>Did Jefferson say something about the necessity of small revolutions >every twenty years or so? Not quite. He was speaking of rebellions, not revolutions, and he took an occasional rebellion as a sign that the people were vitally concerned and involved in their government. Thus, he wrote: "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere." --Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams, 1787. FE 4:370 And with reference to such "spirit of resistance," he wrote: "God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion... We have had thirteen States independent for eleven years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half, for each State. What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion?" -- Thomas Jefferson to William S. Smith, 1787. ME 6:372 He also believed the constitution should be renewed every twenty years or so, and wrote: "Let us provide in our constitution for its revision at stated periods. What these periods should be nature herself indicates. By the European tables of mortality, of the adults living at any one moment of time, a majority will be dead in about nineteen years. At the end of that period, then, a new majority is come into place; or, in other words, a new generation. Each generation is as independent as the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before. It has then, like them, a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness; consequently, to accommodate to the circumstances in which it finds itself that received from its predecessors; and it is for the peace and good of mankind that a solemn opportunity of doing this every nineteen or twenty years should be provided by the constitution; so that it may be handed on, with periodical repairs, from generation to generation, to the end of time, if anything human can so long endure." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:42 It is important to distinguish between rebellion and revolution, however. A rebellion is an uprising, a resistance to government. A revolution, however, is an over-throwing of the government, and should be pursued only when absolutely necessary. With a proper, elective government, revolution is not necessary, because radical change can take place through the ballot box. "A jealous care of the right of election by the people--a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided--I deem [one of] the essential principles of our Government, and consequently [one of] those which ought to shape its administration." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural, 1801. ME 3:321. But a revolution is a very dangerous operation, and does not always succeed. "Most [revolutions] have been [closed] by a subversion of that liberty [they were] intended to establish." --Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1784. ME 4:218. The idea is to have a good republican government so that abuses may be corrected by "peaceful remedies," and so that the "sword of revolution" need not be taken up to overcome oppression. > Sir: I am looking for the quote, its context and its source wherein T. > Jefferson said (paraphrasing): ..."a little revolution now and then is a > good thing." Can you help me? Jefferson was speaking of rebellion, not revolution. The reference is to Shay's Rebellion. Jefferson at that time said he liked an occasional rebellion because it indicated the people were concerned with their rights, etc. The quote is as follows: "I hold it that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms are in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people, which have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions, as not to discourage them too much. It is medicine necessary for the sound health of government." -- Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, Jan. 30, 1787. Along the same line was: "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere." --Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams, 1787. And again, he wrote: "The people cannot be all, and always, well-informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty." -- Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787. All of this was written early on -- in 1787, and with respect to Shay's Rebellion. Some were taking that rebellion as a sign that republican government could not govern, and was doomed to failure, hence Jefferson's apparent endorsement. Later on, when government was organized with better representation and presumably more responsiveness to the people, his sentiments seemed to have changed, and he wrote as follows: "In a country whose constitution is derived from the will of the people directly expressed by their free suffrages, where the principal executive functionaries and those of the legislature are renewed by them at short periods, where under the character of jurors they exercise in person the greatest portion of the judiciary powers, where the laws are consequently so formed and administered as to bear with equal weight and favor on all, restraining no man in the pursuits of honest industry and securing to every one the property which that acquires, it would not be supposed that any safeguards could be needed against insurrection or enterprise on the public peace or authority. The laws, however, aware that these should not be trusted to moral restraints only, have wisely provided punishments for these crimes when committed." --Thomas Jefferson: 6th Annual Message, 1806. Those who use any of the Jefferson's quotes in this area as justification for anti-government terrorism are, in my opinion, taking what he said grossly out of context. He was speaking of popular dissent on a broad scale, and it was an uprising, with demands, etc., not a revolution involving the overthrow of government. The justifications for revolution are well stated in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.
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