From Founding Fathers’ Own Mouths, What is a Well-Regulated Militia?

Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the ...

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Here’s a collection of quotes from the revolutionaries who were there at that moment in history when the United States Constitution got ratified, together with the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment.

First of all, note that the clause that uses the term “well-regulated militia” is only the justification, the basis, that provides the necessity for the second clause. Secondly, see in the great number of comments made by the signers and authors of the Constitution, that explain what they meant by a “well-regulated militia”: common civilian citizens like farmers that had weapons and knew how to use them well, well-trained in their use.

Just the simplest form of logic would make it clear. Why in the world would anybody include, in a list of the rights of the people, a right for the government to bear arms??!! Hello?? This is la-la land. It is an Orwellian Doublespeak when people do not even think about this and instead get lost because we’ve come so far that too many people don’t understand they were talking about a citizenry that was so well-armed they could take on its own government’s armies?

Well, thank God that at least in the USA of 2012, most of the soldiers in the American military have not been subsumed into mindless robotic obeisance, but still have some understanding of the people’s rights. But there are other armed domestic government forces, and the Second Amendment was meant to recognize the people’s individual right.

They were especially interested in having individual citizenry well-armed enough to be able to take on whatever government might be in power.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.


But first, a warning from Solzhenitsyn, a WWII veteran in Stalin’s Army and also a veteran of Stalin’s gulags:

“How we burned in the prison camps later thinking: What would things have been like if every police operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive? If during periods of mass arrests people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever was at hand? The organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt.”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) Russian Novelist and Historian


And now a word for the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, that “shall not be infringed”:

“While the people have property, arms in their hands, and only a spark of noble spirit, the most corrupt Congress must be mad to form any project of tyranny.”
Rev. Nicholas Collin, Fayetteville Gazette (N.C.), October 12, 1789 Episcopal pastor, friend of Benjamin Franklin

“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 invent against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”
Thomas Jefferson letter to Justice William Johnson, June 12, 1823

“I learn with great concern that [one] portion of our frontier so interesting, so important, and so exposed, should be so entirely unprovided with common fire-arms. I did not suppose any part of the United States so destitute of what is considered as among the first necessaries of a farm house.”
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Jacob J. Brown (1808)

“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.”
Thomas Jefferson

“The constitutions 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; that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property and freedom of the press.”
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), US Founding Father, drafted the Declaration of Independence, 3rd US President
Source a letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright in 1824

“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”
Thomas Jefferson, Proposed Virginia Constitution, 1776

“When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. 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 (attributed without source)

Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life, secondly to liberty, thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.”
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.”
Samuel Adams

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”
Samuel Adams, speech at the Philadelphia State House, August 1, 1776.

“The said Constitution [shall] be never 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 of Massachusetts — U.S. Constitution ratification convention, 1788

“Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation… 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.”
James Madison, Federalist Papers, #46 at 243-244.

“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 not 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 of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops.”
James Madison, The Federalist Number 46 January 29, 1788

“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 (1751-1836), Father of the Constitution for the USA, 4th US President

“[Tyranny cannot be safe] without a standing army, an enslaved press, and a disarmed populace.”
James Madison, In his autobiography

“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”
John Adams (1735-1826) Founding Father, 2nd US President

“The right of self-defense never ceases. It is among the most sacred, and alike necessary to nations and to individuals.”
President James Monroe (November 16, 1818)

“I ask sir, what is the militia? It is the whole body of the people except for a few public officials. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them…”
George Mason (1725-1792), drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, ally of James Madison and George Washington

“Have we the means of resisting disciplined armies, when our only defense, the militia is put in the hands of Congress?”
Patrick Henry (1736-1799), 3 Elliot Debates 48.

“The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able may have a gun.”
Patrick Henry

“Are we at least 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 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?”
Patrick Henry, 3 Elliot Debates 168-169.

Noah Webster American Patriot (1758-1843) (Author of America’s first dictionary)

“Another source of power in government is a military force. But this, to be efficient, must be superior to any force that exists among the people, or which they can command; for otherwise this force would be annihilated, on the first exercise of acts of oppression. 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. 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 Webster (1758-1843) American patriot and scholar, author of the 1806 edition of the dictionary that bears his name, the first dictionary of American English usage.
Defined the militia similarly as “the effective part of the people at large.”
Source: An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, Philadelphia, 1787

Tench Coxe (1755-1824)
“The power of the sword, say the minority of Pennsylvania, is in the hands of Congress. My friends and countrymen, it is not so, for the powers of the sword are in the hands of the yeomanry of America from 16 to 60. The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? It is feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom? Congress has no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American. The 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.”
Tench Coxe (1755-1824), writing as “the Pennsylvanian” in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette, February 20, 1788

