| Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.|
|AUTHOR:||Henry David Thoreau (1817–62)|
|QUOTATION:||I heartily accept the motto,—“That government is best which governs least;” and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also believe,—“That government is best which governs not at all;” and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.|
|ATTRIBUTION:||HENRY DAVID THOREAU, Civil Disobedience, first paragraph, Walden and Civil Disobedience, ed. Owen Thomas, p. 224 (1966). This essay was first published in 1849.|
The motto Thoreau referred to was almost certainly that of The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, a literary-political monthly: “The best government is that which governs least.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed a similar sentiment in his essay “Politics:” “Hence the less government we have the better—the fewer laws and the less confided power.”—Essays: Second Series, in The Complete Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 1, p. 302 (1929).