This week we honor the life of Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826 at age 83), third president of the United States, second vice president of the United States under President John Adams, the nation’s first Secretary of State under President Washington, the wartime Governor of Virginia during the War of Independence, and the founder of the University of Virginia. He was a lawyer, farmer, architect, inventor, writer, philosopher, musician, unorthodox Christian, husband to Martha, and father of at least six children.
Consistently rated as one of the top U.S. presidents of all time, President Jefferson played a crucial role as a Founding Father serving in the second Continental Congress and the Committee of Five along with John Adams who he later served as vice president. The committee was responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence and he was the principle author. Among other inventions and innovations, he’s credited with inventing the swivel chair and is said to have sat in one while he wrote much of the original draft of the Declaration of Independence.
He is also remembered for drafting and signing a bill that banned the exportation of slaves into the United States, as a staunch advocate for religious freedom and the individual right to bear arms, doubling the geographic size of the nation through the purchase of Louisiana Territory from the French which was later explored by Lewis and Clark under his commission, and the establishment of the United States Military Academy at West Point.
His views on individual liberty, human rights, republicanism, and limited government informed the Continental Congress and have served as models for other governments around the world. His order to send a fleet of ships to the Mediterranean Sea to confront pirates of U.S. ships was the first time the U.S. Navy crossed the Atlantic.
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… 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.
The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.
A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.
All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.
The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.
Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.
If we do not learn to sacrifice small differences of opinion, we can never act together. Every man cannot have his way in all things. If his own opinion prevails at some times, he should acquiesce on seeing that of others preponderate at others. Without this mutual disposition we are disjointed individuals, but not a society.
Politics, like religion, hold up the torches of martyrdom to the reformers of error.
It is an axiom in my mind, that our liberty can never be safe but in the hands of the people themselves, and that too of the people with a certain degree of instruction. This it is the business of the State to effect, and on a general plan.
I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it.
I cannot live without books.
I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.
A lively and lasting sense of filial duty is more effectually impressed on the mind of a son or daughter by reading King Lear, than by all the dry volumes of ethics, and divinity, that ever were written.
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free it expects what never was and never will be. … The people cannot be safe without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.
Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.
The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.
Sometimes it is said that man can not 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.
Commerce with all nations, alliance with none, should be our motto.
I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That “all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.”
A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, 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…
The greatest good we can do our country is to heal it’s party divisions and make them one people. I do not speak of their leaders who are incurable, but of the honest and well-intentioned body of the people.
Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their power; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him; every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society; and this is all the laws should enforce on him; and, no man having a natural right to be the judge between himself and another, it is his natural duty to submit to the umpirage of an impartial third. When the laws have declared and enforced all this, they have fulfilled their functions, and the idea is quite unfounded, that on entering into society we give up any natural right.
Not in our day, but at no distant one, we may shake a rod over the heads of all, which may make the stoutest of them tremble. But I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power, the greater it will be.
I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government; I mean an additional article taking from the Federal Government the power of borrowing. I now deny their power of making paper money or anything else a legal tender. I know that to pay all proper expenses within the year would, in case of war, be hard on us. But not so hard as ten wars instead of one. For wars could be reduced in that proportion; besides that the State governments would be free to lend their credit in borrowing quotas.
I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom. And to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.
I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. […] But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.
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.
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.
I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it’s 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.
The Constitution . . . meant that its coordinate branches should be checks on each other. But 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.
And what country can preserve its liberties, if the rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.
I think myself that we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious.
A little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.
The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.
No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands].
For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well organized and armed militia is their best security.
Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.
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 and 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 and sufficient antagonist to error.
To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, “by restraining it to true facts and sound principles only.” Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of its benefits, than is done by its abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. . . . I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.
All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution.
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 in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence…
“[Christianity possesses ] the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”
And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever…
…honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.
He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.
The object of walking is to relax the mind. You should therefore not permit yourself even to think while you walk; but divert your attention by the objects surrounding you. Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far… There is no habit you will value so much as that of walking far without fatigue.
Good wine is a necessity of life for me
I have stated that the constitutions of our several States vary more or less in some particulars. But there are certain principles in which all agree, and which all cherish as vitally essential to the protection of the life, liberty, property, and safety of the citizen:
- Freedom of religion, restricted only from acts of trespass on that of others.
- Freedom of person, securing every one from imprisonment, or other bodily restraint, but by the laws of the land. This is effected by the well-known law of habeas corpus.
- Trial by jury, the best of all safeguards for the person, the property, and the fame of every individual.
- The exclusive right of legislation and taxation in the representatives of the people.
- Freedom of the press, subject only to liability for personal injuries. This formidable censor of the public functionaries, by arraigning them at the tribunal of public opinion, produces reform peaceably, which must otherwise be done by revolution. It is also the best instrument for enlightening the mind of man, and improving him as a rational, moral, and social being.
A Decalogue of Canons for Observation in Practical Life:
- Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day.
- Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
- Never spend your money before you have it.
- Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
- Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
- We never repent of having eaten too little.
- Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
- How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
- Take things always by their smooth handle.
- When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.
I have done for my country, and for all mankind, all that I could do, and I now resign my soul, without fear, to my God, –my daughter to my country.
Quotes from WikiQuote. When applicable, spelling and punctuation have been revised to current standards.