Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government


40. Publicly Supported Education

Jefferson developed an elaborate plan for making education available to every citizen, and for providing a complete education through university for talented youths who were unable to afford it. He considered his most important accomplishment, after Author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute for Religious Freedom, to have been the Father of the University of Virginia.

"I have indeed two great measures at heart, without which no republic can maintain itself in strength: 1. That of general education, to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom. 2. To divide every county into hundreds, of such size that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1810. ME 12:393

"Of all the views of this law [for public education], none is more important, none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people the safe as they are the ultimate guardians of their own liberty." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XIV, 1782. ME 2:206

"Education not being a branch of municipal government, but, like the other arts and sciences, an accident [i.e., attribute] only, I did not place it with election as a fundamental member in the structure of government." --Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816. ME 15:45

"Education is here placed among the articles of public care, not that it would be proposed to take its ordinary branches out of the hands of private enterprise, which manages so much better all the concerns to which it is equal; but a public institution can alone supply those sciences which, though rarely called for, are yet necessary to complete the circle, all the parts of which contribute to the improvement of the country, and some of them to its preservation." --Thomas Jefferson: 6th Annual Message, 1806. ME 3:423

"The present consideration of a national establishment for education, particularly, is rendered proper by this circumstance also, that if Congress, approving the proposition, shall yet think it more eligible to found it on a donation of lands, they have it now in their power to endow it with those which will be among the earliest to produce the necessary income. The foundation would have the advantage of being independent on war, which may suspend other improvements by requiring for its own purposes the resources destined for them." --Thomas Jefferson: 6th Annual Message, 1806. ME 3:424

"The object [of my education bill was] to bring into action that mass of talents which lies buried in poverty in every country for want of the means of development, and thus give activity to a mass of mind which in proportion to our population shall be the double or treble of what it is in most countries." --Thomas Jefferson to M. Correa de Serra, 1817. ME 15:156

"The general objects [of a bill to diffuse knowledge more generally through the mass of the people] are to provide an education adapted to the years, to the capacity, and the condition of every one, and directed to their freedom and happiness." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XIV, 1782. ME 2:204

"A bill for the more general diffusion of learning... proposed to divide every county into wards of five or six miles square;... to establish in each ward a free school for reading, writing and common arithmetic; to provide for the annual selection of the best subjects from these schools, who might receive at the public expense a higher degree of education at a district school; and from these district schools to select a certain number of the most promising subjects, to be completed at an University where all the useful sciences should be taught. Worth and genius would thus have been sought out from every condition of life, and completely prepared by education for defeating the competition of wealth and birth for public trusts." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813. ME 13:399

"This [bill] on education would [raise] the mass of the people to the high ground of moral respectability necessary to their own safety and to orderly government, and would [complete] the great object of qualifying them to secure the veritable aristoi for the trusts of government, to the exclusion of the pseudalists... I have great hope that some patriotic spirit will... call it up and make it the keystone of the arch of our government." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813. ME 13:400

"My partiality for that division [of every county into wards] is not founded in views of education solely, but infinitely more as the means of a better administration of our government, and the eternal preservation of its republican principles. The example of this most admirable of all human contrivances in government, is to be seen in our Eastern States; and its powerful effect in the order and economy of their internal affairs, and the momentum it gives them as a nation, is the single circumstance which distinguishes them so remarkably from every other national association." --Thomas Jefferson to Wilson C. Nicholas, 1816. ME 14:454

"The less wealthy people,... by the bill for a general education, would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government; and all this would be effected without the violation of a single natural right of any one individual citizen." --Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821. ME 1:73

"I... [proposed] three distinct grades of education, reaching all classes. 1. Elementary schools for all children generally, rich and poor. 2. Colleges for a middle degree of instruction, calculated for the common purposes of life and such as should be desirable for all who were in easy circumstances. And 3d. an ultimate grade for teaching the sciences generally and in their highest degree... The expenses of [the elementary] schools should be borne by the inhabitants of the county, every one in proportion to his general tax-rate. This would throw on wealth the education of the poor." --Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821. ME 1:70

