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If we are to guard against ignorance... (Spurious Quotation)

Quotation: "If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed."

Variations:

  1. "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.1 If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed."

Sources consulted: Searching on the phrase "guard against ignorance"

  1. Monticello website
  2. Ford's Works of Thomas Jefferson
  3. UVA EText Jefferson Digital Archive: Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, Thomas Jefferson on Politics and Government, Texts by or to Thomas Jefferson from the Modern English Collection
  4. Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress
  5. Thomas Jefferson Retirement Papers
  6. Quotable Jefferson (searching in the index under "ignorance")
  7. Bartleby.com: Quotations

Earliest known appearance in print: 198123

Other attributions: None known.

Status: We currently have no evidence to confirm that Thomas Jefferson ever said or wrote, "If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed."

Comments: This quotation probably originated with Ronald Reagan's statement for National Library Week in 1981, in which he said, "If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, as Jefferson cautioned, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed." Reagan does not specifically attribute this wording to Jefferson, so we believe that Reagan's paraphrase has become mistaken for Jefferson's exact words.

Further Sources

  • 1. This portion of the quotation is genuine. See Jefferson to Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816, in PTJ:RS, 9:331. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 2. Ronald Reagan's statement for National Library Week, referenced in Budget Reconciliation: Hearings Before the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service (Washington: GPO, 1981), 179.
  • 3. To establish the earliest appearance of this phrase in print, the following sources were searched for the phrase, "if we are to guard against ignorance": Google Books, Google Scholar, Amazon.com, Internet Archive, America's Historical Newspapers, American Broadsides and Ephemera Series I, Early American Imprints Series I and II, Early English Books Online, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, American Periodicals Series Online, JSTOR.

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