Quotes from the Founders and Others Regarding Liberty and Guns

"As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people 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 [the Second Amendment] in their right to keep and bear their private arms."
     - Tench Coxe, Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789

"Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves. Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom? Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American.... [T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people."
       - "A Pennsylvanian" (Tench Coxe), To The People of the United States, Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788

"The conclusion is thus inescapable that the history, concept, and wording of the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as well as its interpretation by every major commentator and court in the first half-century after its ratification, indicates that what is protected is an individual right of a private citizen to own and carry firearms in a peaceful manner."
        - Report of the Subcommittee On The Constitution of the Committee On The Judiciary, United States Senate, 97th Congress, second session (February, 1982), SuDoc# Y4.J 89/2: Ar 5/5

"Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks.
Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again; poor fools.
And their grand-children are once more slaves."
     - Attributed to author D. H. Lawrence

"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 ruined."
     - Patrick Henry, Speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 5, 1788

"Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense? ...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, circa 1788, 3 J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions 45, 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1836)

"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."
     - John Adams, Boston Gazette, Sept. 5, 1763, reprinted in The Works of John Adams 438 (Charles F. Adams ed., 1851)

"Though defensive violence will always be 'a sad necessity' in the eyes of men of principle, it would be still more unfortunate if wrongdoers should dominate just men."
     - St. Augustine of Hippo

"A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer's hand."
     - Lucius Annaeus Seneca

"Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms.  This is not to say that firearms should not be very carefully used and that definite safety rules of precaution should not be taught and enforced.  But the right of citizens to bear arms is just one more guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against a tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible."
     - Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (D), Know Your Lawmakers, Guns (magazine), Feb. 1960, p. 4

"Foolish liberals who are trying to read the Second Amendment out of the constitution by claiming it's not an individual right or that it's too much of a safety hazard don’t see the danger of the big picture. They're courting disaster by encouraging others to use this same means to eliminate portions of the Constitution they don't like."
     - Alan Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard University

"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, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1833

"But if someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun."
     - 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, "Educating the Heart Summit", Portland Oregon, May 2001

"That rifle on the wall of the working class flat or labourer's cottage is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there."
     - George Orwell, The Evening Standard (newspaper), January 8, 1941, quoted in "George Orwell A Life" by Bernard Crick (1980)

"[I]f 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 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."
     - Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 29, January 10, 1788

"The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms."
     - Samuel Adams, Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, 1788

A writer in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Apr. 23, 1788, criticized "the loyalists in the beginning of the late war, who objected to associating, arming and fighting, in defence of our liberties, because these measures were not constitutional. A free people should always be left ... with every possible power to promote their own happiness."
      - The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, (Mfm. Supp.) 2483 (M. Jensen ed. 1976).

"By calling attention to 'a well regulated militia,' the 'security' of the nation, and the right of each citizen 'to keep and bear arms,' our founding fathers recognized the essentially civilian nature of our economy.  Although it is extremely unlikely that the fears of governmental tyranny which gave rise to the Second Amendment will ever be a major danger to our nation, the Amendment still remains an important declaration of our basic civilian-military relationships, in which every citizen must be ready to participate in the defense of his country.  For that reason I believe the Second Amendment will always be important."
     - Sen. John F. Kennedy (D), Know Your Lawmakers, Guns (magazine), April. 1960, p. 4 (1960)

"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, Federalist No. 28

"I ask who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers."
     - George Mason, Address to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 4, 1788

"Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive."
     - Noah WebsterAn Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, October 10, 1787, in PAMPHLETS ON THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES 56 (P. Ford ed. 1888).

  "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, Additional Letters from the Federal Farmer No. 53, January 25, 1788

"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. 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... and subject innocent persons to all the vexations that the guilty 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."
     - Thomas Jefferson, Legal Commonplace Book (quoting On Crimes and Punishments by Cesare Beccaria, 1765)

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
     - Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

"If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy."
     - Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, November 29, 1802

"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, enterprize and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks."
     - Thomas Jefferson, letter to his 13-year-old nephew, Peter Carr, August 19, 1785. John Catanzariti, ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Princeton University Press, 1950-. 33 vols.

"...whenever all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated."
      - Thomas Jefferson, letter to C. Hammond August 18, 1821

"The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed."
     - Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Cartwright, 5 June 1824

"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, letter to Giovanni Fabbroni, June 8, 1778

"On every occasion [of Constitutional interpretation] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying [to force] what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, [instead let us] conform to the probable one in which it was passed."
     - Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, 12 June 1823

"(a)  The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and ... under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
(b) The classes of the militia are --
              (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
              (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia."
     - Militia Act, 10 U.S.C. § 311 (enacted 1956, amended 1958, currently in effect)

"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, Oct 7, 1789

"This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow it."
      - Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

"A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves ... and include all men capable of bearing arms."
    - Richard Henry Lee, 1788, on the meaning of "militia" in the Second Amendment

"Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem." [I chose dangerous freedom over peaceful servitude.]
     - Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787, attributed to the Count Palatine of Posen before the Diet of Poland, cited in "The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right" by Jean Jacques Rousseau

"To disarm the people... was the best and most effectual way to enslave them."
     - George Mason, speech of June 14, 1788

"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... What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."
      -Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to William S. Smith (November 13, 1787)

"Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better -- This is a most valuable, -- a most sacred right -- a right, which we hope and belive, is to liberate the world -- Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government, may choose to exercise it-- Any portion of the such people of an existing government that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much of the teritory as they inhabit-- More than this, a majority of any portion of the such people of an existing government, -- may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with, or near about them, who may oppose their movement-- Such minority, was precisely the case, of the tories of our own revolution-- It is not the qual a quality of revolutions, not to go by old lines, or old laws; but to break up both, and make new ones."
     - Abraham Lincoln, from the handwritten draft of a speech he made to Congress on the Mexican war, 1848 (spelling and strikeouts as in original) [These words came back to haunt him a few years later.]

