This page lists quotes from others unconnected to executive, judicial or legislative offices concerning our right to keep and bear arms. It will be prefaced with the following important message from Mr. Thomas Paine:
He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
–Thomas Paine, Dissertation on First Principles of Government, The Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Moncure D. Conway, vol. 3, p. 277 . Originally published in 1795.
The possession of arms is the distinction between a free man and a slave: he who has nothing, and belongs to another, must be defended by him and needs no arms; but he who thinks he is his own master, and has anything he may call his own, ought to have arms to defend himself and what he possesses or else he lives precariously and at discretion. And though for a while, those who have the sword in their power [the government] abstain from doing him injury; yet, by degrees, he will be awed into submission to every arbitrary command. Our ancestors [the Caledonians and Picts], by being always armed and frequently in action, defended themselves against the Romans, Danes and English and maintained their liberty against encroachments of their own princes.
–Andrew Fletcher, (1653 – 1716), A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias in Political Works, 1698, Pg .47.
The exercise of despotic power is the unrelenting war of an armed tyrant upon his unarmed subjects.
– Cato’s Letters # 25 (April 15, 1721).
The two great laws of human society, from whence all the rest derive their course and obligation, are those of equity and self preservation. By the first all men are bound alike not to hurt one another, by the second all men have a right alike to defend themselves.
– Cato’s Letters # 42 (August 26, 1721).
It is a maxim of the law that whatever we do in the way and for the ends of self defense, we lawfully do. It is wickedness not to destroy a destroyer, and all the ill consequences of self defense are chargeable upon him who occasioned them.
– Cato’s Letters # 42 (August 26, 1721).
Those governments which are founded upon oppression, always find it necessary to engage interests enough in their tyranny to overcome all opposition from those who are tyrannized over, by giving separate and unequal privileges to the instruments and accomplices of their oppression, by letting them share the advantages of it, by putting arms in their hands, and by taking away all the means of self defense from those who have more right to use them.
– Cato’s Letters # 97 (October 6, 1722).
It is a false idea of utility to sacrifice a thousand real advantages for the sake of one disadvantage which is either imaginary or of little consequence; this would take fire away from men because it burns and water because it drowns people; this is to have no remedy for evils except destruction. Laws forbidding people to bear arms are of this nature; they only disarm those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. On the other hand, how can someone who has the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity and the most important ones in the statute books be expected to respect the most trifling and purely arbitrary regulations that can be broken with ease and impunity and that, were they enforced, would put an end to personal liberty — so dear to each man, so dear to the enlightened legislator — and subject the innocent to all the vexations that the guilty deserve? Such laws place the assaulted at a disadvantage and the assailant at an advantage, and they multiply rather than decrease the number of murders, since an unarmed person may be attacked with greater confidence than someone who is armed. These laws should not be deemed preventive, but rather inspired by a fear of crime. They originate with the tumultuous impact of a few isolated facts, not with a rational consideration of the drawbacks and advantages of a universal decree.
–Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishment, Chapter XL: False Ideas of Utility; 1764. (Cesare Beccaria was quoted by Thomas Jefferson).
The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms, like law, discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property.
The balance of power is the scale of peace. 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. And while a single nation refuses to lay them down, it is proper that all should keep them up.
Horrid mischief would ensue were one-half the world deprived of the use of them; for while avarice and ambition have a place in the heart of man, the weak will become a prey to the strong. The history of every age and nation establishes these truths, and facts need but little arguments when they prove themselves.
–Thomas Paine (1737–1809). [The Writings of Thomas Paine, XII Thoughts on Defensive War. 1906.]
There are other things so clearly out of the power of Congress, that the bare recital of them is sufficient. I mean “rights of conscience, or religious liberty ― the rights of bearing arms for defence, or for killing game ― the liberty of fowling, hunting and fishing.
–Winchester Gazette, (Virginia), Feb. 22, 1788; quoted in Stephen P. Halbrook, The Right of The People or the Power of the State: Bearing Arms, Arming militias, and the Second Amendment, 26 Val. U.L. Rev 131, 150-51 (1991).
