As Jefferson Would Say …

By The Stream Published on July 4, 2018

On this 242nd July 4th, since the final text of the Declaration of Independence was approved in 1776, let us look back on some quotes from Thomas Jefferson, the author of this great document. What did this Founding Father have to say about Freedom?

Limited Government

“If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy.” — Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, November 29, 1802

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.” — Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stuart, December 23, 1791

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“It is an axiom in my mind, that our liberty can never be safe but in the hands of the people themselves, and that too of the people with a certain degree of instruction. This it is the business of the State to effect, and on a general plan.” — Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, January 4, 1786

“I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.’ [10th amendment.] To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.” — Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, February 15, 1791

Personal Liberty

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” — Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816

“And to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.” — Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816

“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” — A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, June 18, 1779

Thomas Jefferson statue at Jefferson Memorial

American Exceptionalism

“May it [American independence] be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.” — Thomas Jefferson to Roger C. Weightman, June 24, 1826

“I wish that all nations may recover and retain their independence; that those which are overgrown may not advance beyond safe measures of power, that a salutary balance may be ever maintained among nations, and that our peace, commerce, and friendship, may be sought and cultivated by all. It is our business to manufacture for ourselves whatever we can, to keep our markets open for what we can spare or want; and the less we have to do with the amities or enmities of Europe, the better. Not in our day, but at no distant one, we may shake a rod over the heads of all, which may make the stoutest of them tremble. But I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power, the greater it will be.” — Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Leiper, June 12, 1815

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