Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.

Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman November 8, 2019

No evidence Jefferson said ‘government will one day be corrupt and filled with liars’

An alleged quote by Founding Father and former President Thomas Jefferson is circulating on social media.

The post in question features a photo of a crowded arena attended by folks in red caps. The words "TRUMP" and "2020" border the top and bottom of the photo. And inside the picture is this quote attributed to Jefferson:

"The government will one day be corrupt and filled with liars and the people will flock to the one who tells the truth."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

This is one of many fictitious statements that have been attributed to Jefferson on the internet over the years. Like others we have fact-checked, there is no evidence he said or wrote it.

The quote, or any variation of it, could not be found in a search of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson. A search for it in the Jefferson encyclopedia and collections of his writings and speeches online yielded no results.

Featured Fact-check

The Jefferson library at Monticello, his Virginia estate, reported that the quote started being linked to the third president online in about 2015.

"This quotation has not been found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson," Monticello research research librarian Anna Berkes wrote on the Monticello website. "It seems to exist mainly on Twitter, but we have been unable to trace its existence before 2015."

We reached out to Berkes to check if she has come across any variation of it since. She told us the quote still can’t be located.

"All signs point to it being entirely spurious," Berkes wrote in an email. "Usually with a genuine quote, you’ll see it appearing in books by historians or previous compilations of Jefferson’s writings; this one still doesn’t seem to have any paper trail at all."

Berkes also wrote a blog post in 2011 to help people know how to spot fake Jefferson quotes. Among her tips: Jefferson almost never used contractions nor did he use the word "you" as an indefinite pronoun. Berkes also warned readers to be wary of quotes that have no citation as to when and where it was said and those that can only be found in non-historical literature.

There’s no evidence to support that Jefferson said or wrote this. We rate it False. 

Our Sources

Facebook post, Nov. 6, 2019 

Monticello.org, Jefferson Encyclopedia; JEFFERSON QUOTES & FAMILY LETTERS, Accessed Nov. 7, 2019

Monticello.org, The government will one day be corrupt (Spurious Quotation), Accessed Nov. 7, 2019

Monticello.org, How to Spot a Fake, Nov. 22, 2011

Founders Online, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Accessed Nov. 7, 2019

Snopes, Did Thomas Jefferson Say ‘The Government Will One Day Be Corrupt and Filled With Liars’?, May 10, 2019

FactCheck.org, Posts Put Words in Thomas Jefferson’s Mouth, Oct. 15, 2019

Email interview, Anna Berkes research librarian at the Jefferson Library at Monticello, Nov. 7, 2019

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Samantha Putterman

No evidence Jefferson said ‘government will one day be corrupt and filled with liars’

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up