While the people have property, arms in their hands, and only a spark of nobilie spirit, the most corrupt Congress must be mad to form any project of tyranny.
— Reverend Nicholas Collin, Oct. 12, 1789, Fayetteville North Carolina Gazette.
The danger (where there is any) from armed citizens, is only to the government, not to the society; 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.
[The disarming of citizens] has a double effect, it palsies the hand and brutalizes the mind: a habitual disuse of physical forces totally destroys the moral [force]; and men lose at once the power of protecting themselves, and of discerning the cause of their oppression.
— Joel Barlow, Equality in America, “Advice to the Privileged Orders”, 1792-93.
Instances of the licentious and outrageous behavior of the military conservators of the peace still multiply upon us, some of which are of such nature, and have been carried to such lengths, as must serve fully to evince that a late vote of this town, calling upon its inhabitants to provide themselves with arms for their defense, was a measure as prudent as it was legal: such violences are always to be apprehended from military troops, when quartered in the body of a populous city; but more especially so, when they are led to believe that they are become necessary to awe a spirit of rebellion, injuriously said to be existing therein. It is a natural right which the people have reserved to themselves, confirmed by the Bill of Rights, to keep arms for their own defence; and as Mr. Blackstone observes, it is to be made use of when the sanctions of society and law are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.
— Boston, March 17, in New York Journal, Supplement, April 13, 1796 at 1, Col.3, quoted in Stephen Halbrook, A Right to Bear Arms: State and Federal Bills of Rights and Constitutional Guarantees.
In the intervals of toil their amusements consist chiefly of hunting and shooting, in the woods, or on the mountains; whence they acquire prodigious muscular activity and strength. We have no game laws, such as exist in Europe, to prohibit the possession and use of firearms to the great body of the people. Our boys carry a gun almost as soon as they can walk; and the habitual practice of shooting at a target, with the rifle, renders the Americans the most unerring marksmen, and the most deadly musketry in the world; as was singularly evidenced at Bunker’s Hill, in the commencement of the revolutionary conflict, and at New-Orleans, at the close of the last war.
[The Resources Of America; Or, A View Of The Agricultural, Commercial, Manufacturing, Financial, Political, Literary, Moral And Religious Capacity And Character of The American People. By John Bristed, Counsellor At Law. Author Of The Resources Of The British Empire New-York: Published By James Eastburn & Co. At The Literary Rooms, Broadway, Corner Of Pine Street. Abraham Paul, printer. 1818.]
To trust arms in the hands of the people at large has, in Europe, been believed…to be an experiment fraught only with danger. Here by a long trial it has been proved to be perfectly harmless…If the government be equitable; if it be reasonable in its exactions; if proper attention be paid to the education of children in knowledge and religion, few men will be disposed to use arms, unless for their amusement, and for the defence of themselves and their country.
–Timothy Dwight, [Travels in New England and New York. London 1823]
Of The Restrictions On The Powers Of Congress — And On The Executive And Judicial Authorities — Restrictions On The Powers Of States And Security To The Rights Of Individuals.
The preceding article expressly refers to the powers of congress alone, but some of those which follow are to be more generally construed, and considered as applying to the state legislatures as well as that of the Union. The important principles contained in them are now incorporated by adoption into the instrument itself; they form parts of the declared rights of the people, of which neither the state powers nor those of the Union can ever deprive them.
A subsequent article declares, that the powers not delegated to congress by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. What we are about to consider are certainly not delegated to congress, nor are they noticed in the prohibitions to states; they are therefore reserved either to the states or to the people. Their high nature, their necessity to the general security and happiness will be distinctly perceived.
In the second article, it is declared, that a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free state; a proposition from which few will dissent. Although in actual war, the services of regular troops are confessedly more valuable; yet, while peace prevails, and in the commencement of a war before a regular force can be raised, the militia form the palladium of the country. They are ready to repel invasion, to suppress insurrection, and preserve the good order and peace of government. That they should be well regulated, is judiciously added. A disorderly militia is disgraceful to itself, and dangerous not to the enemy, but to its own country. The duty of the state government is, to adopt such regulations as will tend to make good soldiers with the least interruptions of the ordinary and useful occupations of civil life. In this all the Union has a strong and visible interest.
