Quotes of the Founding Fathers
& Their Contemporaries
This collection of important quotes from the people who forged a new nation can be helpful for debates, research papers, and letters to the editor. Their Contemporaries are included as well.
A. Click here for more Quotes SUPPORTING individual freedom and RKBA.
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The quotes are listed by category and whenever possible, a hyperlink to the quote in context is included. Last updated 06/06/01.
The Constitution & Firearms
"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." The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution
"And that the said Constitution be never 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;…" Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, August 20, 1789 quoting Propositions submitted to the Convention of this State by the Honorable Samuel Adams, Esquire.
"When an instrument admits two constructions, the one safe, the other dangerous, the one precise, the other indefinite, I prefer that which is safe & precise. I had rather ask an enlargement of power from the nation, where it is found necessary, than to assume it by a construction which would make our powers boundless." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Wilson Cary Nicholas, Sept. 7, 1803.
"Our peculiar security is in possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Wilson Cary Nicholas, Sept. 7, 1803.
"On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves 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 Justice William Johnson, June 12, 1823, The Complete Jefferson, p 322.
"The constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please. It should be remembered, as an axiom of eternal truth in politics, that whatever power in any government is independent, is absolute also; in theory only, at first, while the spirit of the people is up, but in practice, as fast as that relaxes. Independence can be trusted nowhere but with the people in mass. They are inherently independent of all but moral law." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Judge Spencer Roane, September 6, 1819. "The Writings of Thomas Jefferson," edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb, vol. 15, p. 213 (1904).
"The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that... it is their right and duty to be at all times armed;..." Thomas Jefferson letter to Justice John Cartwright, June 5, 1824. 1824. ME 16:45.
"If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates, but let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed." George Washington, Farewell Address, September 17, 1796.
"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 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
"In England...A large proportion of the most valuable of the provisions in Magna Charta, and the bill of rights in 1688, consists of a solemn recognition, of limitations upon the power of parliament; that is, a declaration, that parliament ought not to abolish, or restrict those rights. Such are the right of trial by jury; the right to personal liberty and private property according to the law of the land; that the subjects ought to have a right to bear arms;..." Joseph Story, Dane Professor of Law in Harvard University, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833), Book III at 718, § 1858. Chapter. Whole Book.
"A similar provision [to the Second Amendment] in favour of protestants (for to them it is confined) is to be found in the bill of rights of 1688, it being declared, 'that the subjects, which are protestants, may have arms for their defence suitable to their condition, and as allowed by law.' But under various pretences the effect of this provision has been greatly narrowed; and it is at present in England more nominal than real, as a defensive privilege." Joseph Story, Dane Professor of Law in Harvard University, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833), Book III at 747, § 1891. Chapter. Whole Book.
"Here, let us again pause, and reflect, how admirably this division, and distribution of legislative power is adapted to preserve the liberty, and to promote the happiness of the people of the United States…Fifthly, and lastly; by the separation of the judiciary from the legislative department; and the independence of the former, of the control, or influence of the latter, in any case where any individual may be aggrieved or oppressed, under colour of an unconstitutional act of the legislature, or executive. In England, on the contrary, the greatest political object may be attained, by laws, apparently of little importance, or amounting only to a slight domestic regulation: the game-laws, as was before observed, have been converted into the means of disarming the body of the people:…" Saint George Tucker, Blackstone's Commentaries (1803), Volume 1, Appendix, Note D [Section 13: Restraints on Powers of Congress con't]. Whole Book.
"The congress of the United States possesses no power to regulate, or interfere with the domestic concerns, or police of any state: it belongs not to them to establish any rules respecting the rights of property; nor will the constitution permit any prohibition of arms to the people;…" Saint George Tucker, Blackstone's Commentaries (1803), Volume 1, Appendix, Note D [Section 13: Restraints on Powers of Congress con't]. Whole Book.
