"Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations;
entangling alliances with none." — Thomas Jefferson
"I wish therefore, never to see all offices transferred to Washington
where, further withdrawn from the eyes of the People,
they may more secretly be bought and sold at the market."
— Thomas Jefferson to Judge William Johnson in 1823
"A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which 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."
— Thomas Jefferson (1801)
"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
— Thomas Jefferson (1781)
"A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%."
— Thomas Jefferson
"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."
— Thomas Jefferson
"The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and ... breaks up the foundations of society."
— Thomas Jefferson
"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them."
— Thomas Jefferson
"The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." — Thomas Jefferson
"Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of Liberty." — Thomas Jefferson
"If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."
— Thomas Jefferson
"Already they have raised up a money aristocracy.
The issuing power should be taken from the banks
and restored to the people to whom it properly belongs."
— Thomas Jefferson
"Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government." — Thomas Jefferson
"If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny" — Thomas Jefferson
"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions
which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical." — Thomas Jefferson
"[Political] offices are as acceptable here as elsewhere, and whenever a man cast a longing eye on them,
a rottenness begins in his conduct." — Thomas Jefferson (1799)
About President Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 (April 2, 1743 O.S.) – July 4, 1826) was an American Founding Father who was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third President of the United States (1801–1809). At the beginning of the American Revolution, Jefferson served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia. He then served as a wartime Governor of Virginia (1779–1781). In 1768 he designed and built a large mansion on a 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, which he named Monticello. Just after the war ended, from mid-1784 Jefferson served as a diplomat, stationed in Paris, initially as a commissioner to help negotiate commercial treaties. In May 1785, he became the United States Minister to France. He was the first United States Secretary of State (1790–1793) during the administration of President George Washington. Upon resigning his office, with his close friend James Madison he organized the Democratic-Republican Party. Elected Vice-President in 1796 opposed to John Adams, Jefferson with Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which attempted to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts and formed the basis of states' rights.
Elected president in what Jefferson called the Revolution of 1800, he oversaw a peaceful transition in power, purchased the vast Louisiana Territory from France (1803), and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) to explore the new west. His second term was beset with troubles at home, such as the failed treason trial of his former Vice President Aaron Burr, and escalating trouble with Britain. With Britain at war with Napoleon, he tried aggressive economic warfare; however, his embargo laws did more damage to American trade and the economy, and provoked a furious reaction in the Northeast. Jefferson has often been rated in scholarly surveys as one of the greatest U.S. presidents, though since the mid-twentieth century, some historians have increasingly criticized him.
A leader in the Enlightenment, Jefferson was a polymath who spoke five languages and was deeply interested in science, religion and philosophy. His interests led him to assist in founding the University of Virginia in his post-presidency years. While not an orator, he was an indefatigable letter writer and corresponded with many influential people in America and Europe. As part of the Virginia planter elite and, as a tobacco planter, Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves throughout his lifetime. Like many of his contemporaries, he viewed Africans as being racially inferior. His views on slavery were complex, and changed over the course of his life. He was a leading American opponent of the international slave trade, and presided over its abolition in 1807.
After Martha Jefferson, his wife of eleven years died in 1782, Thomas remained a widower for the rest of his life; his marriage produced six children, with only two surviving to adulthood. In 1802 allegations surfaced that he was also the father of his house slave Sally Hemings' children. In 1998, DNA tests revealed a match between her last child and the Jefferson male family line. The paternity of these children remains a matter of debate among historians.
United States Declaration of Independence
Thomas Jefferson was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence, a formal document which officially proclaimed the dissolution of the American colonies from the British Crown. The sentiments of revolution put forth in the Declaration were already well established in 1776 as the colonies were already at war with the British when the Declaration was being debated, drafted and signed.
Before the Declaration was drafted Jefferson served as a delegate from Virginia to the Second Continental Congress beginning in June 1775, soon after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. He sought out John Adams who, along with his cousin Samuel, had emerged as a leader of the convention. Jefferson and Adams established a lifelong friendship and would correspond frequently; Adams ensured that Jefferson was appointed to the five-man committee to write a declaration in support of the resolution of independence. Having agreed on an approach, the committee selected Jefferson to write the first draft. His eloquent writing style made him the committee's choice for primary author; the others edited his draft. During June 1776, the month before the signing, Jefferson took notes of the Congressional debates over the proposed Declaration in order to include such sentiments in his draft, among other things justifying the right of citizens to resort to revolution. Jefferson also drew from his proposed draft of the Virginia Constitution, George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and other sources.
