About Light and Liberty   

   Table of Contents   

Light and Liberty is the book of inspiration that Thomas Jefferson never wrote, although every word here is his. Editor Eric S. Petersen, after extensive study of Jefferson’s reports, state papers, speeches, and twenty thousand letters, has elegantly woven together thirty-four concise essays of profound wisdom wisdom on how to lead a meaningful life, both as individuals and in our life as a nation. The subjects include patriotism and liberty, hope, forgiveness, patience, and humility, all considered in Jefferson’s uniquely rational and eloquent voice.

The uniqueness of the work lies in its thorough dissection and smooth reassembly of Jefferon’s thoughts under simple and positive themes. In the tradition of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, Light and Liberty offers classic insight to the modern reader.

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“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. The precept is wise which directs us to try all things, and hold fast that which is good.”

–Thomas Jefferson from Light and Liberty

The writings contained in Light and Liberty are arranged under 34 virtues and good qualities.

  • BEING TRUE TO YOURSELF (excerpt »)


  • LIBERTY (excerpt »)
  • HOPE
  • LOVE
  • SELF-DISCIPLINE (excerpt »)
  • TRUTH SEEKING (excerpt »)

   Buy the Book   

Light and Liberty is available in paperback for less than $12-$16 through your local bookstore as well as the following outlets:

  • Colonial Williamsburg Marketplace Bookstore (757) 565-8450
  • The Jefferson Memorial Bookshop, Washington D.C.
  • Monticello (Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center), Charlottesville, Virginia
  • UVA Bookstore, the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
  • amazon.com
  • barnesandnoble.com
  • randomhouse.com

Light and Liberty is available in e-book format for downloading to your Kindle, iPad, Sony Reader, Barnes and Noble nook, Kobo eReader and similar devices. Many of our friends have found Light and Liberty to be a perfect gift for patriotic holidays and other special occasions such as graduations, birthdays, Fathers and Mothers Days, retirements and inaugurations. Light and Liberty has also been used as a highly successful teaching tool in the classroom.

Thomas Jefferson’s Light and Liberty:  Reflections on the Pursuit of Happiness, edited by Eric S. Petersen, is published by Modern Library, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

   Excerpts from the Book   

   Truth Seeking   

The most effectual means of preventing the perversion of power into tyranny are to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people. It is an insult to our citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of truth and reason. Light and liberty go together. I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue, and advancing the happiness of man. Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day. If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. No nation is permitted to live in ignorance with impunity.


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. 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 laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind.

   Being True to Yourself   

I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know. When I am led by conversation to express my sentiments, I do it with the same independence here which I have practiced everywhere, and which is inseparable from my nature. I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction, is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.

   Self Discipline   

If there be one principle more deeply rooted than any other in the mind of every American, it is, that we should have nothing to do with conquest. The energies of the nation, as depends on me, shall be reserved for improvement of the condition of man, not wasted in his destruction. The lamentable resource of war is not authorized for evils of imagination, but for those actual injuries only, which would be more destructive of our well-being than war itself. Peace, justice, and liberal with all the nations of the world, will, I hope, with all nations, characterize this commonwealth. Friendly nations always negotiate little differences in private. I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power, the greater it will be.


History Channel logoBook Sense, the independent booksellers association, and The History Channel chose Light and Liberty as one of their Top Ten Political Picks, which focuses on all things presidential and the contemporary political scene (Autumn 2004).