Thomas Jefferson's Government

In spite of the fact that he owned slaves himself, as was common with plantation owners of his time, Jefferson spoke out tirelessly throughout his life against the institution of slavery and for the right of black people to be free. Apparently there were many factors, financial, social and political, that prevented him from freeing his own slaves. In a letter to Edward Coles (Aug 25, 1814), he wrote, "The laws do not permit us to turn them loose, if that were for their good." To Edward Bancroft he wrote (in 1788), "As far as I can judge from the experiments which have been made, to give liberty to, or rather to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children." (ME 19:41) Thus, he seems to have sincerely believed that merely freeing the slaves was not the best solution, and that the most important step to take was the elimination of the real source of this injustice, which was the institution of slavery itself. Thus he wrote to Edward Rutledge (in 1787), "I congratulate you, my dear friend, on the law of your State, for suspending the importation of slaves, and for the glory you have justly acquired by endeavoring to prevent it forever. This abomination must have an end. And there is a superior bench reserved in heaven for those who hasten it." (ME 6:173) His overall solution to the slavery problem was to return the blacks to their own African homeland or to some land where they could live as "a free and independent people," and to provide them with implements and skills to establish their own nation.

On Slavery

"Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people [blacks] are to be free. Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them." --Thomas Jefferson:

The Consequences of Slavery

"With what execration should the statesman be loaded who, permitting one half the citizens... to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots, and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part, and the amore patriae of the other... With the morals of the people, their industry also is destroyed." --Thomas Jefferson:

"I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest." --Thomas Jefferson

Comparing Black and White

"I have supposed the black man in his present state might not be [equal to the white man]; but it would be hazardous to affirm that equally cultivated for a few generations, he would not become so." --Thomas Jefferson

A Plan for Resolution

"My opinion on the proposition... to take measures for procuring on the coast of Africa, an establishment to which the people of color of these States might, from time to time, be colonized, under the auspices of different governments [is]: Having long ago made up my mind on this subject, I have no hesitation in saying that I have ever thought it the most desirable measure which could be adopted for gradually drawing off this part of our population, most advantageous for themselves as well as for us. Going from a country possessing all the useful arts, they might be the means of transplanting them among the inhabitants of Africa, and would thus carry back to the country of their origin the seeds of civilization which might render their sojournment and sufferings here a blessing in the end to that country." --Thomas Jefferson

"It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the State [instead of colonizing them]? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites, ten thousand recollections by the blacks of the injuries they have sustained, new provocations, the real distinctions which nature has made, and many other circumstances will divide us into parties and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race." --Thomas Jefferson:

Special Considerations

"Of one thing I am certain, that as the passage of slaves from one State to another would not make a slave of a single human being who would not be so without it, so their diffusion over a greater surface would make them individually happier, and proportionally facilitate the accomplishment of their emancipation by dividing the burden on a greater number of coadjutors." --Thomas Jefferson

The Prospects for Resolution

"Our only blot is becoming less offensive by the great improvement in the condition and civilization of that race, who can now more advantageously compare their situation with that of the laborers of Europe. Still it is a hideous blot, as well from the heteromorph peculiarities of the race, as that, with them, physical compulsion to action must be substituted for the moral necessity which constrains the free laborers to work equally hard. We feel and deplore it morally and politically, and we look without entire despair to some redeeming means not yet specifically foreseen. I am happy in believing that the conviction of the necessity of removing this evil gains ground with time. Their emigration to the westward lightens the difficulty by dividing it, and renders it more practicable on the whole. And the neighborhood of a government of their color promises a more accessible asylum than that from whence they came." --Thomas Jefferson

Inalienable Rights

The government of the United States is the result of a revolution in thought. It was founded on the principle that all persons have equal rights, and that government is responsible to, and derives its powers from, a free people. To Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers, these ideas were not just a passing intellectual fad, but a recognition of something inherent in the nature of man itself. The very foundation of government, therefore, rests on the inalienable rights of the people and of each individual composing their mass. The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, is the fundamental statement of what government is and from what source it derives its powers. It begins with a summary of those inalienable rights that are the self-evident basis for a free society and for all the powers to protect those rights that a just government exercises.

"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." --Declaration of Independence as originally written by Thomas Jefferson, 1776

"An equal application of law to every condition of man is fundamental." --Thomas Jefferson

"The most sacred of the duties of a government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens." --Thomas Jefferson:

"To unequal privileges among members of the same society the spirit of our nation is, with one accord, adverse." --Thomas Jefferson

"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." --Thomas Jefferson

The Nature and Source of Our Rights

"The principles on which we engaged, of which the charter of our independence is the record, were sanctioned by the laws of our being, and we but obeyed them in pursuing undeviatingly the course they called for. It issued finally in that inestimable state of freedom which alone can ensure to man the enjoyment of his equal rights." --Thomas Jefferson to Georgetown Republicans, 1809. ME 16:349

"A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate." --Thomas Jefferson

"Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the Author of nature, because necessary for his own sustenance." --Thomas Jefferson

"What is true of every member of the society, individually, is true of them all collectively; since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals." --Thomas Jefferson

"The evidence of [the] natural right [of expatriation], like that of our right to life, liberty, the use of our faculties, the pursuit of happiness, is not left to the feeble and sophistical investigations of reason, but is impressed on the sense of every man. We do not claim these under the charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of Kings." --Thomas Jefferson

