Jefferson Quotes

“the spirit of our people…”

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“the cement of this union…”

heartblood4On February 14, 1815, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Lafayette, “the cement of this union is in the heart blood of every American. I do not believe there is on earth a government established on so immovable a basis.” 

The image above is from Monticello’s July 4th ceremony. There is no more inspirational place to celebrate the Fourth of July than Monticello, the home of the author of the Declaration of Independence. Since 1963, more than 3,000 people from every corner of the globe have taken the oath of citizenship at the annual Monticello Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony.

We hope you will join us at 9 am for the 52nd Annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony on Monticello’s West Lawn — one of America’s most moving July 4 events and the largest naturalization ceremony held outside of a courtroom.

The ceremony will include remarks by David M. Rubenstein, co-Founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, and patriotic music by the Charlottesville Municipal Band. Christopher Job, of the Metropolitan Opera, will sing the National Anthem and America the Beautiful.

In homage to Mr. Jefferson, who opened the President’s House to the public on July 4th, we will host a Jeffersonian Open House after the ceremony until noon, with free walk-through tours, live entertainment, an ice cream festival and children’s activities. We hope you can join us! Learn more

“I hope you will…”

prosperousHonoré Julien, who remained in Washington and established a successful catering dynasty, kept in touch with the President he had served so well. In 1812 he mailed Jefferson his recipe for cream cheese, and in later years he accompanied his New Year’s wishes with delicacies unavailable in the Virginia Piedmont – a Swiss cheese and garden seeds in 1818 and wild ducks in 1825. Jefferson responded to the gift of canvasbacks: “They came sound and in good order, and enabled me to regale my friends here with what they had never tasted before. Their delicious flavor was new to them, but what heightened it with me was the proof they brought of your kind recollection of me…I hope you will continue to be prosperous, and I pray you, with my thanks to accept the assurance of my just remembrance of your faithful services to me and my constant and affectionate attachment to you.”

“An honest heart…”

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“every difference of opinion…”

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“And our own dear Monticello…”

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History of the Quote: “I cannot live without books”

A 1582Quotations by Thomas Jefferson are frequently used by professors, politicians, and “experts” in just about every field, but why did Jefferson say what he said when? Endrina Tay, Monticello’s  Associate Foundation Librarian for Technical Services at the Jefferson Library, shares the story behind Jefferson’s famous book quote. 

I cannot live without books, where fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object[1],” declared Thomas Jefferson to John Adams in June 1815, shortly after the tenth and last wagon carrying his library left Monticello for Washington, D.C.  Jefferson had sold his library to Congress to replace the congressional library that was destroyed when the British burned the United States Capitol on August 24, 1814.  Congress, he felt, could not function without access to a proper reference library, so he promptly offered his own.

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The Monticello Book Room

His library collection numbered over 6,500 volumes.  It was the result of nearly 50 years of painstaking organization and meticulous selection from all of the principal book marts and publishing centers in Europe and America. Over 2,000 alone had been acquired while he was in Europe between 1784 to 1789, first as minister plenipotentiary to negotiate commercial treaties with foreign powers, and then as minister to France.  Jefferson was justifiably proud of his unique collection, calling it the “choicest collection of books in the US[2]”. The range of subjects it covered was truly remarkable — from history, mathematics, natural history and the sciences, to law, politics, ethics, religion, literature and fine arts.  In recommending his collection to Congress, he wrote, “there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.[3]”

After heated and rancorous debate, Congress approved the purchase of Jefferson’s library.  The sale provided Jefferson with a much needed cash infusion of $23,950, which he used to settle outstanding debts, and yes … to acquire more books!  While busy organizing and packing up his prized collection for the journey north to Washington, he was already planning another library at Monticello, albeit on a much smaller scale.  He wrote, “I have now to make up again a collection for myself of such as may amuse my hours of reading.[4]”

Since childhood, Jefferson was never far away from books.  He drew ideas, inspiration and innumerable hours of delight from them.  Reading was for him his “greatest of all amusements[5].”  He counted it among the simple joys of life.  While carrying out his diplomatic duties in Paris in 1788, he wrote, “I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage, with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post which any human power can give.[6]”  Now in retirement after leaving public life in 1809, he turned to reading as a welcome escape from the daily tedium of attending to his correspondence and business affairs.

The replacement library he envisaged would reflect his retirement interests over the last 11 years of his life, and come to include many of his favorite titles and editions.  Between 1815 and 1819, we observe a book buying frenzy in Jefferson’s correspondence and account books.  With the aid of George Ticknor, David Bailie Warden and others, Jefferson tapped booksellers across the Atlantic and in metropolitan centers like Philadelphia and New York to replenish his empty shelves at Monticello.  By the time of his death in 1826, his “little collection of books[7]” had grown to some 1,600 volumes.  Granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph, recalled, “Books were at all times his chosen companions, and his acquaintance with many languages gave him great power of selection … I saw him more frequently with a volume of the classics in his hand than with any other book.[8]”  He continued to enjoy works of history in various languages, particularly ancient history, along with scientific works, especially physics and geometry.  He read Tacitus, Thucydides, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Milton, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, among many others.  He also kept up with new publications by reading the Edinburgh Review, and “kept himself acquainted with what was being done, said, or thought in the world from which he had retired[9].”  Jefferson had intended his library to become part of the University of Virginia after his death.  But sadly, it was dispersed at auction in Washington, D.C. in 1829, with the remainder sold off in a smaller sale in Philadelphia in 1831, in an effort to settle his debts.

