"information is the currency of democracy"

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 22 05:43:42 UTC 2010

The Monticello website has the quotation listed in the "Spurious
Quotes" section:


Some more random quotes that we do not believe are genuine: ...
   "Information is the currency of democracy."

The Jefferson Encyclopedia (also part of Monticello.org) has an entry
for the quotation


Quotation: "Information is the currency of democracy."


   1. "Information is the currency of democracies."

(skip ...)

Earliest known appearance in print: 1971[1][2]

Other attributions: Ralph Nader

Status: We currently have no evidence to confirm that Thomas Jefferson
ever said or wrote, "Information is the currency of democracy."

Comments: The earliest known attribution to Thomas Jefferson (in
print) is 1991,[3] although this may have happened earlier. Print
sources more commonly attribute this quotation to Ralph Nader.


   1. Proc. Annual Newspaper Guild Convention (s.n., 1971), 8.
   2. To establish the earliest appearance of this phrase in print,
the following sources were searched for the phrase, "information is
the currency of democracy": Google Books, Google Scholar, Amazon.com,
Internet Archive, America's Historical Newspapers, American Broadsides
and Ephemera Series I, Early American Imprints Series I and II, Early
English Books Online, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, 19th
Century U.S. Newspapers, American Periodicals Series Online, JSTOR.
   3. United States General Accounting Office, U.S. Communications
Policy: Issues for the 1990s: Panelists' Remarks (Washington, D.C.:
U.S. General Accounting Office, 1991), 146.

On Tue, Dec 21, 2010 at 10:20 PM, geoffrey nunberg
<nunberg at ischool.berkeley.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       geoffrey nunberg <nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU>
> Subject:      "information is the currency of democracy"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> In connection with a course we're  teaching, my colleague Paul Duguid asked me about a sentence in a recent Guardian commentary on Wikilieaks by Ralph Nader:
>> Wasn't it Jefferson who said that "information is the currency of democracy" and that, given a choice between government and a free press, he'll take the latter?
>> http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/dec/16/julian-assange-wikileaks-eric-holder
> That sentence is attributed to Jefferson all over the web, but the earliest cite Paul been able to find for it is from a 12/31/71 NYT op-ed called "The Underachievements of Congress" by... wait for it.... Ralph Nader, where it's not attributed: "If information is the currency of democracy, it is time to apply that principle to the sinews of citizenship involvement with their representatives in Congress."
> Is this, as we suspect, one of those quotations that grew an eminent early progenitor late in the game? Or did Jefferson really say something like this?
> Geoff
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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