Quotes of the Founders on the Second Amendment

Author Unknown


> The Second Amendment states:
>"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security
> of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear
> arms shall not be infringed."
>"On every question of construction (of the Constitution) let
>us carry our-selves back to the time when the Constitution
>was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the
>debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed
>out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the
>probable one in which it was passed." (Thomas Jefferson,
>letter to William Johnson, June 12, 1823, The Complete
>Jefferson, p. 322)
>"The whole of the Bill (of Rights) is a declaration of the
>right of the people at large or considered as
>individuals.... It establishes some rights of the
>individual as unalienable and which consequently, no
>majority has a right to deprive them of." (Albert Gallatin
>of the New York Historical Society, October 7, 1789)
>"The right of the people to keep and bear arms has been
>recognized by the General Government; but the best security
>of that right after all is, the military spirit, that taste
>for martial exercises, which has always distinguished the
>free citizens of these States....Such men form the best
>barrier to the liberties of America" - (Gazette of the
>United States, October 14, 1789.)
>"No Free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms."
>(Thomas Jefferson, Proposal Virginia Constitution, 1 T.
>Jefferson Papers, 334,[C.J. Boyd, Ed., 1950])
>"The right of the people to keep and bear...arms shall not
>be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the
>body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most
>natural defense of a free country..." (James Madison, I
>Annals of Congress 434 [June 8, 1789])
>"A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people
>themselves... and include all men capable of bearing arms."
>(Richard Henry Lee, Additional Letters from the Federal
>Farmer (1788) at 169)
>"What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the
>establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty....
>Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties
>of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia,
>in order to raise an army upon their ruins." (Rep. Elbridge
>Gerry of Massachusetts, spoken during floor debate over the
>Second Amendment [ I Annals of Congress at 750 {August
>17, 1789}])
>"...to disarm the people - that was the best and most
>effectual way to enslave them." (George Mason, 3 Elliot,
>Debates at 380)
>"Americans have the right and advantage of being armed -
>unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments
>are afraid to trust the people with arms." (James Madison,
>The Federalist Papers #46 at 243-244)
>"the ultimate authority ... resides in the people alone,"
>(James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, in Federalist
>Paper #46.)
>"Before a standing army can rule, the people must be
>disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe.
>The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by
>the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed,
>and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular
>troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United
>States" (Noah Webster in
>An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal
>Constitution', 1787, a pamphlet aimed at swaying
>Pennsylvania toward ratification, in Paul Ford, ed.,
>Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States, at
>56(New York, 1888))
>"...if raised, whether they could subdue a Nation of
>freemen, who know how to prize liberty, and who have arms in
>their hands?" (Delegate Sedgwick, during the Massachusetts
>Convention, rhetorically asking if an oppressive standing
>army could prevail, Johnathan Elliot, ed., Debates in the
>Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal
>Constitution, Vol.2 at 97 (2d ed., 1888))
>"...but if circumstances should at any time oblige the
>government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can
>never be formidable to the liberties of the people, while
>there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior
>to them in discipline and use of arms, who stand ready to
>defend their rights..." (Alexander Hamilton speaking of
>standing armies in Federalist 29.)
>"Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans
>possess over the people of almost every other nation. . .
>Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several
>kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public
>resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust
>the people with arms." (James Madison, author of the Bill
>of Rights, in Federalist Paper No. 46.)
>"As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people before
>them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces
>which must be occasionally raised to defend our country,
>might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow
>citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their
>right to keep and bear their private arms." (Tench Coxe in
>Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal
>Constitution' under the Pseudonym
>A Pennsylvanian' in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June
>18, 1789 at 2 col. 1)
>"Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their
>swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier,
>are the birthright of an American... The unlimited power
>of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or
>state government, but, where I trust in God it will ever
>remain, in the hands of the people" (Tench Coxe,
>Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788)
>"The prohibition is general. No clause in the Constitution
>could by any rule of construction be conceived to give to
>Congress a power to disarm the people. Such a flagitious
>attempt could only be made under some general pretense by a
>state legislature. But if in any blind pursuit of inordinate
>power, either should attempt it, this amendment may be
>appealed to as a restraint on both." [William Rawle, A View
>of the Constitution 125-6 (2nd ed. 1829)
>"I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people,
>except for few public officials." (George Mason, 3 Elliot,
>Debates at 425-426)
>"The Constitution shall never be construed....to prevent
>the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens
>from keeping their own arms" (Samuel Adams, Debates and
>Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of
>Massachusetts, 86-87)
>"To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of
>people always possess arms, and be taught alike especially
>when young, how to use them." (Richard Henry Lee, 1788,
>Initiator of the Declaration of Independence, and member of
>the first Senate, which passed the Bill of Rights, Walter
>Bennett, ed., Letters from the Federal Farmer to the
>Republican, at 21,22,124 (Univ. of Alabama Press,1975)..)
