Thomas Jefferson’s wisdom

In Calvinism, Deism, Thomas Jefferson on April 30, 2006 at 11:29 PM

If you want to understand the nature of American government, Thomas Jefferson is an essential resource. The primary author of the Declaration of Independence and one of America’s Founding Fathers, he is uniquely qualified as an expert on the nature of human governments in general, and ours in particular.

Sadly, Jefferson’s theology was not quite as sound [if the charges of Deism are true; I’ve read of one explanation that ameliorates his abridged Bible]. It seems reasonable Jefferson may have fallen victim to Man’s natural infatuation with his own Reason, and that is a factor in his rejection of the supernatural.

It seems much more likely that Jefferson’s hostility to the God of the Bible was due to his exposure to Calvin’s very distorted view of Christ and His religion. By this I do not mean that Calvin’s doctrines were misrepresented; rather, his teachings are sinister perversions of the Gospel of Christ. Jefferson is credited with the following in a letter to John Adams:

I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did.

The concepts of Double Predestination and Limited Atonement are contrary to Scripture and the nature of its Author. To teach as Truth the idea that God capriciously predestines some to Eternal Life and some to eternal destruction (Double Predestination) is completely antithetical to what the God of the Bible has revealed of Himself. To limit the Sacrifice of the Son of God to only some people when He clearly stated that He loves, lived, died, and rose from the dead for all is blasphemy.

If these are of what Jefferson was thinking, he was correct in characterizing such beliefs as doctrines from hell.

Now for a happier melody. Quotes from Thomas Jefferson on government and life:

A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.

A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned – this is the sum of good government.

All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.

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.

An enemy generally says and believes what he wishes.

Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.

Commerce with all nations, alliance with none, should be our motto.

Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government.

Delay is preferable to error.

Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.

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.

Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it.

Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.

Don’t talk about what you have done or what you are going to do.

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.

Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.

Errors of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.

Every generation needs a new revolution.

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal 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 blindfolded fear.

For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well-organized and armed militia is their best security.

For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.

Force is the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism.

Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities.

He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.

History, in general, only informs us of what bad government is.

Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.

How much have cost us the evils that never happened!

How much pain they have cost us, the evils which have never happened.

I abhor war and view it as the greatest scourge of mankind.

I am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greek and Roman leave to us.

I am mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, the sale of a book can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too.

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. Already they have raised up a monied aristocracy that has set the government at defiance. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people to whom it properly belongs.

I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.

I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.

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.

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.

I own that I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.

I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.

I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led, and bearding every authority which stood in their way.

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.

I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

If God is just, I tremble for my country.

If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour?

If there is one principle more deeply rooted in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.

Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong.

In every country and every age, the priest had been hostile to Liberty.

In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.

In truth, politeness is artificial good humor, it covers the natural want of it, and ends by rendering habitual a substitute nearly equivalent to the real virtue.

It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.

It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.

It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong.

It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.

It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read.

It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.

It is more dangerous that even a guilty person should be punished without the forms of law than that he should escape.

It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness.

It is our duty still to endeavor to avoid war; but if it shall actually take place, no matter by whom brought on, we must defend ourselves. If our house be on fire, without inquiring whether it was fired from within or without, we must try to extinguish it.

Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.

Liberty is to the collective body, what health is to every individual body. Without health no pleasure can be tasted by man; without liberty, no happiness can be enjoyed by society.

Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.

My theory has always been, that if we are to dream, the flatteries of hope are as cheap, and pleasanter, than the gloom of despair.

Nations of eternal war [expend] all their energies… in the destruction of the labor, property, and lives of their people.

Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.

Never spend your money before you have earned it.

No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.

No man will ever carry out of the Presidency the reputation which carried him into it.

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.

Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.

One man with courage is a majority.

Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail.

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.

Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.

Peace and abstinence from European interferences are our objects, and so will continue while the present order of things in America remain uninterrupted.

Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy, and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it.

Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.

Politics is such a torment that I advise everyone I love not to mix with it.

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-folded fear.

Resort is had to ridicule only when reason is against us.

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

So confident am I in the intentions, as well as wisdom, of the government, that I shall always be satisfied that what is not done, either cannot, or ought not to be done.

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.

That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.

That government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part.

The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave.

The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

The earth belongs to the living, not to the dead.

The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as they are injurious to others.

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.

The natural cause of the human mind is certainly from credulity to skepticism.

The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.

The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.

The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force.

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.

The tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it.

The world is indebted for all triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression.

There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.

There is not a truth existing which I fear… or would wish unknown to the whole world.

Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.

To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

To preserve our independence… We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.

Truth is certainly a branch of morality and a very important one to society.

Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very fast.

War is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong; and multiplies, instead of indemnifying losses.

We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed.

We confide in our strength, without boasting of it; we respect that of others, without fearing it.

We did not raise armies for glory or for conquest.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of its majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generation, more than the inhabitants of another country.

What an augmentation of the field for jobbing, speculating, plundering, office-building and office-hunting would be produced by an assumption of all the state powers into the hands of the general government.

When a man assumes a public trust he should consider himself a public property.

When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.

When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.

When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.

When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.

Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.

Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.


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