Among the most famous of quotations attributed to Thomas Jefferson, is this one:
“If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
But did Thomas Jefferson really say that? That’s what I had thought, especially after hearing it repeated by so many people on so many different programs and web sites. Then, one day, I decided to verify it for myself, and was surprised by what I found.
Bartleby, famous for its books of quotations, states:
“Although Jefferson was opposed to paper money, this quotation is obviously spurious. Inflation was listed in Webster’s dictionary of 1864, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but the OED gives 1920 as the earliest use of deflation.”
Another authoritative dictionary, Merriam-Webster, reports the first use of the word deflation, in any context, dating back to 1890 — 64 years after the death of Thomas Jefferson.
As Bartleby hints at, one shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Even if Jefferson didn’t say that, in whole or in part, it’s consistent with his beliefs and actions.
The full significance of this quotation will be addressed in several subsequent articles.