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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Painting by Rembrandt Peale, reproduced by the New York Historical Society
Image obtained from the Library of Congress
  • The Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Papers --- The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers consists of approximately 27,000 documents, and include correspondence, commonplace books, financial account books, and manuscript volumes. The online presentation of the Thomas Jefferson Papers comprises approximately 83,000 images.
  • University of Virginia Jefferson Online --- This contains hundreds of letters to and from Jefferson, some manuscript images, bibliographies, and other resources related to Jefferson's writings.
  • Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government --- Now with over 2,700 excerpts from Jefferson's writings, this site contains much more than just a collection of quotations arranged by topic. It provides a fair statement of the complete political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson. The excerpts were chosen, not for their historical significance, but as an expression of Jefferson's PRINCIPLES of government that have relevance for us today. (part of the University of Virginia website)
  • Other Sites for Information on Thomas Jefferson --- part of the previous website, a collection of links to other websites related to Thomas Jefferson.

On government … and the rich

I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government, enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under the European governments. Among the former, public opinion is in the place of law, and restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did anywhere. Among the latter, under pretense of governing, they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves and sheep. I do not exaggerate… Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor."

Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787. ME 6:58

On intellectual property rights

It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property. If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. … That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody. Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am informed, that England was, until we copied her, the only country on earth which ever, by a general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive use of an idea. In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices.

13 August 1813 letter to Isaac McPherson
The Library of Congress digital scans of the original letter begin here.

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