Thomas Jefferson Quotations

Thomas Jefferson

[A] wise and frugal government...shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.

Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

History, in general, only informs us what bad government is.

Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.

How much have cost us the evils that never happened!

I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely happier for it.

I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.

I find that the pain of a little censure, even when it is unfounded, is more acute than the pleasure of much praise.

In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.

In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.

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.

It has long, however, been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression...that the germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal Judiciary; working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped.

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

It is the trade of lawyers to question everything, yield nothing, and to talk by the hour.

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.

Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure.

Laws provide against injury from others; but not from ourselves. God himself will not save men against their wills.

My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.

No man will ever bring out of the Presidency the reputation which carries him into it.

On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.

That government is best which governs least, because its people discipline themselves.

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

The hole and the patch should be commensurate.

The judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working under ground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric. They are construing our constitution from a co-ordination of a general and special government to a general and supreme one alone.

The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.

There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talent.

The second office of the government is honorable and easy, the first is but a splendid misery.

The selfish spirit of commerce knows no country, and feels no passion or principle but that of gain.

The sovereign invigorator of the body is exercise, and of all the exercises walking is the best.

The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.

Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.

To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.

[T]ruth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing tp fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted to freely contradict them.

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.

Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread.