Extract from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison

societies exist under three forms sufficiently distinguishable. 1. without government, as among our Indians. 2. under governments wherein the will of every one has a just influence, as is the case in England in a slight degree, and in our states in a great one. 3. under governments of force: as is the case in all other monarchies and in most of the other republics. to have an idea of the curse of existence under these last, they must be seen. it is a government of wolves over sheep. it is a problem, not clear in my mind, that the 1st. condition is not the best. but I believe it to be inconsistent with any great degree of population. the second state has a great deal of good in it. the mass of mankind under that enjoys a precious degree of liberty and happiness. it has it’s evils too: the principal of which is the turbulence to which it is subject. but weigh this against the oppressions of monarchy, and it becomes nothing. malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem. even this evil is productive of good. it prevents the degeneracy of government, and nourishes a general attention to the public affairs. I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, & as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers). Published in PTJ, 11:92–7.

malo periculosam ... servitutem: I wish rather for perilous liberty than peaceful servitude.

Author
Thomas Jefferson
Recipient
James Madison
Date Range
Date
January 30, 1787
Collection
Quotes by and about Thomas Jefferson
Quote Category