The Wisdom of Thomas Jefferson

Unknown-9.jpegThomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was not just a Founding Father and President, but he was also an inventor, prolific letter-writer, diplomat, Secretary of State, scientist, bibliophile, and philosopher—and that is just a cursory look at his interests. A learned man, Jefferson was a fervent proponent of the Enlightenment, with many of his political ideas deriving from the political thinkers of the time, greatly influencing Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence. Eric S. Peterson, in Light and Liberty: Reflections on the Pursuit of Happiness, took the time to compile Jefferson’s copious letters into different categories, such as Happiness and Humility. Here are a few selections:

“Be assiduous in learning, take much exercise for your health, and practice much virtue. Health, learning, and virtue, will insure your happiness; they will give you a quiet conscience, private esteem, and public honor. Besides these, we want nothing but physical necessaries, and they are easily attained.”[1]

Living in the Present
“Of the public transactions in which I have borne a part, I have kept no narrative with a view of history. A life of constant action leaves no time for recording. Our duty is to act upon things as they are, and make a reasonable provision for whatever they may be. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”[2]

Life Acceptance
“Man, like the fruit he eats, has his period of ripeness. Like that, too, if he continues longer hanging to the stem, it is but a useless and unsightly appendage. There is a fulness of time when men should go, and not occupy too long the ground to which others have a right to advance. I am now retired: I resign myself, as a passenger, with confidence to those at present at the helm, and ask but for rest, peace, and goodwill.”[3]

“Take things always by their smooth handle. Never be angry with anybody, nor speak harm of them. Anger only serves to torment ourselves, to divert others, and alienate their esteem. When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.”[4]


[1] Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, May 28, 1788
[2] Thomas Jefferson to Horatio G. Spafford, May 11, 1819
       Sixth Annual Message to Congress, December 2, 1806
       Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson Smith, February 21, 1825
[3] Thomas Jefferson to General Henry Dearborn, August 17, 1821
      Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, August 17, 1811
      Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816
[4] Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson Smith, February 21, 1825
      Thomas Jefferson to Mary Jefferson, April 11, 1790
      Thomas Jefferson to Martha Jefferson, April 7, 1787
      Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson Smith, February 21, 1825


For further reading:
Light and Liberty: Reflections on the Pursuit of Happiness by Eric S. Peterson (2005)


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