These Thomas Jefferson Quotes cover the latter half of his
first term as president and the beginning of his second term, from the years
1803-1806. Our Thomas Jefferson Quotes are taken from his
own letters, writings and speeches. Many of the quotes on this page come
from his Second Inaugural Address and from his correspondence with Abigail
Adams and Benjamin Rush. Rush was an ardent Christian and he and Jefferson
had an ongoing discussion about the truth of Christianity. Jefferson believed
in God and the moral system taught by Jesus Christ, but he did not believe
in His divinity. He thought this was a distortion taught by Christ's followers.
Other topics covered include such things as Jefferson's disdain for a national
bank, his doubt that slavery would soon be eradicated and his love for botany.
These Thomas Jefferson Quotes are listed chronologically with
links to more from before and after this period at the bottom.
"I concur with the author in considering the moral precepts of Jesus as more
pure, correct, and sublime than those of ancient philosophers." - Letter
to Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803
"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." - Letter to Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803
"There is no act, however virtuous, for which ingenuity may not find some bad motive." - Letter to Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803
"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, & of the sublimest eloquence.
The disadvantages under which his doctrines appear are remarkable.
1. Like Socrates & Epictetus, he wrote nothing himself.
2. But he had not, like them, a Xenophon or an Arrian to write for him. On the contrary, all the learned of his country, entrenched in its power and riches, were opposed to him, lest his labors should undermine their advantages; and the committing to writing his life & doctrines fell on the most unlettered & ignorant men; who wrote, too, from memory, & not till long after the transactions had passed.
3. According to the ordinary fate of those who attempt to enlighten and reform mankind, he fell an early victim to the jealousy & combination of the altar and the throne, at about 33. years of age, his reason having not yet attained the maximum of its energy, nor the course of his preaching, which was but of 3. years at most, presented occasions for developing a complete system of morals.
4. Hence the doctrines which he really delivered were defective as a whole, and fragments only of what he did deliver have come to us mutilated, misstated, & often unintelligible.
5. They have been still more disfigured by the corruptions of schismatising followers, who have found an interest in sophisticating & perverting the simple doctrines he taught by engrafting on them the mysticisms of a Grecian sophist, frittering them into subtleties, & obscuring them with jargon, until they have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust, & to view Jesus himself as an impostor.
Notwithstanding these disadvantages, a system of morals is presented to us, which, if filled up in the true style and spirit of the rich fragments he left us, would be the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man.
The question of his being a member of the Godhead, or in direct communication with it, claimed for him by some of his followers, and denied by others, is foreign to the present view, which is merely an estimate of the intrinsic merit of his doctrines.
1. He corrected the Deism of the Jews,
confirming them in their belief of one only God, and giving them juster
notions of his attributes and government.
2. His moral doctrines, relating to kindred & friends, were more pure & perfect than those of the most correct of the philosophers, and greatly more so than those of the Jews; and they went far beyond both in inculcating universal philanthropy, not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering all into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids. A development of this head will evince the peculiar superiority of the system of Jesus over all others.
3. The precepts of philosophy, & of the Hebrew code, laid hold of actions only. He pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man; erected his tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.
4. He taught, emphatically, the doctrines of a future state, which was either doubted, or disbelieved by the Jews; and wielded it with efficacy, as an important incentive, supplementary to the other motives to moral conduct."
- Syllabus of an Estimate of the Merit of the Doctrines of Jesus, Compared with Those of Others in a letter to Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803
"(My views on Christianity) are the result of a life of inquiry & reflection,
and very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those
who know nothing of my opinions. 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."
- Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803
"Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction." - Letter to Wilson Nicholas, September 7, 1803
"The class principally defective is that of agriculture. It is the first
in utility, and ought to be the first in respect. The same artificial
means which have been used to produce a competition in learning, may
be equally successful in restoring agriculture to its primary dignity
in the eyes of men. It is a science of the very first order. It counts
among it handmaids of the most respectable sciences, such as Chemistry,
Natural Philosophy, Mechanics, Mathematics generally, Natural History,
Botany. In every College and University, a professorship of agriculture,
and the class of its students, might be honored as the first. Young men
closing their academical education with this, as the crown of all other
sciences, fascinated with its solid charms, and at a time when they are
to choose an occupation, instead of crowding the other classes, would
return to the farms of their fathers, their own, or those of others,
and replenish and invigorate a calling, now languishing under contempt
and oppression. The charitable schools, instead of storing their pupils
with a lore which the present state of society does not call for, converted
into schools of agriculture, might restore them to that branch qualified
to enrich and honor themselves, and to increase the productions of the
nation instead of consuming them." - Letter to David Williams, November
"Experience having long taught me the reasonableness of mutual sacrifices of opinion among those who are to act together for any common object, and the expediency of doing what good we can; when we cannot do all we would wish." - Letter to John Randolph, December 1, 1803
"I observe an idea of establishing a branch bank of the United States in New Orleans. This institution is one of the most deadly hostility existing against the principles and form of our Constitution. The nation is at this time so strong and united in its sentiments that it cannot be shaken at this moment. But suppose a series of untoward events should occur sufficient to bring into doubt the competency of a republican government to meet a crisis of great danger, or to unhinge the confidence of the people in the public functionaries; an institution like this, penetrating by its branches every part of the union, acting by command and in phalanx may, in a critical moment, upset the government. I deem no government safe which is under the vassalage of any self-constituted authorities, or any other authority than that of the nation or its regular functionaries. What an obstruction could not this Bank of the United States, with all its branch banks, be in time of war! It might dictate to us the peace we should accept, or withdraw its aids. Ought we then to give further growth to an institution so powerful, so hostile?" - Letter to Albert Gallatin, December 13, 1803
"I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain
the outlines of the sublimest system of morality that has ever been
taught but I hold in the most profound detestation and execration the
corruptions of it which have been invented..." - Letter to Henry Fry,
June 17, 1804
"I discharge every person under punishment or prosecution under the Sedition Law, because I considered, and now consider, that law to be a nullity as absolute and palpable as if Congress had ordered us to fall down and worship a golden image." - Letter to Abigail Adams, July 22, 1804
"While we deny that Congress have a right to control the freedom of the press, we have ever asserted the right of the States, and their exclusive right, to do so." - Letter to Abigail Adams, September 11, 1804
"You seem to think it devolved on the judges to decide on the validity of the sedition law. But nothing in the Constitution has given them a right to decide for the Executive more than for the Executive to decide for them. Both magistracies are equally independent in the sphere of action assigned to them. The judges, believing the law constitutional, had a right to pass a sentence of fine and imprisonment because the power was placed in their hands by the Constitution. But the Executive, believing the law to be unconstitutional, were bound to remit the execution of it because that power has been confided to them by the Constitution." - Letter to Abigail Adams, September 11, 1804
"The opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves, in their, own sphere of action, but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch." - Letter to Abigail Adams, September 11, 1804
"I have long since given up the expectation of any early provision for the extinguishment of slavery among us. While there are many virtuous men who would make any sacrifices to affect it, many equally virtuous persuade themselves either that the thing is not wrong or that it cannot be remedied." - Letter to William A. Burwell, January 28, 1805
"Our excellent Constitution... has not placed our religious rights under the power of any public functionary." - Letter to the Methodist Episcopal Church, March 4, 1805
"When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground." - Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805
"In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise
is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general
government. I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe
the religious exercise suited to it; but have left them, as the
Constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of state
and church authorities by the several religious societies."
- Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805
"I shall now enter on the duties to which my fellow-citizens have again called me, and shall proceed in the spirit of those principles which they have approved. I fear not that any motives of interest may lead me astray; I am sensible of no passion which could seduce me knowingly from the path of justice, but the weaknesses of human nature and the limits of my own understanding will produce errors of judgment sometimes injurious to your interests. I shall need, therefore, all the indulgence which I have heretofore experienced from my constituents; the want of it will certainly not lessen with increasing years. I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with His providence and our riper years with His wisdom and power, and to whose goodness I ask you to join in supplications with me that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures that whatsoever they do shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations." - Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805
"We are firmly convinced, and we act on that conviction, that with nations as with individuals our interests soundly calculated will ever be found inseparable from our moral duties, and history bears witness to the fact that a just nation is trusted on its word when recourse is had to armaments and wars to bridle others." - Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805
"During the course of administration, and in order to disturb it, the artillery of the press has been leveled against us, charged with whatsoever its licentiousness could devise or dare. These abuses of an institution so important to freedom and science are deeply to be regretted, inasmuch as they tend to lessen its usefulness and to sap its safety." - Second Inaugural Address, December 9, 1805
"Earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers, diligently to attend divine services." - Articles of War, April 10, 1806
"I shall go in a week to Monticello... my situation there and taste, will lead me to ask for curious and hardy trees, than flowers. Of the latter a few of those remarkeable either for beauty or fragrance will be the limits of my wishes..." - Letter to B. McMahon, July 15, 1806
"I remember seeing in your greenhouse a plant of a couple of feet height in a pot the fragrance of which (from its gummy bud if I recollect rightly) was peculiarly agreeable to me..." - Letter to W. Hamilton, July, 1806
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