"The public education... we divide into three grades: 1. Primary schools, in which are taught reading, writing, and common arithmetic, to every infant of the State, male and female. 2. Intermediate schools, in which an education is given proper for artificers and the middle vocations of life; in grammar, for example, general history, logarithms, arithmetic, plane trigonometry, mensuration, the use of the globes, navigation, the mechanical principles, the elements of natural philosophy, and, as a preparation for the University, the Greek and Latin languages. 3. An University, in which these and all other useful sciences shall be taught in their highest degree; the expenses of these institutions are defrayed partly by the public, and partly by the individuals profiting of them." --Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823. ME 15:487

"My bill proposes, 1. Elementary schools in every county, which shall place every householder within three miles of a school. 2. District colleges, which shall place every father within a day's ride of a college where he may dispose of his son. 3. An university in a healthy and central situation... To all of which is added a selection from the elementary schools of subjects of the most promising genius, whose parents are too poor to give them further education, to be carried at the public expense through the colleges and university." --Thomas Jefferson to M. Correa de Serra, 1817. ME 15:155

"At [the elementary] school shall be received and instructed gratis, every infant of competent age who has not already had three years' schooling. And it is declared and enacted, that no person unborn or under the age of twelve years at the passing of this act, and who is compos mentis, shall, after the age of fifteen years, be a citizen of this commonwealth until he or she can read readily in some tongue, native or acquired." --Thomas Jefferson: Elementary School Act, 1817. ME 17:424

"The expense of the elementary schools for every county is proposed to be levied on the wealth of the county, and all children rich and poor to be educated at these three years gratis." --Thomas Jefferson to M. Correa de Serra, 1817. ME 15:156

"If twelve or fifteen hundred schools are to be placed under one general administration, an attention so divided will amount to a dereliction of them to themselves. It is surely better, then, to place each school at once under the care of those most interested in its conduct." --Thomas Jefferson: Plan for Elementary Schools, 1817. ME 17:417

"What object of our lives can we propose so important [as establishing a State university]? What interest of our own which ought not to be postponed to this? Health, time, labor -- on what in the single life which nature has given us, can these be better bestowed than on this immortal boon to our country? The exertions and the mortifications are temporary; the benefit eternal." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1821. ME 15:312

"We fondly hope that the instruction which may flow from this institution, kindly cherished, by advancing the minds of our youth with the growing science of the times, and elevating the views of our citizens generally to the practice of the social duties and the functions of self-government, may ensure to our country the reputation, the safety and prosperity, and all the other blessings which experience proves to result from the cultivation and improvement of the general mind." --Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Board of Visitors Minutes, 1821. ME 19:407

"[We proposed a plan] to avail the commonwealth of those talents and virtues which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as rich, and which are lost to their country by the want of means for their cultivation." --Thomas Jefferson: Elementary School Act, 1817. ME 17:440

"The annual tribute we are paying to other countries for the education of our youth, the retention of that sum at home, and receipt of a greater from abroad which might flow to an University on an approved scale, would make it a gainful employment of the money advanced, were even dollars and cents to mingle themselves with the consideration of an higher order urging the accomplishment of this institution." --Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Board of Visitors Minutes, 1819. ME 19:386

"Our institution will proceed on the principle of doing all the good it can without consulting its own pride or ambition; of letting everyone come and listen to whatever he thinks may improve the condition of his mind." --Thomas Jefferson to George Ticknor, 1823. ME 15:455

"I think by far the most important bill in our whole code, is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness... The tax which will be paid for this purpose 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 in ignorance." --Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe, 1786. ME 5:396

"[Surely no] tax can be called that which we give to our children in the most valuable of all forms, that of instruction... An addition to our contributions almost insensible... in fact, will not be felt as a burden, because applied immediately and visibly to the good of our children." --Thomas Jefferson: Note to Elementary School Act, 1817. ME 17:422

