One of Jefferson's seals

The seal pictured to the right was identified as "one of Mr. J.'s seals" by Thomas Jefferson's grandson-in-law Nicholas Philip Trist.[1] It bears the motto, "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God." Jefferson's memorandum book contains the notation, "Pd. Thomson for a seal £3-7" on March 26, 1786, perhaps referring to the purchase of the seal shown here.[2]

The first known intact copy of the seal is on a letter to Richard Gem from April 1790.[3] The seal appears on the frontispiece of Henry Randall's Life of Thomas Jefferson, and can also be seen on one of the gates to the Monticello graveyard.

"Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God" was a motto suggested, but not used, for the Seal of the United States. Jefferson eventually appropriated it for his own seal. The source of the motto as used by Jefferson is likely Benjamin Franklin.[4]


  1. ^ Randall, LifeIII:585-86.
  2. ^ MB, 1:615. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  3. ^ Jefferson to Gem, April 4, 1790, in PTJ, 16:297-98. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  4. ^ See PTJ, Appendix II: "Bradshaw's Epitaph": The Source of "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God," 1:677-79. An earlier, slightly different version of the quote appeared in John Knox's Historie of the Reformation of the Church of Scotland: "... to resist a misled King, is not to resist God, nor yet his Ordinance ...."