Famous speeches of Thomas Jefferson


Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence, wrote some tremendously inspiring speeches which shaped the course of history. Jefferson was not a good public speaker and he preferred communicating through writing instead, but in this field he was probably one of the most eloquent correspondents ever.

The preamble to the Declaration of Independence is possibly the most famous of Jefferson’s writings, and to this day it evokes the original spirit of the American nation:

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness….’

The Declaration of Independence then goes on to cite a list of grievances against the British crown. among them, Jefferson wanted to include the following denunciation of slavery:

‘He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither…’

In the end, this clause had to be dropped to ensure the acceptance of the declaration by some of the Southern states.

After the war, Jefferson served in the legislature of his home state of Virginia. He sponsored many pieces of legislation, the most famous of which was the Statute of Religious Freedom, which was passed in 1785. Up until then, people holding different religious views from the majority could be stripped of public office and imprisoned. Jefferson’s bill begins with a passionate argument against compulsory religion:

‘Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do….our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry…..’

Jefferson considered this bill one of his three finest achievements, along with the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia. It became the inspiration for the first amendment to the United States Constitution, which guaranteed freedom of speech and religion for all.

In 1800, Jefferson became president after an extremely close election. The election deepened a great rift between federalists, who wanted stronger power for the fledgling United States government, and republicans like Jefferson, who viewed centralised government as a necessary evil that must be contained and not allowed to overshadow states’ rights. Despite his views, he used his inaugural address to reach out to his defeated opponents and call for unity:

‘Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions….’

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