FACT CHECK: Did Thomas Jefferson Say, ‘Eternal Vigilance Is The Price Of Liberty’?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

A post shared on Facebook claims that founding father Thomas Jefferson once stated, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

Verdict: False

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which runs his Monticello estate, includes the saying on its list of spurious quotations. John Philpot Curran, an Irish politician, may actually have originated the saying.

Fact Check:

Jefferson made many highly quotable statements, but the saying attributed to him the Facebook post doesn’t appear to be one of them. It appears nowhere in his written works. (RELATED: Did Thomas Jefferson Say, ‘Most Bad Government Has Grown Out Of Too Much Government’?)

Furthermore, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation includes this quote, along with numerous others, on its list of spurious quotations.

“This quotation was well-known in the nineteenth century,” writes his estate at Monticello, “and was in fact used by a number of famous figures, including Frederick Douglass, James Buchanan, and William Henry Harrison.”

It can, according to the Monticello website, be ultimately traced back to a speech given by Curran. In the 1790 address, Curran said, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”

The quote first appeared in print in 1817 but wasn’t attributed to Jefferson until at least 1834, according to his estate at Monticello.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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