Misquoting the founders, still: Jefferson didn’t say banking is the end of America

He may have believed something similar, but Jefferson did not say this:

Quote, maybe edited, falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson; gathered from Twitter, 2015

Quote, maybe edited, falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson; gathered from Twitter, 2015

I’m not sure who originated the poster.  They probably had good intentions.

But turn to the Monticello website, the scholars who track Jefferson’s words most closely, in February 2012.

Quotation: “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

Sources consulted:

  1. Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Digital Edition
  2. Thomas Jefferson: Papers collection in Hathi Trust Digital Library
  3. Retirement Papers

Earliest known appearance in print: 19941

Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Thomas Jefferson: see above

Status:  This exact quotation has not been found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson.  It may be a mistaken amalgamation of the author’s comments in the above 1994 reference with a real Jefferson quotation.  Jefferson wrote in 1825 to William Branch Giles of “vast accession of strength from their younger recruits, who having nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76 now look to a single and splendid government of an Aristocracy, founded on banking institutions and monied in corporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry.”2  Chomsky’s 1994 book quotes Jefferson’s 1825 letter to Giles and then comments that “[Jefferson] warned that that would be the end of democracy and the defeat of the American revolution.”

Jefferson didn’t like the idea of the marriage of banks, rich people and control of government policy.  Jefferson scholar Anna Berkes commented at the Monticello site:

Yes, I’ve quoted this letter myself above – I’m seeing that quote a lot lately. The full sentence as it appeared in Jefferson’s letter is, “I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and to bid defiance to the laws of their country.” The letter was first published in Ford’s Writings of Thomas Jefferson in 1892 (see http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t3pv6bn68?urlappend=%3Bseq=93 – the edition you link to is a 1904 commemorative edition of Ford), and the polygraph copy is also online: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mtj.mtjbib022651.

Anna Berkes
February 29, 2012 – 4:24pm

In any case, it’s not the end of our democratic republic yet! Get out there and organize, and vote.

Jefferson always offered good advice.

Jefferson's advice on quotes found on the internet

Jefferson’s advice on quotes found on the internet

6 Responses to Misquoting the founders, still: Jefferson didn’t say banking is the end of America

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    A Breitbart-friendly site found use of this post.

    I’m not getting my hopes up Breitbart will turn to accuracy.



  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Here’s one discussion based on the quote:


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    In 1807, Jefferson feared for the end of the American Revolution he’d been key to starting. He was more sanguine about it all after his friend and protege James Madison followed him for 8 years in the presidency and another war, and then their friend James Monroe. Some call that 24-year run of Democrat presidents — okay, Democratic Republican presidents, from which the current Democratic party claims its roots — the Second American Revolution.

    But if you stick around as long as we have, you begin to notice that whenever someone starts talking about derascination or defenestration of some American institution, be it an actual institution or some venerated person of power, they will at some point mention Jefferson’s letter about revolution, and the line about watering the tree of freedom with patriots’ blood.

    You’re absolutely right. Jefferson didn’t want an armed rebellion during his presidency. Nor was he a great advocate of armed rebellions, nor arms to settle disputes short of rebellion.

    Jefferson worried constantly that people were not attentive enough to government affairs, to political affairs. While he had great faith in the “people” to make the right collective decisions, he worried they could also be misled, if there were no newspapers to argue the issues out in partisan fashion, no great issues to draw people to the polls, no large body of educated voters who could and would read the newspapers and hold politicians accountable.

    Jefferson wasn’t calling for blood. He was calling for calm, educated, informed citizenry, to pay attention.


  4. chamblee54 says:

    Mr. Jefferson wrote a letter in 1787. In this letter, he said, in effect, that we should have a revolution every 20 years. In 1807 he was President, and probably did not want a revolution. https://chamblee54.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/thomas-jefferson-said-what-4/

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ed Darrell says:

    I often look at the Quote Investigator, since I found it a couple of months ago.

    Happy someone else is working on the problem. Monticello’s website has a blog that occasionally addresses Jefferson quotes, linked above.

    Chris Rodda has made an small industry of correcting David Barton’s distortions of the founders’ words, but that really needs a heavy industry working on it.

    The other issue is this: The true story is almost always better than the false one. I think it’s cool that Harlan Ellison is the actual creator of the line, “The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity,” and not Einstein, Feynman or Pauli. Ellison is still alive, still prickly, and has a better story to tell.


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cairenn Rhys says:

    A great resource for researching the origin of quotes is The Quote Investigator. You can find him at http://quoteinvestigator.com/ – very it’s very informative.

    Thanks for addressing this issue. It’s gotten so out of hand with people misquoting and not doing their research.


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