"The truth is that the want of common education with us is not from our poverty, but from the want of an orderly system. More money is now paid for the education of a part than would be paid for that of the whole if systematically arranged." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1820. ME 15:291

"People generally have more feeling for canals and roads than education. However, I hope we can advance them with equal pace." --Thomas Jefferson to Joel Barlow, 1807. ME 11:401

"I now think it would be better for every ward to choose its own resident visitor, whose business it would be to keep a teacher in the ward, to superintend the school, and to call meetings of the ward for all purposes relating to it; their accounts to be settled, and wards laid off by the courts. I think ward elections better for many reasons, one of which is sufficient, that it will keep elementary education out of the hands of fanaticizing preachers, who, in county elections, would be universally chosen, and the predominant sect of the county would possess itself of all its schools." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Cabell, 1820. ME 15:293

"The transfer of the power to give commencement to the Ward or Elementary Schools from the court and aldermen to the visitors, was proposed because the experience of twenty years has proved that no court will ever begin it. The reason is obvious. The members of the courts are the wealthy members of the counties; and as the expenses of the schools are to be defrayed by a contribution proportioned to the aggregate of other taxes which every one pays, they consider it as a plan to educated the poor at the expense of the rich... The modification of the law, by authorizing the alderman to require the expense of tutorage from such parents as are able, would render trifling, if not wholly prevent, any call on the country for pecuniary aid." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1816. ME 14:413

"I never have proposed a sacrifice of the primary to the ultimate grade of instruction. Let us keep our eye steadily on the whole system. If we cannot do everything at once, let us do one at a time." --Thomas Jefferson to James Breckinridge, 1821. ME 15:316

"I have often thought that nothing would do more extensive good at small expense than the establishment of a small circulating library in every county, to consist of a few well-chosen books, to be lent to the people of the country, under such regulations as would secure their safe return in due time." --Thomas Jefferson to John Wyche, 1809. ME 12:282

"A plan of female education has never been a subject of systematic contemplation with me. It has occupied my attention so far only as the education of my own daughters occasionally required. Considering that they would be placed in a country situation, where little aid could be obtained from abroad, I thought it essential to give them a solid education which might enable them, when become mothers, to educate their own daughters, and even to direct the course for sons, should their fathers be lost, or incapable, or inattentive. My surviving daughter accordingly, the mother of many daughters as well as sons, has made their education the object of her life." --Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Burwell, 1818. ME 15:165

"Is it a right or a duty in society to take care of their infant members in opposition to the will of the parent? How far does this right and duty extend? --to guard the life of the infant, his property, his instruction, his morals? The Roman father was supreme in all these: we draw a line, but where? --public sentiment does not seem to have traced it precisely... It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible asportation and education of the infant against the will of the father... What is proposed... is to remove the objection of expense, by offering education gratis, and to strengthen parental excitement by the disfranchisement of his child while uneducated. Society has certainly a right to disavow him whom they offer, and are permitted to qualify for the duties of a citizen. If we do not force instruction, let us at least strengthen the motives to receive it when offered." --Thomas Jefferson: Note to Elementary School Act, 1817. ME 17:423

"In the [elementary schools] will be taught reading, writing, common arithmetic, and general notions of geography. In the [district colleges], ancient and modern languages, geography fully, a higher degree of numerical arithmetic, mensuration, and the elementary principles of navigation. In the [university], all the useful sciences in their highest degree." --Thomas Jefferson to M. Correa de Serra, 1817. ME 15:155

"I am not fully informed of the practices at Harvard, but there is one from which we shall certainly vary, although it has been copied, I believe, by nearly every college and academy in the United States. That is, the holding the students all to one prescribed course of reading, and disallowing exclusive application to those branches only which are to qualify them for the particular vocations to which they are destined. We shall, on the contrary, allow them uncontrolled choice in the lectures they shall choose to attend, and require elementary qualification only, and sufficient age." --Thomas Jefferson to George Ticknor, 1823. ME 15:455

"This institution [i.e., the university] will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it." --Thomas Jefferson to William Roscoe, 1820. ME 15:303

