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The Second Amendment


It has been argued by those who want to destroy the Second Amendment, that it doesn't apply to ordinary Americans. They pretend that "a well regulated militia" means "the national guard" and that "the people" means "the national guard". It is also argued that the Second Amendment does not apply to newer guns that were not around at the time the Constitution was written. Does this also mean that the First Amendment doesn't apply to television, telephones, or the internet?

An argument over the meaning of the Second Amendment is best settled by going to the source. What did the writers of the Constitution say about the Second Amendment or firearms in general? Below are just a few quotes on the subject:

* GEORGE WASHINGTON (First President)

o "Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the people's liberty teeth keystone... the rifle and the pistol are equally indispensable... more than 99% of them by their silence indicate that they are in safe and sane hands. The very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference. When firearms go, all goes, we need them every hour." (Address to 1st session of Congress)


o "No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms." (Jefferson Papers, p. 334, C.J. Boyd, 1950)

o "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 Papers p. 334, 1950)

o "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." Letter to William S. Smith 13 Nov 1787 (Jefferson, On Democracy p. 20, 1939; Padover, editor)

o "The few cases wherein these things (proposed Bill of Rights) may do evil, cannot be weighed against the multitude where the want of them will do evil...I hope therefore a bill of rights will be formed to guard the people against the federal government..." (letter to Madison 31 July 1788, The Papers of James Madison, Hobson & Rutland, p.11:212)

o "I have a right to nothing which another has a right to take away." (letter to Uriah Forrest, 1787, Jefferson Papers, 12:477)

o "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." (letter to Isaac Tifany, 1819)

* GEORGE MASON (Virginia House of Burgesses, Virginia delegate to Constitutional Convention, wrote Virginia Declaration of Rights, wrote "Objections to the Constitution", urged creation of a Bill of Rights)

o "I ask, Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers." (Jonathan Elliot, The Debates of the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, [NY: Burt Franklin,1888] p.425-6)

o "Forty years ago, when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was 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 misusing and neglecting the militia..." (In Virginia's Ratifying Convention, Elliot p.3:379-380)

o "The militia may be here destroyed by that method which has been practiced in other parts of the world before; that is, by rendering them useless - by disarming them." (Elliot, p. 3:379-80)

o "I consider and fear the natural propensity of rulers to oppress the people. I wish only to prevent them from doing evil." (In Virginia's Ratifying Convention, Elliot p.3:381)

* JOHN ADAMS (Signed Declaration of Independence, Continental Congress delegate, 1st Vice President, 2nd President)

o "Arms in the hands of citizens (may) be used at individual private self-defense..." 1788(A Defense of the Constitution of the Government of the USA, p.471)

* JAMES MONROE (Served in Revolutionary Army, member Continental Congress, Governor of Virginia, U.S. Secretary of State, Secretary of War, 5th President)

o "But it ought always be held prominently in view that the safety of these States and of everything dear to a free people must depend in an eminent degree on the militia." (his first Inaugural Address, 1817)

* SAM ADAMS (Signed Declaration of Independence, organized the Sons of Liberty, participated in Boston Tea Party, Member of Continental Congress, Governor of Massachusetts)

o "And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the right of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms; ...or to prevent the people from petitioning , in a peaceable and orderly manner; or to subject the people to unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, papers or possessions." (Debates of the Massachusetts Convention of 1788, p86-87)

* JAMES MADISON (Drafted Virginia Constitution, Member of Continental Congress, Virginia delegate to Constitutional Convention, named "Father of the Constitution", author of Federalist Papers, author of the Bill of Rights, Congressman from Virginia, Secretary of State, 4th President)

o "Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation.. (where) ..the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." (Federalist Papers #46)

o "I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."

o "They [proposed Bill of Rights] relate 1st. to private rights....the great object in view is to limit and qualify the powers of government..." 8 June 1789 (The Papers of James Madison, Hobson & Rutland, 12:193, 204)

o "To these (federal troops attempting to impose tyranny) would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands." (Federalist Papers #46)

* RICHARD HENRY LEE (Signed Declaration of Independence, introduced resolution in Continental Congress to become independent, proposed Bill of Rights from beginning, author of Anti-Fed Papers, Congressman and Senator from Virginia)

o "A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves...and include all men capable of bearing arms." 1788 (Federal Farmer, p.169)

o "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..." 1788 (Federal Farmer)

o "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, citizens and husbandman, who take up arms to preserve their property, as individuals, and their rights as freemen."

* PATRICK HENRY ('Liberty or Death' Speech, member of Continental Congress, Governor of Virginia, member Virginia convention to ratify U.S. Constitution, urged creation of Bill of Rights for Constitution )

o "The great object is, that every man be armed.... Every one who is able may have a gun." (Elliot p.3:386)

o "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." During Virginia Ratification Convention 1788 (Elliot p.3:45)

o "I am not well versed in history, but I will submit to your recollection, whether liberty has been destroyed most often by the licentiousness of the people, or by the tyranny of rulers. I imagine, sir, you will find the balance on the side of tyranny." (Elliot P.3:74)

o "My great objection to this government is, that it does not leave us the means of defending our rights, or of waging wars against tyrants." (Elliot, 3:47-48; in Virginia Ratifying Convention, before Bill of Rights)

o "O sir, we should have fine times, indeed, if, to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people! Your arms, wherewith you could defend yourselves, are gone..." (Elliot p.3:50-52, in Virginia Ratifying Convention demanding a guarantee of the right to bear arms.)

* BEN FRANKLIN (member, Continental Congress, signed Declaration of Independence, attended Constitutional Convention, 1st Postmaster General)

o "Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." (Respectfully Quoted, p. 201, Suzy Platt, Barnes & Noble, 1993)

* NOAH WEBSTER (Served in Revolutionary Army, Printed dictionary; a federalist)

o "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...." (An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, Webster1787)

o "A people can never be deprived of their liberties, while they retain in their own hands, a power sufficient to any other power in the state." (Webster, p.42-43)

* ALEXANDER HAMILTON (Member of Continental Congress, Aid-de-camp to General Washington, commanded forces at Yorktown, New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention, wrote Federalist Papers, 1st Secretary of Treasury for George Washington, wanted 'President for life')

o "Little more can reasonably be aimed at with respect to the people at large than to have them properly armed and equipped." (Federalist Papers #29)

* TENCH COXE (friend of Madison, member of Continental Congress)

o "Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right 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." (Freeman's Journal, 20 Feb 1778)

o "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 next article in their right to keep and bear their private arms." (introduction to his discussion, and support, of the 2nd Amend) "Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution" Philadelphia Federal Gazette, 18 June 1789, pg.2

o "The militia, who are in fact the effective part of the people at large, ...will form a powerful check upon the regular troops..." (Coxe, An Examination of the Constitution of the United States of America p.20-21)

* REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAMSON (member of the first Congress of the United States)

o "The burden of the militia duty lies equally upon all persons;" in Congress, 22 Dec 1790 (Elliot, p423)

* WILLIAM GRAYSON (Senator from Virginia in first Congress under the United States Constitution)

o "Last Monday a string of amendments were presented to the lower house; these altogether respect personal liberty..." (in letter to Patrick Henry)

* ZACHARIA JOHNSON (delegate to Virginia Ratifying Convention)

o "The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them." (Elliot, 3:645-6)

Next: The NRA.

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