The corollary, from the first position, is, that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The prohibition is general. No clause in the Constitution could by any rule of construction be conceived to give to congress a power to disarm the people. Such a flagitious attempt could only be made under some general pretence by a state legislature. But if in any blind pursuit of inordinate power, either should attempt it, this amendment may be appealed to as a restraint on both.
[A View of the Constitution of the United States of America, By William Rawle, L.L.D. Second Edition. Philadelphia: Philip H. Nicklin, Law Bookseller, No. 175, Chestnut Street. 1829. – William Rawle, (April 28, 1759 – April 12, 1836), was an American lawyer in Philadelphia, who in 1791 was appointed as United States District Attorney in Pennsylvania.]
3. The people have a right to keep and bear arms, and this for the security of freedom. The citizen is thus ever armed against foreign aggression, and prepared to encounter civil war, and becomes the sleepless sentinel of his liberties.
[A Concise Treatise Upon The Powers And Duties Of The Principal State, County, And Town Officers. For the use of Schools. By A Gentleman Of The Bar. Utica, William Williams, Publisher And Printer, No. 60 Genesee street 1831. Pg. 23.]
It is scarcely necessary to say, that the right of the people thus to bear arms is the foundation of their liberties; for, without it, they would be without power of resistance against the existing government.
[The Political Grammar of the United States: Or, A Complete View of the Theory and Practice of the General And State Governments, With The Relations Between Them. Dedicated And Adapted To The Young Men Of The United States. By Edward D. Mansfield Counsellor At Law, Cincinnati. Published By Wiley And Long, New-York; Russell, Odiorne & Co., Boston; H.F. Summer & Co., Hartford, CT.; DeSilver, Thomas & Co., Philadelphia; Cushing & Sons, Baltimore; S. Babcock & Sons, Charleston, S.C. An Corey & Webster, Cincinnati. 1835. Pg. 161]
Nevertheless, with all these defects, the colony was admirably governed in the main. One great right of freemen, the right of bearing arms, a highly necessary right to men planted suddenly among wild beasts and savages, was certainly not taken from the people. On the contrary, the government took care that all should be duly trained to self-defence. There is no man who bears a head, says Wood, (New Englands Prospect, 1639,) but bears military arms; even boys of fourteen years of age are practised with men in military discipline every three weeks. And they practised to some effect, as the records of the time prove, and as the Pequods learned to their cost.
—John Lothrop Motley, (1814–1897). ‘Polity of the Puritans’. (Concerning early colonial times). Son of Thomas Motley, born in Dorchester, Mass. Graduated Harvard in 1831. American historian, and briefly a Secretary of Legation to Russia.
[The North American review. Vol. 69, Issue 145, Oct. 1849].
But, sir, ours is a law-abiding, constitution loving people. They have learned from their fathers that no people have ever been deprived of their arms except the Russian serfs, the down trodden Irish, the Mexican peasant, and the Southern negro. They have been told by their fathers that so important did they consider this bulwark of liberty, this great right of self-defence, that the very second article of the amendments to the Constitution of the United States solemnly declares “that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
–A Farmer over Forty-five.
[Daily Intelligencer, Wheeling, W. Va. Thursday Morning, April 21, 1864. Vol. XII. No. 179. Pg. 2]
There are some injuries which, once committed, cannot be adequately redressed. The taking of life is an extreme case of this kind. Against the commission of such injuries, therefore, every person should not only have the protection of government, when practicable, but should also have a right to defend himself. The right of self-defence would of course exist in a state of nature, and the social compact does not take it away; but the right of avenging an injury already committed is taken away. This is a fundamental distinction. You may prevent an injury from being done, by all proper means; but when done, you may not take redress in your own hands. The social compact provides a tribunal to which you are bound to resort; and abundant provision is made for securing the redress to which you may be entitled. Thus the right of self-defence and the right of redress are two distinct things; but both are equally guaranteed by the constitution. We have already seen that “the enjoying and defending life and liberty,” is declared to be an inalienable right. Also, “that the people have a right to bear arms for their defence and security.” (b) In England, this right is qualified by the condition, that the arms must be suitable to the condition and degree of the bearer; but here, there is no qualification.
