What Christine O’Donnell Got Wrong About Thomas Jefferson

  • Share
  • Read Later

At the end of her victory speech Tuesday night, Christine O’Donnell quoted Thomas Jefferson. “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.” (See here at 12:11)

You can buy that quote online on everything from bumper stickers to refrigerator magnets to hooded sweatshirts, often with a picture of Jefferson to make the point. Except, as I discovered reporting my cover story for this week’s TIME, there is no historical evidence that Jefferson ever uttered those words. The website for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates the museum at Monticello, puts the quote in the category of statements attributed to Jefferson that “we do not believe are genuine.”

According to the excellent researchers here at TIME, the most likely source for the quotation is a series of debates about socialism, published in 1914, in which John Basil Barnhill utters the words. But then who has ever heard of John Basil Barnhill?

0 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest