Thomas Jefferson wore a lot of hats in his 83 years of life. He was a founding father, a lawyer, a diplomat, an architect, a slave owner, principal author of the declaration of independence, and, at least according to Facebook, a staunch advocate for hemp. You’ve probably seen plenty of pro-cannabis quotes attributed to this statesman overlaid on his portrait circulating the internet.
However, social media isn’t known for being a great source of reliable information. So we’re going to do a deep dive and fact-check some of the most famous quotes attributed to Jefferson and find out just how true they are. Do you think you can separate fact from fiction? Keep reading to find out!
Thomas Jefferson Quote #1
“Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see.”
This is probably the most widely shared Jefferson quote about hemp, but it’s completely fabricated! It originally showed up online around 2008 and has been fooling people ever since. Don’t feel bad if you thought this was real. Even newspapers like the Detroit Free Press believed this to be true Jefferson quote. It’s actually so convincing that even one-time presidential candidate Gary Johnson repeated it in an interview back in 2012.
As far as the content goes, it is well documented that Jefferson grew hemp, but there’s no evidence he ever sparked it up.
Thomas Jefferson Quote #2
"Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.”
This one is a real quote, but it wasn’t Thomas Jefferson who said it. We can see why some people would be confused, though, since it does appear in the National Archive’s Jefferson Papers, which is a collection of his personal letters.
The quote is actually snipped from something Gouverneur Morris, another founding father, wrote to Thomas Jefferson. The full text goes like this: “A Fact well established in the System of Agriculture is that the best Hemp and the best Tobacco grow on the same Kind of Soil. The former Article is of first Necessity to the Commerce and Marine in other Words to the Wealth and Protection of the Country.”
Thomas Jefferson Quote #3
“Hemp… is abundantly productive and will grow forever on the same spot, but the breaking and beating it, which has always been done by hand, is so slow, so laborious, and so much complained of by our laborers.”
This one is actually true. Jefferson wrote this as part of a letter to George Flemming in 1815. He goes on to detail the schematics of a horse-powered hemp thrashing invention, which he designed with the intent of making hemp processing easier. This quote helps establish that Jefferson was indeed a hemp farmer, but it also shines a light on one of the darkest aspects of North American hemp farming. The laborers that Jefferson is referring to, the ones doing backbreaking work, are, of course, victims of chattel slavery. When we talk about the founding father’s contributions to society, agricultural or otherwise, it’s important not to gloss over the fact that this country was built on the backs of enslaved Africans.
Thomas Jefferson Quote #4
“If the people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in a sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”
According to Snopes, this false quote began making rounds on social media shortly after former President Barack Obama announced his plan for the Affordable Care Act. It likely originated as a misrepresentation of a real Jefferson quote from his book Notes on The State of Virginia. In it, Jefferson responds to a question regarding the appearance of non-christian religious groups arriving in the Commonwealth.
The full quote is as follows: “Had not free enquiry been indulged, at the era of the reformation, the corruptions of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged. Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now.”
Thomas Jefferson Quote #5
“Colt 45 and two Zig Zags, baby that's all we need. We can go to the park after dark, smoke that tumbleweed, and as the marijuana burns we can take our turns, singing them dirty rap songs. Stop and hit the bong like Cheech and Chong, sell tapes from here to Hong Kong.”
These are Afroman lyrics, but wouldn’t it be hilarious if it was true?