Founding Fathers on Self-Defense
Paine on Arms
Arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe and preserve order in the world as well as property.
- Thomas Paine, Writings of Thomas Paine, M. Conway, ed., 1894.
Washington on Firearms
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 ensure 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's good.
Washington on Arms and Peace
To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace. A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined.
- George Washington, First Annual Address, January 8, 1790.
Jefferson on Armed Rebellion
God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. ... And what country can preserve its liberties, if it's rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.
- Thomas Jefferson, November 13, 1787, letter to William S. Smith, quoted in Padover's Jefferson On Democracy
Jefferson on Use of Arms
No man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
- Thomas Jefferson, June 1776
Jefferson on Gun Sports
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 walk.
- Thomas Jefferson, Foley, ed., Encyclopedia of Thomas Jefferson, p. 318.
Jefferson on the Militia
For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well organized and armed militia is their best security.
- Thomas Jefferson, Eighth Annual Message, November 8, 1808
Madison on the Militia
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, in the Federalist Papers No. 46 at 243-44
... large and permanent military establishments which are forbidden by the principles of free government, and against the necessity of which the militia were meant to be a constitutional bulwark.
- James Madison, Fourth Annual Message, November 4, 1812
An efficient militia is authorized and contemplated by the Constitution and required by the spirit and safety of free government.
- James Madison, Eighth Annual Message, December 3, 1816
Tench Coxe on the Second Amendment
Whereas civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as 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
Tench Coxe on the Militia
Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American ... the unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.
-Tench Coxe, 20 Feb 1788
Richard Henry Lee on Arms
To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.
- Richard Henry Lee, Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republic, (1787 - 1788)
Hamilton on Arms
The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.
- Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers at 184-188
Constitutional Framer on Armies
Whenever people . . . entrust the defense of their country to a regular, standing army, composed of mercenaries, the power of that country will remain under the direction of the most wealthy citizens.
-- "A Framer," in the Independent Gazetteer, 1791