Famous Jefferson Quotes

A Decalogue of Canons for Observation in Practical Life

  1. Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day.
  2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  3. Never spend your money before you have it.
  4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
  5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold.
  6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
  7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
  9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
  10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.

(Randall, Henry S. The Life of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 3. New York: Derby & Jackson, 1858, p.525.)

Empire for Liberty

"We should then have only to include the north in our Confederacy, which would be of courts in the first war, and we should have such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation"

(Jefferson to James Madison, April 27, 1809. Lipscomb, Andrew A. and Albert Ellery Bergh, ed. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 12. Washington D.C.: Issued under the auspices of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, 1903-04, p. 277.)

Empire of Liberty

"We shall divert through our own Country a branch of commerce which the European States have thought worthy of the most important struggles and sacrifices, and in the event of peace on terms which have been contemplated by some powers we shall form to the American union a barrier against the dangerous extension of the British Province of Canada and add to the Empire of liberty an extensive and fertile Country thereby converting dangerous Enemies into valuable friends."

(Jefferson to George Rogers Clark, December 25, 1780. Boyd, Julian P., ed. Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 4, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951, p. 237-238.)

Essay in Architecture...

"my essay in Architecture has been so much subordinated to the law of convenience, & affected also by the circumstance of change in the original design, that it is liable to some unfavorable & just criticisms." Jefferson to Latrobe. October 10, 1809 (Padover, Saul K., ed. Thomas Jefferson and the National Capitol. Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1946, p. 463.)

Fire bell in the night...

"But this momentous question. Like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror."

(Jefferson discussing the Missouri question to John Holmes April 22, 1820. Ford, Paul Leicester, ed. The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 12. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1905, p. 158.)

Friendship like wine...

"I find friendship to be like wine, raw when new, ripened with age, the true old man's milk and restorative cordial."

(Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, August 17, 1811. Ford, Paul Leicester, ed. The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 11. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1905, p. 213.)

Gardening

"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden...But though an old man, I am but a young gardener."

(Jefferson to Charles W. Peale, August 20, 1811. Lipscomb, Andrew A. and Albert Ellery Bergh, ed. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 13. Washington D.C.: Issued under the auspices of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, 1903-04, p. 79.)

I cannot live without books...

"I cannot live without books: but fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object."

(Jefferson to John Adams, June 10, 1815. Cappon, Lester J., ed. The Adams-Jefferson Letters. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987, p. 443.)

Illimitable freedom of the human mind

"This institution [University of Virginia] will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."

(Jefferson to William Roscoe, December 27, 1820. Lipscomb, Andrew A. and Albert Ellery Bergh, ed. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 15. Washington D.C.: Issued under the auspices of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, 1903-04, p. 303.)

I rise with the sun

"But whether I retire to bed early or late, I rise with the sun."

(Jefferson to Dr. Vine Utley, March 21, 1819. Peterson, Merrill, ed. Jefferson: Writings. New York: Literary Classics of the U.S.: Distributed to the trade in the U.S. and Canada by the Viking Press, c1984, p. 1417.)

A little rebellion...

"I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."

(Jefferson to James Madison, January 30, 1787. Boyd, Julian P., ed. Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, p. 93.)

Sanctum sanctorum

"Mr. J. went to his apartments, the door of which is never opened but by himself and his retirement seems so sacred that I told him it was his sanctum sanctorum."

(Margaret Bayard Smith, writing about her visit to Monticello on August 1, 1809. Smith, Margaret Bayard. First Forty Years of Washington Society. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906, p. 70.)

Sworn upon the altar of god

"I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

(Jefferson discussing the fight over the establishment of one form of Christianity in the U.S. to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800. Peterson, Merrill, ed. Jefferson: Writings. New York: Literary Classics of the U.S.: Distributed to the trade in the U.S. and Canada by the Viking Press, c1984, p. 1082.)

Wolf by the ear(s)

"But as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other."

(Jefferson discussing the Missouri question and slavery to John Holmes April 22, 1820. Ford, Paul Leicester, ed. The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 12. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1905, p. 159.)

We have the wolf by the ears and feel the danger of either holding or letting him loose."

(Jefferson to Mrs. Sigourney, Monticello, July 18, 1824.)


« Back to A Guide to Jefferson Quotations

« Back to Reference

Tag this

None
Login or register to tag items

Add comment

Login to post comments