FACT CHECK: Did Thomas Jefferson Say That Citizens Are ‘Obligated’ To Disobey Unjust Laws?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

The Facebook page Cold Dead Hands shared an image April 12 claiming that founding father Thomas Jefferson said, “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”

Verdict: False

There is no record of Jefferson ever saying this, though it is widely misattributed to him. It’s unclear where the phrase originated.

Fact Check:

This quote has been attributed to Jefferson countless times, appearing in numerous memes shared online. However, The Daily Caller News Foundation found no evidence that Jefferson ever said or wrote this saying.

The phrase has been so frequently misattributed to Jefferson that it is included in the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s list of “spurious quotations.”

It’s unclear where or when the phrase first appeared, though the foundation noted two suggestions.

The quote may be a rough paraphrase of one line in the Declaration of Independence: “Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”

The phrase also resembles a 1963 quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in which he states, “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

Jefferson served two terms as the nation’s third president.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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