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NOTE: We are currently moving this section to a new section of called Jefferson Quotes and Family Letters, featuring over 700  the most famous quotations by and about Thomas Jefferson as well as over 800 letters by Jefferson's family and friends that illuminate elements of his life seldom touched on in his own writings.  Those categories listed in bold link to the new section.



To: Anna Berkes

Hello, I was wondering if you could tell me if Jefferson ever said or wrote anything referencing that the second amendment "SHOULD BE REVISITED ONCE EVERY 20 YEARS" (as society & technology evolves & advances).

On CNN January 9th, guest Christopher Kennedy quoted Thomas Jefferson of having said this.

Currently, there is A LOT of HEATED debate as to whether or not this is a spurious quote.



This is probably a reference to TJ's letter of 6 September 1789 to James Madison, in which he states that "The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors extinguished then in their natural course with those who gave them being. This could preserve that being till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right." I would strongly urge anyone reading this letter to read the editorial note that the Papers of Thomas Jefferson included with it, which gives some important context. (You can find it in a library here: This document appears in volume 15.)


I an wondering if the following quote is correctly attributed to Thomas Jefferson: "The rich alone use imported articles, and on these alone the whole taxes of the General Government are levied. ... Our revenues liberated by the discharge of the public debt, and its surplus applied to canals, roads, schools, etc., the farmer will see his government supported, his children educated, and the face of his country made a paradise by the contributions of the rich alone, without his being called on to spend a cent from his earnings." --Thomas Jefferson


Yes, this is from TJ's letter to Tadeusz Kosciuszko, 16 April 1811. The polygraph copy of this letter can be viewed here:, and a transcription can be viewed here:


It's critical for me to know that I can trust the authenticity of a quote. Thank you for your good work in regard to Thomas Jefferson.


Once again will you please address the MIS-quotation from Jefferson's first inaugural address:

"A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government."

I believe I once read on your site that the misquotation began to show up in the 1980's and it is being widely circulated today. Thank you.


I know it has been some time since you made your post. But I found that particular quote on, it is from Jefferson's First Inaugural Address, Paragraph 3, "Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own Federal and Republican principles, our attachment to union and representative government. Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter—with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens—a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities."


I love this because Jefferson artfully articulates ideas in one or two sentences which would normally take me paragraphs to explain! Plus I love dragging these into conversations; Jefferson makes me look good.


This is an excellent place to check out the accuracy of the many chain emails that allegedly contain Jefferson's quotes. Just gotta take the time.


This page is a great resource to find Jefferson quotes -- sorted into helpful categories -- in one place. Too, since the Jefferson Encyclopedia is associated with the Jefferson Library, the accuracy and authenticity of the quotes is confirmed.

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