"If, for example, a law be passed by congress, prohibiting the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates, or persuasions of a man's own conscience or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to assemble peaceably, or to keep and bear arms; it would, in any of these cases, be the province of the judiciary to pronounce whether any such act were constitutional, or not; and if not, to acquit the accused from any penalty which might be annexed to the breach of such unconstitutional act." Saint George Tucker, Blackstone's Commentaries (1803), Volume 1, Appendix, Note D [Section 16: Judicial Powers]. Whole Book.
"the powers not delegated to congress by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. What we are about to consider are certainly not delegated to congress, nor are they noticed in the prohibitions to states; they are therefore reserved either to the states or to the people. Their high nature, their necessity to the general security and happiness will be distinctly perceived.
"In the second article, it is declared, that a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state; a proposition from which few will dissent. Although in actual war, in the services of regular troops are confessedly more valuable; yet, while peace prevails, and in the commencement of a war before a regular force can be raised, the militia form the palladium of the country. They are ready to repel invasion, to suppress insurrection, and preserve the good order and peace of government. That they should be well regulated, is judiciously added. A disorderly militia is disgraceful to itself, and dangerous not to the enemy, but to its own country. The duty of the state government is, to adopt such regulations as will tend to make good soldiers with the least interruptions of the ordinary and useful occupations of civil life. In this all the Union has a strong and visible interest.
The corollary, from the first position, is that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
"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 pretence 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.
"In most of the countries of Europe, this right does not seem to be denied, although it is allowed more or less sparingly, according to circumstances. In England, a country which boasts so much of its freedom, the right was secured to protestant subjects only, on the revolution of 1688; and it is cautiously described to be that of bearing arms for their defence, "suitable to their conditions, and as allowed by law." An arbitrary code for the preservation of game in that country has long disgraced them. A very small proportion of the people being permitted to kill it, though for their own subsistence; a gun or other instrument, used for that purpose by an unqualified person, may be seized and forfeited. Blackstone, in whom we regret that we cannot always trace expanded principles of rational liberty, observes however, on this subject, that the prevention of popular insurrections and resistance to government by disarming the people, is oftener meant than avowed, by the makers of forest and game laws." William Rawle, A View of the Constitution of the United States of America 125-26 (2d ed. 1829). Mr. Rawle was appointed as a U.S. Attorney for Pennsylvania by President George Washington. Mr. Rawle was also Washington's candidate to be the nation's first Attorney General, but Rawle declined. Chapter 10. Whole Book.
"No Free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms." Thomas Jefferson, Proposed Virginia Constitution, 1 T. Jefferson Papers, 334 (Julian P. Boyd, Ed., 1950). See more discussion on this quote HERE.
"As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly 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. Coxe sent a copy of his essay to James Madison along with a letter of the same date. Madison wrote back and the quote follows.
"Accept my acknowledgments for your favor of the 18th. instant. The printed remarks inclosed in it are already I find in the Gazettes here [New York] ... The amendments ... will however be greatly favored by explanatory strictures of a healing tendency, and is therefore already indebted to the co-operation of your pen." James Madison in a response letter to Tench Coxe above supporting the interpretation of the Second Amendment as an individual right.
"And that the said Constitution be never 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 & Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 86-87 (February 6, 1788).
"Last Monday a string of amendments were presented to the lower House; these altogether respected personal liberty …" Senator William Grayson of Virginia in a letter to Patrick Henry, June 12, 1789.
"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 (June 25, 1788).
"...to support the Constitution, which is the cement of the Union, as well in its limitations as in its authorities; to respect the rights and authorities reserved to the States and to the people as equally incorporated with and essential to the success of the general system;... to keep within the requisite limits a standing military force, always remembering that an armed and trained militia is the firmest bulwark of republics--that without standing armies their liberty can never be in danger, nor with large ones safe;..." President James Madison, First Inaugural address, Saturday, March 4, 1809.
"It has been a spectacle displaying to the highest advantage of republican government to behold the most and the least wealthy of our citizens standing in the same ranks as private soldiers, preeminently distinguished by being the army of the Constitution..." President George Washington, Sixth Annual Message to Congress, November 19, 1794.
