Thomas Jefferson on American freedom

Original draft of the Declaration of Independence (1776)

We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable, that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779)

Thomas Jefferson

That Almighty God hath created the mind free,—that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget hahits of … hypocrisy and meanness … that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves by fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible … hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time: … that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics and geometry … that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession and propagation of principles on the supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, … and finally, that truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

Notes on the State of Virginia (1781-1785)

Jefferson Memorial

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.  But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error.  Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation.  They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only.

The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boistrous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other … Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.

They who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people.

Letter to Peter Carr, his nephew (1785)

Shake off all fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched.  Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion.  Question with boldness even the existence of a God, because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blind faith.

Letter to George Wythe (1787)

The tax which will be paid for the purpose of education is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people to ignorance.

Letter to Abigail Adams (1787)

The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.  It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so that not to be exercised at all.

Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush (1800)

They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes.  And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

First Inaugural Address (1801)

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that although 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 laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression.

Last known writing, ten days before his death (1826)

May it [the Declaration of Independence] be to the world what I believe will be (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all) the signal of arousing man to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition has persuaded them to bind themselves,and to assume the blessings of security and self-government.

Motto found among his papers after his death

Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.

All these quotations are taken from The Great Thoughts compiled by George Seldes.

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