All the News That Fit to Print

President Thomas Jefferson.

President Thomas Jefferson.

I’m a news junkie.  I can’t get enough, but it’s also a curse.  I don’t like being addicted and sometimes I get p.o.’d at what I read, but I can’t help myself.

Thomas Jefferson, one of my favorite presidents, had a love-hate relationship with newspapers, which were as full of scandal, calumny and innuendo in his day as they are in ours.  Nevertheless, he defended his firm beliefs in freedom of the press against attacks against the First Amendment of the Constitution.  He was often the object of a newspaper attacks, but he also knew how to use newspapers to advance his political career and that of his party, according to Willard Sterne Randall’s biography of Jefferson.

Here are some of Thomas Jefferson’s quotes, which show his mixed feelings about the “press.”

  • Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.
  • Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.
  • Information is the currency of democracy.
  • The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.
  • Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
  • Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.
  • Wherever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.
  • The abuses of the freedom of the press here (Washington) have been carried to a length never before known or borne by civilized nations.
  • I have been for some time used as the property of the newspapers, a fair mark for every man’s dirt. Some, too, have indulged themselves in this exercise who would not have done it, had they known me otherwise than through these impure and injurious channels.  It is hard treatment, and for a singular kind of offence, that of having obtained by the labors of a life the indulgent opinions of a part of one’s fellow citizens.  However, these moral evils must be submitted to, like the physical scourges of tempest, fire, &c.–
  • Were I to undertake to answer the calumnies of the newspapers, it would be more than all my own time and that of twenty aids could effect.  For while I should be answering one, twenty new ones would be invented….But this is an injury to which duty requires every one to submit whom the public think proper to call into its councils —
  • Our newspapers for the most part, present only the caricatures of disaffected minds.
  • I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus, and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid, and I find myself much happier.

   Here are some bonus Jefferson quotes on the current economic situation:

  • I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.
  • I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
  • It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.
  • Never spend your money before you have earned it.

And lastly, a Jeffersonian thought about political candidates:

  • Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.
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