Thomas Jefferson on Information and Choice

Prepared by Sandy Schuman, Executive Decision Services LLC


"To inform their discretion"

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, 1820.

The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition
Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, 20 Vols., 15:278
Washington, D.C., 1903-04.

"Doubt is wisdom"

"Reasonings... not built on the basis of experiment... cannot be decided ultimately... More facts must be collected, and more time flow off, before the world will be ripe for decision. In the meantime, doubt is wisdom."

--Thomas Jefferson
to General Chastellux, 1785. ME 5:7, Papers 8:186

"A person forms a theory"

"The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees, in every object, only the traits which favor that theory."

--Thomas Jefferson
to Charles Thompson, 1787. ME 6:312

"Hear both sides"

"If [a] book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But for God's sake, let us freely hear both sides if we choose."

--Thomas Jefferson
to N. G. Dufief, 1814. ME 14:127

"Differences of opinion will arise"

"In every country where man is free to think and to speak, differences of opinion will arise from difference of perception, and the imperfection of reason; but these differences when permitted, as in this happy country, to purify themselves by free discussion, are but as passing clouds overspreading our land transiently and leaving our horizon more bright and serene."

--Thomas Jefferson
to Benjamin Waring, 1801. ME 10:235

"Exchange of information and opinions"

"Nothing but good can result from an exchange of information and opinions between those whose circumstances and morals admit no doubt of the integrity of their views."

--Thomas Jefferson
to Elbridge Gerry, 1797. ME 9:385

"Your own reason"

"Lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision."

--Thomas Jefferson
to Peter Carr, 1787. ME 6:261

"A patient pursuit of facts"

"A patient pursuit of facts, and cautious combination and comparison of them, is the drudgery to which man is subjected by his Maker, if he wishes to attain sure knowledge."

--Thomas Jefferson
Notes on Virginia Q.VI, 1782. ME 2:97

"Common sense and common honesty"

"Let common sense and common honesty have fair play, and they will soon set things to rights."

--Thomas Jefferson
to Ezra Stiles, 1786. ME 6:25

"The force of public opinion"

"The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to."

--Thomas Jefferson
to Lafayette, 1823. ME 15:491

"To whom all authority belongs"

"[It is] the people, to whom all authority belongs."

--Thomas Jefferson
to Spencer Roane, 1821. ME 15:328