"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?" --Thomas Jefferson

"I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties." --Thomas Jefferson

The Right to Life and Liberty

"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: Rights of British America, 1774. ME 1:211, Papers 1:135

"Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But 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 right of an individual." --Thomas Jefferson

"That liberty [is pure] which is to go to all, and not to the few or the rich alone." --Thomas Jefferson

"Being myself a warm zealot for the attainment and enjoyment by all mankind of as much liberty as each may exercise without injury to the equal liberty of his fellow citizens, I have lamented that... the endeavors to obtain this should have been attended with the effusion of so much blood." --Thomas Jefferson

The Pursuit of Happiness

"The Giver of life gave it for happiness and not for wretchedness." --Thomas Jefferson

"If [God] has made it a law in the nature of man to pursue his own happiness, He has left him free in the choice of place as well as mode, and we may safely call on the whole body of English jurists to produce the map on which nature has traced for each individual the geographical line which she forbids him to cross in pursuit of happiness." --Thomas Jefferson

"The freedom and happiness of man... [are] the sole objects of all legitimate government." --Thomas Jefferson (wrong)

"[It is a] great truth that industry, commerce and security are the surest roads to the happiness and prosperity of [a] people." --Thomas Jefferson

Freedom of the Press

A press that is free to investigate and criticize the government is absolutely essential in a nation that practices self-government and is therefore dependent on an educated and enlightened citizenry. On the other hand, newspapers too often take advantage of their freedom and publish lies and scurrilous gossip that could only deceive and mislead the people. Jefferson himself suffered greatly under the latter kind of press during his presidency. But he was a great believer in the ultimate triumph of truth in the free marketplace of ideas, and looked to that for his final vindication.

The basis of our governments 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. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them." --Thomas Jefferson

"The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure." --Thomas Jefferson

"The most effectual engines for [pacifying a nation] are the public papers... [A despotic] government always [keeps] a kind of standing army of news-writers who, without any regard to truth or to what should be like truth, [invent] and put into the papers whatever might serve the ministers. This suffices with the mass of the people who have no means of distinguishing the false from the true paragraphs of a newspaper." --Thomas Jefferson

"To preserve the freedom of the human mind... and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement." Thomas Jefferson

The Press as Censor

"No government ought to be without censors, and where the press is free, no one ever will. If virtuous, it need not fear the fair operation of attack and defence. Nature has given to man no other means of sifting out the truth whether in religion, law or politics. I think it as honorable to the government neither to know nor notice its sycophants or censors, as it would be undignified and criminal to pamper the former and persecute the latter." --Thomas Jefferson

"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." --Thomas Jefferson

Responsibility to the People

"Our citizens may be deceived for awhile, and have been deceived; but as long as the presses can be protected, we may trust to them for light." --Thomas Jefferson

"I am persuaded that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. They may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct themselves. The people are the only censors of their governors, and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs through the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people." --Thomas Jefferson

Restrictions on a Free Press

"A declaration that the Federal Government will never restrain the presses from printing anything they please will not take away the liability of the printers for false facts printed." --Thomas Jefferson

"Printing presses shall be free except as to false facts published maliciously either to injure the reputation of another (whether followed by pecuniary damages or not) or to expose him to the punishment of the law." --Thomas Jefferson

"Printing presses shall be subject to no other restraint than liableness to legal prosecution for false facts printed and published." --Thomas Jefferson

Restraints Against Slander

"The States... retain to themselves the right of judging how far the licentiousness of speech and of the press may be abridged without lessening their useful freedom, and how far those abuses which cannot be separated from their use should be tolerated rather than the use be destroyed." --Thomas Jefferson

"The power to [restrain slander] is fully possessed by the several State Legislatures. It was reserved to them, and was denied to the General Government, by the Constitution, according to our construction of it. 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. They have accordingly all of them made provisions for punishing slander which those who have time and inclination resort to for the vindication of their characters. In general, the state laws appear to have made the presses responsible for slander as far as is consistent with their useful freedom. In those states where they do not admit even the truth of allegations to protect the printer they have gone too far." --Thomas Jefferson

Abuses by a Free Press

"I deplore... the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them... These ordures are rapidly depraving the public taste and lessening its relish for sound food. As vehicles of information and a curb on our funtionaries, they have rendered themselves useless by forfeiting all title to belief... This has, in a great degree, been produced by the violence and malignity of party spirit." --Thomas Jefferson

Sowing Dissension

"A coalition of sentiments is not for the interest of printers. They, like the clergy, live by the zeal they can kindle and the schisms they can create. It is contest of opinion in politics as well as religion which makes us take great interest in them and bestow our money liberally on those who furnish aliment to our appetite... So the printers can never leave us in a state of perfect rest and union of opinion. They would be no longer useful and would have to go to the plough." --Thomas Jefferson

Dealing With the Press

"During the course of [my] administration [as President], 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; they might, indeed, have been corrected by the wholesome punishments reserved and provided by the laws of the several States against falsehood and defamation; but public duties more urgent press on the time of public servants, and the offenders have therefore been left to find their punishment in the public indignation." --Thomas Jefferson:

Reforming the Press

"My opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted so as to be most useful [is]... 'by restraining it to true facts and sound principle 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." --Thomas Jefferson to

"Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into four chapters, heading the 1st, Truths. 2nd, Probabilities. 3rd, Possibilities. 4th, Lies. The first chapter would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic papers and information from such sources as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation for their truth. The second would contain what, from a mature consideration of all circumstances, his judgment should conclude to be probably true. This, however, should rather contain too little than too much. The third and fourth should be professedly for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they would occupy." --Thomas Jefferson

Educating the People

An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight. It is therefore imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens. It should be noted, that when Jefferson speaks of "science," he is often referring to knowledge or learning in general.

