FACT CHECK: Did Thomas Jefferson Say, ‘It Is The Responsibility Of Every American To Be Informed’?

Trevor Schakohl | Fact Check Reporter

A post shared on Facebook claims that founding father Thomas Jefferson once said, “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.”

Verdict: False

Jefferson’s estate at Monticello considers the expression to be a “spurious quotation” and cites former President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 speech during National Library Week as the likely origin of the quotation.

Fact Check:

This quote, shared frequently on conservative Facebook pages, is sometimes prefaced with the sentence, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Jefferson did write that in a letter he penned in 1816, but there is no evidence that he authored the statement attributed to him in the Facebook post. A search of the “Papers of Thomas Jefferson” returned no matches, and it doesn’t appear in a collection of his quotes and letters.

Furthermore, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which maintains his estate at Monticello, categorizes it as a “spurious quotation.” Monticello cites Reagan’s speech for National Library Week in 1981 as the likely source for the misattributed saying. (RELATED: Did Thomas Jefferson Say, ‘Dissent Is The Highest Form Of Patriotism’?)

“If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, as Jefferson cautioned, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed,” said the 40th president in the speech.

“Reagan does not specifically attribute this wording to Jefferson,” reads the Monticello website, “so we believe that Reagan’s paraphrase has become mistaken for Jefferson’s exact words.”

Trevor Schakohl

Fact Check Reporter
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