FACT CHECK: Did Thomas Jefferson Say This Quote About Standing By Your Principles?

Aislinn Murphy | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Facebook credits founding father Thomas Jefferson with saying, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Verdict: False

The Daily Caller found no record of Jefferson ever saying or writing this expression. It wasn’t attributed to him until nearly 150 years after his death.

Fact Check:

Jefferson’s estate at Monticello debunked the quote in 2011, calling it a “spurious quotation.”

“It is not clear where the phrase originated from,” writes Elizabeth Huff of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, “but there is no proof that Jefferson ever uttered these words.”

Indeed, the saying appears nowhere in the Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Searching collections of the third president’s writings at the Library of Congress and the Massachusetts Historical Society also turned up no matches.

According to etymologist Barry Popik, the first known appearance of the expression dates back to 1891. It wasn’t attributed to Jefferson until 1973, nearly 150 years after the third president’s death.

“It is almost always attributed to him when quoted — usually in the context of homemaking or education,” notes Huff.

Aislinn Murphy

Fact Check Reporter
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