FACT CHECK: Did Thomas Jefferson Say That Big Government Could ‘Take Everything You Have’?

Aryssa Damron | Fact Check Reporter

The Facebook page Cold Dead Hands shared an image claiming that founding father Thomas Jefferson said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.”

Verdict: False

There is no record of Jefferson ever saying this. The quote seems to have first appeared in the 1950s, over 100 years after his death, and has been repeated by other political figures such as President Gerald Ford.

Fact Check:

The quote has been so often misattributed to Jefferson that the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, curated by his estate at Monticello, has an entry dedicated to this “spurious quotation.”

Neither this quotation nor any of its variant forms has been found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson,” Research Librarian Anna Berkes wrote. “This quotation was not attributed to Jefferson until relatively recently.”

The phrase was common in the 1950s in newspapers and political cartoons, according to Berkes, though the first known attribution to Jefferson in print came in 2005 with “The Quote Manual” by Robert G. Moscatelli.

The quote was repeated by Ford over the years. His assistant claims that Ford heard the expression from another man, Harvard McClain, at the Economic Club of Chicago. Republican Barry Goldwater also used the saying during his political career, according to author Lee Edwards.

Jefferson died in 1826.

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Aryssa Damron

Fact Check Reporter

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