Founding Fathers on Firearms

Summary: The following are believed to be quotations of the Founding Fathers of the United States regarding firearms. They overwhelmingly supported the right of individuals to keep and bear arms, as specified in the Second Amendment of the Constitution. Sources for the quotes are indicated if known.

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“The beauty of the Second Amendment
is that it will not be needed
until they try to take it.”
— Thomas Jefferson

Alexander Hamilton

“The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.”
— The Federalist Papers at 184-188

George Washington

“A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies.” (first State of the Union Address, 8 Jan 1790)

“A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.”

“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.”

“The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.”

James Madison

“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.”

“[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.”
— The Federalist Papers, No. 46

“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 …”
— Annals of Congress 434, June 8, 1789

John Adams

“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.”
— A Defense of the Constitutions of the United States 475 (1787-1788)

Noah Webster

“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 pretense, 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.”
— An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia 1787).

Patrick Henry

“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 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 great object is, that every man be armed … Every one who is able may have a gun.”
— Patrick Henry, Elliot, p.3:386

“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 …”
— Patrick Henry, Elliot p. 3:50-53, in Virginia Ratifying Convention demanding a guarantee of the right to bear arms

Thomas Jefferson

“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.”

“For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well-organized and armed militia is their best security.”

“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 its rulers are not warned from time to time, that their 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.”

“In defense of our persons and properties under actual violation, we took up arms. When that violence shall be removed, when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, hostilities shall cease on our part also.”

“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 confidence than an armed man.”

“No free man shall ever be de-barred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”
— Proposal Virginia Constitution, 1 T. Jefferson Papers, 334,[C.J. Boyd, Ed., 1950]

“None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army. To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important.”

“One loves to possess arms, though they hope never to have occasion for them.”

“The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.”

“Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not.”

“What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.”
— Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787. ME 6:373, Papers 12:356

“When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. 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.”

“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 confidence than an armed man.”
— Cesare Bonesana, marchese di Beccaria (1738-1794), Italian criminologist, Essay on Crimes and Punishments, quoted by Thomas Jefferson in The Commonplace Book

Thomas Paine

“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.”

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One comment on “Founding Fathers on Firearms

michaelzpw on April 27, 2014 2:28 pm

The most important element in establishing the 2nd Amendment was centered on the size of the “standing” army.

If it were large, it would take away from farming and the building of our nascent nation, thus it was concluded it would be best for a smaller (cadre) army with the 2nd Amendment enabling augmentation of the standing (regular) army.

mz

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