"The great body of our citizens shoot less as times goes on. We should encourage rifle practice among schoolboys, and indeed among all classes, as well as in the military services by every means in our power. Thus, and not otherwise, may we be able to assist in preserving peace in the world… The first step in the direction of preparation to avert war if possible, and to be fit for war if it should come is to teach men to shoot!"
     - President Theodore Roosevelt

"I am thus far a Quaker, that I would gladly argue with all the world to lay aside the use of arms and settle matters by negotiation, but unless the whole will, the matter ends, and I take up my musket and thank Heaven He has put it in my power."
      - Thomas Paine

"Americans have the will to resist because you have weapons. If you don’t have a gun, freedom of speech has no power."
     - Yoshimi Ishikawa, Strawberry Road

"Once we roared like lions for liberty; now we bleat like sheep for security."
     - Norman Vincent Peale

"The Second Amendment is not about duck hunting, and I know I'm not going to make very many friends saying this, but it's about our right, all of our right to be able to protect ourselves from all of you guys up there."
     - Dr. Suzanna Gratia Hupp

"How a politician stands on the Second Amendment tells you how he or she views you as an individual… as a trustworthy and productive citizen, or as part of an unruly crowd that needs to be lorded over, controlled, supervised, and taken care of."
     - Dr. Suzanna Gratia Hupp

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
     - William Pitt (the Younger), Speech in the House of Commons, November 18, 1783

"One of the arguments that had been made against gun control was that an armed citizenry was the final bulwark against tyranny. My response had been that untrained, lightly-armed non-soldiers couldn’t prevail against a modern army. I had concluded that the qualitative difference in firepower was such that all of the previous rules of guerrilla war no longer applied. Both Vietnam and Afghanistan demonstrated that wasn’t true. Repelling an armed invasion is not something that American citizens are likely to face, but the possibility of a despotic government coming to power is not wholly unthinkable. One of the sequellae of Vietnam was the rise of the Khmer Rouge and slaughter of perhaps a million Cambodian citizens. Those citizens, like the Jews in Germany or the Armenians in Turkey, were unarmed and thus utterly and completely defenseless against police and paramilitary. An armed minority was able to kill and terrorize unarmed victims with total impunity."
      - Paul Hagar, www.paulhagar.org

"The philosophy of gun control: Teenagers are roaring through town at 90MPH, where the speed limit is 25. Your solution is to lower the speed limit to 20."
     - Sam Cohen (inventor of the neutron bomb)

"As a card-carrying member of the liberal media, producing this piece was an eye opening experience. I have to admit that I saw guns as inherently evil, violence begets violence, and so on. I have learned, however, that in trained hands, just the presence of a gun can be a real “man stopper.” I am sorry that women have had to resort to this, but wishing it wasn’t so won’t make it any safer out there."
     - Jill Fieldstein, CBS Network Producer, April 29th 1993

"Make good scouts of yourselves, become good rifle shots so that if it becomes necessary that you defend your families and your country, that you can do it."
     - Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, Founder of the Boy Scouts

"Self defense is a primary law of nature, which no subsequent law of society can abolish; the immediate gift of the Creator, obliges everyone to resist the first approaches of tyranny."
      - Elbridge Gerry, Vice-President of the United States

"The danger (where there is any) from armed citizens, is only to the ‘government’, not to ’society’; and as long as they have nothing to revenge in the government (which they cannot have while it is in their own hands) there are many advantages in their being accustomed to the use of arms, and no possible disadvantage."
     - Joel Barlow, poet, diplomat, politician (1753-1812)

"One of the ordinary modes, by which tyrants accomplish their purposes without resistance, is, by disarming the people, and making it an offense to keep arms."
    - Constitutional scholar Joseph Story, 1840

"You need only reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence."
     - Charles A. Beard, American historian (1874-1948)

"No kingdom can be secured otherwise than by arming the people. The possession of arms is the distinction between a freeman and a slave. He, who has nothing, and who himself belongs to another, must be defended by him, whose property he is, and needs no arms. But he, who thinks he is his own master, and has what he can call his own, ought to have arms to defend himself, and what he possesses; else he lives precariously, and at discretion."
     - James Burgh, Political Disquisitions (1774) (Thomas Jefferson included this book in a course of recommended reading for James Madison and James Monroe.  When he was President, he urged everyone in Congress to read it.)

"The tank, the B-52, the fighter-bomber, the state-controlled police and military are the weapons of dictatorship. The rifle is the weapon of democracy. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military. The hired servants of our rulers. Only the government--and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws."
     - Edward Abbey (1927-1989), author of The Monkey Wrench Gang

"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."
     - St. George Tucker, Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court (1752-1827)

"Any single man must judge for himself whether circumstances warrant obedience or resistance to the commands of the civil magistrate; we are all qualified, entitled, and morally obliged to evaluate the conduct of our rulers. This political judgment, moreover, is not simply or primarily a right, but like self-preservation, a duty to God. As such it is a judgment that men cannot part with according to the God of Nature. It is the first and foremost of our inalienable rights without which we can preserve no other."
     - John Locke, English philosopher and physician, regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and known as the "Father of Classical Liberalism" (1632-1704)

"The great object is, that every man be armed. [...] Every one who is able may have a gun."
     - Patrick Henry, speech of June 14, 1788

"I don’t believe people should to be able to own guns."
     - Barack Obama (during conversation with economist and author John R. Lott Jr. at the University of Chicago Law School in the 1990s, At The Brink, 2013)



  1. I really enjoy your quotes collection. I have composed many quotes from you. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Thanks. Unlike others, I source and verify each quote as much as possible