"I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them 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." --Thomas Jefferson

"The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes." --Thomas Jefferson

"Though [the people] may acquiesce, they cannot approve what they do not understand." --Thomas Jefferson

No Freedom Without Education

"Convinced that the people are the only safe depositories of their own liberty, and that they are not safe unless enlightened to a certain degree, I have looked on our present state of liberty as a short-lived possession unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree." --Thomas Jefferson

"Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty." --Thomas Jefferson

Education and Republican Government

"[I have] a conviction that science is important to the preservation of our republican government, and that it is also essential to its protection against foreign power." --Thomas Jefferson

"There are two subjects, indeed, which I shall claim a right to further as long as I breathe: the public education, and the sub-division of counties into wards. I consider the continuance of republican government as absolutely hangi ng on these two hooks." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1814. ME 14:84

"In the constitution of Spain as proposed by the late Cortes, there was a principle entirely new to me:... that no person born after that day should ever acquire the rights of citizenship until he could read and write. It is impossible sufficiently to estimate the wisdom of this provision. Of all those which have been thought of for securing fidelity in the administration of the government, constant reliance to the principles of the constitution, and progressive amendments with the progressive advances of the human mind or changes in human affairs, it is the most effectual." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816. ME 14:491

"[The] provision [in the new constitution of Spain] which, after a certain epoch, disfranchises every citizen who cannot read and write... is the fruitful germ of the improvement of everything good and the correction of everything imperfect in the present constitution. This will give you an enlightened people and an energetic public opinion which will control and enchain the aristocratic spirit of the government." --Thomas Jefferson to Chevalier de Ouis, 1814. ME 14:130

Government's Responsibility to Educate

"And say, finally, whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government or information to the people. This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787. (Forrest version) ME 6:392

"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 is the business of the state to effect, and on a general plan." --Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1786. ME 19:24

Educate Every Citizen

"A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell

"It is highly interesting to our country, and it is the duty of its functionaries, to provide that every citizen in it should receive an education proportioned to the condition and pursuits of his life." --Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr

"By... [selecting] the youths of genius from among the classes of the poor, we hope to avail the State of those talents which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as the rich, but which perish without use if not sought for and cultivated." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia

Importance for Personal Development

"If the children are untaught, their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell

"If the Wise be the happy man... he must be virtuous too; for, without virtue, happiness cannot be. This then is the true scope of all academical emulation." --Thomas Jefferson to Amos J. Cook

Training Republican Statesmen

"Nor must we omit to mention among the benefits of education the incalculable advantage of training up able counselors to administer the affairs of our country in all its departments, legislative, executive and judiciary, and to bear their proper share in the councils of our national government: nothing more than education advancing the prosperity, the power, and the happiness of a nation." --Thomas Jefferson

"Laws will be wisely formed and honestly administered in proportion as those who form and administer them are wise and honest; whence it becomes expedient for promoting the public happiness that those persons whom nature has endowed with genius and virtue should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens; and that they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance. But the indigence of the greater number disabling them from so educating at their own expense those of their children whom nature has fitly formed and disposed to become useful instruments for the public, it is better that such should be sought for and educated at the common expense of all, than that the happiness of all should be confined to the weak or wicked." --Thomas Jefferson:

Hope for the Improvement of Mankind

"I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the conditions, promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man." --Thomas Jefferson

"If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated, as we fondly hope and believe, education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it." --Thomas Jefferson

"What but education has advanced us beyond the condition of our indigenous neighbors? And what chains them to their present state of barbarism and wretchedness but a bigoted veneration for the supposed superlative wisdom of their fathers and the preposterous idea that they are to look backward for better things and not forward, longing, as it should seem, to return to the days of eating acorns and roots rather than indulge in the degeneracies of civilization?" --Thomas Jefferson: Report for University of Virginia, 1818.

"I feel... an ardent desire to see knowledge so disseminated through the mass of mankind that it may, at length, reach even the extremes of society: beggars and kings." --Thomas Jefferson

Publicly Supported Education

Jefferson developed an elaborate plan for making education available to every citizen, and for providing a complete education through university for talented youths who were unable to afford it. He considered his most important accomplishment, after Author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute for Religious Freedom, to have been the Father of the University of Virginia.

