Thomas Jefferson



=Inalienable Rights=

"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.

"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.

"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.

"Nothing... is unchangeable but the inherent and inalienable
rights of man." --Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824.

"Man [is] a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights and
with an innate sense of justice." --Thomas Jefferson to William
Johnson, 1823.

"Questions of natural right are triable by their conformity with 
the moral sense and reason of man." --Thomas Jefferson: Opinion
on French Treaties, 1793.

"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:
Legal Argument, 1770.

"It is a principle that the right to a thing gives a right to the 
means without which it could not be used, that is to say,
that the means follow their end." --Thomas Jefferson: Report on 
Navigation of the Mississippi, 1791.

"A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of
nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate." --Thomas
Jefferson: Rights of British America, 1774.

"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 to  
John Manners, 1817.

"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 to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819.

"That liberty [is pure] which is to go to all, and not to the few 
or the rich alone." --Thomas Jefferson to Horatio Gates, 1798.

"In a government bottomed on the will of all, the... liberty of
every individual citizen becomes interesting to all." --Thomas
Jefferson: 5th Annual Message, 1805.

"It can never be too often repeated, that the time for fixing 
every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are 
honest, and ourselves united." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on 
Virginia, 1782.

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too
much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."
--Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stuart, 1791.

   =Securing Rights=

"To secure these [inalienable] rights [to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness], governments are instituted among men,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
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." 
--Thomas Jefferson: Declaration of Independence, 1776.

"The idea is quite unfounded that on entering into society we give
up any natural rights." --Thomas Jefferson to Francis Gilmer, 1816.

"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?" --Thomas 
Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782.

"It is to secure our rights that we resort to government at all."
--Thomas Jefferson to Francois D'Ivernois, 1795.

"All... natural rights may be abridged or modified in [their] 
exercise by law." --Thomas Jefferson: Opinion on Residence Bill, 

"Laws abridging the natural right of the citizen should be
restrained by rigorous constructions within their narrowest 
limits." --Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson, 1813.

"Circumstances sometimes require, that rights the most 
unquestionable should be advanced with delicacy." --Thomas
Jefferson to William Short, 1791.

"The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches, and we must be 
contented to secure what we can get from time to time and 
eternally press forward for what is yet to get.  It takes time to 
persuade men to do even what is for their own good." --Thomas 
Jefferson to Charles Clay, 1790.

"It had become an universal and almost uncontroverted position in
the several States, that the purposes of society do not require a
surrender of all our rights to our ordinary governors; that there 
are certain portions of right not necessary to enable them to 
carry on an effective government, and which experience has 
nevertheless proved they will be constantly encroaching on, if 
submitted to them; that there are also certain fences which 
experience has proved peculiarly efficacious against wrong, and 
rarely obstructive of right, which yet the governing powers have 
ever shown a disposition to weaken and remove.  Of the first kind, 
for instance, is freedom of religion; of the second, trial by 
jury, habeas corpus laws, free presses." --Thomas Jefferson to 
Noah Webster, 1790.

"If we are made in some degree for others, yet in a greater are 
we made for ourselves.  It were contrary to feeling and indeed
ridiculous to suppose that a man had less rights in himself than 
one of his neighbors, or indeed all of them put together.  This
would be slavery, and not that liberty which the bill of rights 
has made inviolable, and for the preservation of which our 
government has been charged." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe,

"No one has a right to obstruct another exercising his faculties
innocently for the relief of sensibilities made a part of his 
nature." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 

"No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal
rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to
restrain him." --Thomas Jefferson to Francis Gilmer, 1816.

"We may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a
right, by the will of its majority, to bind themselves, but none 
to bind the succeeding generation, more than the inhabitants of 
another country." --Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, 1813.

"Our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we 
have submitted to them." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 

"The equal rights of man and the happiness of every individual
are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of
government." --Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823

"I may err in my measures, but never shall deflect from the
intention to fortify the public liberty by every possible means, 
and to put it out of the power of the few to riot on the labors 
of the many." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804

=Moral Principles=

"Man was destined for society. His morality, therefore, was to be
formed to this object.  He was endowed with a sense of right and
wrong, merely relative to this.  This sense is as much a part of 
his nature, as the sense of hearing, seeing, feeling; it is the 
true foundation of morality." --Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 

"God has formed us moral agents... that we may promote the
happiness of those with whom He has placed us in society, by
acting honestly towards all, benevolently to those who fall within 
our way, respecting sacredly their rights, bodily and mental, and
cherishing especially their freedom of conscience, as we value 
our own." --Thomas Jefferson to Miles King, 1814.

