Quotation: "If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so."

Variations: None known.

Sources checked:

  1. Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Digital Edition
  2. Thomas Jefferson retirement papers
  3. Thomas Jefferson: Papers and Biographies collections in Hathi Trust Digital Library

Other attributions: None known.

Earliest appearance in print: undetermined

Comments: This quotation has not been found in Thomas Jefferson's papers.  It has been suggested that it is a paraphrase of Jefferson's statement in the Declaration of Independence, "...whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government...," although such a paraphrase would seem to be taking some radical liberties with the original version.  The quotation bears a much closer resemblance to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s comment in his famous letter from Birmingham Jail: "One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."[1]


  1. ^ Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963.  African Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania.