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Top 10: Misconceptions about Jefferson

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Spurious Quotations

A collection of quotations commonly misattributed to Thomas Jefferson.



I've seen this quotation going around, and can't find it on this site, either as real or spurious: "Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, judges and governors shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions; and experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor."


Teri, it is a genuine Jefferson quote, from TJ to Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787. Here's the transcription from the Ford edition: And the letterpress copy, which is at the Library of Congress:


After visiting Popular Forest in the past few days, reading extensively about Jefferson on this site, I can only say I was quite disappointed that so many historians, and Americans insist on ignoring this man for what he was, a man.

An intelligent, vain, flawed man. A man who saw the poor, who saw suffering, who saw slavery and knew it was wrong but his desires, overpowered what he knew was wrong. He was not strong enough to make the right decisions.

We are all faced with that each day. He wanted a big house, he wanted fun sex with a concubine, he wanted free labor and the things he could buy for himself more than he wanted what he knew was right.

Plain and simple, those moral battles had been argued for 4,000 years, and he knew the ramifications. They were not clouded by the times. He knew, and he chose the easy way because he was a weak man.

A great man, would have chosen differently.

Many did, during his time.

He was an intelligent man, who contributed, who tried, in my opinion, to make up for by his public service for this conflict, but, he knew, he did not want to be remembered for, as his death bed wish confirmed for these contributions.

He was flawed. He was a man.

A great man, just a man.


Hi - I've been seeing this lately - can you tell me if it's real? It seems, like many of the other fake quotes, a little specific and prescient to be real, but then again... I'm not an expert. :)

"If the people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny." -- Thomas Jefferson


Hi Elizabeth - I've just put up a page on this one. It is genuine, sort of...


A new one has been going around the internet recently. Interestingly, this "quotation" cannot be found in a web post prior to October 1, 2011. I traced it to a column and asked the columnist for a citation. She said that she had found it in a book by Fawn Brodie.
The quotation is: "My wish was, to see both Houses of Congress cleaned of all persons interested in the bank or public stocks - cleansed, that is - of all corruption."


So what are the two enemies of the people? I got a 404 error when I clicked to find out.


Apologies, Joe. You can find the quote here.


This quote is making the rounds and has been recently cited by several US Congressmen. It also appears on the Balanced Budget Amendment wiki page being attributed to a 1798 letter from TJ to John Taylor of Caroline. "I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government; I mean an additional article taking from the Federal Government the power of borrowing." This seems awfully convenient. Do you know if this is correctly attributed?


Brian, this is actually a real Jefferson quotation - from TJ to John Taylor of Caroline, 26 November 1798. The Balanced Budget Wikipedia page cites the Lipscomb-Bergh edition of Jefferson's writings for the quotation, but I notice that they actually leave a phrase out. Here is the full passage, with the missing part in bold: "I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our constitution; I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government to the genuine principles of it’s constitution; I mean an additional article taking from the federal government the power of borrowing."

I think that the Balanced Budget Amendment page on Wikipedia, and other sources that leave out that bolded phrase, are copying from Eyler Robert Coates' "Jefferson on Politics & Government" site: Coates' compilation is generally reliable but in this case it looks like there was a slight error.

The letterpress copy of this letter (somewhat smudgy, I'm afraid) is available on the Library of Congress website: - the relevant passage starts at the end of line 5.

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