We patriots love to quote the Founding Fathers, especially when they support our theses. And Jefferson remains at the top of the heap. But there are three beliefs or practices often attributed to Jefferson that are either myths or cherry-picked partial views.
The first myth is that Jefferson was for big government. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Though Jefferson expanded U.S. territory through enactments such as the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, he knew that when it comes to expanding government, "the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground."
The Miller Center at our third president's own University of Virginia put it well: "In Thomas Jefferson's mind, the first order of business for him as President was the establishment of a 'wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another' but which would otherwise leave them alone to regulate their own affairs. He wanted a government that would respect the authority of individual states, operate with a smaller bureaucracy, and cut its debts."
Jefferson was actually for smaller government, less debt and low taxes. About eight years after his two terms as president, Jefferson wrote: "We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our callings and our creeds, as the people of England are, our people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses, and the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread, we must live, as they now do, on oatmeal and potatoes, have no time to think, no means of calling the mismanagers to account, but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers."
The second myth about Jefferson is that he was always an isolationist or noninterventionist, that he believed the U.S. should avoid alliances with other nations so as not to draw the U.S. into wars not related to direct territorial self-defense.