The historian Joseph Ellis states that the Declaration was the "core of [Jefferson]'s seductive appeal across the ages". After working for two days to modify the document, Congress removed language that was deemed antagonistic to friends in Britain and Jefferson's clause that indicted the British monarchy for imposing African slavery on the colonies. This was the longest clause removed. Congress trimmed the draft by about one fourth, wanting the Declaration to appeal to the population in Great Britain as well as the soon to be United States, while at the same time not wanting to give South Carolina and Georgia reasons to oppose the Declaration on abolitionist grounds. Jefferson deeply resented some of the many omissions Congress made. On July 4, 1776, Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence and distributed the document. Historians have considered it to be one of Jefferson's major achievements; the preamble is considered an enduring statement of human rights that has inspired people around the world. Its second sentence is the following:
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.
This has been called "one of the best-known sentences in the English language", containing "the most potent and consequential words in American history". The passage came to represent a moral standard to which the United States should strive. This view was notably promoted by Abraham Lincoln, who based his philosophy on it, and argued for the Declaration as a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted. Intended as a revolutionary document for the world, not just the colonies, the Declaration was Jefferson's assertion of his core beliefs in a republican form of government.
Jeffersonian Political Philosophy & Views
See also: Jeffersonian democracy and Republicanism in the United States
Jefferson idealized the independent yeoman as the best exemplar of republican virtues, distrusted cities and financiers, and favored states' rights and a strictly limited federal government. He suspended his qualms about exercising powers of federal government to buy Louisiana. Jefferson detested the European system of established churches and called for a wall of separation between church and state at the federal level. He helped disestablish the Anglican Church in Virginia after the Revolution, and wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779, 1786).
His Jeffersonian democracy and Democratic-Republican Party became dominant in American politics. Jefferson's republican political principles were strongly influenced by the 18th-century British opposition writers of the Country Party. He had high regard for John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton.
Jefferson expressed a dislike and distrust for banks and bankers; he opposed borrowing from banks because he believed it created long-term debt as well as monopolies, and inclined the people to dangerous speculation, as opposed to productive labor on the farm. Jefferson believed that each man has "certain inalienable rights". He defines the right of "liberty" by saying, "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others..." A proper government, for Jefferson, is one that not only prohibits individuals in society from infringing on the liberty of other individuals, but also restrains itself from diminishing individual liberty.
Society and Government
The historian Gordon S. Wood argues that Jefferson's political philosophy was a product of his time and his scientific interests. Influenced by Isaac Newton, he considered social systems as analogous to physical systems. In the social world, Jefferson likens love as a force similar to gravity in the physical world. People are naturally attracted to each other through love, but dependence corrupts this attraction and results in political problems. Wood argues that, though the phrase "all men are created equal" was a cliché in the late 18th century, Jefferson took it further than most. Jefferson held that not only are all men created equal, but they remain equal throughout their lives, equally capable of love as an attractive force. Their level of dependence makes them unequal in practice. Removing or preventing corrupting dependence would enable men to be equal in practice. Jefferson idealized a future in which men would be free of dependencies, particularly those caused by banking or royal influences.
In political terms, Americans thought that virtue was the "glue" that held together a republic, whereas patronage, dependency and coercion held together a monarchy. "Virtue" in this sense was public virtue, in particular self-sacrifice. People commonly thought that any dependence would corrupt this impulse, by making people more subservient to their patrons than to society at large. This derived from the British conception of the nobility, whose economic independence allowed them to work and make personal sacrifices on behalf of the society at large. Americans reasoned that liberty and republicanism required a virtuous society, and the society had to be free of dependence and extensive patronage networks. Jefferson's ideal of the yeoman farmer (or a slave-owning planter) personified his ideal of independence. While Jefferson believed most persons could not escape corrupting dependence, the franchise should be extended only to those who could. His fear of dependence and patronage made Jefferson dislike established institutions, such as banking, government, or military. He disliked inter-generational dependence, as well as its manifestations, such as national debt and unalterable governments. For these reasons, he opposed Hamilton's consolidated banking and military plans. Wood argues that Hamilton favored his plans for the very reason that Jefferson feared them, because he believed that they would provide for future American greatness. Jefferson feared a loss of individual liberty for propertied individuals and did not desire imperial stature for the nation.
During the late 1780s, James Madison grew to believe that self-interested dependence could be filtered from a government. Jefferson, however, continued to idealize the yeoman farmer as the base for republican government. Whereas Madison became disillusioned with what he saw as excessive democracy in the states, Jefferson believed such excesses were caused by institutional corruptions rather than human nature. He remained less suspicious of working democracy than many of his contemporaries.
