Thomas Jefferson



=First Principles=

"The catholic principle of republicanism is that every people may
establish what form of government they please and change it as
they please, the will of the nation being the only thing 
essential." --Thomas Jefferson: The Anas, 1792.

"The mother principle [is] that 'governments are republican only
in proportion as they embody the will of their people, and 
execute it.'" --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

"A government is republican in proportion as every member 
composing it has his equal voice in the direction of its concerns: 
not indeed in person, which would be impracticable beyond the 
limits of a city or small township, but by representatives chosen 
by himself and responsible to him at short periods." --Thomas 
Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

"We may say with truth and meaning that governments are more or 
less republican as they have more or less of the element of
popular election and control in their composition; and believing 
as I do that the mass of the citizens is the safest depository of 
their own rights, and especially that the evils flowing from the 
duperies of the people are less injurious than those from the 
egoism of their agents, I am a friend to that composition of 
government which has in it the most of this ingredient." --Thomas 
Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816.

"Action by the citizens in person, in affairs within their reach 
and competence, and in all others by representatives, chosen
immediately, and removable by themselves, constitutes the essence 
of a republic... All governments are more or less republican in 
proportion as this principle enters more or less into their 
composition." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de 
Nemours, 1816.

"It must be acknowledged that the term "republic" is of very vague 
application in every language...  Were I to assign to this term a 
precise and definite idea, I would say purely and simply it means 
a government by its citizens in mass, acting directly and
personally according to rules established by the majority; and 
that every other government is more or less republican in 
proportion as it has in its composition more or less of this 
ingredient of direct action of the citizens.  Such a government is 
evidently restrained to very narrow limits of space and  
population.  I doubt if it would be practicable beyond the extent 
of a New England township." --Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 

"It accords with our principles to acknowledge any government to
be rightful which is formed by the will of the nation 
substantially declared." --Thomas Jefferson to Gouverneur Morris, 

"The further the departure from direct and constant control by the
citizens, the less has the government the ingredient of
republicanism; evidently none where the authorities are 
hereditary... or self-chosen... and little, where for life, in
proportion as the life continues in being after the act of 
election." --Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816.

"If, then, the control of the people over the organs of their
government be the measure of its republicanism, and I confess I
know no other measure, it must be agreed that our governments 
have much less of republicanism than ought to have been expected; 
in other words, that the people have less regular control over 
their agents, than their rights and their interests require.  And
this I ascribe, not to any want of republican dispositions in 
those who formed these constitutions, but to a submission of true
principle to European authorities, to speculators on government,
whose fears of the people have been inspired by the populace of
their own great cities, and were unjustly entertained against the
independent, the happy, and therefore orderly citizens of the
United States.  Much I apprehend that the golden moment is past
for reforming these heresies.  The functionaries of public power
rarely strengthen in their dispositions to abridge it, and an
unorganized call for timely amendment is not likely to prevail
against an organized opposition to it." --Thomas Jefferson to 
John Taylor,1816.

"The republican is the only form of government which is not 
eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind." 
--Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Address, 1790.

"It is, indeed, of little consequence who governs us, if they
sincerely and zealously cherish the principles of union and
republicanism." --Thomas Jefferson to Henry Dearborn, 1821.

=Majority Rule=

"The first principle of republicanism is that the lex majoris 
partis is the fundamental law of every society of individuals of 
equal rights; to consider the will of the society enounced by the 
majority of a single vote as sacred as if unanimous is the first 
of all lessons in importance, yet the last which is thoroughly 
learnt.  This law once disregarded, no other remains but that of  
force, which ends necessarily in military despotism." --Thomas 
Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, 1817.

"And where else will this degenerate son of science [Hume], this
traitor to his fellow men, find the origin of just powers, if not 
in the majority of the society?  Will it be in the minority?  Or 
in an individual of that minority?" --Thomas Jefferson to John 
Cartwright, 1824.

"Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there
government ends; the law of the strongest takes its place, and 
life and property are his who can take them." --Thomas Jefferson 
to Annapolis Citizens, 1809.

"A nation ceases to be republican...when the will of the majority
ceases to be the law." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Address,

"Civil government being the sole object of forming societies, its
administration must be conducted by common consent." --Thomas
Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782.

"This corporeal globe, and everything upon it, belong to its
present corporeal inhabitants during their generation.  They 
alone have a right to direct what is the concern of themselves  
alone, and to declare the law of that direction; and this 
declaration can only be made by their majority.  That majority, 
then, has a right to depute representatives to a convention, and 
to make the constitution what they think will be the best for 
themselves." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

"The lex majoris partis [is a] fundamental law of nature, by which
alone self-government can be exercised by a society." --Thomas
Jefferson to James Breckenridge, 1800.

"The fundamental law of every society is the lex majoris partis, 
to which we are bound to submit." --Thomas Jefferson to D.
Humphreys, 1789.

"The fundamental principle of the government is that the will of
the majority is to prevail." --Thomas Jefferson to William Eustis, 

"We are sensible of the duty and expediency of submitting our 
opinions to the will of the majority, and can wait with patience 
till they get right if they happen to be at any time wrong." 
--Thomas Jefferson to James Breckenridge, 1800.

"The will of the people... is the only legitimate foundation of any
government, and to protect its free expression should be our first 
object." --Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Waring, 1801.

"Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of
self-government.  They receive it with their being from the hand
of nature.  Individuals exercise it by their single will;  
collections of men by that of their majority; for the law of the 
majority is the natural law of every society of men." --Thomas 
Jefferson: Opinion, Residence Bill, 1790.

"If we are faithful to our country, if we acquiesce, with good 
will, in the decisions of the majority, and the nation moves in 
mass in the same direction, although it may not be that which 
every individual thinks best, we have nothing to fear from any 
quarter." --Thomas Jefferson to Virginia Baptists, 1808.

"I subscribe to the principle, that the will of the majority 
honestly expressed should give law." --Thomas Jefferson: Anas, 

"I readily suppose my opinion wrong, when opposed by the 
majority." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1788.

"It is my principle that the will of the majority should always
prevail.  If they approve the proposed convention in all its 
parts, I shall concur in it cheerfully, in hopes that they will  
amend it whenever they shall find it works wrong." --Thomas 
Jefferson to James Madison, 1787.

"If the measures which have been pursued are approved by the 
majority, it is the duty of the minority to acquiesce and 
conform." --Thomas Jefferson to William Duane, 1811. 

"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 laws must protect, and to violate would be 
oppression." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural, 1801.

"The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime,
abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest
breaks up the foundations of society." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre 
Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816.


"Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers 
from the consent of the governed." --Thomas Jefferson: Declaration 
of Independence, 1776.

"The equal rights of man, and the happiness of every individual,
are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of
government.  Modern times have the signal advantage, too, of 
having discovered the only device by which these rights can be
secured, to wit: government by the people, acting not in person,
but by representatives chosen by themselves, that is to say, by 
every man of ripe years and sane mind, who contributes either by
his purse or person to the support of his country." --Thomas
Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823.

"Man [is] a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights, and
with an innate sense of justice; and... he [can] be restrained 
from wrong and protected in right, by moderate powers, confided  
to persons of his own choice, and held to their duties by 
dependence on his own will." --Thomas Jefferson to William Johnson, 

"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." --Thomas
Jefferson: 1st Inaugural, 1801.

"The qualifications for self-government in society are not innate. 
They are the result of habit and long training." --Thomas 
Jefferson to Edward Everett, 1824.

"It is a happy truth that man is capable of self-government, and
only rendered otherwise by the moral degradation designedly
superinduced on him by the wicked acts of his tyrant." --Thomas 
Jefferson to M. de Marbois, 1817.

"[Our] object is to secure self government by the republicanism 
of our constitution, as well as by the spirit of the people; and 
to nourish and perpetuate that spirit.  I am not among those who 
fear the people.  They and not the rich are our dependence for 
continued freedom." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

"The spirit of our people... would oblige even a despot to govern 
us republicanly." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

"The people, being the only safe depository of power, should 
exercise in person every function which their qualifications 
enable them to exercise consistently with the order and security 
of society.  We now find them equal to the election of those who 
shall be invested with their executive and legislative powers, 
and to act themselves in the judiciary as judges in questions of 
fact.  The range of their powers ought to be enlarged." --Thomas 
Jefferson to Walter Jones, 1814.

"Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people; whose 
rights, however, to the exercise and fruits of their own industry 
can never be protected against the selfishness of rulers not 
subject to their control at short periods... My most earnest wish 
is to see the republican element of popular control pushed to the 
maximum of its practicable exercise.  I shall then believe that 
our government may be pure and perpetual." --Thomas Jefferson to 
Isaac H. Tiffany, 1816.

"That government which can wield the arm of the people must be
the strongest possible." --Thomas Jefferson to Mr. Weaver, 1807.

"It should be remembered as an axiom of eternal truth in politics,
that whatever power in any government is independent, is
absolute also; in theory only at first while the spirit of the 
people is up, but in practice as fast as that relaxes." --Thomas 
Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1819.

"If the happiness of the mass of the people can be secured at the
expense of a little tempest now and then, or even of a little 
blood, it will be a precious purchase." --Thomas Jefferson to 
Ezra Stiles, 1786.

"Let this be the distinctive mark of an American that in cases of 
commotion, he enlists himself under no man's banner, inquires for 
no man's name, but repairs to the standard of the laws.  Do this, 
and you need never fear anarchy or tyranny.  Your government will 
be perpetual." --Thomas Jefferson: Manuscript, 1801?

"Our falling into anarchy would decide forever the destinies of
mankind, and seal the political heresy that man is incapable of
self-government." --Thomas Jefferson to John Hollins, 1811.

"My most earnest wish is to see the republican element of popular
control pushed to the maximum of its practicable exercise.  I 
shall then believe that our Government may be pure and perpetual."
--Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1816.

"I deem no government safe which is under the vassalage of any
self-constituted authorities, or any other authority than that of 
the nation, or its regular functionaries." --Thomas Jefferson to  
Albert Gallatin, 1803.

"The voluntary support of laws, formed by persons of their own
choice, distinguishes peculiarly the minds capable of
self-government.  The contrary spirit is anarchy, which of 
necessity produces despotism." --Thomas Jefferson to Philadelphia
Citizens, 1809.

"I have no fear that the result of our experiment will be that 
men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master.  Could 
the contrary of this be proved, I should conclude either that 
there is no God, or that He is a malevolent being." --Thomas 
Jefferson to David Hartley, 1787.

Compilation copyrighted 1996 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr.
Permission hereby granted to quote single excerpts separately.

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