FACT CHECK: Did Thomas Jefferson Say This Quote About Term Limits?

Elias Atienza | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Facebook more than 6,800 times credits founding father Thomas Jefferson with saying, “By throwing the rascals out from time to time, they will remind government that it exists to serve us – not the other way around.”

“What did the farmers of the Constitution think about term limits?” reads the caption.

Verdict: False

The Daily Caller found no evidence that Jefferson ever said or wrote this expression.

Fact Check: 

The internet is replete with both genuine and fake quotes attributed to the founding fathers. This particular Facebook post credits Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, with coining a saying about term limits, though it appears nowhere in his writingscollected quotes or letters. (RELATED: Did Thomas Jefferson Say,’Freedom Is Lost Gradually From An Uninterested, Uninformed, And Unresponsive People?’)

Lisa Francavilla of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which runs his estate at Monticello, confirmed as much in an email to the Caller, also noting, “While TJ had some concerns about the potential for abuse by those we would today call ‘career politicians,’ he was optimistic that constitutionally mandated term limits would be unnecessary.”

She pointed the Caller to two letters written by Jefferson that exemplify this “optimism”: a 1788 letter to Edward Rutledge, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and an 1814 letter to Horatio G. Spafford, a lawyer.

In his letter to Rutledge, Jefferson expressed concern that the “total abandonment of the principle of rotation in the offices of President and Senator” would end in “abuse” but went on to say that he had confidence that there would be “virtue and good sense enough in our countrymen to correct abuses.”

Though Francavilla could not point to the exact source of the falsely attributed quote, she did find it linked to Jefferson in an “instance of a man who regularly portrays Thomas Jefferson.”

Clay Jenkinson, creator of the weekly “Thomas Jefferson Hour” radio program, did indeed say the expression while answering questions in character as Jefferson during a 2017 episode titled “Term Limits.” On the radio program’s website, the saying is credited to Jefferson with the caveat “as portrayed by Clay S. Jenkinson.” This attribution may have led some readers to believe that Jenkinson was directly quoting Jefferson, rather than just basing his character of the “writings and actions of the great man,” as the website disclaims.

Elias Atienza

Fact Check Reporter


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