Apart from his library at Monticello, Jefferson also maintained a satellite library at his Poplar Forest retreat in Bedford County.  There he maintained his “petit format” library of small-format editions of works by British, Italian, French, Greek and Latin poets, along with works of prose by his favorite authors.  Jefferson’s grandson, Francis Eppes, inherited Poplar Forest and its contents, and years later, put 675 volumes from Jefferson’s Poplar Forest library up for sale in New York in 1873.

Jefferson spent his life surrounded by books.  For him, books were indeed “a necessary of life[10].”

TayEndrina Tay is Associate Foundation Librarian for Technical Services at the Jefferson Library at Monticello.  Since joining the Foundation in 2002, she has been responsible for creating access to Monticello’s research and library resources, training and supervising library volunteers, and adapting technology solutions for the Jefferson Library.  Since 2004, she has been project manager for Thomas Jefferson’s Libraries, a project based at Monticello in partnership with LibraryThing.com, to build a comprehensive and publicly accessible inventory of the books Jefferson owned, read, and recommended during this lifetime.


[1] Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, June 10, 1815. Published in Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), vol. 8, 523.

[2] Thomas Jefferson to Samuel H. Smith, May 8, 1815, PTJ:RS, vol. 8, 476.

[3] Thomas Jefferson to Samuel H. Smith, September 21, 1814, PTJ:RS, vol. 7, 683.

[4] Thomas Jefferson to David Bailie Warden, February 27, 1815, PTJ:RS, vol. 8, 292.

[5] Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams, August 22, 1813, PTJ:RS, vol. 6, 437.

[6] Thomas Jefferson to Alexander Donald, February 7, 1788. Published in Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), vol. 12, 572.

[7] Thomas Jefferson to George Ticknor, March 19, 1815, PTJ:RS vol. 8, 361.

[8] Henry S. Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1858), vol. 3, 346.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush, June 22, 1819. Series 1, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mtj.mtjbib023533

“music, drawing, books…”

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“tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener”

"old man, young gardener"On August 20, 1811 Thomas Jefferson wrote to Charles Willson Peale, “I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position & calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden.  “no occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, & no culture comparable to that of the garden. such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, & instead of one harvest a continued one thro’ the year. under a total want of demand except for our family table I am still devoted to the garden. but tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.”

“The favorite passion of my soul”

Among his numerous other talents, Thomas Jefferson was a skilled amateur violinist and an enthusiastic concertgoer who once declared music “is the favorite passion of my soul.”

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Jefferson wrote that music “furnishes a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day, and lasts us through life.” The Parlor was the site for many of these hours of “delightful recreation.” Jefferson himself played violin, and his wife, daughters, and granddaughters played several instruments, including the pianoforte, harpsichord, and guitar.  In 1790, Jefferson advised Martha Jefferson Randolph, “Do not neglect your music. It will be a companion which will sweeten many hours of life to you.”

Jefferson owned several fiddles, a cello, pianoforte, harpsichords, and a cittern guitar, all of which were in constant use at his estate. It was not uncommon for visitors to overhear a family member practicing scales in front of Jefferson’s music stand during the afternoon. The Shop’s Monticello Music Stand is an elegant replica of the 18th century original seen inside Monticello’s Parlor. The mahogany reproduction is an elegant nod to Jefferson’s love for music and taste for beautiful furniture.

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Monticello records indicate that the Jefferson family owned an enormous amount of sheet music. The collections reflect a diverse taste but suggest a strong preference for Italian and French composers, as well as the era’s up-and-coming American composers. The Monticello Canterbury replicates the portable rack Jefferson and his family used to store sheet music for easy access. Made with the same quality mahogany as the original, the Canterbury is a classic accent piece to any room in the house and allows for storage of your own sheet music, magazines, and papers.

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For the true Jeffersonian music experience, check out the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s Music from the Jefferson Collection: An Evening of Songs and Sonatas. Compiled according to Jefferson’s personal catalogue of music played or heard at Monticello, the CD captures the musical influences and sounds one might have encountered at the third president’s estate.

monticellostore_2272_123347831[1]Helen Cripe, author of Thomas Jefferson and Music, conducts an in-depth study of Jefferson’s music records, notes and sheet music with detailed information about his immensely diverse musical knowledge and activities. Her research reveals a deeply rooted love for an art form Jefferson held as “the passion of my soul.”

If music is the passion of your soul, check out the Shop’s line of gifts and accessories that celebrate its legacy at Monticello. The Sheet Music Necktie and the Treble Clef Necklace are great gifts for a music teacher, friends or family who love music as much as Jefferson did. Have a young composer in the family? The Wooden Drum is a fun way to inspire a little musician to play.

The Shop also features several home accents that celebrate Jefferson’s love for music. The Monticello Music Pillow and the Monticello Music Towels display two of Jefferson’s famed quotations and make a proud statement in any music-lover’s home.