"A free people ought not only to be armed…" George Washington, speech of January 8, 1790 in the Boston Independent Chronicle, January 14, 1790. Complete text of the First Annual Message to Congress.
Fighting Off Tyranny
"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…" Noah Webster, "An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution" (1787) in Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States (P. Ford, 1888)
"To disarm the people [is] the best and most effectual way to enslave them …" George Mason, 3 Elliot, Debates at 380 (June 14, 1788).
"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 writing in Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republic, Letter XVIII, January 25, 1788. See a discussion on who wrote these letters is available on the Constitution.org website HERE!
"Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation,... in the several kingdoms of Europe,... the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." James Madison, The Federalist Papers # 46.
"Whoever considers the unprincipled enemy we have to to cope with, will not hesitate to declare that nothing but arms or miracles can reduce them to reason and moderation." Thomas Paine, Thoughts on Defensive War, 1775.
"They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house?" Patrick Henry, "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death" speech delivered on March 23, 1775.
"The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us." Patrick Henry, "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death" speech delivered on March 23, 1775.
"The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come." Patrick Henry, "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death" speech delivered on March 23, 1775.
"The honorable gentleman who presides told us that, to prevent abuses in our government, we will assemble in convention, recall our delegated powers, and punish our servants for abusing the trust reposed in them. Oh, 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; and you have no longer an aristocratical, no longer a democratical spirit. Did you ever read of any revolution in a nation, brought about by the punishment of those in power, inflicted by those who had no power at all? You read of a riot act in a country which is called one of the freest in the world, where a few neighbors can not assemble without the risk of being shot by a hired soldiery, the engines of despotism. We may see such an act in America." Patrick Henry, Shall Liberty or Empire be Sought?, from a June 5, 1788 speech in the Virginia Convention, called to ratify the Constitution of the United States.
"A standing army we shall have, also, to execute the execrable commands of tyranny; and how are you to punish them? Will you order them to be punished? Who shall obey these orders? Will your mace-bearer be a match for a disciplined regiment? In what situation are we to be? The clause before you gives a power of direct taxation, unbounded and unlimited—an exclusive power of legislation, in all cases whatsoever, for ten miles square, and over all places purchased for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, etc. What resistance could be made? The attempt would be madness. You will find all the strength of this country in the hands of your enemies; their garrisons will naturally be the strongest places in the country. Your militia is given up to Congress, also, in another part of this plan; they will therefore act as they think proper; all power will be in their own possession. You can not force them to receive their punishment: of what service would militia be to you, when, most probably, you will not have a single musket in the State? For, us arms are to be provided by Congress, they may or may not furnish them." Patrick Henry, Shall Liberty or Empire be Sought?, from a June 5, 1788 speech in the Virginia Convention, called to ratify the Constitution of the United States.
"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." Patrick Henry, 3 Elliot, Debates at 45 (Virginia Convention, June 5, 1788).
"God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed... 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... The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure." Thomas Jefferson to William S. Smith on Nov. 13, 1787. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, vol. 12, p. 356 (1955).
"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive." Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Abigail Adams, February 22, 1787.
"I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the Atmosphere." Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Abigail Adams, February 22, 1787.
"I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, & as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical." Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787.
"...I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Vice President Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Andrew A. Lipscomb, vol. 10, p. 175 (1903). Carved at the base of the dome, interior of the Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C.
"The importance of this article [Second Amendment] will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers." Joseph Story, Dane Professor of Law in Harvard University, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833), Book III at 746, § 1858. Chapter. Whole Book.
"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." Joseph Story, Dane Professor of Law in Harvard University, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833), Book III at 746, § 1858. Chapter. Whole Book.
