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75+ Thomas Jefferson Quotes on Life, Legislation, and Government

On April 13th, 1743, Thomas Jefferson was born in Shadwell, Virginia on his father’s plantation. At the age of 14, Jefferson’s father passed away, leaving him to inherit a large amount of land. Despite receiving his father’s plantation, he dreamed of living on a mountain so, he set out to build a house named Monticello where he could spend his life. In 1760, Jefferson pursued law at the College of William & Mary and a short 7 years later, he recorded his first legal case. He began his career at the house of legislature in Virginia in 1769, and in 1772 he began family life by marrying Martha Wayles Skelton.

Jefferson frequently bought and sold a large amount of enslaved people. It is said that in his lifetime he owned over 600 enslaved people, many being the members of the Hemings family. Martha’s father is known to have had 6 children with Elizabeth Hemings, making them her half-brothers and half-sisters. After 10 years of marriage, Martha died and Jefferson pursued relations with Sally Hemings. He had 6 children with Martha with only their daughters Martha and Mary reaching adulthood and had 6 children with Sally Hemings. It is said that during his lifetime and in his will, he freed all of the members of the Hemings family.

In his professional life, Jefferson’s writing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, passing the Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786, becoming the 3rd President of the United States in 1801, and founding the University of Virginia at the age of 76 during his retirement, led him to spur a great deal of American history. Most prominently noted was contributing to the American Revolution that freed America from Great Britain and marked him as a founding father of the United States. His words, lifestyle, and legislation continued to be taught, analyzed, and debated for centuries after his death on July 4th, 1826. Read the article below to discover a famous quote by former President, Thomas Jefferson, on life, legislation, and government.

Thomas Jefferson Quotes
Public domain – Wikipedia

Thomas Jefferson Quotes on Law and Government

“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 rights of the individual.”

“The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management.”

“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 rights of the individual.”

“None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army.”

“Experience hath shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

“Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and opressions of the body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

“When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”

“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the general progress of the human mind.”

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.”

“A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.”

“A machine for making revolutions is doing precisely the wrong thing at just the right time.”

“To preserve their independence, we must not let our rules load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.”

“Taste cannot be controlled by law.”

“It is my rule never to take a side in any part in the quarrels of others, nor to inquire into them. I generally presume them to flow from the indulgence of too much passion on both sides, & always find that each party thinks all the wrong was in his adversary. These bickerings, which are always useless, embitter human life more than any other cause…”

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

“When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”

Thomas Jefferson Quotes on Hard Work and Character

“Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.”

“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.”

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

“Power is not alluring to pure minds.”

“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

Thomas Jefferson Quotes on Rights and Freedom

“I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

“Freedom, the first-born of science.”

“I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

“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.”

“Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”

“Experience demands 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.”

“I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.”

“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.”

“The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.”

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

“All, too, will 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 law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

“Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched.”

“An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens.”

“I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others.”

Thomas Jefferson Quotes on Life, Happiness, and Friendship

“With your talents and industry, with science, and that steadfast honesty, which eternally pursues right, regardless of consequences, you may promise yourself everything but health, without which there is no happiness.”

“Perfect happiness, I believe, was never intended by the Deity to be the lot of one of his creatures in this world; but that he has very much put in our power the nearness of our approaches to it, is what I have steadfastly believed.”

“It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness”

“Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.”

“Happiness is not being pained in body or troubled in mind.”

“I believe that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another.”

“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.”

“Every day is lost in which we do not learn something useful. Man has no nobler or more valuable possession than time.”

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

“Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy, and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it.”

“I find friendship to be like wine, raw when new, ripened with age, the true old man’s milk and restorative cordial.”

“A great deal of love given to a few is better than a little to many.”

“Of all machines, the human heart is the most complicated and inexplicable.”

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

“It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read.”

“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

“If I am to meet with a disappointment, the sooner I know it, the more of life I shall have to wear it off.”

“The art of life is the art of avoiding pain; and he is the best pilot, who steers clearest of the rocks and shoals with which it is beset.”

“The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.”

“But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.”

“Good wine is a necessity of life for me.”

“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

“How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy.”

“No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the natural rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”

Thomas Jefferson Quotes on Wisdom, Education, and Truth

“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.”

“But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”

“Everything is useful which contributes to fix in the principles and practices of virtue.”

“Dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body, acquire strength by exercise.”

“He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”

“The opinions and beliefs of men follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds.”

“The glow of one warm thought is to me worth more than money.”

“Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong.”

“There is not a truth existing which I fear, or would wish unknown to the whole world.”

“Follow truth wherever it may lead you.”

“I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

Misquoted Thomas Jefferson Quotes

Despite being fairly famous, research suggests that Thomas Jefferson never actually stated the quotes below.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty…”

“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

Sources for these debunked quotes:

https://www.monticello.org/site/blog-and-community/posts/eternal-vigilance

https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/strongest-reason-people-retain-right-keep-and-bear-arms-spurious

More Quotes:

About the author
Katee is a lover of language and is in awe of the power it holds. Read more articles from Katee on Thought Catalog.

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