I think I remember learning that one of the founding fathers (Thomas Jefferson maybe?) wrote (in a Federalist Paper maybe?) that there would need to be a civil war about once a generation to sustain liberty in the United States.

Is this correct? If so, could someone point me to the document where this was stated?

1 Answer 1


This was (to the best of my knowledge) a comment that Jefferson made to Madison, and I believe he was referring to revolutions, not civil wars. Jefferson was at the time strongly under the influence of the French Revolution, which he thought was a marvelous thing. Madison pushed back on Jefferson, and he recanted from the position. I regret that I can't provide a solid source, but I believe I read this anecodote in Jack Rakove's "Revolutionaries".

It is also possible that you're referring to Jefferson's quote "God forbid we should ever be 20. years without such a rebellion.", which I think in context is a bit more ambiguous.

I recall no evidence that the other founding fathers shared Jefferson's belief.

  • 2
    yes, it is the second source that i was recalling. Specifically this sentence: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants"
    – Kip
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 20:18

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