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In the words of Thomas Jefferson: Why education matters

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Thomas Jefferson

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Thomas Jefferson was no stranger to the benefits of education.

He spent his formative years studying at the College of William and Mary, where he studied philosophy, statecraft, science and literature. He spent the rest of his life devoted to the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

Jefferson was vocal about his belief that an educated electorate was the foundation of democracy. In 1819, he put his money where his mouth was and founded the University of Virginia.

Here, we’ve compiled 17 of Jefferson’s most powerful statements on the importance of education in American life.

The disease of ignorance

“Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both.” 

Letter to John Adams,August 1, 1816

Power of the people

”I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

Letter to William Charles Jarvis September 28, 1820


”He who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.”

Letter to John Norvell June 11, 1807

Receiving light

”He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

Letter to Isaac McPherson August 13, 1813


”If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” 

Letter to Colonel Charles Yancey January 6, 1816


”Books may be classed from the faculties of the mind.” 

Thomas Jefferson’s Catalogue of Books, 1783

The comfort of knowledge

”Besides the comfort of knowledge, every science is auxiliary to every other.”

Letter to Thomas Mann Randolph August 27, 1786

One of a kind

”Ours are the only farmers who can read Homer.” 

Letter to St. John de Crèvcoeur, January 15, 1787

Gather knowledge

”When men of sober age travel, they gather knowledge which they may apply usefully for their country.”

Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

Common property

”The field of knowledge is the common property of all mankind.”

Letter to Henry Dearborn, 22 June 1807


”Letters are not the first, but the last step in the progression from barbarism to civilization.” 

Letter to James Pemberton, June 21 1808

Rising generation

”The boys of the rising generation are to be the men of the next, and the sole guardians of the principles we deliver over to them.”

Letter to Samuel Knox, February 12, 1810

Free and good government

”No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do, and none has greater confidence in its effect towards supporting free and good government.”

Letter to the Trustees of the Lottery for East Tennessee College, May 6, 1810


”The wise know their weakness too well to assume infallibility: and he who knows most, knows best how little he knows.”

Extract from Thomas Jefferson’s Batture Pamphlet, February 25, 1812


”Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

Letter to Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, April 24, 1816

The happiness of man

”I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man.”

Letter to Cornelius C. Blatchly, October 21, 1822

Self government

”The qualifications for self government in society are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.”

Letter to Edward Everett, March 27, 1824