"I have indeed two great measures at heart, without which no republic can maintain itself in strength: 1. That of general education, to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom. 2. To divide every county into hundreds, of such size that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it." --Thomas Jefferson

"Of all the views of this law [for public education], none is more important, none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people the safe as they are the ultimate guardians of their own liberty." --Thomas Jefferson

"Education not being a branch of municipal government, but, like the other arts and sciences, an accident [i.e., attribute] only, I did not place it with election as a fundamental member in the structure of government." --Thomas Jefferson

"Education is here placed among the articles of public care, not that it would be proposed to take its ordinary branches out of the hands of private enterprise, which manages so much better all the concerns to which it is equal; but a public institution can alone supply those sciences which, though rarely called for, are yet necessary to complete the circle, all the parts of which contribute to the improvement of the country, and some of them to its preservation." --Thomas Jefferson

A Bill for Educating the Masses

"The object [of my education bill was] to bring into action that mass of talents which lies buried in poverty in every country for want of the means of development, and thus give activity to a mass of mind which in proportion to our population shall be the double or treble of what it is in most countries." --Thomas Jefferson 1817

"A bill for the more general diffusion of learning... proposed to divide every county into wards of five or six miles square;... to establish in each ward a free school for reading, writing and common arithmetic; to provide for the annual selection of the best subjects from these schools, who might receive at the public expense a higher degree of education at a district school; and from these district schools to select a certain number of the most promising subjects, to be completed at an University where all the useful sciences should be taught. Worth and genius would thus have been sought out from every condition of life, and completely prepared by education for defeating the competition of wealth and birth for public trusts." --Thomas Jefferson

Three Main Divisions

"I... [proposed] three distinct grades of education, reaching all classes. 1. Elementary schools for all children generally, rich and poor. 2. Colleges for a middle degree of instruction, calculated for the common purposes of life and such as should be desirable for all who were in easy circumstances. And 3d. an ultimate grade for teaching the sciences generally and in their highest degree... The expenses of [the elementary] schools should be borne by the inhabitants of the county, every one in proportion to his general tax-rate. This would throw on wealth the education of the poor." --Thomas Jefferson:

"The public education... we divide into three grades: 1. Primary schools, in which are taught reading, writing, and common arithmetic, to every infant of the State, male and female. 2. Intermediate schools, in which an education is given proper for artificers and the middle vocations of life; in grammar, for example, general history, logarithms, arithmetic, plane trigonometry, mensuration, the use of the globes, navigation, the mechanical principles, the elements of natural philosophy, and, as a preparation for the University, the Greek and Latin languages. 3. An University, in which these and all other useful sciences shall be taught in their highest degree; the expenses of these institutions are defrayed partly by the public, and partly by the individuals profiting of them." --Thomas Jefferson 1823.

"My bill proposes, 1. Elementary schools in every county, which shall place every householder within three miles of a school. 2. District colleges, which shall place every father within a day's ride of a college where he may dispose of his son. 3. An university in a healthy and central situation... To all of which is added a selection from the elementary schools of subjects of the most promising genius, whose parents are too poor to give them further education, to be carried at the public expense through the colleges and university." --Thomas Jefferson 1817

Elementary Schools

"At [the elementary] school shall be received and instructed gratis, every infant of competent age who has not already had three years' schooling. And it is declared and enacted, that no person unborn or under the age of twelve years at the passing of this act, and who is compos mentis, shall, after the age of fifteen years, be a citizen of this commonwealth until he or she can read readily in some tongue, native or acquired." --Thomas Jefferson: Elementary School Act, 1817. ME 17:424

A University

"What object of our lives can we propose so important [as establishing a State university]? What interest of our own which ought not to be postponed to this? Health, time, labor -- on what in the single life which nature has given us, can these be better bestowed than on this immortal boon to our country? The exertions and the mortifications are temporary; the benefit eternal." --Thomas Jefferson

Benefits of Public Education

"[We proposed a plan] to avail the commonwealth of those talents and virtues which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as rich, and which are lost to their country by the want of means for their cultivation." --Thomas Jefferson

"I think by far the most important bill in our whole code, is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness... --Thomas Jefferson

Related Issues

"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." --Thomas Jefferson

"I now think it would be better for every ward to choose its own resident visitor, whose business it would be to keep a teacher in the ward, to superintend the school, and to call meetings of the ward for all purposes relating to it; their accounts to be settled, and wards laid off by the courts. I think ward elections better for many reasons, one of which is sufficient, that it will keep elementary education out of the hands of fanaticizing preachers, who, in county elections, would be universally chosen, and the predominant sect of the county would possess itself of all its schools." --Thomas Jefferson

Compulsory Schooling

"Is it a right or a duty in society to take care of their infant members in opposition to the will of the parent? How far does this right and duty extend? --to guard the life of the infant, his property, his instruction, his morals? The Roman father was supreme in all these: we draw a line, but where? --public sentiment does not seem to have traced it precisely... It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible asportation and education of the infant against the will of the father... What is proposed... is to remove the objection of expense, by offering education gratis, and to strengthen parental excitement by the disfranchisement of his child while uneducated. Society has certainly a right to disavow him whom they offer, and are permitted to qualify for the duties of a citizen. If we do not force instruction, let us at least strengthen the motives to receive it when offered." --Thomas Jefferson

Education Courses

"In the [elementary schools] will be taught reading, writing, common arithmetic, and general notions of geography. In the [district colleges], ancient and modern languages, geography fully, a higher degree of numerical arithmetic, mensuration, and the elementary principles of navigation. In the [university], all the useful sciences in their highest degree." --Thomas Jefferson

"This institution [i.e., the university] 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." --Thomas Jefferson

