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Historic Views of the Second Amendment

"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... 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."
- Jefferson quoting 18th century criminologist Cesare Beccaria in On Crimes and Punishment, 1764


"The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion."
-Edmund Burke, 1784 speech


"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..."
-Noah Webster, An Examination into the Leading Principals of the Federal Constitution
Proposed by the Late Convention, 1787


"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." "The great object is that every man be armed` and `everyone who is able may have a gun."
-Patrick Henry, During Virginia's ratification convention, 1788


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


"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.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, Proposed Virginia Constitution, 1776, Jefferson Papers 344


"Arms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion...in private self-defense."
-John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1787-88


"The Constitution preserves `the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation...(where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.`
-James Madison, The Federalist #46


"...arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property...Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived the use of them."
-Thomas Paine, Thoughts on Defensive War, 1775


"A militia 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 people always possess arms..."
-Richard Henry Lee, Additional Letters From the Federal Farmer 53, 1788


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


"I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people...To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them."
-George Mason, during Virginia's ratification convention, 1788

"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 Annuals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789)


"... God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. ... And what country can preserve its liberties, if it's rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. 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, Nov. 13, 1787


"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


"Our safety, our liberty depends on preserving the Constitution of the United States as our fathers made it inviolate. The people of the US are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts - Not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution"
-Abraham Lincoln


"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


"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


"A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves... and include all men capable of bearing arms."
-Richard Henry Lee, Senator, First Congress, Additional Letters from the Federal Farmer (1788) at 169


"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

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