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Thomas Jefferson
(13 Apr 1743 - 4 Jul 1826)

American statesman, astronomer, scholar and inventor who wrote the Declaration of Independence (1776) and organized the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803). His only full-length book, Notes on the State of Virginia contains an outline of the geography, flora and fauna of Virginia, and established his reputation as a scholar and a pioneering American scientist.


Thomas Jefferson Quotes on Science (26 quotes)

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A schism has taken place among the chemists. A particular set of them in France have undertaken to remodel all the terms of the science, and to give every substance a new name, the composition, and especially the termination of which, shall define the relation in which it stands to other substances of the same family, But the science seems too much in its infancy as yet, for this reformation; because in fact, the reformation of this year must be reformed again the next year, and so on, changing the names of substances as often as new experiments develop properties in them undiscovered before. The new nomenclature has, accordingly, been already proved to need numerous and important reformations. ... It is espoused by the minority here, and by the very few, indeed, of the foreign chemists. It is particularly rejected in England.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter to Dr. Willard (Paris, 1788). In Thomas Jefferson and John P. Foley (ed.), The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1900), 135. From H.A. Washington, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1853-54). Vol 3, 15.
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As for France and England, with all their pre-eminence in science, the one is a den of robbers, and the other of pirates. If science produces no better fruits than tyranny, murder, rapine, and destitution of national morality, I would rather wish our country to be ignorant, honest, and estimable as our neighboring savages are.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter (21 Jan 1812) to John Adams. Collected in Thomas Jefferson Randolph (ed.), Memoirs, Correspondence and Private Papers (1829), Vol. 4, 173.
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But indeed, the English generally have been very stationary in latter times, and the French, on the contrary, so active and successful, particularly in preparing elementary books, in the mathematical and natural sciences, that those who wish for instruction, without caring from what nation they get it, resort universally to the latter language.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter (29 Jan 1824) to Patrick K. Rodgers. Collected in Andrew A. Lipscomb (ed.), The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1904), Vol. 16, 2.
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Embrace those sciences which give to retired life usefulness, ornament or amusement.
— Thomas Jefferson
In letter to Caspar Wistar (21 Jun 1807), collected in The Works of Thomas Jefferson (2010), Vol. 10, 423.
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Even in Europe a change has sensibly taken place in the mind of man. Science has liberated the ideas of those who read and reflect, and the American example has kindled feelings of right in the people. An insurrection has consequently begun of science talents and courage against rank and birth, which have fallen into contempt. It has failed in its first effort, because the mobs of the cities, the instrument used for its accomplishment, debased by ignorance, poverty and vice, could not be restrained to rational action. But the world will soon recover from the panic of this first catastrophe.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter to John Adams (Monticello, 1813). In Thomas Jefferson and John P. Foley (ed.), The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1900), 49. From Paul Leicester Ford (ed.), The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1892-99). Vol 4, 439.
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Every son of science feels a strong & disinterested desire of promoting it in every part of the earth.
— Thomas Jefferson
In letter (3 Feb 1803) from Jefferson in Washington to Marc Auguste Pictet.
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Freedom, the first-born of science.
— Thomas Jefferson
To Monsieur d'Ivernois. In Thomas Jefferson, Richard Holland Johnston, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 19, iii.
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I am for encouraging the progress of science in all it’s branches.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter (26 Jan 1799) from Jefferson in Philadelphia to Elbridge Gerry. The original includes the apostrophe in “it’s.”
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I am pleased, however, to see the efforts of hypothetical speculation, because by the collisions of different hypotheses, truth may be elicited and science advanced in the end.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter (5 Sep 1822) to Mr. George F. Hopkins. Collected in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Correspondence (1854), Vol. 7, 260.
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I do not know whether you are fond of chemical reading. There are some things in this science worth reading.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter to Mr. Rittenhouse (Paris, 1786). In Thomas Jefferson and John P. Foley (ed.), The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1900), 135. From H.A. Washington, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1853-54). Vol 1, 517.
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In the spring of 1760, [I] went to William and Mary college, where I continued two years. It was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life, that Dr. William Small of Scotland, was then Professor of Mathematics, a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, correct and gentlemanly manners, and an enlarged and liberal mind. He, most happily for me, became soon attached to me, and made me his daily companion when not engaged in the school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science, and of the system of things in which we are placed.
— Thomas Jefferson
In Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Adgate Lipscomb (ed.), The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1904), Vol. 1, 3.
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Indeed, we need not look back half a century to times which many now living remember well, and see the wonderful advances in the sciences and arts which have been made within that period. Some of these have rendered the elements themselves subservient to the purposes of man, have harnessed them to the yoke of his labors and effected the great blessings of moderating his own, of accomplishing what was beyond his feeble force, and extending the comforts of life to a much enlarged circle, to those who had before known its necessaries only.
— Thomas Jefferson
From paper 'Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Fix the Site of the University of Virginia' (Dec 1818), reprinted in Annual Report of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia for the Fiscal Year Ending May 31, 1879 (1879), 10. Collected in Commonwealth of Virginia, Annual Reports of Officers, Boards, and Institutions of the Commonwealth of Virginia, for the Year Ending September 30, 1879 (1879).
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Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by rendering them my supreme delight. But the enormities of the times in which I have lived, have forced me to take a part in resisting them, and to commit myself on the boisterous ocean of political passions.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter to Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours (2 Mar 1809). In Thomas Jefferson and John P. Foley (ed.) The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1990), 766.
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No body can desire more ardently than myself to concur in whatever may promote useful science, and I view no science with more partiality than Natural history.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter (24 May 1807) from Jefferson in Washington to G.C. de la Coste.
