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Founding Fathers


John Adams:
"Arms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion...in private self-defense." A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, at 475. (1787-88)
John Adams:
"Resistance to sudden violence, for the preservation not only of my person, my limbs, and life, but of my property, is an indisputable right of nature which I have never surrendered to the public by the compact of society, and which perhaps, I could not surrender if I would." Boston Gazette, Sept. 5, 1763,reprinted in 3 The Works of John Adams 438 (Charles F. Adams ed., 1851)
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." During Massachusetts' U.S. Constitution ratification convention, (1788), Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at 86-87 (Pierce & Hale, eds., Boston, 1850)
Samuel Adams:
"It is always dangerous to the liberties of the people to have an army stationed among them, over which they have no control ... 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.." Writings, III (1906)
Fisher Ames:
"The rights of conscience, of bearing arms, of changing the government, are declared to be inherent in the people." in a letter to F.R. Minoe, June 12, 1789, in 1 Works of Fisher Ames at 53-54, (1854)
Edmund Burke:
"The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." Speech at County Meeting of Bucks, 1784
Edmund Burke:
"The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts." Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, April 3, 1777
Albert Gallatin:
"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." Letter by Albert Gallatin to Alexander Addison, Oct. 7, 1789, MS. in N.Y. Hist. Soc. _A.G. Papers, 2.
Benjamin Franklin:
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759
Benjamin Franklin:
"The very fame of our strength and readiness would be a means of discouraging our enemies; for 'tis a wise and true saying, that `One sword often keeps another in the scabbard.' The way to secure peace is to be prepared for war. They that are on their guard, and appear ready to receive their adversaries, are in much less danger of being attacked than the supine, secure and negligent." 1747 (Smyth, Writings of Benjamin Franklin, 2:352.)
Alexander Hamilton:
"This will not only lessen the call for military establishments, but if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidible to the liberties of the people, while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, 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." Federalist Papers, Article 29 January 10, 1788
Alexander Hamilton:
"Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped; and in order to see that this be not neglected, it will be necessary to assemble them once or twice in the course of a year." Federalist Papers, Article 29 January 10, 1788
Patrick Henry:
"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." During Virginia's ratification convention, (1788), in 3 J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions at 45, 2d ed., (Philadelphia, PA, 1836)
Patrick Henry:
"The great object is, that every man be armed....Every one who is able may have a gun." During Virginia's ratification convention, (1788), in The Debates of the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution at 386, Jonathan Elliot, (New York, Burt Franklin: 1888)
Patrick Henry:
"Are we at last brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in our own possession and under our own 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?" During Virginia's ratification convention, (1788), in The Debates of the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution at 168, Jonathan Elliot, (New York, Burt Franklin: 1888)
Patrick Henry:
"They tell us we are weak - unable to cope with so formidable an advesary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed? Shall we aquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies have bound us hand and foot? We are not weak if we make a proper use of the means which the Gods of nature has placed in our power. Millions of people armed in the holy cause of Liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible. Besides, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Many cry 'Peace, peace' - but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! Why stand we here idle? 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!" March 23, 1775, Addressing the Virginia House of Burgesses
Thomas Jefferson:
"Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day, but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, unalterable through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery." [American Survival Guide/August 1993 pg. 47]
Thomas Jefferson:
"It [appears] that however certain forms of government are better calculated than others to protect individuals in the free exercise of their natural rights, and are at the same time themselves better guarded against degeneracy, yet experience [has] shown that, even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny." in the Diffusion of Knowledge Bill (1779), in Jefferson Papers at 2:526, J. Boyd, ed., (New York, N.Y.:Putnam, 1896)
Thomas Jefferson:
"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms." Proposed Virginia Constitution (1776), Jefferson Papers at 344, J. Boyd, ed., (New York, N.Y.:Putnam, 1896)
Thomas Jefferson:
"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, .....or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; that they are entitled of property, and freedom of the press." "The Living Thoughts of Thomas Jefferson", pp.46 - 47, Presented by John Dewey
Thomas Jefferson:
