Founders' Quote Database

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Peter Carr — 1785
Category: Virtue
Give up money, give up fame, give up science, give the earth itself and all it contains rather than do an immoral act. And never suppose that in any possible situation, or under any circumstances, it is best for you to do a dishonorable thing, however slightly so it may appear to you... From the practice of the purest virtue, you may be assured you will derive the most sublime comforts in every moment of life, and in the moment of death.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Peter Carr — 1785
Category: Advice
It is of great importance to set a resolution, not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and a third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good disposition.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Martha Jefferson — 1787
Category: Advice
Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done, if we are always doing. And that you may be always doing good, my dear, is the ardent prayer of yours affectionately.

Thomas Jefferson

A Summary View of the Rights of British America — 1775
Category: Political Leaders
It behooves you, therefore, to think and act for yourself and your people. The great principles of right and wrong are legible to every reader; to pursue them requires not the aid of many counselors. The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest. Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail.

John Dickinson and Thomas Jefferson

Declaration of the Cause and Necessity of Taking up Arms — 1775
Category: Courage
With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers, which our beneficent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live as slaves.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Peter Carr — 1785
Category: Arms
A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to George Washington — 1796
Category: Arms
One loves to possess arms, though they hope never to have occasion for them.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to John Cartwright — 1824
Category: Arms
We established however some, although not all its [self-government] important principles . The constitutions of most of our States assert, that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves, in all cases to which they think themselves competent, (as in electing their functionaries executive and legislative, and deciding by a jury of themselves, in all judiciary cases in which any fact is involved,) or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Trustees for the Lottery of East Tennessee College — 1810
Category: Education
No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do, and none has greater confidence in its effect towards supporting free and good government.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Samuel Kercheval — 1816
Category: Budget
We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Spencer Roane — 1821
Category: Budget
The multiplication of public offices, increase of expense beyond income, growth and entailment of a public debt, are indications soliciting the employment of the pruning knife.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Jose Correa de Serra — 1817
Category: Education
To all of which is added a selection from the elementary schools of subjects of the most promising genius, whose parents are too poor to give them further education, to be carried at the public expense through the college and university. The object is to bring into action that mass of talents which lies buried in poverty in every country, for want of the means of development, and thus give activity to a mass of mind, which, in proportion to our population, shall be double or treble of what it is in most countries.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Marquis de Lafayette — 1823
Category: Budget
[A] rigid economy of the public contributions and absolute interdiction of all useless expenses will go far towards keeping the government honest and unoppressive.

Thomas Jefferson

Notes on Virginia Query 19 — 1781
Category: Character
It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to John Adams — 1785
Category: Commerce
I think all the world would gain by setting commerce at perfect liberty.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Thomas Pickney — 1797
Category: Commerce
War is not the best engine for us to resort to; nature has given us one in our commerce, which if properly managed, will be a better instrument for obliging the interested nations of Europe to treat us with justice.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to David Humphreys — 1789
Category: Constitutional Convention
The example of changing a constitution by assembling the wise men of the state, instead of assembling armies, will be worth as much to the world as the former examples we had give them. The constitution, too, which was the result of our deliberation, is unquestionably the wisest ever yet presented to men.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Wilson Nicholas — 1803
Category: Constitutional Interpretation
Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.

Thomas Jefferson

Draft Kentucky Resolutions — 1798
Category: Constitutional Interpretation
The construction applied...to those parts of the Constitution of the United States which delegate Congress a power...ought not to be construed as themselves to give unlimited powers, nor a part to be so taken as to destroy the whole residue of that instrument.

Thomas Jefferson

Opinion on a National Bank — 1791
Category: Congress
It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please. Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It [the Constitution] was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect.

Thomas Jefferson

on George Washington in a letter to Dr. Walter Jones — 1814
Category: Founders on Founders
[H]is was the singular destiny and merit, of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quite and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Albert Gallatin — 1808
Category: Constitutional Interpretation
[T]he true key for the construction of everything doubtful in a law is the intention of the law-makers. This is most safely gathered from the words, but may be sought also in extraneous circumstances provided they do not contradict the express words of the law.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to William Johnson — 1823
Category: Constitutional Interpretation
On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Samuel Adams Wells — 1821
The Declaration of Independence...[is the] declaratory charter of our rights, and the rights of man.

Thomas Jefferson

letter to Henry Lee — 1825
Category: Declaration of Independence
This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.

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