"This [Second Amendment] may be considered as the true palladium of liberty .... The right of self defence is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction. In England, the people have been disarmed, generally, under the specious pretext of preserving the game: a never failing lure to bring over the landed aristocracy to support any measure, under that mask, though calculated for very different purposes. True it is, their bill of rights seems at first view to counteract this policy: but the right of bearing arms is confined to protestants, and the words suitable to their condition and degree, have been interpreted to authorise the prohibition of keeping a gun or other engine for the destruction of game, to any farmer, or inferior tradesman, or other person not qualified to kill game. So that not one man in five hundred can keep a gun in his house without being subject to a penalty." Saint George Tucker, Blackstone's Commentaries (1803), Volume 1, Appendix, Note D [Section 12 — Restraints on Powers of Congress]. Whole Book.
"Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day." Thomas Jefferson, letter to P. S. Dupont de Nemours, April 24, 1816. Found in "The Writings of Thomas Jefferson," edited by Paul L. Ford, vol. 10, p. 25 (1899). This sentence is one of many quotations inscribed on Cox Corridor II, a first floor House corridor, U.S. Capitol.
"Whenever a people are so enervated by luxury as to intrust the defence of their country to a regular, standing army, composed of mercenaries, the power of that country will remain under the direction and influence of the most wealthy citizens." Signed "A Farmer," in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, Letter XIV, January 29, 1791.
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to tax) but "to bind us in all cases whatsoever," and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth." Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, Chapter 1 (1776). Whole Book.
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it." Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, Chapter IV, Sept. 12, 1777. Whole Book.
O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. Thomas Paine, Common Sense; 1776. Whole Book.
"It has demonstrated that our prosperity rests on solid foundations, by furnishing an additional that my fellow citizens understand the true principles of government and liberty; that they feel their inseparable union; that notwithstanding all the devices which have been used to sway them from their interest and duty, they are not as ready to maintain the authority of the laws against licentious invasions as they were to defend their rights against usurpation." President George Washington, Sixth Annual Message to Congress, November 19, 1794.
"Kings will be tyrants from policy when subjects are rebels from principle." Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).
"If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers, may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual state. In a single state, if the persons intrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair." Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers # 28.
"…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... who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.'' Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers # 29.
"Every man who loves peace, every man who loves his country, every man who loves liberty, ought to have it ever before his eyes, that he may cherish in his heart a due attachment to the Union of America, and be able to set a due value on the means of preserving it." James Madison, The Federalist Papers # 41.
On Individual Gun Ownership
"The great object is that every man be armed ... Everyone who is able may have a gun." Patrick Henry, 3 Elliot, Debates at 386
"Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped;…" Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers # 29.
"Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature." Samuel Adams, The Rights of the Colonists, The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, Nov. 20, 1772.
"...one loves to possess arms, tho[ugh] they hope never to have occasion for them." Thomas Jefferson in a letter to George Washington, June 19, 1796. ME 9:341 Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition (Lipscomb and Bergh, editors) 20 Vols., Washington, D.C., 1903-04.
"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). (Letter to Peter Carr, his 15-year-old nephew, August 19, 1785)
"I enclose you a list of the killed, wounded, and captives of the enemy from the commencement of hostilities at Lexington in April, 1775, until November, 1777, since which there has been no event of any consequence... I think that upon the whole it has been about one half the number lost by them, in some instances more, but in others less. This difference is ascribed to our superiority in taking aim when we fire; every soldier in our army having been intimate with his gun from his infancy." Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Giovanni Fabbroni, June 8, 1778.
"The supposed quietude of a good man 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, Thoughts on Defensive War, 1775. I Writings of Thomas Paine at 56 (1894).
"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 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. Thomas Jefferson's "Commonplace Book," 1774-1776, quoting 18th century criminologist Cesare Beccaria in Chapter 40 of "On Crimes and Punishment", 1764. Chapter. Whole Book.
"Great part of the happiness of mankind depends upon those means, by which the innocent may be saved from their cruel invaders: among which the opportunities they have of defending themselves may be reckoned the chief." William Wollaston, The Religion of Nature 132 (1724). Cited in That Every Man Be Armed by Stephen Halbrook (Page 209, footnote 248). This book is part of the SAF library.