(a) See 2 Story, Const. 1896; 1 Black. Com. 148. [A party may use reasonable force to defend the possession of his property, but he cannot use force against the person in regaining or obtaining the possession of property to which he is entitled. 3 Black. Com. 4, 179; Sampson v. Henry, 11 Pick. 387; 1 Bishop, Crim. Law, 397; 1 Hilliard on Torts, ch. v. ss 12, pp 196, 197.]
(b) [This provision is not infringed by a statute prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons. State v. Jumel, 13 La. An. 399.]
— Timothy Walker, LL.D, WALKER, Timothy, jurist, born in Wilmington, Massachusetts, 1 December, 1806 ; died in Cincinnati, Ohio, 15 January, 1856. He was graduated at Harvard in 1826, taught mathematics at the Round Hill school, Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1826-‘9, studied at Harvard law-school in the latter year and in 1830, and removed to Cincinnati in 1831, where he was admitted to the bar and settled in practice. With Judge John C. Wright he established the Cincinnati law-school in 1833, and when in 1835 it was united with Cincinnati college he assumed entire charge of that department, and was professor of law there till 1844. He was president-judge of Hamilton county court of common pleas in 1842-‘3, founded the “Western Law Journal” in 1843, and was its editor for several years, at the same time practicing his profession. Harvard gave him the degree of LL. D. in 1854)
[Introduction To American Law. By Timothy Walker LL.D. Late Professor Of Law In The Cincinnati College. Fifth Edition, Revised By J. Bryant Walker, Of The Cincinnati Bar. Boston: Little, Brown, And Company 1869.]
The second amendment to the federal constitution, as well as the constitutions of many of the states, guaranty to the people the right to bear arms. This is a natural right, not created or granted by the constitutions.
The “arms” here meant are those of a soldier … The citizen has at all times the right to keep arms of modern warfare, if without danger to others, and for purposes of training and efficiency in their use, but not such weapons as are only intended to be the instruments of private feuds or vengeance.
— Henry Campbell Black, Handbook of American Constitutional Law, 1895. (Mr. Black was the founder of Black’s Law Dictionary, the definitive legal dictionary first published in 1891. And used extensively by judges and justices, including the U.S. Supreme Court).
Among the Germans every free man went armed. “They transact no public nor private business,” says Tacitus, “without being armed.” When a youth arrived at the age of manhood he was brought before the assembled warriors of his tribe, and one of the chiefs in the name of the tribe presented him with a shield and a spear. It was his badge of citizenship and proof of his freedom. He became at the same time a citizen and a warrior. Taking his seat among other freemen, he heard questions of policy discussed and cast his first vote. He voted by rattling his spear against his shield. He was exercising the two great privileges essential to constitutional government–the right to vote and the right to fight. The right of the people to bear arms is essential to liberty. It is a right that tyrants have always tried to destroy. When the patriots of the American revolution were making the charter of our liberties they inscribed in it the declaration that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It is written in the constitution of the Union and of several States, but the law was born in the hearts of our savage forefathers in the forests of Germany.
–President George T. Winston of the University of Texas.
[Excerpted from: “An address delivered before the Sam Houston Normal Institute at Huntsville, Texas, May 30, 1898.” The Houston Daily Post, June 6, 1898. Pg 8]
For more than a century the Americans had claimed that by their charters they were empowered to protect themselves–an idea out of which evolved the political doctrine set forth in the declarations of rights, that the natural and safe defence of a free state is its militia, composed of the body of its people trained to arms. The doctrine is the application to the state of the individual’s right of self defence.”
[A Constitutional History Of The American People By Francis Newton Thorpe Illustrated with Maps In Two Volumes Volume One New York And London Harper & Brothers Publishers 1898. Pg. 52] (Mr. Thorpe, (1857 – 1926), was an American legal scholar, historian, political scientist,and Professor of Constitutional History at the University of Penn.).