Quotations on Nature and the Environment

1785 October 28. (to James Madison). "The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on."[1]

1786 October 12. (to Maria Cosway). "How sublime to look down on the workhouse of nature, to see her clouds, hail, snow, rain, thunder, all fabricated at our feet!"[2]

1787 July 30. (to William Drayton). "By varying too the articles of culture, we multiply the chances for making something, and disarm the seasons in a proportionable degree of their calamitous."[3]

1787 December 20. (to James Madison). "I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are 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."[4]

1790 December 23. (to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "...There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me..."[5]

1793 July 7. (to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I never before knew the full value of trees...What would I not give that the trees planted nearest round the house at Monticello were full grown."[6]

1793 July 21. (to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "When the earth is rich it bids defiance to droughts, yields in abundance and of the best quality."[7]

1797 March 10. (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society). "The movements of nature are in a never ending circle. The animal species which has once been put into a train of motion, is still probably moving in that train. For if one link in nature's chain might be lost, another and another might be lost, till this whole system of things should evanish by piece-meal; a conclusion not warranted by the local disappearance of one or two species of animals, and opposed by the thousands and thousands of instances of the renovating power constantly exercised by nature for the reproduction of all her subjects, animal, vegetable, and mineral."[8]

1800. (A Memorandum Services to My Country). "The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to it's culture."[9]

1801 August 14. (to Joseph Rapin). "While I wish to have every thing good in it's kind, and handsome in stile, I an a great enemy to waste and useless extra expense, and see them with real pain."[10]

1803 November 8. (to David Williams). "The general desire of men to live by their heads rather than their hands, and the strong allurements of great cities to those who have any turn for dissipation, threaten to make them here, as in Europe, the sinks of voluntary misery."[11]

1806 December 8. (to Edmund Bacon). "We must use a good deal of economy in our wood, never cutting down new, where we can make the old do."[12]

1813 June 24. (to John Wayles Eppes). "The earth belongs to the living...The soil is the gift of God to the living."[13]


  1. PTJ, 8:682.
  2. Ibid, 10:447.
  3. Ibid, 11:648.
  4. Ibid, 12:442.
  5. Ibid, 18:350.
  6. Family Letters, 121-122.
  7. Ibid, 122.
  8. Thomas Jefferson, "A Memoir on the Discovery of certain Bones of a Quadruped of the Clawed Kind in the Western parts of Virginia" Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 4(1799): 255-6.
  9. Peterson, Writings, 703.
  10. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/findingaids/doc.cfm?fa=fa0031
  11. L&B, 10:431.
  12. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/findingaids/doc.cfm?fa=fa0031
  13. Peterson, Writings, 1280, 1282.

Further Sources

See selected publications on Jefferson and nature or the environment in the Thomas Jefferson Portal

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