[the British] told us we shall have no more guns, no powder to use, and kill our wolves and other game, nor to send to you for you to kill your victuals with, and to get skins to trade with us, to buy your blankets and what you want. How can you live without powder and guns? But we hope to supply you soon with both, of our own making." Samuel Adams to the Mohawk Indians, III S. Adams, Writings 213.
"Arms in the hands of citizens [may] be used at individual discretion… in private self-defense …" John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of the Government of the USA, 471 (1788)
"A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves …" Richard Henry Lee, writing in Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republic, Letter XVIII, January 25, 1788. See a discussion on who wrote these letters is available on the Constitution.org website HERE!
"First, the constitution ought to secure a genuine and guard against a select militia, by providing that the militia shall always by kept well organized, armed, and disciplined, and include, according to the past and general usuage of the states, all men capable of bearing arms; and that all regulations tending to render this general militia useless and defenceless, by establishing select corps of militia, or distinct bodies of military men, not having permanent interests and attachments in the community to be avoided." Richard Henry Lee writing in Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republic, Letter XVIII, January 25, 1788. See a discussion on who wrote these letters is available on the Constitution.org website HERE!
"I ask, Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers." George Mason, 3 Elliot, Debates at 425-426, June 16, 1788.
"An instance within the memory of some of this house will show us how our militia may be destroyed. Forty years ago, when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man [Sir William Keith], 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, by totally disusing and neglecting the militia. [Here Mr. Mason quoted sundry passages to this effect.] This was a most iniquitous project. Why should we not provide against the danger of having our militia, or real and natural strength, destroyed." George Mason, 3 Elliot, Debates at 425-426, June 16, 1788.
"... I most cordially agree, with the honorable member last up, that a standing army is one of the greatest mischiefs that can possibly happen ... The most effectual way to guard against a standing army, is to render it unnecessary. The most effectual way to render it unnecessary, is to give the general government full power to call forth the militia, and exert the whole natural strength of the Union, when necessary. Thus you will furnish the people with sure and certain protection, without recurring to this evil; and the certainty of this protection from the whole will be a strong inducement to individual exertion." James Madison, in an immediate, agreeable response to George Mason's quote immediately above, June 16, 1788.
"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..." George Mason, Draft proposal, 3 Elliot, Debates at 659.
"The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person." James Madison reading Draft Amendments. I Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789)
"That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty: and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power." Draft Amendment, Virginia Convention on June 16, 1788.
"A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms." Draft Amendment, House Debates on August 17, 1789.
"...17th. That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated militia, including the body of the people capable of bearing arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that the militia shall not be subject to martial law, except in time of war, rebellion, or insurrection; that standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and ought not to be kept up, except in eases of necessity; and that at all times, the military should be under strict subordination to the civil power; that in time of peace no soldier ought to be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, and in time of war, only by the civil magistrate, in such manner as the law directs." Letter on Rights from the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations as contained in the Journal of the Senate, June 9, 1790.
"What, sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty." Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, I Annals of Congress at 750 (August 17, 1789).
"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. This was actually done by Great Britain at the commencement of the late revolution." Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, I Annals of Congress at 750 (August 17, 1789).
I object to the power of Congress over the militia and to keep a standing army ... The last resource of a free people is taken away; for Congress are to have the command of the Militia ... Congress may give us a select militia which will, in fact, be a standing army--or Congress, afraid of a general militia, may say there shall be no militia at all. When a select militia is formed; the people in general may be disarmed." John Smilie in the Pennsylvania convention. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol. 2, Pages 508-509 (December 6, 1787).
"When we consider the great powers of Congress, there is great cause of alarm. They can disarm the militia. If they were armed, they would be a resource against great oppressions. The laws of a great empire are difficult to be executed. If the laws of the Union were oppressive, they could not carry them into effect, if the people were possessed of proper means of defence." Rep. William Lenoir, 4 Elliot, Debates at 203 (July 30, 1788).