University Professors

"In the selection of our Law Professor, we must be rigorously attentive to his political principles... It is in our seminary that that vestal flame [of republicanism] is to be kept alive." --Thomas Jefferson

"Besides the first degree of eminence in science, a professor with us must be of sober and correct morals and habits, having the talent of communicating his knowledge with facility, and of an accommodating and peaceable temper. The latter is all important for the harmony of the institution." --Thomas Jefferson

Obejctives in Elementary Schools

"The objects of... primary education [which] determine its character and limits [are]: To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts in writing; to improve, by reading, his morals and faculties; to understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either; to know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains, to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor and judgment; and in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed." --Thomas Jefferson

"The reading in the first stage, where [the people] will receive their whole education, is proposed.. to be chiefly historical. History by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views." --Thomas Jefferson

Specific Subjects

"I hope the necessity will, at length, be seen of establishing institutions here, as in Europe, where every branch of science, useful at this day, may be taught in its highest degree." --Thomas Jefferson

"What are the objects of an useful American [college] education? Classical knowledge, modern languages and chiefly French, Spanish, and Italian; Mathematics, Natural philosophy, Natural history, Civil history, and Ethics. In Natural philosophy, I mean to include Chemistry and Agriculture, and in Natural history, to include Botany, as well as the other branches of those departments." --Thomas Jefferson

"Agriculture... is a science of the very first order. It counts among its handmaids 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." --Thomas Jefferson


"I have never thought a boy should undertake abstruse or difficult sciences, such as Mathematics in general, till fifteen years of age at soonest. Before that time they are best employed in learning the languages, which is merely a matter of memory." --Thomas Jefferson

"In general, I am of opinion, that till the age of about sixteen, we are best employed on languages; Latin, Greek; French, and Spanish, or such of them as we can... Of the languages I have mentioned, I think Greek the least useful." --Thomas Jefferson

"The Spanish language... and the English covering nearly the whole face of America, they should be well-known to every inhabitant who means to look beyond the limits of his farm." --Thomas Jefferson

Classical Education

"For classical learning I have ever been a zealous advocate."--Thomas Jefferson

"When we advert that the ancient classical languages are considered as the foundation preparatory for all the sciences; that we have always had schools scattered over the country for teaching these languages, which often were the ultimate term of education; that these languages are entered on at the age of nine or ten years, at which age parents would be unwilling to send their children from every part of the State to a central and distant university, and when we observe that... there are to be a plurality of them, we may well conclude that the Greek and Latin are the objects of these colleges... and that they are intended as the portico of entry to the university." --Thomas Jefferson

"[Greece was] the first of civilized nations [which] presented example of what man should be." --Thomas Jefferson


"The want of instruction in the various creeds of religious faith existing among our citizens presents... a chasm in a general institution of the useful sciences. But it was thought that this want, and the entrustment to each society of instruction in its own doctrine, were evils of less danger than a permission to the public authorities to dictate modes or principles of religious instruction, or than opportunities furnished them by giving countenance or ascendancy to any one sect over another." --Thomas Jefferson

"After stating the constitutional reasons against a public establishment of any religious instruction, we suggest the expediency of encouraging the different religious sects to establish, each for itself, a professorship of their own tenets on the confines of the university, so near as that their students may attend the lectures there and have the free use of our library and every other accommodation we can give them; preserving, however, their independence of us and of each other. This fills the chasm objected to ours, as a defect in an institution professing to give instruction in all useful sciences... And by bringing the sects together, and mixing them with the mass of other students, we shall soften their asperities, liberalize and neutralize their prejudices, and make the general religion a religion of peace, reason, and morality." --Thomas Jefferson

The Educational Setting

"Man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him. From his cradle to his grave he is learning to do what he sees others do." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XVIII, 1782. ME 2:226

"The article of discipline is the most difficult in American education. Premature ideas of independence, too little repressed by parents, beget a spirit of insubordination which is the great obstacle to science with us and a principal cause of its decay since the Revolution." --Thomas Jefferson XXXX

"The rock which I most dread is the discipline of the institution, and it is that on which most of our public schools labor. The insubordination of our youth is now the greatest obstacle to their education. " Thomas Jefferson

"The consequences of foreign education are alarming to me as an American... Cast your eye over America. Who are the men of most learning, of most eloquence, most beloved by their countrymen and most trusted and promoted by them? They are those who have been educated among them, and whose manners, morals and habits are perfectly homogeneous with those of the country." --Thomas Jefferson

National Considerations

"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

"Science is more important in a republican than in any other government." --Thomas Jefferson

"[We should] endeavor to keep [our] attention fixed on the main objects of all science: the freedom and happiness of man. [Thus] will [we] keep ever in view the sole objects of all legitimate government." --Thomas Jefferson

"An infant country... must much depend for improvement on the science of other countries longer established, possessing better means and more advanced than [they] are. To prohibit [them] from the benefit of foreign light is to consign [them[ to long darkness." --Thomas Jefferson

Prospects for an Educated Citizenry

"Although I do not, with some enthusiasts, believe that the human condition will ever advance to such a state of perfection as that there shall no longer be pain or vice in the world, yet I believe it susceptible of much improvement, and most of all in matters of government and religion; and that the diffusion of knowledge among the people is to be the instrument by which it is to be effected." --Thomas Jefferson

"We have spent the prime of our lives in procuring [young men] the precious blessing of liberty. Let them spend theirs in showing that it is the great parent of science and of virtue; and that a nation will be great in both, always in proportion as it is free." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Willard, 1789. ME 7:329

"Preach... a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [of monarchial government]." --Thomas Jefferson

Governed by Reason

We who have grown up in a democratic republic take for granted a government of the people based on reason and the people's choice. But before our nation was founded, modern governments were based on authoritarian domination. The people in general were considered little more than cattle, to be governed and controlled by those possessing wealth, education and power, and kept under subjection lest they undermine the stability of the government. The Founding Fathers introduced the revolutionary idea that government could rest on the reasoned choice of the people themselves, which was thought absurd in other lands at that time.

