Thomas Jefferson's hopes and aspirations for the American experiment in self-governance have been echoed by political and activist leaders throughout the nation's history.
"When clambering a mountain, we always hope the hill we are on is the last. But it is the next, and the next, and still the next."
“Acknowledgements are due to my fellow Citizens… I trust that in their steady character unshaken by difficulties, in their love of liberty, Obedience to law, & support of the public Authorities, I see a sure guarantee of the permanence of our republic; and retiring from the charge of their affairs I carry with me the consolation of a firm persuasion that Heaven has in store for our beloved country, long Ages to come of prosperity and happiness.”
“… I console myself with the reflection that those who will come after us will be as wise as we are, & as able to take care of themselves as we have been.”
“I steer my bark with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern. My hopes indeed sometimes fail; but not oftener than the forebodings of the gloomy. There are, I acknolege, even in the happiest life, some terrible convulsions, heavy set-offs against the opposite page of the account.”
“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
“I know also that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind, As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilised society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
“This institution of my native state, the Hobby of my old age, will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind, to explore and to expose every subject susceptible of it’s contemplation.”
“Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.”
“All honor to Jefferson - to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.”
“I hope to stand firm enough to not go backward, and yet not go forward fast enough to wreck the country’s cause.”
“Old-fashioned ways which no longer apply to changed conditions are a snare in which the feet of women have always become readily entangled.
“I am sure that anything we can do to widen the circle of enlightenment and self-development is quite as rewarding to those who do it as to those for whom it is done.”
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”
“And so. Throughout all the intervening years, America has lived and grown under the system of government established by Jefferson and his generation … The honors which other men have given him are unimportant. The opportunities he had given to other men to become free were all that really counted.”
“We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”
“Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, tp try rather than to not try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, ‘It can't be done.’”
“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just one step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.
“My friends: I close on a note of hope. We are not lulled by the momentary calm of the sea or the somewhat clearer skies above. We know the turbulence that lies below, and the storms that are beyond the horizon this year. But now the winds of change appear to be blowing more strongly than ever, in the world of communism as well as our own. For 175 years we have sailed with those winds at our back, and with the tides of human freedom in our favor. We steer our ship with hope, as Thomas Jefferson said, "leaving Fear astern."
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
"But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." ... And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."
“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
"You can be part of the system without being wedded to it. You can take part in it without believing that everything it does is right. I don't measure America by its achievement, but by its potential."
“You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.
“Lincoln didn’t just end slavery. King didn’t just dream segregation away. Parks didn’t just get tired one day. It is often the unrecognized actions of previous generations that push a society to eventually embrace mantras such as hope, equality, change, and other ideals, which transform the political landscape.”
For while I take inspiration from the past, like most Americans, I live for the future.”
“It’s not just students and presidents, it is every American – indeed every human life ever touched by the daring idea of self-government – that Mr. Jefferson has influenced.”
“It seems to me that America is constantly reinventing what "America" means. We adopt this country's phrases and that country's art, and I think it's really closer to the truth to say that America has assimilated as much as her immigrants have. It's made for a delightful diversity, and it's made us a stronger and a more vital nation.”