"Our citizens can never be induced, either as militia or as souldiers, to go there to cut the throats of their own brothers & sons, or rather to be themselves the subjects instead of the perpetrators of the parricide." Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787.
"...a well disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them..." Thomas Jefferson, in his 1801 inaugural address.
"... their governor, constitutionally, the commander of the militia of the State, that is to say, of every man in it able to bear arms..." Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Destutt de Tracy, January 26, 1811.
``The project of disciplining all the militia of the United States is as futile as it would be injurious, if it were capable of being carried into execution…Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped;…" Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers # 29.
"There is something so far-fetched and so extravagant in the idea of danger to liberty from the militia, that one is at a loss whether to treat it with gravity or with raillery; whether to consider it as a mere trial of skill, like the paradoxes of rhetoricians; as a disingenuous artifice to instill prejudices at any price; or as the serious offspring of political fanaticism. Where in the name of common-sense, are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbors, our fellow-citizens? What shadow of danger can there be from men who are daily mingling with the rest of their countrymen and who participate with them in the same feelings, sentiments, habits and interests?" Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers # 29.
"A militia law, requiring all men, or with very few exceptions besides cases of conscience, to be provided with arms and ammunition... is always a wise institution, and, in the present circumstances of our country, indispensable." John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776.
"...I recommend to your consideration a revision of the laws for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, to render that natural and safe defense of the country efficacious." President John Adams, XYZ Affair, Philadelphia, PA, May 16, 1797.
"... it became necessary to direct a military force to be employed, consisting of some companies of regular troops, volunteers, and militia..." President John Adams, Third State of Nation, December 3, 1799.
"The Militia is composed of free Citizens. There is therefore no Danger of their making use of their Power to the destruction of their own Rights, or suffering others to invade them." Samuel Adams. III S. Adams, Writings 251.
"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... 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, Dane Professor of Law in Harvard University, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833), Book III at 746, § 1858. Chapter. Whole Book.
"It would be well for Americans to reflect upon the passage in Tacitus,...Is there any escape from a large standing army, but in a well disciplined militia?" Joseph Story, Dane Professor of Law in Harvard University, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833), Book III at 747, Footnote 1 [English Translation from Tacitus, (Hist. IV. ch. 74). Chapter. Whole Book.
"In a people permitted and accustomed to bear arms, we have the rudiments of a militia, which properly consists of armed citizens, divided into military bands, and instructed at least in part in the use of arms for the purposes of war. Their civil occupations are not relinquished, except while they are actually in the field, and the inconvenience of withdrawing them from their accustomed labours, abridges the time required for military instruction. Militia therefore never amount to perfect soldiers, unless the public exigencies shall have kept them so long together as to absorb the civil, in the military character." William Rawle, A View of the Constitution of the United States of America 153 (2d ed. 1829). Mr. Rawle was appointed as a U.S. Attorney for Pennsylvania by President George Washington. Mr. Rawle was also Washington's candidate to be the nation's first Attorney General, but Rawles declined. Chapter 13. Whole Book.
Government, Laws & Citizenship
"Fear is the foundation of most governments..." John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776.
"...and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Edward Carrington, Jan. 16, 1787.
"I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under the European governments. Among the former, public opinion is in the place of law, & restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did anywhere. Among the latter, under pretence of governing they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves & sheep. I do not exaggerate. This is a true picture of Europe." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Edward Carrington, Jan. 16, 1787.
"Cherish therefore the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention ... If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you & I, & Congress & Assemblies, judges & governors shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions; and experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor. Thomas Jefferson, letter to Edward Carrington, Jan. 16, 1787.
"Societies exist under three forms sufficiently distinguishable. 1. Without government, as among our Indians. 2. Under governments wherein the will of every one has a just influence, as is the case in England in a slight degree, and in our states, in a great one. 3. Under governments of force: as is the case in all other monarchies and in most of the other republics. To have an idea of the curse of existence under these last, they must be seen. It is a government of wolves over sheep." Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787.
