2nd Amendment Quotes

Signers of the Declaration of Independence and/or Constitution

George Washington

  • “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.” — George Washington
  • “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 insure 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 is good” (George Washington)
  • “We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die: Our own Country’s Honor, all call upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble Actions — The Eyes of all our Countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings, and praises, if happily we are the instruments of saving them from the Tyranny mediated against them.” (George Washington, General Orders, July 2, 1776.)

Samuel Adams

  • “If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.” (Samuel Adams)
  • “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 (Peirce  & Hale,  eds.,  Boston, 1850))
  • “Let us contemplate our forefathers, and posterity, and resolve to maintain the rights bequeathed to us from the former, for the sake of the latter. The necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance. Let us remember that ‘if we suffer tamely a lawless attack upon our liberty, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom.’ It is a very serious consideration that millions yet unborn may be the miserable sharers of the event.” (Samuel Adams speech, 1771)

Elbridge Gerry

  • “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 750 August17, 1789])

Alexander Hamilton

  • “…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 29.)
  • “The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.”  (Alexander Hamilton, TheFederalist Papers at 184-8)

Thomas Jefferson

  • “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 William Johnson, June 12, 1823, The Complete Jefferson, p. 322)
  •  “The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” (Thomas Jefferson)
  • “On every unauthoritative exercise of power by the legislature must the people rise in rebellion or their silence be construed into a surrender of that power.” (Thomas Jefferson)
  • “No Free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” (Thomas Jefferson,  Proposal Virginia Constitution, 1 T. Jefferson Papers, 334,[C.J. Boyd, Ed., 1950])
  • “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 20, S. Padover ed.,1939)
  • “Those who hammer their guns into plows, will plow for those who do not.” (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 the constant companion of your walks.(Thomas  Jefferson, Encyclopedia of T. Jefferson, 318 [Foley,  Ed.,  reissued 1967])

Richard Henry Lee

  • Militias, 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 the people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.
    (Senator Richard Henry Lee, 1788, on “militia” in the 2nd Amendment)
  • “Whenever, therefore, the profession of arms becomes a distinct order in the state….the end of the social compact is defeated… No free government was ever founded, or ever preserved its liberty without uniting the characters of the citizen and soldier in those destined for the defense of the state…Such are a well regulated militia, composed of the freeholders, citizen and husbandman, who take up arms to preserve their property, as individuals, and their rights as freemen.” (Richard Henry Lee)
  • “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)..)


James Madison

  • “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])
  • “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 #46 at 243-244)
  • “the ultimate authority … resides in the people alone,” (James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, in Federalist Paper #46.)
  • “Besides  the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation. . .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, author of the Bill of Rights, in Federalist  Paper No. 46.)
  • “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″)


George Mason

  • “…to disarm the people – that was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”  (George Mason)
  • “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for few public officials.”  (George Mason,)
  • (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 defense 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)]

 

Other Notable founders

Patrick Henry

  • “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.” (Patrick Henry)
  • “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)
  • “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)
  • “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 inevitably ruined”  (Patrick Henry, 3 J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions 45, 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1836)

Zachariah Johnson

  • “The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them.” (Zachariah Johnson)

Thomas Paine

  • “It is the duty of a Patriot to protect his country from its government” (Thomas Paine)
  • Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.  (Thomas Paine)
  • “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])
  • “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.”  (Thomas Paine)

Noah Webster

  • “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, a pamphlet aimed at swaying Pennsylvania toward ratification,  in Paul Ford, ed., Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States, at 56(New York, 1888))