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Widespread poverty and concentrated wealth (Spurious Quotation)

Quotation: "Widespread poverty and concentrated wealth cannot long endure side by side in a democracy."

Sources consulted:

  1. Founders Online
  2. Retirement papers

Earliest known appearance in print: 19361

Other attributions: None known

Status: This quotation has not been found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson.

Comments: Charles A. Beard wrote in a 1936 article in the Virginia Quarterly Review, "Jefferson knew that nations are not immortal, that governments are transient, that concentrated wealth and widespread poverty can not forever endure side by side in a democracy."2 Beard is describing Jefferson's thinking, not quoting him directly, but Beard's words have been mistaken for Jefferson's.  Franklin D. Roosevelt used this quotation (misattributing it to Jefferson) almost immediately, in a campaign address later in 1936.3  John F. Kennedy also used the quotation (again, misattributing it to Jefferson), in his remarks at a "Jefferson Dinner" given by the Democratic party in Pittsburgh in June of 1947.4

- Anna Berkes, 7/9/19


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