>"The great object is that every man be armed" and "everyone
>who is able may have a gun." (Patrick Henry, in the Virginia
>Convention on the ratification of the Constitution. Debates
>and other Proceedings of the Convention of Virginia,...taken
>in shorthand by David Robertson of Petersburg, at 271, 275
>2d ed. Richmond, 1805. Also 3 Elliot, Debates at 386)
>"The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They
>are left in full possession of them." (Zachariah Johnson, 3
>Elliot, Debates at 646)
>"Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing
>degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our
>defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in
>possession and under our direction, and having them under
>the management of Congress? If our defense be the real
>object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be
>trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in
>our own hands?" (Patrick Henry, 3 J. Elliot, Debates in the
>Several State Conventions 45, 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1836)
>"The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is
>that they be properly armed." (Alexander Hamilton, The
>Federalist Papers at 184-8)
>"That the said Constitution shall never be construed to
>authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press
>or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of
>The United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping
>their own arms..." (Samuel Adams, Debates and Proceedings
>in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at
>86-87 (Peirce & Hale, eds., Boston, 1850))
>"And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers
>are not warned from time to time that this people preserve
>the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms....The tree of
>liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood
>of patriots and tyrants" (Thomas Jefferson in a letter to
>William S. Smith in 1787. Taken from Jefferson, On
>Democracy 20, S. Padover ed.,1939)
>"Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect
>everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing
>will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up
>that force, you are inevitably ruined" (Patrick Henry, 3 J.
>Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions 45, 2d ed.
>Philadelphia, 1836)
>"The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep
>and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves
>against tyranny in government." --(Thomas Jefferson)
>"Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution
>itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and
>keystone under independence ... >From the hour the Pilgrims
>landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and
>tendencies prove that to insure peace, security and
>happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable .
>. . The very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains
>evil interference - they deserve a place of honor with all
>that is good" (George Washington)
>"A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of
>exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate
>exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and
>independence to the mind. Games played with the ball and
>others of that nature, are too violent for the body and
>stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be
>the constant companion of your walks.(Thomas Jefferson,
>Encyclopedia of T. Jefferson, 318 [Foley, Ed., reissued
>"The supposed quietude of a good mans allures the ruffian;
>while on the other hand, arms like laws discourage and keep
>the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in
>the world as well as property. The same balance would be
>preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all
>would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay
>them aside...Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the
>world deprived of the use of them..." (Thomas Paine, I
>Writings of Thomas Paine at 56 [1894])
>"...the people are confirmed by the next article in their
>right to keep and bear their private arms" (from article in
>the Philadelphia Federal Gazette June 18, 1789 at 2,
>"Those, who have the command of the arms in a country are
>masters of the state, and have it in their power to make
>what revolutions they please. [Thus,] there is no end to
>observations on the difference between the measures likely
>to be pursued by a minister backed by a standing army, and
>those of a court awed by the fear of an armed people."
>(Aristotle, as quoted by John Trenchard and Water Moyle, An
>Argument Shewing, That a Standing Army Is Inconsistent with
>a Free Government, and Absolutely Destructive to the
>Constitution of the English Monarchy [London, 1697])
>"No kingdom can be secured otherwise than by arming the
>people. The possession of arms is the distinction between
>a freeman and a slave. He, who has nothing, and who himself
>belongs to another, must be defended by him, whose property
>he is, and needs no arms. But he, who thinks he is his own
>master, and has what he can call his own, ought to have arms
>to defend himself, and what he possesses; else he lives
>precariously, and at discretion." (James Burgh, Political
>Disquisitions: Or, an Enquiry into Public Errors, Defects,
>and Abuses [London, 1774-1775])
>"Men that are above all Fear, soon grow above all Shame."
>(John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, Cato's Letters: Or,
>Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and Other Important
>Subjects [London, 1755])
>"The difficulty here has been to persuade the citizens to
>keep arms, not to prevent them from being employed for
>violent purposes." (Dwight, Travels in New-England)
>"What country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers
>are not warned from time to time that their people preserve
>the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms." (Thomas
>Jefferson to James Madison, Dec. 20, 1787, in Papers of
>Jefferson, ed. Boyd et al.)
>(The American Colonies were) "all democratic governments,
>where the power is in the hands of the people and where
>there is not the least difficulty or jealousy about putting
>arms into the hands of every man in the country. (European
>countries should not) be ignorant of the strength and the
>force of such a form of government and how strenuously and
>almost wonderfully people living under one have sometimes
>exerted themselves in defense of their rights and liberties
>and how fatally it has ended with many a man and many a
>state who have entered into quarrels, wars and contests with
>them." [George Mason, "Remarks on Annual Elections for the
>Fairfax Independent Company" in The Papers of George Mason,
>1725-1792, ed Robert A. Rutland (Chapel Hill, 1970)]
>"To trust arms in the hands of the people at large has, in
>Europe, been believed...to be an experiment fraught only
>with danger. Here by a long trial it has been proved to be
>perfectly harmless...If the government be equitable; if it
>be reasonable in its exactions; if proper attention be paid
>to the education of children in knowledge and religion, few
>men will be disposed to use arms, unless for their
>amusement, and for the defense of themselves and their
>country." (Timothy Dwight, Travels in New England and New
>York [London 1823]
>"It is not certain that with this aid alone [possession of
>arms], they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But
>were the people to posses the additional advantages of local
>governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the
>national will, and direct the national force; and of
>officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments
>and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be
>affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of
>every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned, in
>spite of the legions which surround it." (James Madison,
>"Federalist No. 46")
>"The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly
>been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a
>republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the
>usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will
>generally, even if these are successful in the first
>instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.