"Nature [has] implanted in our breasts a love of others, a sense 
of duty to them, a moral instinct, in short, which prompts us
irresistibly to feel and to succor their distresses." --Thomas 
Jefferson to Thomas Law, 1814.

"The true fountains of evidence [are] the head and heart of every 
rational and honest man.  It is there nature has written her moral 
laws, and where every man may read them for himself." --Thomas 
Jefferson: French Treaties Opinion, 1793.

"I believe that justice is instinct and innate, that the moral 
sense is as much a part of our constitution as that of feeling, 
seeing, or hearing; as a wise Creator must have seen to be 
necessary in an animal destined to live in society." --Thomas 
Jefferson to John Adams, 1823.

"Men are disposed to live honestly, if the means of doing so are
open to them." --Thomas Jefferson to Francois de deMarbois, 1817.

"Truth is certainly a branch of morality and a very important one 
to society."  Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Law, 1814.

"A nation, as a society, forms a moral person, and every member of 
it is personally responsible for his society." --Thomas Jefferson 
to George Hammond, 1792.

"Our part is to pursue with steadiness what is right, turning 
neither to right nor left for the intrigues or popular delusions 
of the day, assured that the public approbation will in the end be 
with us." --Thomas Jefferson to James Breckenridge, 1822.

"We are firmly convinced, and we act on that conviction, that with 
nations as with individuals, our interests soundly calculated
will ever be found inseparable from our moral duties." --Thomas
Jefferson: 2nd Inaugural, 1805

"It is strangely absurd to suppose that a million of human beings, 
collected together, are not under the same moral laws which bind 
each of them separately." --Thomas Jefferson to George Logan, 1816.

"When we come to the moral principles on which the government is 
to be administered, we come to what is proper for all conditions 
of society.  Liberty, truth, probity, honor, are declared to be 
the four cardinal principles of society.  I believe that morality, 
compassion, generosity, are innate elements of the human 
constitution; that there exists a right independent of force." 
--Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816.

"Principle will, in... most... cases open the way for us to 
correct conclusion." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

"A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent 
for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of 
the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, to have 
no sensibilities left but for sin and suffering." --Thomas 
Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

"Liberty is the great parent of science and of virtue; and a 
nation will be great in both in proportion as it is free." 
--Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Willard, 1789.

"I consider ethics, as well as religion, as supplements to law in 
the government of man." --Thomas Jefferson to Augustus B. Woodward,

"Political interest [can] never be separated in the long run from
moral right." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1806.

"It is rare that the public sentiment decides immorally or 
unwisely, and the individual who differs from it ought to distrust
and examine well his own opinion." --Thomas Jefferson to William 
Findley. 1801.

 =Moral Degeneracy=

"When [the moral sense] is wanting, we endeavor to supply the
defect by education, by appeals to reason and calculation, by
presenting to the being so unhappily conformed, other motives to 
do good and to eschew evil, such as the love, or the hatred, or 
the rejection of those among whom he lives, and whose society is
necessary to his happiness and even existence; demonstrations by
sound calculation that honesty promotes interest in the long run;
the rewards and penalties established by the laws; and ultimately
the prospects of a future state of retribution for the evil as 
well as the good done while here.  These are the correctives which 
are supplied by education, and which exercise the functions of the
moralist, the preacher, and legislator; and they lead into a 
course of correct action all those whose depravity is not too  
profound to be eradicated." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Law, 1814.

"The human character, we believe, requires in general constant and 
immediate control to prevent its being biased from right by the 
seductions of self-love." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel 
Dupont de Nemours, 1816. 

"In every government on earth is some trace of human weakness,
some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will
discover, and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate and improve."
--Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782.

"I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could
propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over
others." --Thomas Jefferson to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1811.

