Fact Check

Did Thomas Jefferson Say 'Democracy Is Nothing More Than Mob Rule'?

A made-up quote presented in a pretty-looking meme doesn't make it real.

Published Nov 27, 2022

The Jefferson Memorial monument is seen with the statue of Thomas Jefferson in the center, and the White House to the rear on Feb. 12, 2010, in Washington, DC. (Courtesy: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images) (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Image Via PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images
Claim:
Former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson said, "A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine."

Former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson has often been credited online for authoring the quote, "A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine."

The quote has appeared in well-designed memes. It's been included in published books and on websites that collect quotes. We even found evidence that it was once cited in documentation that was seemingly part of case records for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Despite all of this, there's this problem: There's no evidence that Jefferson ever said or wrote the remark theorizing about the make up of a democracy.

In 2018, the misattributed quote was shared by a Twitter account known as The Redheaded Libertarian. The tweet received hundreds of "likes." Another Twitter user also used the quote in a reply on Oct. 31, 2022, less than one month before this fact check published. Both accounts shared the quote with numerals for percentages ("A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%") instead of the words "fifty-one percent" and "forty-nine percent."

The website Monticello.org, which is managed by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., has labeled the quote spurious. The organization looked at multiple sources, including special historical records, but found no mention of the quote being associated with Jefferson's name before the year 2004— a red flag that the statement did not originate with him. When no old historical records can verify a purportedly centuries-old quote from a famous person, the quote is usually misattributed and was born on the internet.

According to a search of Google Books, the "mob rule" part of the quote may have come from author Michael Cody's 2004 work titled, "Charles Brockden Brown and the Literary Magazine: Cultural Journalism in the Early American Republic."

Cody wrote, "To Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton, Joseph Dennie, and Fisher Ames, democracy as it was being practiced in France revealed itself as nothing more than mob rule bent on destroying the institutions of civilization: social distinctions, property (and property rights), religion, and order."

As previously mentioned, we also found the quote with Jefferson's name attached to it in documents for a case that was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.

Sources

Cody, Michael. Charles Brockden Brown and the Literary Magazine: Cultural Journalism in the Early American Republic. McFarland, 2004.

"Democracy Is Nothing More than Mob Rule... (Spurious Quotation)." Monticello.org, https://www.monticello.org/research-education/thomas-jefferson-encyclopedia/democracy-nothing-more-mob-rulespurious-quotation/.

Google Books. https://books.google.com/.

"Letter: A Democracy Is 'Nothing More than Mob Rule.'" The Mercury News, 11 Feb. 2019, https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/02/11/letter-a-democracy-is-nothing-more-than-mob-rule/.

"Thomas Jefferson Quote: 'A Democracy Is Nothing More than Mob Rule.'" QuoteFancy.com, https://quotefancy.com/quote/918168/Thomas-Jefferson-A-democracy-is-nothing-more-than-mob-rule-where-fifty-one-percent-of-the.

United States Supreme Court. Kelo v. City of New London. LexisNexis, 2005.

Jordan Liles is a Snopes reporter with expertise in investigating misinformation, inauthentic social media activity, and scams.

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