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A little rebellion...(Quotation)
"Societies exist under three forms sufficiently distinguishable. 1. Without government, as among our Indians. 2. Under governments wherein the will of every one has a just influence, as is the case in England in a slight degree, and in our states in a great one. 3. Under governments of force: as is the case in all other monarchies and in most of the other republics. To have an idea of the curse of existence under these last, they must be seen. It is a government of wolves over sheep. It is a problem, not clear in my mind, that the 1st. condition is not the best. But I believe it to be inconsistent with any great degree of population. The second state has a great deal of good in it. The mass of mankind under that enjoys a precious degree of liberty and happiness. It has it’s evils too: the principal of which is the turbulence to which it is subject. But weigh this against the oppressions of monarchy, and it becomes nothing. Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem. Even this evil is productive of good. It prevents the degeneracy of government, and nourishes a general attention to the public affairs. I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.1 Unsuccesful rebellions indeed generally establish the incroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions, as not to discourage them too much. It is a medecine necessary for the sound health of government." - Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, Paris, January 30, 17872
- A shorter, but textually verified version of this extract is available in our Jefferson Quotes and Family Letters website »
- Jefferson, Thomas. "Revolution and Reformation." Thomas Jefferson on Politics and Government. Compiled and edited by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr.
- "A Little Rebellion Now and Then is a Good Thing: A Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison." Early America Review 1, no. 1 (1996). This article offers brief descriptive comments on the letter.
- Staloff, Darren. Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding. New York: Hill and Wang, 2005. See pp. 305-9 on "'A Little Rebellion Now and Then is a Good Thing': Revolutionary Activism."