Quotes From The Founding Fathers For
Those Who Still Think That The 2nd Amendment Doesn't Apply to the Individual
Thursday April 19, 2007
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 your constant companion of your walks.
--- Thomas Jefferson
to Peter Carr, 1785. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition)
Lipscomb and Bergh, editors.
One loves to possess arms, though they hope never to have
occasion for them.
--- Thomas Jefferson
to George Washington, 1796. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial
Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors.
We established however some, although not all its [self-government]
important principles . The constitutions of most of our States assert,
that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it
by themselves, in all cases to which they think themselves competent,
(as in electing their functionaries executive and legislative, and deciding
by a jury of themselves, in all judiciary cases in which any fact is
involved,) or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen;
that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed;
to John Cartwright, 1824. Memorial Edition 16:45, Lipscomb and Bergh,
No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.
The thoughtful reader may wonder, why wasn't Jefferson's proposal of "No
freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms" adopted by the Virginia
legislature? Click here to learn why.
Draft Virginia Constitution, 1776.
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little
temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759.
To model our political system upon speculations of lasting
tranquility, is to calculate on the weaker springs of the human character.
Quotes from the Founders During the Ratification Period of the Constitution
[The Constitution preserves] the advantage of being armed
which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation...(where)
the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.
Federalist Papers, No. 46.
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, countries or districts of a state, is to demolish every
constitution, and lay the laws prostrate, so that liberty can be enjoyed
by no man; it is a dissolution of the government. The fundamental law
of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the
laws, and ever for the support of the laws.
---John Adams, A Defence
of the Constitutions of the United States 475 (1787-1788)
John Adams recognizes the fundamental right of citizens, as individuals,
to defend themselves with arms, however he states militias must be controlled
by government and the rule of law. To have otherwise is to invite anarchy.
The material and commentary that follows is excerpted from Halbrook,
Stephen P. "The
Right of the People or the Power of the State Bearing Arms, Arming Militias,
and the Second Amendment". Originally published as 26 Val. U.
L.Rev. 131-207, 1991.
Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed;
as they are in almost every kingdom in 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 band
of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United
States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no
laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional;
for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire
the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them
unjust and oppressive.
---Noah Webster, An
Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia
Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared,
then, that we shall turn our arms each man gainst his own bosom. Congress
have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible
implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American...[T]he
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.
During the Massachusetts ratifying convention William Symmes warned that
the new government at some point "shall be too firmly fixed in the
saddle to be overthrown by anything but a general insurrection." Yet
fears of standing armies were groundless, affirmed Theodore Sedwick, who
queried, "if raised, whether they could subdue a nation of freemen,
who know how to prize liberty, and who have arms in their hands?"
---Tenche Coxe, The
Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
[W]hereas, 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; nor does it follow from this, that all
promiscuously must go into actual service on every occasion. The mind
that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican
principle; and when we see many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever
they can prevail, no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding
The Virginia ratifying convention met from June 2 through June 26, 1788.
Edmund Pendleton, opponent of a bill of rights, weakly argued that abuse
of power could be remedied by recalling the delegated powers in a convention.
Patrick Henry shot back that the power to resist oppression rests upon
the right to possess arms:
---Richard Henry Lee,
The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect
every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve
it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined.
O sir, we should have fine times, indeed, if, to punish
tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people! Your arms,
wherewith you could defend yourselves, are gone...Did you ever read
of any revolution in a nation...inflicted by those who had no power
More quotes from the Virginia convention:
[W]hen the resolution of enslaving America was formed in
Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man,
who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was
the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should
not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually...I ask,
who are the militia? They consist of now of the whole people, except
a few public officers. But I cannot say who will be the militia of the
future day. If that paper on the table gets no alteration, the militia
of the future day may not consist of all classes, high and low, and
rich and poor...
Zacharia Johnson argued that the new Constitution could never result in
religious persecution or other oppression because:
[T]he people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They
are left in full possession of them.
The Virginia delegation's recommended bill of rights included the following:
That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that
a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained
to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that
standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and therefore
ought to be avoided as far as the circumstances and protection of the
community will admit; and that, in all cases, the military should be
under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.
The following quote is from Halbrook, Stephen P., That Every Man Be
Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right, University of New
Mexico Press, 1984.
The whole of that Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of
the right of the people at large or considered as individuals...[I]t
establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently,
no majority has a right to deprive them of.
Gallatin's use of the words "some rights," doesn't mean some of the rights
in the Bill of Rights, rather there are many rights not enumerated by
the Bill of Rights, those rights that are listed are being established
Gallatin to Alexander Addison, Oct 7, 1789, MS. in N.Y. Hist. Soc.-A.G.
Sherman, during House consideration of a militia bill (1790):
[C]onceived it to be the privilege of every citizen, and
one of his most essential rights, to bear arms, and to resist every
attack upon his liberty or property, by whomsoever made. The particular
states, like private citizens, have a right to be armed, and to defend,
by force of arms, their rights, when invaded.
14 Debates in the
House of Representatives, ed. Linda Grand De Pauw. (Balt., Johns
Hopkins Univ. Press, 1972), 92-3.
For post-ratification quotes, see GunCite's: Quotes from constitutional commentators.