Today is the 275th birthday of Thomas Jefferson. Since our third president would object to us celebrating his birthday (“The only birthday I ever commemorate,” Jefferson once said, “is that of our Independence, the Fourth of July.”) let’s take this opportunity to instead look at six quotes by Jefferson on liberty and government.
On personal liberty: “Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the author of nature, because necessary for his own sustenance.”
On law and liberty: “Liberty . . . is unobstructed action according to our will: but rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within the 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 right of an individual.”
On the purpose of government: “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”
On government and tyranny: “Whereas it appeareth that however certain forms of government are better calculated than others to protect individuals in the free exercise of their natural rights, and are at the same time themselves better guarded against degeneracy, yet experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny . . . ”
On limiting government: If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.”
On resisting government intrusion: “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 than not to be exercised at all.”