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What the Founding Fathers Said About the Second Amendment and Our Right to Keep and Bear Arms

"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms…disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with  greater â€?confidence than an armed man." Thomas Jefferson, quoting Cesare Beccaria in On Crimes and punishment (1764).

"Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property . . . Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them." Thomas Paine, Thoughts on Defensive War (1775).

"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms." Thomas Jefferson, Proposed Virginia Constitution (1776).

"The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." Edmund Burke (1784).

"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 band of regular troops." Noah Webster, An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution Proposed BV the Late Convention (1787).

"To suppose arms in the hands of citizens, to be used at individual discretion, except in private self-defense or by partial orders of towns...is a dissolution of the government." John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787-1788).

"Americans need not fear the federal government because they enjoy the advantage of being armed, which you possess over the people of almost every other nation." James Madison.

"A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves and include all men capable of bearing arms …To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms . . . " Richard Henry Lee, Additional Letters From the Federal Farmer 53 (1788).

"I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them." George Mason, during Virginia's Convention to Ratify the Constitution (1788).

"…The said Constitution be never construed …to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms." Samuel Adams, during Massachusetts's Convention to Ratify the Constitution (1788).

"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 ruined." Patrick Henry, during Virginia's Convention to Ratify the Constitution (1788)

"Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. 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, The Federalist Papers, No. 46

"Suppose that we let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal: still it would not be going to far to say that the State governments with the people at their side would be able to repel the danger...half a million citizens with arms in their hands" --James Madison, The Federalist Papers

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."-- Benjamin Franklin Historical Review of Pennsylvania. [Note:   This sentence was often quoted in the Revolutionary period. It occurs even so early as November, 1755, in an answer by the Assembly of Pennsylvania to the Governor, and forms the motto of Franklin's "Historical Review," 1759, appearing also in the body of the work.--Frothingham: Rise of the Republic of the United States, p. 413. ]

"False is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousand real advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience; that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils except destruction. The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crime."--Cesare Beccaria, quoted by Thomas Jefferson

"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.

"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 Framer (1788) at p. 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 p. 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 No. 46 at 243-244.

"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, in Paul Ford, ed., Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States, at p. 56 (New York, 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 No. 29.

"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.

"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 (Pierce & 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 p. 20, S. Padover ed., 1939

"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 1967.

"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, col.2.

"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 defence 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).

"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.

 

also see: Why Adopt a Vermont-style CCW Law?  

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