Quotation: "A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have."


  1. "If your government is big enough to give you everything you want, it is big enough to take away everything you have."
  2. "Any government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have."
  3. "Government that is big enough to give everything you need and want is also strong enough to take it away."
  4. "Any government powerful enough to give the people all that they want is also powerful enough to take from the people all that they have."

Earliest known appearance in print: 1952[1]

Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Jefferson: 2005[2]

Comments:  Neither this quotation nor any of its variant forms has been found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson.  Its first known appearance in print was in 1952, although it is most likely older.  It appeared frequently in newspapers in the 1950s (usually unattributed), and was even used in political cartoons.  It was copyrighted in 1957 by the General Features Corporation, as part of a syndicated newspaper feature called "Today's Chuckle."  It later became a popular saying among Republican politicians.  Governor Harold W. Handley of Indiana used it in his annual message to the Indiana General Assembly in 1961;[3] Barry Goldwater was quoted using it in his 1964 run for president;[4] and Gerald Ford is on record using it in an address to a joint session of Congress on August 12, 1974.[5]  It was attributed to Ford as early as 1954, however,[6] and Ford's assistant, Robert Hartmann, said that Ford claimed to have heard the quotation "early in his political career" from Harvard McClain at the Economic Club of Chicago.[7]

This quotation was not attributed to Jefferson until relatively recently.  It is sometimes followed by, "The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases," which is most likely a misquotation of Jefferson's comment, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yeild, and government to gain ground."[8]

- Anna Berkes, 2007; revised 1/21/13

Further Sources

The Words of Thomas JeffersonAvailable in Our Online Shop: The Words of Thomas Jefferson


  1. ^ Paul Harvey, Remember These Things (Chicago: Heritage Foundation, 1952), 57.
  2. ^ Robert G. Moscatelli, The Quote Manual (Bloomington, IN: Author House, 2005), 193.
  3. ^ Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Indiana.  Ninety-second Session of the General Assembly, Commencing January 5, 1961, Adjourning March 6, 1961 (Indianapolis, IN: Brookwater Col, 1961), 32.
  4. ^ Quoted in Theodore H. White, The Making of the President, 1964 (New York: Atheneum, 1965), 337.
  5. ^ Suzy Platt, ed., Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1989), 140. Available online at http://www.bartleby.com/73/714.html. See the text of Ford's speech at the American Presidency Project.
  6. ^ Margaret Turner, A Woman's Angle, Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal, February 21, 1954.
  7. ^ Bernard L. Brock, "President Gerald R. Ford's Inaugural Address, 1974," in Halford R. Ryan, ed., The Inaugural Addresses of Twentieth-Century Presidents (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993), 241.
  8. ^ Note that "yeild" was Jefferson's original spelling.