"We do not expect our schools to turn out their alumni already enthroned on the pinnacles of their respective sciences; but only so far advanced in each as to be able to pursue them by themselves, and to become Newtons and Laplaces by energies and perseverances to be continued through life." --Thomas Jefferson to John P. Emmet, 1826. ME 16:171

"In most public seminaries textbooks are prescribed to each of the several schools, as the norma docendi in that school; and this is generally done by authority of the trustees. I should not propose this generally in our University, because I believe none of us are so much at the heights of science in the several branches as to undertake this, and therefore that it will be better left to the professors until occasion of interference shall be given. But there is one branch in which we are the best judges, in which heresies may be taught of so interesting a character to our own State and to the United States, as to make it a duty in us to lay down the principles which are to be taught. It is that of government... [A new professor may be] one of that school of quondam federalism, now consolidation. It is our duty to guard against such principles being disseminated among our youth and the diffusion of that poison, by a previous prescription of the texts to be followed in their discourses." --Thomas Jefferson to -----, 1825. ME 16:103

"In the selection of our Law Professor, we must be rigorously attentive to his political principles... It is in our seminary that that vestal flame [of republicanism] is to be kept alive." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1826. ME 16:156

"A man is not qualified for a professor, knowing nothing but merely his own profession. He should be otherwise well-educated as to the sciences generally; able to converse understandingly with the scientific men with whom he is associated, and to assist in the councils of the faculty on any subject of science on which they may have occasion to deliberate. Without this, he will incur their contempt, and bring disreputation on the institution." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1824. ME 16:6

"Besides the first degree of eminence in science, a professor with us must be of sober and correct morals and habits, having the talent of communicating his knowledge with facility, and of an accommodating and peaceable temper. The latter is all important for the harmony of the institution." --Thomas Jefferson to Dugald Stewart, 1824. ME 18:333

"The objects of... primary education [which] determine its character and limits [are]: To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts in writing; to improve, by reading, his morals and faculties; to understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either; to know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains, to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor and judgment; and in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed." --Thomas Jefferson: Report for University of Virginia, 1818.

"The reading in the first stage, where [the people] will receive their whole education, is proposed.. to be chiefly historical. History by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XIV, 1782. ME 2:106

"Such a degree of learning [should be] given to every member of the society as will enable him to read, to judge and to vote understandingly on what is passing." --Thomas Jefferson to Littleton Waller Tazewell, 1805.

"A great obstacle to good education is the inordinate passion prevalent for novels, and the time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reason and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy, and nothing so bedecked comes amiss. The result is a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real businesses of life. This mass of trash, however, is not without some distinction; some few modeling their narratives, although fictitious, on the incidents of real life, have been able to make them interesting and useful vehicles of a sound morality... For a like reason, too, much poetry should not be indulged. Some is useful for forming style and taste. Pope, Dryden, Thompson, Shakespeare, and of the French, Moliere, Racine, the Corneilles, may be read with pleasure and improvement." --Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Burwell, 1818. ME 15:166

"Promote in every order of men the degree of instruction proportioned to their condition and to their views in life." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Cabell, 1820. ME 15:292

"Every folly must run its round; and so, I suppose, must that of self-learning and self-sufficiency: of rejecting the knowledge acquired in past ages, and starting on the new ground of intuition. When sobered by experience, I hope our successors will turn their attention to the advantages of education. I mean of education on the broad scale." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1814. ME 14:150

"I hope the necessity will, at length, be seen of establishing institutions here, as in Europe, where every branch of science, useful at this day, may be taught in its highest degree." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1814. ME 14:151

"What are the objects of an useful American [college] education? Classical knowledge, modern languages and chiefly French, Spanish, and Italian; Mathematics, Natural philosophy, Natural history, Civil history, and Ethics. In Natural philosophy, I mean to include Chemistry and Agriculture, and in Natural history, to include Botany, as well as the other branches of those departments." --Thomas Jefferson to J. Bannister, Jr., 1785. ME 5:186, Papers 8:636