"...a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government..." Thomas Jefferson, in his 1801 inaugural address.
"Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?" Thomas Jefferson, in his 1801 inaugural address.
"In the legislature, the House of Representatives is chosen by less than half the people, and not at all in proportion to those who do choose. The Senate are still more disproportionate, and for long terms of irresponsibility. In the Executive, the Governor is entirely independent of the choice of the people, and of their control; his Council equally so, and at best but a fifth wheel to a wagon. In the Judiciary, the judges of the highest courts are dependent on none but themselves." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816.
"But it will be said, it is easier to find faults than to amend them. I do not think their amendment so difficult as is pretended. Only lay down true principles, and adhere to them inflexibly. Do not be frightened into their surrender by the alarms of the timid, or the croakings of wealth against the ascendency of the people. If experience be called for, appeal to that of our fifteen or twenty governments for forty years, and show me where the people have done half the mischief in these forty years, that a single despot would have done in a single year; or show half the riots and rebellions, the crimes and the punishments, which have taken place in any single nation, under kingly government, during the same period. The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen, in his person and property, and in their management. Try by this, as a tally, every provision of our constitution, and see if it hangs directly on the will of the people. Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816.
"I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom. And to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816.
"I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816. "The Writings of Thomas Jefferson," edited by Paul L. Ford, vol. 10, pp. 42-43 (1899).
"The judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working under ground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric. They are construing our constitution from a co-ordination of a general and special government to a general and supreme one alone. This will lay all things at their feet..." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Ritchie, December 25, 1820.
"Having found, from experience, that impeachment [of Justices] is an impracticable thing, a mere scare-crow, they consider themselves secure for life; they sculk from responsibility to public opinion, the only remaining hold on them, under a practice first introduced into England by Lord Mansfield. An opinion is huddled up in conclave, perhaps by a majority of one, delivered as if unanimous, and with the silent acquiescence of lazy or timid associates, by a crafty chief judge, who sophisticates the law to his mind, by the turn of his own reasoning. A judiciary law was once reported by the Attorney General to Congress, requiring each judge to deliver his opinion seriatim and openly, and then to give it in writing to the clerk to be entered in the record. A judiciary independent of a king or executive alone, is a good thing; but independence of the will of the nation is a solecism, at least in a republican government." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Ritchie, December 25, 1820.
"The genius of republican liberty seems to demand on one side, not only that all power should be derived from the people, but that those intrusted with it should be kept in independence on the people, by a short duration of their appointments; and that even during this short period the trust should be placed not in a few, but a number of hands. Stability, on the contrary, requires that the hands in which power is lodged should continue for a length of time the same. A frequent change of men will result from a frequent return of elections; and a frequent change of measures from a frequent change of men: whilst energy in government requires not only a certain duration of power, but the execution of it by a single hand.' James Madison, Federalist Papers # 37.
"...the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed." James Madison, Federalist Papers # 43. These words are inscribed in the Madison Memorial Hall, Library of Congress James Madison Memorial Building.
"They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone, and that it will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments, whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other." James Madison, Federalist Papers # 46.
"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions." James Madison, Federalist Papers # 51.
"It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?" James Madison, Federalist Papers # 62.
"Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilised community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together." Thomas Paine Rights of Man, Part II, Chapter 1. Whole Book.
"Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer!" Thomas Paine, Common Sense; 1776. Whole Book.
Liberty & Freedom
"But you must remember, my fellowcitizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing. It behooves you, therefore, to be watchful in your States as well as in the Federal Government." Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address, March 4, 1837.
"The price of liberty is eternal vigilance" This popular phrase has been attributed to both Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry (and Andrew Jackson above), but it appears to have been adapted from a statement made by John Philpot Curran, Lord Mayor of Dublin. Click Here for more on a history of this Quote.
"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" Patrick Henry, "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death" speech delivered on March 23, 1775.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence.
