1912 April 14. (Woodrow Wilson, Jefferson Dinner Address). "Monopoly, private control, the authority of privilege, the concealed mastery of a few men ... [Thomas Jefferson] would have moved against them, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, sometimes openly, sometimes subtly; but whether he merely mined about them, or struck directly at them, he would have set systematic war against them at the front of all his purpose. As regards the economic policy of the country it is perfectly plain that Mr. Jefferson would have insisted upon a tariff fitted to actual conditions, by which he would have meant not the interests of the few men who find access to the hearings of the Ways and Means Committee of the House and the Finance Committee of the Senate, but the interests of the business men and manufacturers and farmers and workers and professional men of every kind and class.... He would have known that the currency question is not only an economic question, but a political question, and that, above all else, control must be in the hands of those who represent the general interest.... In the general field of business his thought would, of course, have gone about to establish freedom, to throw business opportunities open at every point to new men, to destroy the processes of monopoly, to exclude the poison of special favors, to see that, whether big or little, business was not dominated by anything but the law itself."[1]

1916 April 13. (Woodrow Wilson, Jefferson Day Address). "The immortality of Thomas Jefferson does not lie in any one of his achievements, or in the series of his achievements, but in his attitude towards mankind and the conception which he sought to realize in action of the service owed by America to the rest of the world.... Thomas Jefferson was a great leader of men because he understood and interpreted the spirits of men.... It is not a circumstance without significance that Jefferson felt, perhaps more than any other American of his time, except Benjamin Franklin, his close kinship with like thinking spirits everywhere else in the civilized world. His comradeship was as intimate with the thinkers of France as with the frontiersmen of America, and this rather awkward, rather different man carried about with him a sort of type of what all men should wish to be who love liberty and seek to lead their fellow men along those difficult paths of achievement. The only way we can honor Thomas Jefferson is by illumining his spirit and following his example. His example was an example of organization and concerted action for the rights of men, first in America and then, by America's example, everywhere in the world. And the thing that interested Jefferson is the only thing that ought to interest us.... If you are ready, you have inherited the spirit of Jefferson, who recognized the men in France and the men in Germany who were doing the liberal thinking of their day as just as much citizens of the great work of liberty as he was himself, and who was ready in every conception he had to join hands across the water or across any other barrier with those who held those high conceptions of liberty which had brought the United States into existence."[2]

1930. (Allen Tate, Poem). "On the Father of Liberty / Jefferson had many charms; / Was democratic; still—and yet / What should one do? The family arms / On coach and spoon he wisely set / Against historical alarms: / For quality not being loath, / Nor quantity, nor the fame of both."[3]

ca. 1938. (Frank Lloyd Wright, Comments on the Jefferson Memorial). "Thomas Jefferson? Were that gentleman alive today he would be the first to condemn the stupid erudition mistaken in his honor ... in terms of the feudal art and thought that clung to him then, deliberately to make of him now, a fashionable effigy of reaction instead of a character appreciated by his own people as a noble spirit of progress and freedom."[4]

1940 January 8. (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jackson Day Dinner Address). "Thomas Jefferson is a hero to me despite the fact that the theories of the French Revolutionists at times overexcited his practical judgment. He is a hero because, in his many-sided genius, he too did the big job that then had to be done — to establish the new republic as a real democracy based on universal suffrage and the inalienable rights of man, instead of a restricted suffrage in the hands of a small oligarchy. Jefferson realized that if the people were free to get and discuss all the facts, their composite judgment would be better than the judgment of a self-perpetuating few. That is why I think of Jefferson as belonging to the rank and file of both major political parties today."[5]

1940 September 20. (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at the University of Pennsylvania). "With the gaining of our political freedom you will remember that there came a conflict between the point of view of Alexander Hamilton, sincerely believing in the superiority of Government by a small group of public-spirited and usually wealthy citizens, and, on the other hand, the point of view of Thomas Jefferson, an advocate of Government by representatives chosen by all the people, an advocate of the universal right of free thought, free personal living, free religion, free expression of opinion and above all, the right of free universal suffrage."[6]

