Finding Jefferson Quotations

Thomas Jefferson is often quoted in books, news articles, and on the Internet.  Below is a guide to finding the source of quotations attributed to Thomas Jefferson, and to finding quotations from Jefferson's writings on specific topics.

Finding a Specific Quotation

The first thing to do, although it may seem surprising, is to search for your quotation using a search engine such as Google.  Try searching for your quotation in large collections of digitized print material as well, such as Google Books, Hathi Trust, and the Internet Archive.  If your results consist only of websites and books that attribute the quotation to Thomas Jefferson but do not provide a citation, the quotation may well be spurious.  Check our listing of known spurious Jefferson quotations, and if you do not see it there, please contact us.

If, however, you do spot your quotation in one or more sources with a useful citation, it is very likely genuine.  It's also highly likely that it can be found in a published collection of Jefferson's writings, since this would have made it much more widely available.  See our guide to searching Jefferson's papers to locate the exact letter or document that contains your quotation.

Finding Quotations on a Specific Topic

If you are not looking to determine the source of a particular quotation, but instead would like to locate passages in Jefferson's writings where he may have mentioned a certain topic, we recommend a different strategy.  Instead of casting a wide net, it is often more fruitful to start with existing compilations of Jefferson quotations.  The following are some of the most useful books and websites for finding an appropriate quotation.

  1. The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia has a selection of Jefferson quotations arranged by topic.  All quotations are fully documented.
  2. The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, ed. John P. Foley (NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900), 2 vols.  This extensive compilation, although quite old, is still extremely useful.  It is available in many libraries, and is also available online through the Hathi Trust Digital Library.  Quotations from the Jeffersonian Cyclopedia are drawn mostly from the Washington and Ford editions of Jefferson's writings, and Sarah Randolph's Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson, and if possible they should be checked against the more-authoritative Princeton edition.
  3. Thomas Jefferson on Politics and Government.  A compilation of political quotations arranged by topic, compiled by the late Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. from the Lipscomb-Bergh edition (referred to in this collection as ME or "Memorial Edition").
  4. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series site has a digital archive containing quotations by or about Thomas Jefferson.  Go to the digital archive search page and select "Quotes by and about Thomas Jefferson" (in the Collection section of the Advanced Search fields) to search this database.
  5. Quotable Jefferson, ed. John P. Kaminski (Princeton, 2006).  More reliable than the Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, this compilation can be found in many libraries.
  6. If none of the above prove useful, one can always resort to the full Princeton edition of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson.  There is a fee-based Digital Edition which can be searched by keyword, as well as a free version from the National Archives.

 

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Discussion

says

This should be everyone's first stop for finding a Jefferson quote--or finding out of one isn't.

says

I have to agree with Anna on this score--this is a very useful page for anybody doing research into Jefferson quotes. Especially ones of the "did Jefferson really say that" variety. You wouldn't believe how many spurious quotes are floating around. Folks love their Jefferson quotes and this is a great tool for anybody interested in doing their own research.

says

I don't know if anyone ever uses this page, but it lays out exactly how *I* would search for a quote (if I were you), so go ahead and take advantage of our years and years of expertise in hunting quotations. Really, you *can* try this at home!

says

A great how-to guide to determining if a Jefferson quote being touted is genuine or not.

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