"My hope [is] that we have not labored in vain, and that our experiment will still prove that men can be governed by reason." --Thomas Jefferson

"Let common sense and common honesty have fair play, and they will soon set things to rights." --Thomas Jefferson

"A government of reason is better than one of force." --Thomas Jefferson

Reason and Truth

"[God has bestowed] reason... as the umpire of truth." --Thomas Jefferson

"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." --Thomas Jefferson

Actions Based on Reason

"The opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds." --Thomas Jefferson

"I suppose belief to be the assent of the mind to an intelligible proposition." --Thomas Jefferson

"Everyone, certainly, must form his judgment on the evidence accessible to himself." --Thomas Jefferson

"A patient pursuit of facts, and cautious combination and comparison of them, is the drudgery to which man is subjected by his Maker, if he wishes to attain sure knowledge." --Thomas Jefferson

"Proof is the duty of the affirmative side. A negative cannot be positively proved." --Thomas Jefferson

"The proof of a negative can only be presumptive." --Thomas Jefferson

Fearlessly Follow Reason and Truth

"Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision." --Thomas Jefferson

"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

"There is not a truth on earth which I fear or would disguise. But secret slanders cannot be disarmed, because they are secret." --Thomas Jefferson

Moving Beyond Ignorance

"Old heads as well as young may sometimes be charged with ignorance and presumption. The natural course of the human mind is certainly from credulity to skepticism." --Thomas Jefferson

"Unlearned views... are, perhaps, the more confident in proportion as they are less enlightened." Thomas Jefferson

"I think it is Montaigne who has said, that ignorance is the softest pillow on which a man can rest his head." --Thomas Jefferson

"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. With such persons, gullibility, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck." --Thomas Jefferson

The Advance of Truth and Science

"I am not myself apt to be alarmed at innovations recommended by reason. That dread belongs to those whose interests or prejudices shrink from the advance of truth and science." --Thomas Jefferson to John Manners, 1814. ME 14:103

"Where thought is free in its range, we need never fear to hazard what is good in itself." --Thomas Jefferson to Mr. Olgilvie, 1811. ME 13:68

"One of the questions... on which our parties took different sides was on the improvability of the human mind in science, in ethics, in government, etc. Those who advocated reformation of institutions pari passu with the progress of science maintained that no definite limits could be assigned to that progress. The enemies of reform, on the other hand, denied improvement and advocated steady adherence to the principles, practices and institutions of our fathers, which they represented as the consummation of wisdom and acme of excellence, beyond which the human mind could never advance... [They predicted that] freedom of inquiry... will produce nothing more worthy of transmission to posterity than the principles, institutions and systems of education received from their ancestors... [But we] possess... too much science not to see how much is still ahead of [us], unexplained and unexplored. [Our] own consciousness must place [us] as far before our ancestors as in the rear of our posterity." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813. (*) ME 13:254

"What an effort... of bigotry in politics and religion have we gone through! The barbarians really flattered themselves they should be able to bring back the times of Vandalism, when ignorance put everything into the hands of power and priestcraft. All advances in science were proscribed as innovations. They pretended to praise and encourage education, but it was to be the education of our ancestors. We were to look backwards, not forwards, for improvement." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestley, 1801. ME 10:228

"I join [with others] in branding as cowardly the idea that the human mind is incapable of further advance. This is precisely the doctrine which the present despots of the earth are inculcating and their friends here re-echoing and applying especially to religion and politics: 'that it is not probable that anything better will be discovered than what was known to our fathers.' We are to look backwards, then, and not forwards for the improvement of science and to find it amidst feudal barbarisms and the fires of Spital-fields. But thank heaven the American mind is already too much opened to listen to these impostures; and while the art of printing is left to us, science can never be retrograde. What is once acquired of real knowledge can never be lost." --Thomas Jefferson to William Green Munford, 1799.

Reason, Truth and Government

"It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself." --Thomas Jefferson

"I hold it... 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

"Nor was it uninteresting to the world that an experiment should be fairly and fully made whether freedom of discussion, unaided by power, is not sufficient for the propagation and protection of truth:

"If virtuous, [the government] need not fear the fair operation of attack and defense. Nature has given to man no other means of sifting the truth, either in religion, law, or politics." --Thomas Jefferson

"If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." --Thomas Jefferson

Majority Rule

The only way a republican government can function, and the only way a people's voice can be expressed to effect a practicable control of government, is through a process in which decisions are made by the majority. This is not a perfect way of controlling government, but the alternatives--decisions made by a minority, or by one person--are even worse and are the source of great evil. To be just, majority decisions must be in the best interest of all the people, not just one faction.

