Appreciation of Thomas Jefferson by ensuing generations to 1899   

If Jefferson was wrong, America is wrong. If America is right, Jefferson was right.–James Parton, 1874

   Lincoln on Jefferson   

“I am sustained by Mr. Jefferson.”
–Abraham Lincoln, July 17, 1858

All honor to Jefferson-to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.–Abraham Lincoln, April 6, 1859

…The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society. –Abraham Lincoln, April 6, 1859

I believe the entire records of the world, from the date of the Declaration of Independence up to within three years ago, may be searched in vain for one single affirmation, from one single man, that the negro was not included in the Declaration of Independence…–Abraham Lincoln, October 7, 1858

In contemplation of this thing [slavery], we all know he was led to exclaim, “I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just!” We know how he looked upon it when he thus expressed himself. There was danger to this country,—danger of the avenging justice of God…He supposed there was a question of God’s eternal justice wrapped up in the enslaving of any race of men, or any man, and that those who did so braved the arm of Jehovah; that when a nation thus dared the Almighty, every friend of that nation had cause to dread his wrath.–Abraham Lincoln, September, 1859

Thus, with the author of the declaration of Independence, the policy of prohibiting slavery in new territory originated. Thus, away back of the constitution, in the pure fresh, free breath of the revolution, the State of Virginia, and the National congress put that policy in practice. Thus through sixty odd of the best years of the republic did that policy steadily work to its great and beneficent end. And thus, in those five states, and five million of free, enterprising people, we have before us the rich fruits of this policy. –Abraham Lincoln, October 16, 1854

Now, if slavery had been a good thing, would the Fathers of the Republic have taken a step calculated to diminish its beneficent influences among themselves, and snatch the boon wholly from their posterity? These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: “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.” This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man.

…They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children’s children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began—so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built.

Now, my countrymen, if you have been taught doctrines conflicting with the great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence; if you have listened to suggestions which would take away from its grandeur, and mutilate the fair symmetry of its proportions; if you have been inclined to believe that all men are not created equal in those inalienable rights enumerated by our chart of liberty, let me entreat you to come back. Return to the fountain whose waters spring close by the blood of the Revolution. Think nothing of me—take no thought for the political fate of any man whomsoever—but come back to the truths that are in the Declaration of Independence….But do not destroy that immortal emblem of Humanity, the Declaration of American Independence.–Abraham Lincoln, August 17, 1858

…They [the authors of the Declaration of Independence] did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal—equal in “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This they said, and this meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. The assertion that “all men are created equal” was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, not for that, but for future use. Its authors meant it to be, thank God, it is now proving itself, a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism…–Abraham Lincoln, June 26, 1857

Mr. Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and otherwise a chief actor in the Revolution; then a delegate in Congress; afterwards twice President; who was, is, and perhaps will continue to be, the most distinguished politician of our history; a Virginian by birth and continued residence, and withal, a slave-holder; conceived the idea of taking that occasion [ceding of the Northwest Territories], to prevent slavery ever going into the north-western territory. He prevailed on the Virginia legislature to adopt his views, and to cede the territory, making the prohibition of slavery therein, a condition of the deed. Congress accepted the cession, with the condition; and in the first Ordinance (which the acts of Congress were then called) for the government of the territory, provided that slavery should never be permitted therein. This is the famed ordinance of ’87 so often spoken of. Thenceforward, for sixty-one years, and until in 1848, the last scrap of this territory came into the Union as the State of Wisconsin, all parties acted in quiet obedience to this ordinance. –Abraham Lincoln, October 16, 1854

I have never had a feeling, politically, that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence…I have often inquired of myself what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of separation of the colonies from the motherland, but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty not alone to the people of this country, but hope to all the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. –Abraham Lincoln, February 22, 1861

…it is a well-known fact that Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lee, Henry, Mason, and Pendleton were qualified abolitionists, and much more radical on that subject than we of the Whig and Democratic parties claim to be to-day…In the colonial time, Mason, Pendleton, and Jefferson were as hostile to slavery in Virginia as Otis, Ames, and the Adamses were in Massachusetts; and Virginia made as earnest an effort to get rid of it as old Massachusetts did. But circumstances were against them and they failed; but not that the good-will of its leading men was lacking. –Abraham Lincoln, May 19, 1856

Now, I believe if we could arrest the spread, and place it where Washington and Jefferson and Madison placed it [slavery], it would be in the course of ultimate extinction, and the public mind would, as for eighty years past, believe that it was in the course of ultimate extinction. –Abraham Lincoln, August 21, 1858

In the language of Mr. Jefferson, uttered many years ago, “It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation and deportation peaceably, and in such slow degrees as that the evil will wear off insensibly, and their places be, pari passu, filled up by free white labourers. If, on the contrary, it is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect held up.”– Abraham Lincoln, February 27, 1860



