Monday, October 25, 2010

As Jefferson Never Said...

When the people fear the government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty." This quote, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, embodies the unique American relationship between citizen and state and is as relevant today as ever. It's almost as if Jefferson had 2010 in mind.

According to The Jefferson Encyclopedia, however:

We have not found any evidence that Thomas Jefferson said or wrote, "When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny," or any of its listed variations.

Comments: One source attributes this quotation to Thomas Jefferson in The Federalist.[4] The Federalist, however, was the work of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison; it also does not contain the text of this quotation. This quotation is vaguely similar to Jefferson's comment in an 1825 letter to William Short: "Some are whigs, liberals, democrats, call them what you please. Others are tories, serviles, aristocrats, &c. The latter fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society; the former consider the people as the safest depository of power in the last resort; they cherish them therefore, and wish to leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are competent."[5] To date however, the most likely source of this quotation appears to be a series of debates on socialism published in 1914, in which John Basil Barnhill said, "Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty."