The quote is “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, & government to gain ground.” Letter to Edward Carrington, 27 May 1788. Jefferson was in Paris at the time.

The context of the letter is about the proposed Constitution. Jefferson speaks of his trepidation, and then support for the Constitution with a bill of rights. In a discussion of the Bill of Rights, Jefferson speaks of not crippling the federal government too much–that it has a proper sphere to be vigorous. He also speaks of not constraining the government where it ought to be constrained.

The protector of our rights comes from the people, Jefferson continues. Near the end of the letter, he talks of paper money being the ghost of money (real money).

Let this not suppose that Jefferson was anti-government–he was not. He believed the government should secure us in safety AND our rights. He was embarrassed by Shays, though privately hoped for lenience. He may have feared government over-reaching, but found the Articles insufficient and thus sided with others for an increase in central government power.

Suspicious of government power he was; despite a few misgivings in the original proposed Constitution, he favored its passage.