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A visitor at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. stands in front of a statue of Pres. Thomas Jefferson, Oct. 29, 2021. (Gabrielle Settles/PolitiFact) A visitor at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. stands in front of a statue of Pres. Thomas Jefferson, Oct. 29, 2021. (Gabrielle Settles/PolitiFact)

A visitor at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. stands in front of a statue of Pres. Thomas Jefferson, Oct. 29, 2021. (Gabrielle Settles/PolitiFact)

Becca Schimmel
By Becca Schimmel February 23, 2022

No, Thomas Jefferson did not say this about career politicians and corruption

If Your Time is short

  • In a letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson expressed concern over the failure of “rotation in office.” A Monticello historian said that concern was likely in reference to the presidency.
  • We found no record of Jefferson saying, “If serving in an elected office ever becomes a career, corruption will surely follow.”

A Facebook post quoting Thomas Jefferson as saying a career in politics could lead to corruption lacks evidence. 

The Feb. 8 post claims Jefferson said: "If serving in an elected office ever becomes a career, corruption will surely follow." The post adds: "I think he nailed it. TERM LIMITS!!!" 

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.)

There’s no record of Jefferson saying exactly what the Facebook post claims, according to a spokesperson for Monticello, Jefferson’s plantation owned and operated by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. 

It’s difficult to say whether Jefferson supported term limits, but in a letter to James Madison, Jefferson expressed concern over the failure of "rotation in office." Monticello historian John Ragosta told PolitiFact that concern was likely in reference to the presidency, given that annual elections were more common for positions in Congress during his life. 

Here’s a sample of what Jefferson said regarding a person’s time in office: 

"A government by representatives, elected by the people at short periods was our object, and our maxim at that day was ‘where annual election ends, tyranny begins.’" – Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Adams, Feb. 26, 1800 

"Offices are as acceptable here as elsewhere, and when once a man has cast a longing eye on them, a rottenness begins in his conduct." – Thomas Jefferson to Tenche Cox, May 21, 1799

"The second feature I dislike, and greatly dislike, is the abandonment in every instance of the necessity of rotation in office, and most particularly in the case of the President." –  Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, Dec. 20, 1787

Still, Jefferson record-keepers say there is no record of Jefferson saying what the Facebook post claims. 

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, Feb. 8, 2021

National archives, "From Thomas Jefferson To Samuel Adams," Feb. 26, 1800

National archives, "From Thomas Jefferson To Tench Coxe," May 21, 1799

National archives, "To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson," Dec. 20, 1787

Email interview with Jennifer Lyon, communications manager for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Feb. 18, 2022 

Email interview with John Ragosta, historian for the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, Feb. 22, 2022

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No, Thomas Jefferson did not say this about career politicians and corruption

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