>And yet, though this truth would seem so clear, and the
>importance of a well regulated militia would seem so
>undeniable, it cannot be disguised, that among the American
>people there is a growing indifference to any system of
>militia discipline, and a strong disposition, from a sense
>of its burdens, to be rid of all regulations. How it is
>practicable to keep the people duly armed without some
>organization, it is difficult to see. There is certainly no
>small danger, that indifference may lead to disgust, and
>disgust to contempt; and thus gradually undermine all the
>protection intended by this clause of our national bill of
>rights." (Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of
>the United States; With a Preliminary Review of the
>Constitutional History of the Colonies and States before the
>Adoption of the Constitution [Boston, 1833])
>"The tank, the B-52, the fighter-bomber, the state-
> controlled police and military are the weapons of
>dictatorship. The rifle is the weapon of democracy. If guns
>are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the
>police, the secret police, the military. The hired servants
>of our rulers. Only the government-and a few outlaws. I
>intend to be among the outlaws." (Edward Abbey, "The Right
>to Arms," Abbey's Road [New York, 1979])
>"You are bound to meet misfortune if you are unarmed
>because, among other reasons, people despise you....There is
>simply no comparison between a man who is armed and one who
>is not. It is unreasonable to expect that an armed man
>should obey one who is unarmed, or that an unarmed man
>should remain safe and secure when his servants are armed.
>In the latter case, there will be suspicion on the one hand
>and contempt on the other, making cooperation impossible."
>(Niccolo Machiavelli in "The Prince")
>"You must understand, therefore, that there are two ways of
>fighting: by law or by force. The first way is natural to
>men, and the second to beasts. But as the first way often
>proves inadequate one must needs have recourse to the
>second." (Niccolo Machiavelli in "The Prince")
>"As much as I oppose the average person's having a gun, I
>recognize that some people have a legitimate need to own
>one. A wealthy corporate executive who fears his family
>might get kidnapped is one such person. A Hollywood
>celebrity who has to protect himself from kooks is another.
>If Sharon Tate had had access to a gun during the Manson
>killings, some innocent lives might have been saved."
>[Joseph D. McNamara (San Jose, CA Police Chief), in his
>book, Safe and Sane, (c) 1984, p. 71-72.]
>"To prohibit a citizen from wearing or carrying a war arm .
>. . is an unwarranted restriction upon the constitutional
>right to keep and bear arms. If cowardly and dishonorable
>men sometimes shoot unarmed men with army pistols or guns,
>the evil must be prevented by the penitentiary and gallows,
>and not by a general deprivation of constitutional
>privilege." [Wilson v. State, 33 Ark. 557, at 560, 34 Am.
>Rep. 52, at 54 (1878)]
>For, in principle, there is no difference between a law
>prohibiting the wearing of concealed arms, and a law
>forbidding the wearing such as are exposed; and if the
>former be unconstitutional, the latter must be so likewise.
>But it should not be forgotten, that it is not only a part
>of the right that is secured by the constitution; it is the
>right entire and complete, as it existed at the adoption of
>the constitution; and if any portion of that right be
>impaired, immaterial how small the part may be, and
>immaterial the order of time at which it be done, it is
>equally forbidden by the constitution." [Bliss vs.
>Commonwealth, 12 Ky. (2 Litt.) 90, at 92, and 93, 13 Am.
>Dec. 251 (1822)] "
>The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be
>infringed" The right of the whole people, old and young,
>men, women and boys, and not militia only, to keep and bear
>arms of every description, and not such merely as are used
>by the militia, shall not be infringed, curtailed, or broken
>> in upon, in the smallest degree; and all this for the
>important end to be attained: the rearing up and qualifying
>a well-regulated militia, so vitally necessary to the
>security of a free State. Our opinion is that any law, State
>or Federal, is repugnant to the Constitution, and void,
>which contravenes this right." [Nunn vs. State, 1 Ga (1
>Kel.) 243, at 251 (1846)]
>"The provision in the Constitution granting the right to all
>persons to bear arms is a limitation upon the power of the
>Legislature to enact any law to the contrary. The exercise
>of a right guaranteed by the Constitution cannot be made
>subject to the will of the sheriff." [People vs. Zerillo,
>219 Mich. 635, 189 N.W. 927, at 928 (1922)]
>"The maintenance of the right to bear arms is a most
>essential one to every free people and should not be
>whittled down by technical constructions."[State vs. Kerner,
>181 N.C. 574, 107 S.E. 222, at 224 (1921)]
>"The right of a citizen to bear arms, in lawful defense of
>himself or the State, is absolute. He does not derive it
>from the State government. It is one of the "high powers"
>delegated directly to the citizen, and is excepted out of
>the general powers of government.' A law cannot be passed to
>infringe upon or impair it, because it is above the law, and
>independent of the lawmaking power." [Cockrum v. State, 24
>Tex.394, at 401-402 (1859)]



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