"It would be time lost... to attend professors of ethics, metaphysics, logic, etc. The first of these may be as well acquired in the closet as from living lecturers; and supposing the two last to mean the science of mind, the simple reading of Locke, Tracy, and Stewart will give him as much in that branch as is real science." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1820. ME 15:265

"Agriculture... is a science of the very first order. It counts among its handmaids the most respectable sciences, such as Chemistry, Natural Philosophy, Mechanics, Mathematics generally, Natural History, Botany. In every College and University, a professorship of agriculture, and the class of its students, might be honored as the first." --Thomas Jefferson to David Williams, 1803. ME 10:429

"In my view, no knowledge can be more satisfactory to a man than that of his own frame, its parts, their functions and actions. And Botany I rank with the most valuable sciences, whether we consider its subjects as furnishing the principal subsistence of life to man and beast, delicious varieties for our tables, refreshments from our orchards, the adornments of our flower-borders, shade and perfume of our groves, materials for our buildings, or medicaments for our bodies. To the gentleman it is certainly more interesting than Mineralogy (which I by no means, however, undervalue), and is more at hand for his amusement; and to a country family it constitutes a great portion of their social entertainment. No country gentleman should be without what amuses every step he takes into his fields." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1814. ME 14:201

"I do not think [languages] very essential to the obtaining eminent degrees of science; but I think them very useful towards it. I suppose there is a portion of life during which our faculties are ripe enough for this, and for nothing more useful." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestly, 1800. ME 10:146

"We generally learn languages for the benefit of reading the books written in them." --Thomas Jefferson to ----, 1825. ME 16:107

"I have never thought a boy should undertake abstruse or difficult sciences, such as Mathematics in general, till fifteen years of age at soonest. Before that time they are best employed in learning the languages, which is merely a matter of memory." --Thomas Jefferson to Ralph Izard, 1788. ME 7:71

"In general, I am of opinion, that till the age of about sixteen, we are best employed on languages; Latin, Greek; French, and Spanish, or such of them as we can... Of the languages I have mentioned, I think Greek the least useful." --Thomas Jefferson to J. W. Eppes, 1787. ME 6:190

"The French language, become that of the general intercourse of nations, and from their extraordinary advances now the depository of all science, is an indispensable part of education for both sexes." --Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Burwell, 1818. ME 15:167

"The Spanish language... and the English covering nearly the whole face of America, they should be well-known to every inhabitant who means to look beyond the limits of his farm." --Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 1788. ME 7:44

"For classical learning I have ever been a zealous advocate."--Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1814. ME 14:200

"When we advert that the ancient classical languages are considered as the foundation preparatory for all the sciences; that we have always had schools scattered over the country for teaching these languages, which often were the ultimate term of education; that these languages are entered on at the age of nine or ten years, at which age parents would be unwilling to send their children from every part of the State to a central and distant university, and when we observe that... there are to be a plurality of them, we may well conclude that the Greek and Latin are the objects of these colleges... and that they are intended as the portico of entry to the university." --Thomas Jefferson to Wilson C. Nicholas, 1816. ME 14:452

"To whom are these [classical languages] useful? Certainly not to all men. There are conditions of life to which they must be forever estranged, and there are epochs of life, too, after which the endeavor to attain them would be a great misemployment of time. Their acquisition should be the occupation of our early years only, when the memory is susceptible of deep and lasting impressions, and reason and judgment not yet strong enough for abstract speculations." --Thomas Jefferson to John Brazier, 1819. ME 15:209

"[The Latin and Greek] languages... constitute the basis of good education, and are indispensable to fill up the character of a 'well-educated man.'" --Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Board of Visitors Minutes, 1824. ME 19:444

