When governments fear the people, there is liberty...(Quotation)

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Quotation: "When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny."


  1. "When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

Sources consulted: Searching on the phrase "fear the people"

  1. Monticello website
  2. Ford's Works of Thomas Jefferson
  3. UVA EText Jefferson Digital Archive: Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, Thomas Jefferson on Politics and Government, Texts by or to Thomas Jefferson from the Modern English Collection
  4. Thomas Jefferson Retirement Papers
  5. Quotable Jefferson, ed. Kaminski (searching under "tyranny")
  6. Bartleby.com

Earliest known appearance in print: 1993[1] [2]

Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Thomas Jefferson: 1994[3]

Other attributions: Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine

Status: We have not found any evidence that Thomas Jefferson said or wrote, "When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny," or any of its listed variations.

Comments: One source attributes this quotation to Thomas Jefferson in The Federalist.[4] The Federalist, however, was the work of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison; it also does not contain the text of this quotation. This quotation is vaguely similar to Jefferson's comment in an 1825 letter to William Short: "Some are whigs, liberals, democrats, call them what you please. Others are tories, serviles, aristocrats, &c. The latter fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society; the former consider the people as the safest depository of power in the last resort; they cherish them therefore, and wish to leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are competent."[5]


  1. Gyeorgos Ceres Hatonn, Programming, Pitfalls, and Puppy-Dog Tales (Author, 1993), 60.
  2. To establish the earliest appearance of this phrase in print, the following sources were searched for the phrase, "When governments fear the people, there is liberty": Google Books, Google Scholar, Amazon.com, Internet Archive, JSTOR, American Broadsides and Ephemera, American History and Culture Online: Sabin Americana, 1500-1926, Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans (1639-1800), Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker (1801-1819), Eighteenth Century Collections Online, The Making of the Modern World: The Goldsmiths'-Kress Library of Economic Literature, America's Historical Newspapers, 19th Century United States Newspapers, American Founding Era Collection.
  3. Gyeorgos Ceres Hatonn, It's All in the Game: Butterflies, Mind Control--The Razor's Edge (Phoenix Source Distributors, 1994), 214.
  4. Archimedes C. Articulo, The Experience of Philosophy (Manila, Philipines: Rex Book Store, 2008), 315.
  5. Jefferson to William Short, 8 January 1825. Ford XII:?.

Further Sources