FACT CHECK: Did Thomas Jefferson Say, ‘All Tyranny Needs To Gain A Foothold Is For People Of Good Conscience To Remain Silent’?

Aislinn Murphy | Fact Check Reporter

A Facebook post credits founding father Thomas Jefferson with saying, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

Verdict: False

The saying appears nowhere in Jefferson’s writings. His estate at Monticello considers it to be a “spurious quotation.”

Fact Check:

The internet is replete with quotes erroneously ascribed to the founding fathers, including Jefferson. (RELATED: Did John Adams Say, ‘There Are Two Ways To Conquer And Enslave A Nation. One Is By Sword. The Other Is By Debt’?)

In fact, sayings are misattributed to Jefferson so often that his estate at Monticello keeps a list of “spurious quotations.” A quick internet search reveals that this specific quote appears on that list.

“People will see a quote and it appeals to an opinion that they have and if it has Jefferson’s name attached to it that gives it more weight,” Anna Berkes, a research librarian at Monticello, told The Wall Street Journal. “He’s constantly being invoked by people when they are making arguments about politics and actually all sorts of topics.”

There is, however, no evidence that Jefferson ever said or wrote the quote attributed to him in the Facebook post. The Daily Caller found no instances of matching or similar phrases in his writings.

A possible source of the quotation may be British philosopher John Stuart Hill’s 1867 address at the University of St. Andrews, according to Berkes. In his address, he said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

Aislinn Murphy

Fact Check Reporter
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