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Of all the departments of science no one seems to have been less advanced for the last hundred years than that of meteorology.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter (5 Sep 1822) to George F. Hopkins. Collected in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1854), Vol. 7, 259.
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Speaking one day to Monsieur de Buffon, on the present ardor of chemical inquiry, he affected to consider chemistry but as cookery, and to place the toils of the laboratory on the footing with those of the kitchen. I think it, on the contrary, among the most useful of sciences, and big with future discoveries for the utility and safety of the human race.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter to Rev. James Madison (Paris, 19 Jul 1788). In Thomas Jefferson and John P. Foley (ed.), The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1900), 135. From H.A. Washington, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1853-54). Vol 2, 431.
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That the enthusiasm which characterizes youth should lift its parricide hands against freedom and science would be such a monstrous phenomenon as I cannot place among possible things in this age and country.
[Expressing confidence in the next generation to preserve the freedom of the human mind, and of the press, which grew out of America's Declaration of Independence.]
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter to a student, William Green Mumford (18 Jun 1799), In Merrill D. Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation (1970), 616.
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The attempt of Lavoisier to reform chemical nomenclature is premature. One single experiment may destroy the whole filiation of his terms; and his string of sulphates, sulphites, and sulphures, may have served no end than to have retarded the progress of science by a jargon, from the confusion of which time will be requisite to extricate us.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter to Rev. James Madison (Paris, 1788). In Thomas Jefferson and John P. Foley (ed.), The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1900), 135. From H.A. Washington, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1853-54). Vol 2, 432.
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The colleges of Edinburgh and Geneva as seminaries of science, are considered as the two eyes of Europe. While Great Britain and America give the preference to the former, all other countries give it to the latter.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter to Wilson Nicholas (Monticello, Nov 1794). In Thomas Jefferson and John P. Foley (ed.), The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1900), 5. From Paul Leicester Ford (ed.), The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1892-99). Vol 6, 513.
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The main object of all science is the freedom and happiness of man.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter (26 Jan 1810) to General Kosciusko. Collected in Thomas Jefferson Randolph (ed.), Memoirs, Correspondence and Private Papers (1829), Vol. 4, 145.
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The main objects of all science, the freedom and happiness of man. … [are] the sole objects of all legitimate government.
— Thomas Jefferson
From Letter to General Thaddeus Kosciusko (26 Feb 1810), Andrew A. Lipscomb, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1904), Vol. 12, 369-70. A plaque with this quotation, with the first phrase omitted, is in the stairwell of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
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The more ignorant we become the less value we set on science, and the less inclination we shall have to seek it.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter from Jefferson at Monticello to John Adams (27 May 1795).
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The naturalists, you know, distribute the history of nature into three kingdoms or departments: zoology, botany, mineralogy. Ideology, or mind, however, occupies so much space in the field of science, that we might perhaps erect it into a fourth kingdom or department. But inasmuch as it makes a part of the animal construction only, it would be more proper to subdivide zoology into physical and moral.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter (24 Mar 1824) to Mr. Woodward. Collected in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Correspondence (1854), 339.
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The science of calculation … is indispensable as far as the extraction of the square and cube roots: Algebra as far as the quadratic equation and the use of logarithms are often of value in ordinary cases: but all beyond these is but a luxury; a delicious luxury indeed; but not to be indulged in by one who is to have a profession to follow for his subsistence.
— Thomas Jefferson
In Letter (18 Jun 1799) to William G. Munford. On founders.archives.gov website.
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With your talents and industry, with science, and that steadfast honesty which eternally pursues right, regardless of consequences, you may promise yourself every thing—but health, without which there is no happiness. An attention to health then should take place of evey other object. The time necessary to secure this by active exercises, should be devoted to it in preference to every other pursuit.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter to Tomas Mann Randolph, Jr., (6 Jul 1787), In Thomas Jefferson and Paul Leicester Ford (ed.) The Works of Thomas Jefferson (1904), Vol. 5, 300. Julian P. Boyd (Ed.), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1955), Vol. 11, 558.
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[Concerning] mr Kirwan’s charming treatise on manures. Science never appears so beautiful as when applied to the uses of human life, nor any use of it so engaging as agriculture & domestic economy.
— Thomas Jefferson
Letter (23 Mar 1798) from Jefferson in Philadelphia to William Strickland. In The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: 1 January 1798 to 31 January 1799 (2003), 211. Jefferson was thanking Strickland, who had sent him a copy of Kirwan’s treatise.
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See also:
  • 13 Apr - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Jefferson's birth.
  • Jefferson As A Man Of Science - Preface to The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 19.
  • Thomas Jefferson on Education and Science from a report on establishing the University of Virginia (1818).
  • Thomas Jefferson - context of quote “To indulge in the rich fields of nature” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Thomas Jefferson - context of quote “To indulge in the rich fields of nature” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Thomas Jefferson - context of quote “The plough ... is really like sorcery” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Thomas Jefferson - context of quote “The plough ... is really like sorcery” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Thomas Jefferson - context of quote “Chemistry … among the most useful of sciences” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Thomas Jefferson - context of quote “Chemistry … among the most useful of sciences” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Thomas Jefferson - context of quote “The patient … sometimes gets well in spite of the medicine. ” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Thomas Jefferson - context of quote “The patient … sometimes gets well in spite of the medicine. ” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Thomas Jefferson on Quack Medicine - from Letter to Dr. Caspar Wistar (1807)
  • Thomas Jefferson - context of quote “Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Thomas Jefferson - context of quote “Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Thomas Jefferson - context of quote “The ocean ... like the air, is the common birthright of mankind” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Thomas Jefferson - context of quote “The ocean ... like the air, is the common birthright of mankind” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Thomas Jefferson: Scientist, by Edwin Thomas Martin. - book suggestion.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton


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