“No language can be more explicit, more emphatic, or more solemn, than that in which Thomas Jefferson, from the beginning to the end of his life, uniformly declared his opposition to slavery.”–Judge Charles Allen, January 29, 1845

“No more humane slave owner ever lived, and his servants regarded him with almost idolatrous affection, while his love of justice, his hospitality, his fairness to all and his winning personality disarmed enmity and gave him many of his truest and warmest friends from among his political opponents.”–Edward Sylvester Ellis, 1898

“Resolved, That we are uncompromisingly opposed to the extension of slavery; and while we would not make such opposition a ground of interference with the interests of the States where it exists, yet we moderately but firmly insist that it is the duty of Congress to oppose its extension into Territory now free, by all means compatible with the obligations of the Constitution, and with good faith to our sister States; that these principles were recognized by the Ordinance of 1787, which received the sanction of Thomas Jefferson, who is acknowledged by all to be the great oracle and expounder of our faith.”–Resolution of Congressional Convention at Joliet, 1850

   Service to Humanity   

…he gave the largest measure of service that man ever gave to man.–William Jennings Bryan, April 13, 1903

To himself, he took but little, while to his country he gave every thing in his power to give.–Henry Tator, 1852

Jefferson aspired beyond the ambition of a nationality, and embraced in his view the whole future of man.–Henry Adams, 1889

Jefferson was great in his intellect I know of no mind that our nation has produced that could express itself with more clearness or with more logic but I believe that there was in Jefferson that which was greater than his head It was his heart. Greater than his intellect was his love for all mankind. –William Jennings Bryan, April 13, 1903

Mr. Jefferson’s exercise of his mental powers was, while yet in the morning of his life, seen, felt and acknowledged at the very tribunal of civil affairs, and thence throughout all the colonies of America. Patriotism, not partyism, independence to men, not a mean dependence under men, national rights to all nations, not the rights of one nation to the exclusion of all others, personal freedom to every man, not any man to be bound in person, these and other views of humanity’s interrelationship to humanity resembling these, were the children of his heart, and which that heart left as its richest treasures to community.–Henry Tator, 1852

Gone his [Jefferson’s] soul into all nations, gone to live and not to die.–Hezekiah Butterworth, 1887

   Declaration of Independence   

Jefferson, the most profound political philosopher who has yet appeared, and the greatest constructive statesman in the world’s history, founded his entire system of philosophy upon the propo-sition that human rights are superior to property rights — not that property rights should be ignored, but that they should never be placed above the inalienable rights of man; three of which, the right of life, the right to liberty, and the right to the pursuit of happiness, are enumerated in the Declaration of Independence.–William Jennings Bryan, July 4, 1915

The inevitable topic to which he [Abraham Lincoln] returned with most frequency, and to which he clung with all the grasp of his soul, was the practical character of the Declaration of Independence in announcing the liberty and equality of all men. No idle words were there, but substantial truth, binding on the conscience of mankind.–Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, 1865

What single production of an American pen achieved the fame of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence?–Henry Adams, 1889

When he appended his signature to that document [the Declaration of Independence], as amended and accepted, the moment was to him the greatest and the gravest of his life.–Reverend R. A. Brock, 1888

Mr. Jefferson’s first noticeable act, which was performed in the forenoon of his life, was the most important and inestimable of any of his great acts ; he drew up the Declaration of American Independence…–Henry Tator, 1852


Jefferson was a political philosopher and as has been said he thought far in advance of his time… He proclaimed great living truths and then applied those truths to the questions with which he had to deal… Jefferson not only saw the future but he saw the present… there is no subject with which our people grapple today that he did not consider in principle… He saw great fundamental truths self evident truths…–William Jennings Bryan, April 13, 1903

In fact of all the men who have lived upon this earth I know of no man who has surpassed Jefferson in his confidence in the ultimate triumph of truth.–William Jennings Bryan, April 13, 1903

Standing on the threshold of the nineteenth century, no one who attempted to peer down the shadowy vista, saw more clearly than he the possibilities, the perils, the pitfalls and the achievements that were within the grasp of the Nation. None was inspired by purer patriotism. None was more sagacious, wise and prudent, and none understood his countrymen better.–Edward Sylvester Ellis, 1898

Jefferson saw infinitely deeper into the principles of the rising Democracy, and infinitely farther into its future working, than any other man of his time. Those who earnestly read him will often halt astounded at proofs of a foresight in him almost miraculous.–Andrew D. White 1862


“[Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address] was one of the few State Papers which should have lost little of its interest by age. As the starting point of a powerful political party, the first Inaugural was a standard by which future movements were measured, and it went out of fashion only when its principles were universally accepted or thrown aside. Even as a literary work, it possessed a certain charm of style peculiar to Jefferson, a flavor of Virginia thought and manners, a Jeffersonian ideality calculated to please the ear of later generations forced to task their utmost powers in order to carry the complex trains of their thought.”–Henry Adams 1889

