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Few die, none resign (Spurious Quotation)

"Few die, none resign", is a paraphrase of a statement Thomas Jefferson made in a letter to a group of New Haven, Connecticut merchants in 1801:

"if a due participation of office is a matter of right, how are vacancies to be obtained? those by death are few. by resignation none."[1]

It appears that this shortening of Jefferson's statement has been in use for quite some time. Jefferson's 1801 letter to the New Haven merchants was published in a number of newspapers within a matter of weeks after it was written, so potentially it could have entered public currency and been paraphrased almost immediately. By 1836, the phrase "few die, none resign" was described in one journal as "that remarkable apothegm of Mr. Jefferson."[2] Jefferson's original version was quoted in a 1901 collection of "the world's best orations", listed under the title "Few Die, None Resign;"[3] early twentieth-century textbooks even use the phrase in grammar exercises.[4]


  1. Jefferson to the New Haven Merchants, Washington, D.C., July 12, 1801, in PTJ, 34:556. Press copy available online from the Library of Congress.
  2. Army and Navy Chronicle 3 (July-December 1836): 41.
  3. The World's Best Orations: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time (St. Louis, Mo.: Kaiser, 1901), 10:3945.
  4. Abram Royer Brubacher and Dorothy Ermina Snyder, High School English: Book One (New York: Merrill, 1911), 40.

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