That government is best which governs least. (Quotation)

Although the saying "That government is best which governs least" is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, we have not found this particular statement in his writings.

Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience (1849) is often identified as the real source of this quotation, but there may be an even earlier source. Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations[1] points to The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, whose editor wrote in 1837, "The best government is that which governs least."[2]

Although the ideas expressed in this quotation may be in line with Jefferson's opinions, the exact phrasing is almost certainly not Jefferson's.


  1. Suzy Platt, ed., Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service (Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1989),
  2. A more in-depth analysis of this earlier source can be found in Paul F. Boller, Jr., Not So! Popular Myths About America from Columbus to Clinton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 49.

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