Jefferson worried that the people – and the argument goes back to Thucydides and Aristotle – are easily misled. He also stressed, passionately and repeatedly, that it was essential for the people to understand the risks and benefits of government, to educate themselves, and to involve themselves in the political process. Without that, he said, the wolves will take over.
The words of Carl Sagan are both a mighty tribute and a warning – certainly words to consider this week as we celebrate the life lived and the principles espoused by the nation’s third president. Though more honored in the breach than the observance,
April 13 marks the legal observance of the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, born on April 13, 1743. The observance was declared by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15611) affirmed by President George W. Bush in 2007. (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25554) Both of these proclamations underscore in detail the life, vision and lasting legacy of Thomas Jefferson.
Biographies of Jefferson are many and massive. They record the countless ways in which Jefferson played a decisive role in shaping the lasting contours of this nation. In his many elected and appointed positions – as Governor, Ambassador, Secretary of State, Vice President and President he was a mighty force. His contributions are many and lasting, as are his vision and his words.
Jefferson’s legacy is both institutional and inspirational. Jeffersonian quotes are threads woven throughout the fabric of the nation’s laws, beliefs and spirit. They reflect his deep faith in and commitment to liberty, an informed electorate, freedom of expression and of religion, and the power of informed people to govern their own destiny.
This week, as the nation struggles to cope with the challenges of the day, the words of Thomas Jefferson inspire hope and offer guidance. Taking time to think about and to share the words of Jefferson honor the man and focus energy on basic principles of a vibrant and viable democracy. Of the zillions of quotable quotes, these seem especially appropriate to the times:
- The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.
- Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.
- I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.
- No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will.
- Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.
- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
- If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.
- Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence.
The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.
- All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Thomas Jefferson
- I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
- That government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part.