Noteworthy Thomas Jefferson Quotes to Remember

Thomas Jefferson had an impressive political career. He is considered to have been the primary author of the Declaration of Independence (1776). He also authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1777), served as the third president of the United States (1801-1809) and founded the University of Virginia (1819). He has a special place in history as a political philosopher and one of the most influential founders of the United States. His legacy lives on in his accomplishments and words, including many interesting Thomas Jefferson quotes.

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Quotes on the Thomas Jefferson Memorial

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. has a number of its namesake's quotes inscribed on it. The memorial includes a quote taken directly from the Declaration of Independence, as well as other influential words uttered by Jefferson. Excerpts from a few of the full quotes on the Jefferson Memorial are listed below.

  • "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ..."
  • "No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief."
  • "I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively."
  • "... laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times."
  • "We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."
  • "Establish a law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state and on a general plan."
  • "Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free."
  • "I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind."

Quotes From Jefferson's Letters and Writings

Thomas Jefferson wrote prolifically throughout his life. The Library of Congress (LOC) has amassed a collection of letters, papers and other documents penned by Jefferson through his life, from his early days in public service until after his days in the White House.

  • "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." - letter to George Washington (January 4, 1786)
  • "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." - letter to Dr. James Currie (January 28, 1786)
  • "Paper is poverty, ... it is only the ghost of money, and not money itself." - letter to Colonel Edward Carrington (May, 27 1788)
  • "A little rebellion now and then is a good thing." - letter to James Madison (January 30, 1787)
  • "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." - letter to W. S. Smith (November 13, 1787)
  • "I sincerely rejoice at the acceptance of our new Constitution by nine States. It is a good canvas, on which some strokes only want retouching. What these are, I think are sufficiently manifested by the general voice from north to south, which calls for a bill of rights." - letter to James Madison (July 31, 1788)
  • "We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed." - letter to Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette (Aril 2, 1790)
  • "The second office of the government is honorable and easy, the first is but a splendid misery." - letter to Elbridge Gerry (May 13, 1797)
  • "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." - letter to Richard Price January 8, 1789
  • "If a due participation of office is a matter of right, how are vacancies to be obtained? Those by death are few; by resignation, none." - letter to Elias Shipman and others of New Haven (July 12, 1801)
  • "There is no act, however virtuous, for which ingenuity may not find some bad motive." - letter to Edward Dowse April 19, 1803
  • "History, in general, only informs us what bad government is." - letter to John Norvell (June 11, 1807)
  • "He who steadily observes the moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned at the gates of heaven as to the dogmas in which they all differ." - letter to William Canby (September 18, 1813)
  • "Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both." - letter to John Adams (August 1, 1816)
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Quotes From Political Speeches and Documents

As a political leader and elected official, Thomas Jefferson gave many notable speeches throughout his career and was involved in crafting numerous official documents. Some of his most noteworthy quotes are linked to these types of writings and presentations.

  • "In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injuries." - The Declaration of Independence (1776)
  • "... the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction ..." - Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779)
  • "That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical ..." - Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779)
  • "Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none ..." - Jefferson's 1801 State of the Union (SOTU) address (March 4, 1801)
  • "For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well organized and armed militia is their best security." - Jefferson's 1808 SOTU address
  • "No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands]." - draft of Constitution for Virginia (June 1776)
  • "All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution." - draft Constitution for Virginia (June 1776)
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Thomas Jefferson Quotes in Books

Jefferson was passionate about books, so much so that in a June 10, 1815 letter to John Adams, he wrote "I cannot live without books." He wrote one book (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1832), but stocked three libraries with books written by others. It seems fitting that some of his most impactful quotes are immortalized between the covers of books about his life and contributions.

  • "Good wine is a necessity of life for me." - Quoted in The Man from Monticello: An Intimate Life of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas J. Fleming
  • "Whatever be their degree of talents, it is no measure of their rights." - Quoted in The Science and Politics of Racial Research, William H. Tucker
  • "I never consider a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend." - The Life and Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Including All of His Important Utterances on Public Questions, Samuel Eagle Forman
  • "I have ever deemed it more honorable and profitable, too, to set a good example than to follow a bad one." - The Life and Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Including All of His Important Utterances on Public Questions, Samuel Eagle Forman
  • " Their only controuls are their manners, and that moral sense of right and wrong, which, like the sense of tasting and feeling, in every man makes a part of his nature." - Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson

Discover More Thomas Jefferson Facts

Now that you are familiar with a selection of Thomas Jefferson quotes, take the time to learn more about his fascinating life. Review the biography of Thomas Jefferson to discover some basic facts about his background and accomplishments. Then, you might enjoy some political quotes from other famous leaders.