"[As to] the extent to which classical learning should be carried in our country... The utilities we derive from the remains of the Greek and Latin languages are, first, as models of pure taste in writing. To these we are certainly indebted for the rational and chaste style of modern composition which so much distinguishes the nations to whom these languages are familiar... Second. Among the values of classical learning, I estimate the luxury of reading the Greek and Roman authors in all the beauties of their originals. And why should not this innocent and elegant luxury take its preeminent stand ahead of all those addressed merely to the sense?... Third. A third value is in the stores of real science deposited and transmitted us in these languages, to wit: in history, ethics, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, natural history, etc." --Thomas Jefferson to John Brazier, 1819. ME 15:208

"[Greece was] the first of civilized nations [which] presented example of what man should be." --Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823. ME 15:481

"I think the Greeks and Romans have left us the present models which exist of fine composition, whether we examine them as works of reason, or of style and fancy; and to them we probably owe these characteristics of modern composition. I know of no composition of any other ancient people which merits the least regard as a model for its matter or style. To all this I add, that to read the Latin and Greek authors in their original is a sublime luxury; and I deem luxury in science to be at least as justifiable as in architecture, painting, gardening, or the other arts." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestly, 1800. ME 10:146

"It may be truly said that the classical languages are a solid basis for most, and an ornament to all the sciences." --Thomas Jefferson to John Brazier, 1819. ME 15:211

"I make it a rule never to read translations where I can read the original." --Thomas Jefferson to Edmund Randolph, 1794. ME 9:280

"Indeed, no translation can be [an adequate representation of the excellences of the original]." --Thomas Jefferson to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1811. ME 13:14

"I have not, however, carried so far as [some] do my ideas of the importance of a hypercritical knowledge of the Latin and Greek languages. I have believed it sufficient to possess a substantial understanding of their authors." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1814. ME 14:200

"In a country and government like ours, eloquence is a powerful instrument, well worthy of the special pursuit of our youth." --Thomas Jefferson to George W. Summers and John B. Garland, 1822. ME 15:353

"Amplification is the vice of modern oratory. It is an insult to an assembly of reasonable men, disgusting and revolting instead of persuading. Speeches measured by the hour, die with the hour." --Thomas Jefferson to David Harding, 1824. ME 16:30

"The want of instruction in the various creeds of religious faith existing among our citizens presents... a chasm in a general institution of the useful sciences. But it was thought that this want, and the entrustment to each society of instruction in its own doctrine, were evils of less danger than a permission to the public authorities to dictate modes or principles of religious instruction, or than opportunities furnished them by giving countenance or ascendancy to any one sect over another." --Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Board of Visitors Minutes, 1822. ME 19:414

"After stating the constitutional reasons against a public establishment of any religious instruction, we suggest the expediency of encouraging the different religious sects to establish, each for itself, a professorship of their own tenets on the confines of the university, so near as that their students may attend the lectures there and have the free use of our library and every other accommodation we can give them; preserving, however, their independence of us and of each other. This fills the chasm objected to ours, as a defect in an institution professing to give instruction in all useful sciences... And by bringing the sects together, and mixing them with the mass of other students, we shall soften their asperities, liberalize and neutralize their prejudices, and make the general religion a religion of peace, reason, and morality." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1822. ME 15:405

"The ornaments too, and the amusements of life, are entitled to their portion of attention. These, for a female, are dancing, drawing, and music. The first is healthy exercise, elegant and very attractive for young people... Drawing is thought less of in this country than in Europe. It is an innocent and engaging amusement, often useful, and a qualification not to be neglected in one who is to become a mother and an instructor. Music is invaluable where a person has an ear. Where they have not, it should not be attempted. It furnishes a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day, and lasts us through life. The taste of this country, too, calls for this accomplishment more strongly that for either of the others." --Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Burwell, 1818. ME 15:167

"I need say nothing of household economy, in which the mothers of our country are generally skilled, and generally careful to instruct their daughters. We all know its value, and that diligence and dexterity in all its processes are inestimable treasures. The order and economy of a house are as honorable to the mistress as those of the farm to the master, and if either be neglected, ruin follows, and children destitute of the means of living." --Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Burwell, 1818. ME 15:168

