Skip to content

Thomas Jefferson Quote

It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand
by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your
inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as
well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce
uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desireable? No more than of
face and stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is
danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by
lopping the former and stretching the latter.
Notes on the State of Virginia (1785) – a book written by Thomas Jefferson

Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of
Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have
not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of
coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half
hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth. Let us
reflect that it is inhabited by a thousand millions of people. That
these profess probably a thousand different systems of religion. That
ours is but one of that thousand. That if there be but one right, and
ours that one, we should wish to see the 999 wandering sects gathered
into the fold of truth. But against such a majority we cannot effect
this by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable
instruments. To make way for these, free enquiry must be indulged; and
how can we wish others to indulge it while we refuse it ourselves. But
every state, says an inquisitor, has established some religion. No two,
say I, have established the same. Is this a proof of the infallibility
of establishments? Our sister states of Pennsylvania and New York,
however, have long subsisted without any establishment at all. The
experiment was new and doubtful when they made it. It has answered
beyond conception. They flourish infinitely. Religion is well supported;
of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to
preserve peace and order: or if a sect arises, whose tenets would
subvert morals, good sense has fair play, and reasons and laughs it out
of doors, without suffering the state to be troubled with it. They do
not hang more malefactors than we do. They are not more disturbed with
religious dissensions. On the contrary, their harmony is unparalleled,
and can be ascribed to nothing but their unbounded tolerance, because
there is no other circumstance in which they differ from every nation on
earth. They have made the happy discovery, that the way to silence
religious disputes, is to take no notice of them. Let us too give this
experiment fair play, and get rid, while we may, of those tyrannical
laws. It is true, we are as yet secured against them by the spirit of
the times. I doubt whether the people of this country would suffer an
execution for heresy, or a three years imprisonment for not
comprehending the mysteries of the Trinity. But is the spirit of the
people an infallible, a permanent reliance? Is it government? Is this
the kind of protection we receive in return for the rights we give up?
Besides, the spirit of the times may alter, will alter. Our rulers will
become corrupt, our people careless. A single zealot may commence
persecutor, and better men be his victims. It can never be too often
repeated, that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal
basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united. From the
conclusion of this war we shall be going down hill. It will not then be
necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be
forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget
themselves, but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never
think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles,
therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of this
war, will remain on us long, will be made heavier and heavier, till our
rights shall revive or expire in a convulsion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *