices under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. Scan of the original page at The Library of Congress." - Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

"You will naturally examine first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy and Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature, in the case he relates. For example in the book of Joshua we are told the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, etc. But it is said that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine therefore candidly what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis as the earth does, should have stopped, should not by that sudden stoppage have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time have resumed its revolution, & that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth's motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities?" - Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

More Thomas Jefferson Quotes

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