1943 April 13. (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at the Dedication of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial). "Jefferson, across a hundred and fifty years of time, is closer by much to living men than many of our leaders of the years between."[7]

1945 April 13. (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Undelivered Jefferson Day Address). "In this historic year, more than ever before, we do well to consider the character of Thomas Jefferson as an American citizen of the world. As Minister to France, then as our first Secretary of State and as our third President, Jefferson was instrumental in the establishment of the United States as a vital fact in international affairs. It was he who first sent our Navy into far-distant waters to defend our rights. And the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine was the logical development of Jefferson's far-seeing foreign policy. Today this Nation which Jefferson helped so greatly to build is playing a tremendous part in the battle for the rights of man all over the world."[8]

1948. (Dumas Malone, "Introduction," Jefferson and His Time). "... in youthful presumptuousness I flattered myself that sometime I would fully comprehend and encompass [Jefferson]. I do not claim that I have yet done so, and I do not believe that I or any other single person ever can. Nobody can live Jefferson's long and eventful life all over again, and nobody in our age is likely to match his universality."[9]

1948. (Ezra Pound, Poem). "'You the one, I the few' said John Adams speaking of fears in the abstract to his volatile friend Mr. Jefferson."[10]

1962 April 29. (John F. Kennedy, Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Nobel Prize Winners). "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet."[11]

1963 April 16. (Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham City Jail"). "... I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist.... Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"[12]

1989 April 5. (Jerzy Kosinki, Interview with Ethan Schwartz). "In every Pole there is Jefferson more than anyone else, a love of freedom, free expression — and having a house of one's own."[13]

1989 September 28. (George H. W. Bush, University of Virginia Convocation Remarks). "... Jefferson surveyed a horizon that no one else could see."[14]

1989 November 27. (Zdenek Janicek, Address from Czech Citizen to Fellow Workers). "'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' Americans understood these rights more than 200 years ago .... [W]e are only now learning to believe that we are entitled to the same rights."[15]

1990 February 21. (Vaclav Havel, President of Czechoslovakia, Address to the United States Congress). "When Thomas Jefferson wrote that governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, it was a simple and important act of the human spirit. What gave meaning to that act, however, was the fact that the author backed it up with his life. It was not just his words; it was his deed as well."[16]

1991 July 31. (Andrei Kozyrev, Russian Foreign Minister, Interview with David Remnick). "The Soviet Union was never a legitimate state .... I don't know what Shakhnazarov reads; I read Jefferson on the inalienable rights of all men."[17]

1992 July 4. (Carl Sagan, Monticello Independence Day Ceremonies). "Jefferson was a childhood hero of mine, not because of his science, but because he, more than anybody else, was responsible for the spread of democracy throughout the world. And the idea, breath-taking, radical, revolutionary at that time — and some places in the world, it still is today — is that not princes, not priests, not kinds, not big city bosses, not dictators, but the people are to rule. And not only was he a leading theoretician of this cause, he was involved in the most practical way, for the first time, bringing it about in the American experiment that has been copied, amplified, longed for, all over the world since."[18]

1993 January 17. (Bill Clinton, Kick-off of Inaugural Journey). "Thomas Jefferson was one of our greatest presidents and perhaps our most brilliant president .... He believed in the power of ideas which have made this country great .... Jefferson believed in public service."[19]

1993 April 13. (Mikhail Gorbachev, University of Virginia Founder's Day Ceremonies). "For myself I found one thing to be true: having once begun a dialogue with Jefferson one continues the conversation with him forever."[20]

1994 July 4. (David McCullough, Monticello Independence Day Ceremonies). "All honor to Jefferson in our own world now, in 1994. We can never know enough about him. Indeed we may judge our own performance in how seriously and with what effect we take his teachings to heart. When he wrote the Declaration of Independence, he was speaking to the world then, but speaking to us also, across time. The ideas are transcendent, as is so much else that is bedrock to what we believe as a people, what we stand for, so many principles that have their origins here, with the mind and spirit of Thomas Jefferson."[21]

1996 April 13. (Lady Margaret Thatcher, Remarks at Ceremony Awarding the Thomas Jefferson Medal for Statesmanship). "... in the history of liberty [Jefferson is] a great figure everywhere in the world."[22]