"It had become an universal and almost uncontroverted position in the several states, that the purposes of society do not require a surrender of all our rights to our ordinary governors: that there are certain portions of right not necessary to enable them to carry on an effective government, & which experience has nevertheless proved they will be constantly encroaching on, if submitted to them: that there are also certain fences which experience has proved peculiarly efficacious against wrong, and rarely obstructive of right, which yet the governing powers have ever shown a disposition to weaken and remove." Thomas Jefferson to Noah Webster, December 4, 1790.
"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stuart, Dec. 23, 1791.
"...and it is to secure our just rights that we resort to government at all..." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Fransois D'Ivernois, Feb. 6, 1795.
"I know my own principles to be pure, & therefore am not ashamed of them. On the contrary, I wish them known, & therefore willingly express them to every one. They are the same I have acted on from the year 1775 to this day, and are the same, I am sure, with those of the great body of the American people." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Smith, Aug. 22, 1798.
"...that liberty which is to go to all, and not to the few or the rich alone." Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Horatio Gates, February 21, 1798.
"It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own." Thomas Jefferson in letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803.
"Laws, moreover, abridging the natural right of the citizen, should be restrained by rigorous constructions within their narrowest limits." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Isaac McPherson, August 13, 1813.
"More than a generation will be requisite, under the administration of reasonable laws favoring the progress of knowledge in the general mass of the people, and their habituation to an independent security of person and property, before they will be capable of estimating the value of freedom, and the necessity of a sacred adherence to the principles on which it rests for preservation. Instead of that liberty which takes root and growth in the progress of reason, if recovered by mere force or accident, it becomes, with an unprepared people, a tyranny still, of the many, the few, or the one." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Lafayette, February 14, 1815.
"Let every man who fights or pays, exercise his just and equal right in their election." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816. Jefferson wanted to expand voting rights beyond just land owners to all people serving their country in defense.
"The yellow fever will discourage the growth of great cities in our nation, & I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800.
"Independence can be trusted nowhere but with the people in mass. They are inherently independent of all but moral law." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Judge Spencer Roane, September 6, 1819. "The Writings of Thomas Jefferson," edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb, vol. 15, p. 213 (1904).
"Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man." Thomas Jefferson to Justice John Cartwright, June 5, 1824.
"We believed, with them, that man was a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights, and with an innate sense of justice..." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Justice William Johnson, June 12, 1823.
"Nothing is so mistaken as the supposition, that a person is to extricate himself from a difficulty, by intrigue, by chicanery, by dissimulation, by trimming, by an untruth, by an injustice. This increases the difficulties ten fold; and those who pursue these methods, get themselves so involved at length, that they can turn no way but their infamy becomes more exposed. It is of great importance to set a resolution, not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions." Thomas Jefferson, Encyclopedia of T. Jefferson, 318 (Foley, Ed., reissued 1967). (Letter to Peter Carr, his 15-year-old nephew, August 19, 1785)
"It may not always happen that our soldiers are citizens, and the multitude a body of reasonable men; virtue, as I have already remarked, is not hereditary, neither is it perpetual." Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776). Thomas Paine "Common Sense" (1776).
"When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary." Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776). Whole Book.
"When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime." Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part 1 (1793). Part 2.
"An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot; it will succeed where diplomatic management would fall: it is neither the Rhine, the Channel, nor the ocean that can arrest its progress: it will march on the horizon of the world, and it will conquer." Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice. French (1796), English Edition (1797).
"Character is much easier kept than recovered, and that man, if any such there be, who, from sinister views, or littleness of soul, lends unseen his hand to injure it, contrives a wound it will never be in his power to heal. Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, Chapter XII. Whole Book.
"If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy. Their finances are now under such a course of application as nothing could derange but war or federalism. The gripe of the latter has shown itself as deadly as the jaws of the former." Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Thomas Cooper, Nov. 29, 1802.
"They [Congress] seemed, some little while ago, to be at a loss for objects whereon to throw away the supposed fathomless funds of the treasury." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Ritchie, December 25, 1820.
"Time makes more converts than reason." Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776). Whole Book.
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