Views and Discussions of the Free Press

"Printing presses shall be subject to no other restraint than liableness to legal prosecution for false facts printed and published." -Thomas Jefferson: Draft of Virginia Constitution, 1783.

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost” -Thomas Jefferson, 1786

"I observe by the public papers that he has brought on a very disagreeable altercation with mr Jay, in which he has given to the character of the latter a colouring which does not belong to it. these altercations, little thought of in America, make a great impression here. in truth it is afflicting that a man who has past his life in serving the public, who has served them in every the highest stations with universal approbation, & with a purity of conduct which has silenced even party opprobrium, who tho’ poor has never permitted himself to make a shilling in the public employ, should yet be liable to have his peace of mind so much disturbed by any individual who shall think proper to arraign him in a newspaper. it is however an evil for which there is no remedy. our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost. to the sacrifice, of time, labor, fortune, a public servant must count upon adding that of peace of mind and even reputation." -Thomas Jefferson, 1786

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” - Thomas Jefferson, 1787

"I am persuaded that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. They may be led astray for a moment but will soon correct themselves. The people are the only censors of their governors, and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs through the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people." -Thomas Jefferson, 1787.

"A declaration that the Federal Government will never restrain the presses from printing anything they please will not take away the liability of the printers for false facts printed." -Thomas Jefferson, 1788

“I am one of those who think it a defect that the important rights, not placed in security by the frame of the constitution itself, were not explicitly secured by a supplementary declaration. There are rights which it is useless to surrender to the government, and which yet, governments have always been fond to invade. These are the rights of thinking and publishing our thoughts by speaking or writing.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1789

"Our citizens may be deceived for awhile, and have been deceived; but as long as the presses can be protected, we may trust to them for light." -Thomas Jefferson, 1799.

"To preserve the freedom of the human mind... and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement." -Thomas Jefferson, 1799. 


"A coalition of sentiments is not for the interest of printers. They, like the clergy, live by the zeal they can kindle and the schisms they can create. It is contest of opinion in politics as well as religion which makes us take great interest in them and bestow our money liberally on those who furnish aliment to our appetite... So the printers can never leave us in a state of perfect rest and union of opinion. They would be no longer useful and would have to go to the plough." -Thomas Jefferson, 1801

“In every country where man is free to think & to speak, differences of opinion will arise from difference of perception, & the imperfection of reason. but these differences, when permitted, as in this happy country, to purify themselves by free discussion, are but as passing clouds overshadowing our land transiently, & leaving our horizon more bright & serene. that love of order & obedience to the laws, which so considerably characterizes the citizens of the United States, are sure pledges of internal tranquility, and the elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations to subvert1 a constitution dictated by the wisdom, & resting on the will of the people. that will is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect it’s free expression should be our first object.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1801

“If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1801

“No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, & which we trust will end in establishing the fact that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found is the freedom of the press. it is therefore the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1804

"Since truth and reason have maintained their ground against false opinions in league with false facts, the press confined to truth needs no other legal restraint. The public judgment will correct false reasonings and opinions on a full hearing of all parties, and no other definite line can be drawn between the inestimable liberty of the press and its demoralizing licentiousness. If there be still improprieties which this rule would not restrain, its supplement must be sought in the censorship of public opinion." -Thomas Jefferson, 1805

“If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was & never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty & property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1816

"[This is] a country which is afraid to read nothing, and which may be trusted with anything, so long as its reason remains unfettered by law." -Thomas Jefferson, 1816.


Jefferson Quotes on the Partisan Press

“At a very early period of my life, I determined never to put a sentence into any newspaper. I have religiously adhered to the resolution through my life, and have great reason to be contented with it. were I to undertake to answer the calumnies of the newspapers, it would be more than all my own time, & that of 20. aids could effect. for while I should be answering one, twenty new ones would be invented. I have thought it better to trust to the justice of my countrymen, that they would judge me by what they see of my conduct on the stage where they have placed me, & what they knew of me before the epoch since which a particular party has supposed it might answer some view of theirs to vilify me in the public eye.”  -Thomas Jefferson, 1798

“Indeed the abuses of the freedom of the press here have been carried to a length never before known or borne by any civilized nation. but it is so difficult to draw a clear line of separation between the abuse and the wholesome use of the press, that as yet we have found it better to trust the public judgment, rather than the magistrate, with the discrimination between truth & falsehood. and hitherto the public judgment has performed that office with wonderful correctness.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1803

“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day. … I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1807

“As to my self, conscious that there was not a truth on earth which I feared should be known, I have lent myself willingly as the subject of a great experiment which was to prove that an administration conducting itself with integrity and common understanding, cannot be battered down, even by the falsehoods of a licencious press, and consequently, still less by the press as restrained within the legal & wholsome limits of truth. this experiment was wanting for the world, to demonstrate the falsehood of the pretext that freedom of the press is incompatible with orderly government.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1807

“The papers have lately advanced in boldness and flagiciousness beyond even themselves. such daring and atrocious lies … were never before I believe published with impunity in any country. However, I have from the beginning determined to submit myself as the subject on whom may be proved the impotency of a free press in a country like ours against those who conduct themselves honestly, and enter into no intrigue. I admit at the same time that restraining the press to truth as the present laws do, is the only way of making it useful. but I have thought necessary first to prove it can never be dangerous.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1808

“I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus & Thucydides, for Newton & Euclid; & I find myself much the happier.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1812

“A truth now and then projecting into the ocean of Newspaper lies, serves like headlands to correct our course. indeed my scepticism as to every thing I see in a newspaper makes me indifferent whether I ever see one.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1815

“From 40. years experience of the wretched guesswork of the newspapers of what is not done in open day light, and of their falsehood even as to that, I rarely think them worth reading, & almost never worth notice.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1816