1996 June 7. (Ken Burns, Monticello Address). "[Jefferson] is a kind of Rosetta Stone of the American experience, a massive, tectonic intelligence that has formed and rattled the fault lines of our history, our present moment, and, if we are lucky, our future. The contradictions that attend the life and actions of Thomas Jefferson are played out and made manifest in the trial, the trials of the unfolding pageant we call American history."[23]

1996 June 7. (Garry Wills, Quoted from Ken Burns's Monticello Address). "... the thing to remember from Jefferson is the power of the word. That ideas matter. That words beautifully shaped, reshape lives. That a person who has certain disadvantages and flaws and even crimes, like holding slaves, can transcend his imprisonment within reality by casting out words that take you into a new reality."[24]

1997 July 4. (Colin Powell, Monticello Independence Day Ceremonies). "... the man who captured in words, better than anyone before or since, the essence of what makes America special."[25]

2000. (James Ronda, Jefferson’s West: A Journey with Lewis and Clark). "Out of his own hopes and fears, his travels and reading, Jefferson invented an uniquely American West …. In their maps and in their minds, by what they did and what they wrote, Lewis and Clark imprinted Jefferson’s western vision on a westering nation."[26]


  1. ^ Arthur S. Link, ed., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966-1994), 24:331-32.
  2. ^ Ibid., 36:472-73, 476.
  3. ^ Allen Tate, "On the Father of Liberty," Sewanee Review vol. 38, no. 1 (1930): 60.
  4. ^ Merrill D. Peterson, The Jefferson Image in the American Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962), 426.
  5. ^ Samuel I. Rosenman, ed., The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (New York: Macmillan, 1941), 9:30.
  6. ^ Ibid., 9:436.
  7. ^ Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Address at the Dedication of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial," Washington, D.C., April 13, 1943. Text available online at the American Presidency Project.
  8. ^ Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Undelivered Address Prepared for Jefferson Day," April 13, 1945. Text available online at the American Presidency Project.
  9. ^ Malone, Jefferson, 1:vii.
  10. ^ Ezra Pound, "Canto LXXXI." Text available online at Poetry Foundation.
  11. ^ John F. Kennedy, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy; Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President, 1961-1963 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1962-1964), 1:161.
  12. ^ Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can't Wait (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 88.
  13. ^ Quoted in The Washington Post, April 5, 1989.
  14. ^ George H. W. Bush, "Remarks at the University of Virginia Convocation," Charlottesville, Va., September 28, 1989. Text available online at the American Presidency Project.
  15. ^ Quoted in "Clamor in the East; Unshackled Czech Workers Declare Their Independence," The New York Times, November 28, 1989.
  16. ^ Quoted in "Upheaval in the East; Excerpts From Czech Chief's Address to Congress," The New York Times, February 22, 1990.
  17. ^ Quoted in "Ukraine Split on Independence as Republic Awaits Bush Visit," The Washington Post, August 1, 1991.
  18. ^ Quoted in The Great Birthday of Our Republic (Charlottesville, Va.: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2003), 28.
  19. ^ Quoted in The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Va., January 18, 1993.
  20. ^ Transcript of translation in "Comments Delivered on the Occasion of Thomas Jefferson's 250th Birthday: April 13, 1993," Special Collections Research Reports, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Charlottesville, Va.
  21. ^ Quoted in The Great Birthday of Our Republic, 40.
  22. ^ Lady Margaret Thatcher at Monticello: On the Occasion of the 253rd Anniversary of the Birth of Thomas Jefferson and the Presentation of the First Thomas Jefferson Medal for Statesmanship (Charlottesville, Va.: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 1996).
  23. ^ Ken Burns, "Puzzled and Prospering: Searching for Thomas Jefferson," Charlottesville, Va., June 7, 1996.
  24. ^ Ibid.
  25. ^ Quoted in The Great Birthday of Our Republic, 53-54.
  26. ^ James P. Ronda, Jefferson’s West: A Journey with Lewis and Clark (Charlottesville, Va.: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2000), 11, 73.

People Quotations