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Quotations on Education
1782. (Notes on the State of Virginia) "Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree."
1785 August 19. (to Peter Carr) "An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head is the second."
1786 August 13. (to George Wythe) "I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance."
1787 December 20. (to James Madison) "Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to ; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty."
1789 January 8. (to Richard Price) "...wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government..."
1810 May 6. (to the Trustees of the Lottery for East Tennessee College) "No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do, and none has greater confidence in it's effect towards supporting free & good government."
1816 January 6. (to Charles Yancey) "if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be."
1816 April 24. (to Dupont de Nemours) "Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day . . . . I believe it [human condition] susceptible of much improvement, and most of all, in matters of government and religion; and that the diffusion of knowledge among the people is to be the instrument by which it is effected."
1818 January 14. (to Joseph C. Cabell) "Now let us see what the present primary schools cost us, on the supposition that all the children of 10. 11. & 12. years old are, as they ought to be, at school: and, if they are not, so much the work is the system; for they will be untaught, and their ignorance & vices will, in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences, than it would have done, in their correction, by a good education."
1818 January 14. (to Joseph C. Cabell) "A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest, of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest."
1818 August 4. "The objects of this primary eduction determine its character and limits. These objects are To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts, in writing; To improve by reading, his morals and faculties; To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either; To know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor and judgement; And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed. To instruct the mass of our citizens in these, their rights, interests and duties, as men and citizens, being then the objects of education in the primary schools, whether privet or public, in them should be taught reading, writing and numerical arithmetic, the elements of mensuration...and the outlines of geography and history."
1820 September 28. (to William C. Jarvis) "I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their controul with a wholsome 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."
1822 October 21. (to C.C. Blatchly) "I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue, and advancing the happiness of man."
1824 March 27. (to Edward Everett) "The qualifications for self-government in society are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training."
- Coates, Eyler Robert. Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government. "Educating the People."
- Coates, Eyler Robert. Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government. "Publicly Supported Education."
- Foley, John P., ed. The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900. See Education entries starting on p. 273.
- Kaminski, John P., ed. The Quotable Jefferson. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006. See "Education and Knowledge," pp. 83-96.
- Wagoner, Jennings L., Jr. Jefferson and Education. Charlottesville, Va.: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2004.
- 1. PTJ, 8:406.
- 2. Ibid., 10:244.
- 3. Ibid., 10:308.
- 4. Ibid., 12:442.
- 5. Ibid., 14:420. Recipient's copy at the Library of Congress.
- 6. PTJ:RS, 2:365. Polygraph copy at the Library of Congress.
- 7. PTJ:RS, 9:33. Polygraph copy at the Library of Congress (see last page of letter).
- 8. Polygraph copy at the Library of Congress.
- 9. Ford, 10:98-101.
- 10. Ibid.
- 11. "Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia", August 4, 1818, in Peterson, Writings, 459.
- 12. Polygraph copy at the Library of Congress. Transcription from Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series Digital Archive.
- 13. L&B, 15:399.
- 14. Ibid., 16:20-22.