"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 those only who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Can it be supposed that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, the most important of the code, will respect the less important and arbitrary ones, which can be violated with ease and impunity, and which, if strictly obeyed, would put an end to personal liberty -- so dear to men, so dear to the enlightened legislator -- and subject innocent persons to all the vexations that the quality alone ought to suffer? 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. They ought to be designated as laws not preventive but fearful of crimes, produced by the tumultuous impression of a few isolated facts, and not by thoughtful consideration of the inconveniences and advantages of a universal decree." Quoting 18th Century criminologist Cesare Beccaria in On Crimes and Punishment (1764) [Kates,"Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment," 82 Michigan Law Revue 203,234 (1983)]
Thomas Jefferson:
"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. It is its natural manure." Letter to William S. Smith, January 30, 1787, in Jefferson, On Democracy , pg. 20 (S. Padover ed., 1939)
Thomas Jefferson:
"A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives a 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 companion of your walks." Letter to his nephew, [Kates,"Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment," 82 Michigan Law Revue 221-2,228-9 (1983)]. Also in Encyclopedia of Thomas Jefferson, at 318, Foley, Ed. reissued 1967
Thomas Jefferson:
"I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground; That `all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.' To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition." Thomas Jefferson: Opinion, February 15, 1791
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." letter to William Johnson, June 12, 1823, The Complete Jefferson, p 322
Zachariah Johnson:
"The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them." in 3 J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions at 45, 2d ed., Philadelphia, 1836
Richard Henry Lee:
"A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves, and render regular troops in a great measure unnecessary...the militia shall always be kept well organized, armed and disciplined, and include ... all men capable of bearing arms;..." Additional Letters From The Federal Farmer at 169 (1788) Walter Bennett, ed., at 21,22,124 ( Univ. of Alabama Press, 1975)
Richard Henry Lee:
"...;whereas, 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;..." Additional Letters From The Federal Farmer at 170 (1788) Walter Bennett, ed., at 21,22,124 ( Univ. of Alabama Press, 1975)
James Madison:
"Besides the advantage of being armed, which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate [State] governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit to. 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." Federalist Papers, Article 46 January 29, 1788
James Madison:
"The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by [State] governments possessing their affections and confidence." Federalist Papers, Article 46 January 29, 1788
James Madison:
"There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."[Guns & Ammo, Feb. 1993, pg. 105]
James Madison:
"The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse."
James Madison:
"The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their 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 that 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?"
George Mason:
"I ask, Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers...To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them." During Virginia's ratification convention, (1788), in The Debates of the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot (New York, Burt Franklin: 1888)
George Mason:
"A well regulated militia, composed of Gentlemen, Freeholders, and other freemen was necessary to protect our ancient laws and liberty from a standing army." Stephen P. Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed (Albuquerque, NM:University of New Mexoco Press, 1984) at 61
Josiah Quincy:
"a well-regulated militia composed of the freeholder, citizen and husbandman, who take up their arms to preserve their property as individuals, and their rights as freemen." [Gun World, March 1993, pg. 19]
Thomas Paine:
"[T]he supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while, on the other hand, arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and 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 the law-abiding deprived of the use of them; ...the weak will become a prey to the strong." Thoughts On Defensive War, (1775) in 1 Writings of Thomas Paine, at 56, M. Conway ed.
George Washington:
"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." Presidential Farewell Address - DO NOT USE THIS QUOTE - IT IS UNVERIFIABLE. See the SAF website for more information.
George Washington:
"Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence. The church, the plow, the prairie wagon and citizen's firearms are indelibly related. 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. Every corner of this land knows firearms, and more than 99 99/100 percent of them by their silence indicate they are in safe and sane hands. The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference - they deserve a place of honor with all that's good. When firearms go, all goes - we need them every hour." Address to the Second Session of the First United States Congress, January 7, 1790, Boston Independant Chronicle, January 14, 1790 - DO NOT USE THIS QUOTE - IT IS UNVERIFIABLE. See the SAF website for more information.
George Washington:
"To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace." in Writings of George Washington at 30:391, Fitzpatrick
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." An Examination into the Leading Principals of the Federal Constitution Proposed by the Late Convention (1787) in Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States, at 56, P. Ford ed., (New York, N.Y., 1888)


Founding Fathers / Revised May 2000