"I should not like to have [a school of deaf and dumb] made a member of our College. The objects of the two institutions are fundamentally distinct. The one is science, the other mere charity. It would be gratuitously taking a boat in tow which may impede, but cannot aid the motion of the principal institution." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1816. ME 14:414

"Man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him. From his cradle to his grave he is learning to do what he sees others do." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XVIII, 1782. ME 2:226

"The article of discipline is the most difficult in American education. Premature ideas of independence, too little repressed by parents, beget a spirit of insubordination which is the great obstacle to science with us and a principal cause of its decay since the Revolution." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1822. ME 15:406

"The rock which I most dread is the discipline of the institution, and it is that on which most of our public schools labor. The insubordination of our youth is now the greatest obstacle to their education. We may lessen the difficulty, perhaps, by avoiding too much government, by requiring no useless observances, none which shall merely multiply occasions for dissatisfaction, disobedience and revolt by referring to the more discreet of themselves the minor discipline, the graver to the civil magistrates." --Thomas Jefferson to George Ticknor, 1823. ME 15:455

"The consequences of foreign education are alarming to me as an American... Cast your eye over America. Who are the men of most learning, of most eloquence, most beloved by their countrymen and most trusted and promoted by them? They are those who have been educated among them, and whose manners, morals and habits are perfectly homogeneous with those of the country." --Thomas Jefferson to John Banister, Jr., 1785. (*) ME 5:188, Papers 8:637

"I do not count on any advantage to be derived... from a familiar acquaintance with the principles of [a] government [which has been] rendered... a tyrannical aristocracy, more likely to give ill than good ideas to an American." --Thomas Jefferson to John Banister, Jr., 1785. (*)

"[One of] the disadvantages of sending a youth to Europe [for an education is]... he is fascinated with the privileges of the European aristocrats, and sees, with abhorrence, the lovely equality which the poor enjoy with the rich in his own country." --Thomas Jefferson to John Banister, Jr., 1785. ME 5:186, Papers 8:636

"In a republican nation whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance." --Thomas Jefferson to David Harding, 1824. ME 16:30

"Science is more important in a republican than in any other government." --Thomas Jefferson to -----, 1821. ME 15:339

"[We should] endeavor to keep [our] attention fixed on the main objects of all science: the freedom and happiness of man. [Thus] will [we] keep ever in view the sole objects of all legitimate government." --Thomas Jefferson to Thaddeus Kosciusko, 1810. ME 12:369

"An infant country... must much depend for improvement on the science of other countries longer established, possessing better means and more advanced than [they] are. To prohibit [them] from the benefit of foreign light is to consign [them[ to long darkness." --Thomas Jefferson to ------, 1821. ME 15:339

"The republic of letters is unaffected by the wars of geographical divisions of the earth." --Thomas Jefferson to Robert Patterson, 1811. ME 13:87

"The occasion [should be seized] of sowing useful truths among the people which might germinate and become rooted among their political tenets." --Thomas Jefferson to Levi Lincoln, 1802. (*) ME 10:305

"Although I do not, with some enthusiasts, believe that the human condition will ever advance to such a state of perfection as that there shall no longer be pain or vice in the world, yet I believe it susceptible of much improvement, and most of all in matters of government and religion; and that the diffusion of knowledge among the people is to be the instrument by which it is to be effected." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816. ME 14:491

"I do hope that in the present spirit of extending to the great mass of mankind the blessings of instruction, I see a prospect of great advancement in the happiness of the human race; and that this may proceed to an indefinite, although not to an infinite degree." --Thomas Jefferson to Cornelius Camden Blatchly, 1822. ME 15:400

"We have spent the prime of our lives in procuring [young men] the precious blessing of liberty. Let them spend theirs in showing that it is the great parent of science and of virtue; and that a nation will be great in both, always in proportion as it is free." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Willard, 1789. ME 7:329

"Preach... a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [of monarchial government]." --Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe, 1786.

ME, FE = Memorial Edition, Ford Edition.   See Sources.

Cross References

To other sections in Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government:-

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