“Mr. Jefferson was the greatest master of his day in framing a document.”–Ethelbert Dudley Warfield, 1887

His pen moved, and the mask fell from the confused face of his country’s enemy ; it moved again, and religious freedom of thought, renting her shroud, arose to smile on Virginia; another stroke, and the spirit of American diplomacy, lifted still higher its noble form.–Henry Tator, 1852

an author whose, inspired spirit and independence of thought, despising personal or national oppression, draws up a plan to throw it off defiancingly, is a man who honors God… Such an author was Thomas Jefferson.–Henry Tator, 1852

His attachment to truth in every form, led him to be truthfully correct in all his statements as liberty’s draftist.–Henry Tator, 1852


“…of all the statesmen of history none have used words so offensive to those who would hold their fellows in political bondage”.–William Jennings Bryan, 8 August, 1900

“Thomas Jefferson was the greatest statesman our country produced-then or since.”–Attributed to William Jennings Bryan by Merrill Peterson

“No golden eagle, warm from the stamping press of the mint, is more sharply impressed with its image and superscription than was the formative period of our government by the genius and personality of Thomas Jefferson.”–Edward Sylvester Ellis, 1898

“Jefferson was an excellent violinist, a skilled mathematician and a profound scholar. Add to all these his spotless integrity and honor, his statesmanship, and his well curbed but aggressive patriotism, and he embodied within himself all the attributes of an ideal president of the United States.”–Edward Sylvester Ellis, 1898

“A government simple, inexpensive, and strong, that shall protect all rights, including those of posterity, and let all interests protect themselves, assuming no functions except those which the Constitution distinctly assigns it, — these are the principles which Jefferson restored in 1801, and to which the future of the country can be safely trusted.”–James Parton, 1874

“Immediately upon his return to America, Thomas Jefferson was appointed by President Washington Secretary of State, and he conducted this department of the new and untried government past many perils and by many momentous and statesmanlike decisions…”–Reverend R. A. Brock, 1888

“Wednesday, June 21, 1775, Thomas Jefferson took his seat in the Continental Congress, where he soon became conspicuous, both for his talent and the ardor with which it was devoted to the cause of liberty.”–Reverend R. A. Brock, 1888


“Almost every other American statesman might be described in a parenthesis. A few broad strokes of the brush would paint the portraits of all the early Presidents with this exception, and a few more strokes would answer for any member of their many cabinets; but Jefferson could be painted only touch by touch, with a fine pencil, and the perfection of the likeness depended upon the shifting and uncertain flicker of its semi-transparent
shadows.”–Henry Adams, 1889

“Jefferson’s personality during these eight years appeared to be the government, and impressed itself, like that of Bonaparte, although by a different process, on the mind of the nation.”–Henry Adams, 1889

“According to the admitted standards of greatness, Jefferson was a great man. After all deductions on which his enemies might choose to insist, his character could not be denied elevation, versatility, breadth, insight, and delicacy…”–Henry Adams, 1889

   Intellectual Vastness   

“God let lose a thinker when Jefferson was born.”–William Jennings Bryan, April 13, 1903

“… In no other American have been so happily blended highest skill in theory and highest strength in practice.”–Andrew D. White, 1862

“A large and capacious mind [Jefferson’s], whose undoubted greatness of works is everywhere acknowledged, is not to be crushed down and die away, by every, or even any chilly temporary change in the opinions of men ; it is not a mere sapling liable to be torn up from its foundation by some sudden and unexpected breeze that chances to pass it ; it is rather a mighty banyan, whose trunk rises till it cuts the clouds, and outspreading in a thousand descending branches, which reaching the earth, embed themselves deeply in its bosom, until finally by the magnitude of its outstretched arms, a shady repose is formed, beneath which great bodies of mankind may be refreshed, till at length the civilized races one and all shall have felt and owned that they were rendered happier by its existence, while aroused to deep and universal gratitude, they kneel in devout homage and awe.”–Henry Tator, 1852


“Take it all in all, Monticello is a spot on which one might well be contented to dwell in the silence and solitude of its lofty summit, above the contentions and meannesses and inconsistencies of his fellow men and gaze down upon this world which they inhabit, having his mind elevated by its glorious perfection to his Creator and Judge.”–John H. B. Latrobe, 1832

“Jefferson showed his powers at their best in his own house, where among friends as genial and cheerful as himself his ideas could flow freely, and could be discussed with sympathy.”–Henry Adams, 1889

   University of Virginia   

“It has generally been accepted, I believe, that the design of the University of Virginia was the product of Mr. Jefferson’s unaided genius.”–John H. B. Latrobe, 1832

   Louisiana Purchase   

“No surer or more lasting cause conduced to the political, financial, and national development of this country, no unforeseen or long-sought measure received more universal approbation and revealed to all its great importance, than did the Louisiana purchase.”–Isidore A. Zacharias, 1896