Thomas Jefferson Quotes from the Founding Father and Author of the Declaration of Independence

April 13, 1743–July 4, 1826

Thomas Jefferson was a Founding Father who helped shape the ideas that led to the independence of the United States. This collection includes important quotes from Jefferson about Liberty, the American Revolution, the Constitution, and other important topics.

Thomas Jefferson, Painting, Rembrandt Peale

Thomas Jefferson was one of the most important Founding Fathers of the United States of America. He was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and was also elected President in 1800 and again in 1804. This painting of Jefferson was done by Rembrandt Peale in 1800. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Thomas Jefferson — Famous Quotes

Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if He ever had a chosen people.

— Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on the State of Virginia,” 1781–1785.

A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth. 

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, December 1787.

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.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to A. Donald, 1789.

I leave to others the sublime delights of riding in the storm, better pleased with sound sleep & a warmer berth below it encircled, with the society of neighbors, friends & fellow laborers of the earth rather than with spies & sycophants…I have no ambition to govern men. It is a painful and thankless office.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, December 28, 1796.

John Adams, Portrait, Stuart

Jefferson was close friends with John Adams for most his life. Image Source: Wikipedia.

In little disputes with your companions, give way rather than insist on trifles, for their love and the approbation of others will be worth more to you than the trifle in dispute.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Eppes, May 21, 1816.

Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education & free discussion are the antidotes of both.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, August 1, 1816.

Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.

— Thomas Jefferson, 1820.

Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, September 16, 1821.

When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred. 

— Thomas Jefferson, “A Decalogue of Canons for Observation in Practical Life,” February 21, 1825

Adore God. Reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. 

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Jefferson Smith, February 21, 1825.

Thomas Jefferson — Important Quotes from the Founding Father

Its soul, its climate, its equality, liberty, laws, people, and manners. My God! how little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Monroe, June 17, 1785.

Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are ties to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands. As long therefore as they can find employment in this line, I would not convert them into mariners, artisans, or any thing else. But our citizens will find emploiment in this line till their numbers, and of course their productions, become too great for the demand both internal and foreign.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Jay, August 23, 1785.

You see I am an enthusiast on the subject of the arts. But it is an enthusiasm of which I am not ashamed, as its object is to improve the taste of my countrymen, to increase their reputation, to reconcile to them the respect of the world & procure them its praise.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, September 20, 1785.

He is vain, irritable, and a bad calculator of the force and probable effect of the motives which govern men. This is all the ill which can possibly be said of him. He is as disinterested as the Being who made him.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison about John Adams, 1787.

I find as I grow older, that I love those most whom I loved first.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to Mary Jefferson Bolling, July 23, 1787.

Never was a finer canvas presented to work on that our countrymen. All of them engaged in agriculture or the pursuits of honest industry, independent in their circumstances, enlightened as to their rights, and firm in their habits of order & obedience to the laws. This I hope will be the age of experiments in government, and that their basis will be founded principles of honesty, not of mere force. We have seen no instance of this since the days of Roman republic, nor do we read of any before that.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, February 28, 1796.

Tranquility is the old man’s milk. I go to enjoy it in a few days, and to exchange the roar and tumult of bulls and bears for the prattle of my grandchildren and senile rest.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to Edward Rutledge, June 14, 1797.

I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they remain chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe, and go to eating one another as they do there.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, December 20, 1787.

My one fear is that I may live too long. This would be a subject of dread to me.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to Philip Mazzai, March 1801.

Opinion, & the just maintenance of it, shall never be a crime in my view; nor bring injury on the individual.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Adams, March 29, 1801.

Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have been called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans…we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments to the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

— Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 1801.

Being very sensible of bodily decays from advancing years, I ought not to doubt their effect on the mental faculties. To do so would evince either great self-love or little observation of what passes under our eyes: and I shall be fortunate if I am the first to perceive and to obey this admonition of nature.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to Mr. Weaver, June 7, 1807.

The station which we occupy among the nations of the earth is honorable, but awful. Trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, & the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom & 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. All mankind ought then, with us, to rejoice in its prosperous, & sympathize in its adverse fortunes, as involving every thing dear to man.

— Thomas Jefferson, to the Citizens of Washington, March 4, 1809.

I may sometimes differ in opinion from some of my friends, from those whose views are as pure & sound as my own. I censure none, but do homage to every one’s right of opinion.

— Thomas Jefferson,  letter to William Duane, March 28, 1811

It is wonderful to me that old men should not be sensible that their minds keep pace with their bodies in the progress of decay…Nothing betrays imbecility so much as the being insensible of it.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, August 17, 1811.

Of all the faculties of the human mind that of Memory is the first which suffers decay from age.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Latrobe, July 12, 1812.

Our machines have now been running seventy or eighty years, and we must expect that, worn as they are, here a pivot, there a wheel, now a pinion, next a spring, will be giving way; and however we may tinker the up for a while, all will at length surcease motion.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, July 15, 1814.

I am no believer in the amalgamation of parties, nor do I consider it as either desirable or useful for the public; but only that, like religious differences, a difference in politics should never be permitted to enter into social intercourse, or to disturb its friendships, its charities or justice. in that form, they are censors of the conduct of each other, and useful watchmen for the public. men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties. 1. those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2dly those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them cherish and consider them as the most honest & safe, altho’ not the most wise depository of the public interests. in every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. call them therefore liberals and serviles, Jacobins and Ultras, whigs and tories, republicans and federalists, aristocrats and democrats or by whatever name you please; they are the same parties still and pursue the same object.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to Henry Lee, August 10, 1824.

The solitude in which we are left by the death of our friends is one of the great evils of protracted life. When I look back to the days of my youth, it is like looking over a field of battle. All, all dead! and ourselves left alone amidst a new generation whom we know not, and who know not us.

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis A. Van Der Kemp, January 11, 1825.