"Force [is] the vital principle and immediate parent of 
despotism." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural, 1801

"Those characters wherein fear predominates over hope may
apprehend too much from...instances of irregularity.  They may
conclude too hastily that nature has formed man insusceptible of
any other government than that of force, a conclusion not founded
in truth nor experience." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 

"Lay down true principles and adhere to them inflexibly.  Do not 
be frightened into their surrender by the alarms of the timid, or 
the croakings of wealth against the ascendency of the people." 
--Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

"Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours
his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to...the general 
prey of the rich on the poor." --Thomas Jefferson to Edward 
Carrington, 1787.

"When wrongs are pressed because it is believed they will be
borne, resistance becomes morality." --Thomas Jefferson M.
deStael, 1807.

"If ever there was a holy war, it was that which saved our 
liberties and gave us independence." --Thomas Jefferson to John 
Wayles Eppes, 1813.

"It is unfortunate that the efforts of mankind to recover the
freedom of which they have been so long deprived, will be
accompanied with violence, with errors, and even with crimes. But 
while we weep over the means, we must pray for the end."
--Thomas Jefferson to Francois D'Ivernois, 1795.

"It is a happy circumstance in human affairs that evils which are 
not cured in one way will cure themselves in some other."
--Thomas Jefferson to John Sinclair, 1791

=The Power of the People=

"All power is inherent in the people." --Thomas Jefferson to John 
Cartwright, 1824.

"From the nature of things, every society must at all times 
possess within itself the sovereign powers of legislation." 
--Thomas Jefferson: Rights of British America, 1774.

"Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people."
--Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1816.

"Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers 
from the consent of the governed." --Thomas Jefferson: Declaration 
of Independence, 1776.

"Independence can be trusted nowhere but with the people in mass. 
They are inherently independent of all but moral law." --Thomas 
Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1819.

"The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted
freely to be expressed.  The agitation it produces must be
submitted to." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1823.

"What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not
warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit 
of resistance?" --Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787.

"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." --Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams, 1787.

"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 to James Madison, 

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established, 
should not be changed for light and transient causes... But, when 
a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the 
same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute 
despotism, it is [the people's] right, it is their duty, to throw 
off such government, and to provide new guards for their future 
security." --Thomas Jefferson: Declaration of Independence, 1776.

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the 
blood of patriots and tyrants.  It is its natural manure." 
--Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787.

=The Safest Depository=

"Democrats consider the people as the safest depository of power
in the last resort; they cherish them, therefore, and wish to 
leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are 
competent." --Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1825.

"The mass of the citizens is the safest depositary of their own
rights." --Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816.

"I am not among those who fear the people.  They, and not the
rich, are our dependence for continued freedom." --Thomas
Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

"Aristocrats fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to 
the higher classes of society." --Thomas Jefferson to William 
Short, 1825.

"There is... an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and 
birth, without either virtue or talents... The artificial 
aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and 
provision should be made to prevent its ascendency." --Thomas 
Jefferson to John Adams, 1813.

"The people...are the only sure reliance for the preservation of 
our liberty." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787.

"No government can continue good, but under the control of the
people." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1819.

"No other depositories of power [but the people themselves] have 
ever yet been found, which did not end in converting to their own 
profit the earnings of those committed to their charge." --Thomas 
Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

"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 to William C. Jarvis, 

"The people, especially when moderately instructed, are the only
safe, because the only honest, depositaries of the public rights,
and should therefore be introduced into the administration of 
them in every function to which they are sufficient; they will err
sometimes and accidentally, but never designedly, and with a
systematic and persevering purpose of overthrowing the free 
principles of the government." --Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray,

"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with
their own government.  Whenever things get so far wrong as to
attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to 
rights." --Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, 1789

"Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of
body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day."
--Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816

"If once [the people] become inattentive to the public affairs, 
you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, 
shall all become wolves.  It seems to be the law of our general 
nature, in spite of individual exceptions." --Thomas Jefferson to 
Edward Carrington, 1787.

"I am convinced that, on the good sense of the people, we may rely 
with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of 
liberty." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787.

"It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a 
republic in vigor.  A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon 
eats to the heart of its laws and constitution." --Thomas 
Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782.

"The cement of this Union is in the heart-blood of every American. 
I do not believe there is on earth a government established on so 
immovable a basis." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1815.

Compilation copyrighted 1996 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr.
Permission hereby granted to quote single excerpts separately.

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