"The first principle of republicanism is that the lex majoris partis is the fundamental law of every society of individuals of equal rights." --Thomas Jefferson

"The will of the people... is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object." --Thomas Jefferson

"The measures of the fair majority... ought always to be respected." --Thomas Jefferson

"I subscribe to the principle, that the will of the majority honestly expressed should give law." --Thomas Jefferson

"Civil government being the sole object of forming societies, its administration must be conducted by common consent." --Thomas Jefferson

"The voice of the majority decides. For the lex majoris partis is the law of all councils, elections, etc., where not otherwise expressly provided." --Thomas Jefferson

"It is the multitude which possess force, and wisdom must yield to that." --Thomas Jefferson

The Natural Law by which Self-Government is Exercised

"Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government. They receive it with their being from the hand of nature. Individuals exercise it by their single will; collections of men by that of their majority; for the law of the majority is the natural law of every society of men." --Thomas Jefferson

"The Lex majoris partis, founded in common law as well as common right, [is] the natural law of every assembly of men whose numbers are not fixed by any other law." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XIII, 1782. ME 2:172

The Only Source of Just Power

"Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there government ends, the law of the strongest takes its place, and life and property are his who can take them." --Thomas Jefferson 16:337

"[Bear] always in mind that a nation ceases to be republican only when the will of the majority ceases to be the law." --Thomas Jefferson

"[A faction's] newspapers say rebellion, and that they will not remain united with us unless we will permit them to govern the majority. If this be their purpose, their anti-republican spirit, it ought to be met at once. But a government like ours should be slow in believing this, should put forth its whole might when necessary to suppress it, and promptly return to the paths of reconciliation. The extent of our country secures it, I hope, from the vindictive passions of the petty incorporations of Greece." --Thomas Jefferson

Living Majorities Decide for Themselves

"That our Creator made the earth for the use of the living and not of the dead; that those who exist not can have no use nor right in it, no authority or power over it; that one generation of men cannot foreclose or burthen its use to another, which comes to it in its own right and by the same divine beneficence; that a preceding generation cannot bind a succeeding one by its laws or contracts; these deriving their obligation from the will of the existing majority, and that majority being removed by death, another comes in its place with a will equally free to make its own laws and contracts; these are axioms so self-evident that no explanation can make them plainer; for he is not to be reasoned with who says that non-existence can control existence, or that nothing can move something. They are axioms also pregnant with salutary consequences." --Thomas Jefferson

When the Majority is Wrong

"We are sensible of the duty and expediency of submitting our opinions to the will of the majority, and can wait with patience till they get right if they happen to be at any time wrong." --Thomas Jefferson

"I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them 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." --Thomas Jefferson

"Against such a majority we cannot effect [the gathering them into the fold of truth] by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments." --Thomas Jefferson

The Rights and Duties of the Minority

"If the measures which have been pursued are approved by the majority, it is the duty of the minority to acquiesce and conform." --Thomas Jefferson

"It is a rule in all countries that what is done by the body of a nation must be submitted to by all its members." --Thomas Jefferson

"Laws made by common consent must not be trampled on by individuals." --Thomas Jefferson

"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 laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression." --Thomas Jefferson

"The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society." --Thomas Jefferson


Republican Principles

The best form of government that has ever been devised for protecting the rights of the people has been found to be the republican form. While not perfect, it nevertheless gives a voice to the people and allows them to correct the course of government when they find it moving in a wrong direction.

"It must be acknowledged that the term republic is of very vague application in every language... Were I to assign to this term a precise and definite idea, I would say purely and simply it means a government by its citizens in mass, acting directly and personally according to rules established by the majority; and that every other government is more or less republican in proportion as it has in its composition more or less of this ingredient of direct action of the citizens. Such a government is evidently restrained to very narrow limits of space and population. I doubt if it would be practicable beyond the extent of a New England township." --Thomas Jefferson

"A democracy [is] the only pure republic, but impracticable beyond the limits of a town." --Thomas Jefferson

"Societies exist under three forms, sufficiently distinguishable. 1. Without government, as among our Indians. 2. Under governments, wherein the will of everyone has a just influence; as is the case in England, in a slight degree, and in our States, in a great one. 3. Under governments of force; as is the case in all other monarchies, and in most of the other republics.

A Republic is Controlled by the People

"We may say with truth and meaning that governments are more or less republican as they have more or less of the element of popular election and control in their composition; and believing as I do that the mass of the citizens is the safest depository of their own rights, and especially that the evils flowing from the duperies of the people are less injurious than those from the egoism of their agents, I am a friend to that composition of government which has in it the most of this ingredient." --Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816. ME 15:23

"The catholic (universal) principle of republicanism [is] that every people may establish what form of government they please and change it as they please, the will of the nation being the only thing essential." --Thomas Jefferson

"The mother principle [is] that 'governments are republican only in proportion as they embody the will of their people, and execute it.'" --Thomas Jefferson

"I freely admit the right of a nation to change its political principles and constitution at will." --Thomas Jefferson

"It accords with our principles to acknowledge any government to be rightful which is formed by the will of the nation substantially declared." --Thomas Jefferson