Wood argues that as president, Jefferson tried to re-create the balance between the states and federal government as it existed under the Articles of Confederation. He tried to shift the balance of power back to the states. Wood argues that Jefferson took this action from his classical republican conception that liberty could only be retained in small, homogeneous societies. He believed that the Federalist system enacted by Washington and Adams had encouraged corrupting patronage and dependence. According to Wood, many of Jefferson's apparent contradictions can be understood within this philosophical framework. For example, his intent to deny women the franchise was rooted in his belief that a government must be controlled by the independent. In the 18th century, men believed that women were dependent by their nature. In common with most political thinkers of his day, Jefferson did not support gender equality. He opposed women's participation in politics, saying that "our good ladies ... are contented to soothe and calm the minds of their husbands returning ruffled from political debate."
Jefferson is a major iconic figure in the emergence of democracy—he was the "agrarian democrat" who shaped the thinking of his nation and the world. The historian Vernon Louis Parrington concluded in 1927:
"Far more completely than any other American of his generation he embodied the idealisms of the great revolution – its faith in human nature, its economic individualism, its conviction that here in America, through the instrumentality of political democracy, the lot of the common man should somehow be made better."
Jefferson's concepts of democracy were rooted in The Enlightenment, as Peter Onuf has stressed. He envisioned democracy as an expression of society as a whole, and he called for national self-determination, cultural uniformity, and education of all the people (or all the males, as he believed at the time). His emphasis on uniformity did not envision a multiracial republic in which some groups were not fully assimilated into the identical republican values. Onuf argues that Jefferson was unable and unwilling to abolish slavery until such a demand could issue naturally from the sensibilities of the entire people. Gordon Wood argues that Jefferson's philosophy of liberty personified American ideals. Jefferson believed that public education and a free press were essential to a democratic nation: "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".
According to Tucker and Hendrickson, Jefferson believed America "was the bearer of a new diplomacy, founded on the confidence of a free and virtuous people, that would secure ends based on the natural and universal rights of man, by means that escaped war and its corruptions." Jefferson sought a radical break from the traditional European emphasis on "reason of state" (which could justify any action) and the traditional priority of foreign policy and the needs of the ruling family over the needs of the people.
Jefferson envisaged America becoming the world's great "empire of liberty"--that is, the model for democracy and republicanism. On departing the presidency in 1809, he described America as:
"Trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth, if other regions of the earth shall ever become susceptible of its benign influence."
In the decades after the Revolutionary War, he considered Britain as an enemy to the United States, because it was the base for a successful aristocracy and antipathy to democracy, while France, at least in the early stages of the French Revolution, appeared to be developing a solution to Europe's malaise. He said, "The liberty of the whole world was depending on the issue of the contest." He never wanted war. The paradox was that as Britain was much more powerful and was the leading trading partner of the U.S., Jefferson's economic warfare against resulted in hurting the American economy.
Whiskey Rebellion and individual rights
After the Revolutionary War, Jefferson advocated restraining government via rebellion and violence when necessary, in order to protect individual freedoms. In a letter to James Madison on January 30, 1787, Jefferson wrote, "A little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical...It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government." Similarly, in a letter to Abigail Adams on February 22, 1787 he wrote, "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all." Concerning Shays' Rebellion after he had heard of the bloodshed, on November 13, 1787 Jefferson wrote to William S. Smith, John Adams' son-in-law, "What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." In another letter to Smith during 1787, Jefferson wrote: "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."
Thomas Jefferson's Death
Jefferson's health began to deteriorate by July 1825, and by June 1826 he was confined to bed. His death was from a combination of illnesses and conditions including uremia, severe diarrhea, and pneumonia. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and a few hours before John Adams.
Though born into a wealthy slave-owning family, Jefferson had many financial problems, and died deeply in debt. He gave instructions for disposal of his assets in his Will and after his death, his possessions (including 130 persons he held as slaves) were sold off in public auctions starting in 1827. Monticello was sold in 1831.
Thomas Jefferson is buried in the family cemetery at Monticello. The cemetery is separately owned and operated by the Monticello Association, a lineage society that is not affiliated with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation that runs the estate as a public history site.
Jefferson wrote his own epitaph, which reads:
HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.
Thomas Jefferson's Writings
- A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774)
- Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms (1775)
- Memorandums taken on a journey from Paris into the southern parts of France and Northern Italy, in the year 1787
- Notes on the State of Virginia (1781)
- Plan for Establishing Uniformity in the Coinage, Weights, and Measures of the United States A report submitted to Congress (1790)
- Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Use of the Senate of the United States (1801)
- Autobiography (1821)
- Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth