Did Barack Obama say the following?

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"They'll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject those voices."

This is contrasted to Jefferson saying "When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty."

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    It's not even certain that Jefferson wrote or spoke the words on the left. if there is a so-called "Thomas Jefferson Quote" and it does not identify the precise source, who it was written to and the date, then more than likely it is a fake. Ref May 9, 2013 at 10:18
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    The "Jefferson" quote on the left actually comes from John Basil Barnhill in 1914. (Original document) There is no known Jefferson document with this quote in it. (Source) May 9, 2013 at 13:38
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    "So many persons have of late found an interest or a passion gratified by imputing to me sayings and writings which I never said or wrote, or by endeavoring to draw me into newspapers to harass me personally, that I have found it necessary for my quiet and my other pursuits to leave them in full possession of the field, and not to take the trouble of contradicting them even in private conversation." --Thomas Jefferson to Alexamder White, Sept. 10, 1797. (ME 9:424) Ref May 9, 2013 at 14:20
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    "You shouldn't believe everything you read on the Internet" - Abraham Lincoln
    – Tacroy
    May 9, 2013 at 17:40
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    Oddly enough, I don't see any contrast in the quotes. Jefferson is (supposedly) saying that the people should not fear the government... as is the Obama quote.
    – NPSF3000
    Jul 19, 2015 at 5:23

2 Answers 2


Yes he did. It may have been taken a bit out of context:

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.


Since the original claim is that Obama contradicted Jefferson (and presumably by implication that Obama didn't understand the founding principles of U.S. government), I think the quote attributed to Jefferson is fair game for an answer.

According to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, nothing resembling it appears in the papers and biographies of Jefferson.

The earliest appearance of the phrase that they found is The Barnhill-Tichenor debate on Socialism (1914), where it appears in one of (John Basil) Barnhill's sections, in a list of bons mots. It isn't clear whether Barnhill originated it, but there is no mention of Jefferson.

The earliest attribution to Jefferson that they found was from 1994.

For the Obama quote, see Andrew Grimm's answer.

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