Daniel Webster (1782-1852) (Secretary of State under three U.S. Presidents)

“God grants Liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.”
Daniel Webster (1782-1852) in a speech on 3 June, 1834

“Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.”
Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

“…[A]rms 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 of the use of them.”
Thomas Paine (1737-1809), Thoughts On Defensive War, 1775

“…if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to ‘bind me in all cases whatsoever’ to his absolute will, am I to suffer it?”
Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

“Whenever governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.”
Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts Debate, U.S. House of Representatives, August 17, 1789; spoken during floor debate over the Second Amendment, I Annals of Congress at 750

“Such are a well regulated militia, composed of the freeholders, citizen and husbandman, who take up arms to preserve their property, as individuals, and their rights as freemen.”
“M.T. Cicero” 1788

“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.”
Saint George Tucker (1752-1827) Lawyer, Judge and Professor On Blackstone’s Commentaries (1803), Volume 1, Appendix, Note D \

“The right of a citizen to keep and bear arms has justly been considered the palladium of the liberties of the 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 (1779-1845) U.S. Supreme Court Justice 1811-1845. His Dad was one of the Sons of Liberty who took part in the Boston Tea Party and fought at Lexington & Concord in 1775. The above quote was from 1833

“[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 (1754-1812) Politician and Poet, Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe: Resulting From the Necessity and Propriety of a General Revolution in the Principle of Government (London, 1792, 1795 and reprint 1956).

“If I were an American, as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I would never lay down my arms never, never, never! You cannot conquer America.”
William Pitt, Speech, November 18, 1777

“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 area well-regulated militia, composed of the freeholders, citizen and husbandman, who take up arms to preserve their property, as individuals, and their rights as freemen.”
Richard Henry Lee (1732-1894), State Gazette (Charleston), September 8, 1788

“It’s the misfortune of all Countries, that they sometimes lie under a unhappy necessity to defend themselves by Arms against the ambition of their Governors, and to fight for what’s their own. If those in government are heedless of reason, the people must patiently submit to Bondage, or stand upon their own Defence; which if they are enabled to do, they shall never be put upon it, but their Swords may grow rusty in their hands; for that Nation is surest to live in Peace, that is most capable of making War; and a Man that hath a Sword by his side, shall have least occasion to make use of it.”
John Trenchard (1662-1723)
Source: and Walter Moyle (1672-1721), “An Argument, shewing; that a standing Army is Inconsistent with a Free Government and Absolutely Destructive to the Constitution of the English Monarchy,” (London, 1697)

“Under every government the dernier [Fr. last, or final] resort of the people, is an appeal to the sword; whether to defend themselves against the open attacks of a foreign enemy, or to check the insidious encroachments of domestic foes. Whenever a people… entrust the defence of their country to a regular, standing army, composed of mercenaries, the power of that country will remain under the direction of the most wealthy citizens.”
A Framer Anonymous ‘framer’ of the US Constitution Source: Independent Gazetteer, January 29, 1791

“The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them.”
Zachariah Johnson Source: June 25, 1788, Virginia Constitutional Ratification Convention. Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal
Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, ed., v.3 p.646 (Philadelphia, 1836)

“For we may not think ever to keep that people in subjection which hath always lived in liberty, if they be not disarmed.”
Jean Bodin (1530-1596) French Jurist and Political Philosopher, in Six Books of a Commonweale, 1606 AD (R. Knolles translation, pg. 615, 1606)

“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, Japanese author commenting on the lack of protest with which Japanese tolerated governmental corruption, Los Angeles Times, 10/15/92

“Germans who wish to use firearms should join the SS or the SA – ordinary citizens don’t need guns, as their having guns doesn’t serve the State.”
Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) Adolph Hitler’s head of the SS in Nazi Germany

“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 Humphrey, Know Your Lawmakers, Guns, Feb. 1960, p. 4

“…By calling attention to a well-regulated militia for 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 fear of governmental tyranny, which gave rise to the Second Amendment, will ever be an important danger to our Nation, the Amendment remains an important declaration of our basic military-civilian relationship, 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.”
President John F. Kennedy

“The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to permit the conquered Eastern peoples to have arms. History teaches that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by doing so.”
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), April 11, 1942, quoted in Hitlers Tischegesprache Im Fuhrerhauptquartier 1941-1942. [Hitler’s
Table-Talk at the Fuhrer’s Headquarters 1941-1942], Dr. Henry Picker, ed. (Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, 1951)

“The measures adopted to restore public order are: First of all the elimination of the so-called subversive elements…. They were elements of disorder and subversion. On the morrow of each conflict I gave the categorical order to confiscate the largest possible number of weapons of every sort and kind. This confiscation, which continues with the utmost energy, has given satisfactory results.”
Italy’s Fascist ruler, Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, Italian Senate Speech, June 8, 1923

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