"Other shades of republicanism may be found in other forms of government, where the executive, judiciary and legislative functions, and the different branches of the latter, are chosen by the people more or less directly, for longer terms of years, or for life, or made hereditary; or where there are mixtures of authorities, some dependent on, and others independent of the people." --Thomas Jefferson

The Danger of an Hereditary Aristocracy

"The small and imperfect mixture of representative government in England, impeded as it is by other branches aristocratical and hereditary, shows yet the power of the representative principle towards improving the condition of man." --Thomas Jefferson

"I do not flatter myself with the immortality of our governments; but I shall think little also of their longevity, unless this germ of destruction [i.e., the aristocratical spirit] be taken out." --Thomas Jefferson

A Republic is Consistent with Equal Rights

"The equality among our citizens [is] essential to the maintenance of republican government." --Thomas Jefferson:

"No Englishman will pretend that a right to participate in government can be derived from any other source than a personal right, or a right of property." --Thomas Jefferson

"[As Montesquieu wrote in Spirit of the Laws, VI,c.2:] 'In republican governments, men are all equal; equal they are also in despotic governments: in the former because they are everything; in the latter because they are nothing.'" --Thomas Jefferson

Establishing Republican Government

"[To establish republican government, it is necessary to] effect a constitution in which the will of the nation shall have an organized control over the actions of its government, and its citizens a regular protection against its oppressions." --Thomas Jefferson

"[The first step is] to concur in a declaration of rights, at least, so that the nation may be acknowledged to have some fundamental rights not alterable by their ordinary legislature, and that this may form a ground work for future improvements." --Thomas Jefferson

The Extent of a Republic

"Where the citizens cannot meet to transact their business in person, they alone have the right to choose the agents who shall transact it; and... in this way a republican or popular government... may be exercised over any extent of country." --Thomas Jefferson

How Republican is America?

"The people through all the States are for republican forms, republican principles, simplicity, economy, religious and civil freedom." --Thomas Jefferson

"If, then, the control of the people over the organs of their government be the measure of its republicanism, and I confess I know no other measure, it must be agreed that our governments have much less of republicanism than ought to have been expected; in other words, that the people have less regular control over their agents, than their rights and their interests require. And this I ascribe, not to any want of republican dispositions in those who formed these constitutions, but to a submission of true principle to European authorities, to speculators on government, whose fears of the people have been inspired by the populace of their own great cities, and were unjustly entertained against the independent, the happy, and therefore orderly citizens of the United States. Much I apprehend that the golden moment is past for reforming these heresies. The functionaries of public power rarely strengthen in their dispositions to abridge it, and an unorganized call for timely amendment is not likely to prevail against an organized opposition to it." --Thomas Jefferson

The Sovereignty of the People

The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, "In free governments the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns." The ultimate powers in a society, therefore, rest in the people themselves, and they should exercise those powers, either directly or through representatives, in every way they are competent and that is practicable.

"Every nation has a right to govern itself internally under what forms it pleases, and to change these forms at its own will; and externally to transact business with other nations through whatever organ it chooses, whether that be a King, Convention, Assembly, Committee, President, or whatever it be. The only thing essential is, the will of the nation." --Thomas Jefferson

"The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves in all cases to which they think themselves competent (as in electing their functionaries executive and legislative, and deciding by a jury of themselves in all judiciary cases in which any fact is involved), or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of the press." --Thomas Jefferson

The Powers of Legislation

"From the nature of things, every society must at all times possess within itself the sovereign powers of legislation." --Thomas Jefferson

"[If the] representative houses [are dissolved,]... the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, [return] to the people at large for their exercise." --Thomas Jefferson

Government Receives its Powers from the People

"Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." --Thomas Jefferson

The People are Capable of Exercising Sovereign Powers

"Independence can be trusted nowhere but with the people in mass. They are inherently independent of all but moral law." --Thomas Jefferson

The Power of Public Opinion

"The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to." --Thomas Jefferson

"Public opinion... [is] a censor before which the most exalted tremble for their future as well as present fame." --Thomas Jefferson

"Opinions... constitute, indeed, moral facts, as important as physical ones to the attention of the public functionary." --Thomas Jefferson

The Spirit of Resistance

"What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them." --Thomas Jefferson

"Most codes extend their definitions of treason to acts not really against one's country. They do not distinguish between acts against the government, and acts against the oppressions of the government. The latter are virtues, yet have furnished more victims to the executioner than the former, because real treasons are rare; oppressions frequent. The unsuccessful strugglers against tyranny have been the chief martyrs of treason laws in all countries." --Thomas Jefferson:

Misdirected Resistance

"The arm of the people [is] a machine not quite so blind as balls and bombs, but blind to a certain degree." --Thomas Jefferson

"I hold it that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms are 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 medicine necessary for the sound health of government." --Thomas Jefferson

Rebellion, Right and Wrong

"Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [i.e., securing inherent and inalienable rights, with powers derived from the consent of the governed], 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: Declaration of Independence, 1776. ME 1:29, Papers 1:315

Dangerous Associations

"I acknowledge the right of voluntary associations for laudable purposes and in moderate numbers. I acknowledge, too, the expediency for revolutionary purposes of general associations coextensive with the nation. But where, as in our case, no abuses call for revolution, voluntary associations so extensive as to grapple with and control the government, should such be or become their purpose, are dangerous machines and should be frowned down in every well regulated government." --Thomas Jefferson