The Enlightenment: Thomas Jefferson on Public Education
"I know no safe depositary 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
by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of
constitutional power." --Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis,
"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the
people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe
depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be
improved to a certain degree." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on
"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them
to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and
they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of
education to convince them of this. They are the only sure
reliance for the preservation of our liberty." --Thomas Jefferson
to James Madison, 1787.
"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with
their own government." --Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, 1789.
"Whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, the
people, if well informed, may be relied on to set them to rights."
--Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, 1789.
"A system of general instruction, which shall reach every
description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as
it was the earliest, so will it be the latest of all the public
concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest."
--Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1818.
"The tax which will be paid for [the] purpose [of education] 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.
"It becomes expedient for promoting the public happiness that
those persons, whom nature has endowed with genius and virtue,
should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and
able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of
their fellow citizens; and that they should be called to that
charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental
condition or circumstance." --Thomas Jefferson: Diffusion of
Knowledge Bill, 1779.
"If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated, as
we fondly hope and believe, education is to be the chief
instrument in effecting it." --Thomas Jefferson to M. A. Jullien,
"The main objects of all science [are] the freedom and happiness
of man." --Thomas Jefferson to Thaddeus Kosciusko, 1810.
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of
civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
--Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816.
"No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of
freedom and happiness... 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 the evils [of misgovernment]." --Thomas Jefferson to
George Wythe, 1786.