The United States was founded on ideas that were truly radical at the time. The beliefs that all men are equal and innately possess certain fundamental rights are the foundation stones on which this nation was built.
In recent times, the debate over an individual’s right to bear arms has become increasingly polarizing.
What exactly, though, did the Founding Fathers think about guns?
Let’s take a look at some Founding Father quotes and explore their perspectives on the issue.
Thomas Jefferson on The Right to Bear Arms
The third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was a key figure in the founding of the nation.
Out of all of the Founding Fathers, we have the most evidence of Thomas Jefferson’s fervent support of an individual’s right to bear arms.
In the following quote, we hear Thomas Jefferson discuss an argument for the 2nd amendment that we still hear today. When laws ban the ownership of guns, it is law-abiding citizens who suffer. He argues that the widespread possession of guns by law-abiding citizens is actually a deterrent to violent crime.
“[The 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, 1774-1776, Commonplace Book (Quoting Cesare Beccaria, an 18th-century criminologist)
The United States was founded on ideas including those that men have the natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As you’ll see in the following quotes, Thomas Jefferson believed that an armed citizenry was necessary to protect against the potential of a tyrannical government.
“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms.”-Thomas Jefferson, December 20, 1787, letter to James Madison
“I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”-Thomas Jefferson, January 30, 1787, letter to James Madison
“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”-Thomas Jefferson, 1776, Draft 1 of the Virginia Constitution
“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, June 5, 1824, letter to John Cartwright
These next quotes reflect Thomas Jefferson’s belief that familiarity and excellence with a firearm actually improved your character. In the first quote, he advises Peter Carr in a letter that having a firearm always by your side on walks is good for the mind. In the second quote, he attributes the superior performance of their army in battles to the fact that the soldiers had been raised to be intimately familiar with their firearms.
“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, enterprise 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, August 19, 1785, letter to Peter Carr
“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, June 8, 1778, letter to Giovanni Fabbroni
In the modern era, it’s less common for people to grow up with gun training as a part of their everyday lives. For this reason, it’s more important now than ever to familiarize yourself with the basics of gun safety.
George Washington Quote on Gun Ownership
As the first president of the United States of America, George Washington is perhaps the most famous of the Founding Fathers.
While there are a number of George Washington quotes that have been misattributed to him, he is known to have said the following in his first Annual Message to Congress. This event is now referred to as the State of the Union Address.
“A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined…”-George Washington, January 8, 1790, First Annual Address
Thoughts from Benjamin Franklin on Safety
An inventor, a writer, a scientist, a philosopher, a printer, a diplomat, a Founding Father… and more! Benjamin Franklin is a truly accomplished example of the American spirit.
While this quote is not directly about guns, it is one of the most famous Founding Father quotes on freedom. As you can see, the sentiment in the following quote feels incredibly relevant to the contemporary debate regarding gun control.
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”–Benjamin Franklin, 1759, Historical Review of Pennsylvania
If you’re practicing your 2nd amendment right to bear arms, it’s important to know how to store your ammo. Check out our handy guide here.
James Madison on Firearms Protecting Freedom
Co-author of The Federalist Papers and the fourth President of the United States, James Madison has also been given the nickname the “Father of the Constitution.”
In the following quotes, he discusses the unique freedoms given to the American people as well as the necessity of the right to bear arms to maintain a free nation.
“Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.”-James Madison, January 29, 1788, Federalist No. 46
“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, June 8, 1789, I Annals of Congress 434
It’s important to understand just how optimistic and beautiful the original ideas were. Madison was supportive of an armed American populace. At the same time, he was a firm believer that religious ideas should only be debated through words and never imposed through violence or force.
There are a number of powerful Founding Father quotes on religion and religious freedom. This Madison quote displays how important he viewed freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and that having an armed citizenry does not equate to expecting that religious, philosophical, or political battles would be settled through violence.
“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity; towards each other.”-James Madison, 1776, Virginia Declaration of Rights
Patrick Henry on Liberty and Guns
Is there a more memorable Founding Father quote on liberty than Patrick Henry’s cry of “give me liberty, or give me death”?
In this quote, Patrick Henry discusses the unfortunate reality that liberty cannot be truly protected if force is given up. He saw the public being armed as a means of preserving the liberty that he and the other Founding Fathers believed was an innate and natural right.
“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… The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able might have a gun.”-Patrick Henry, June 5, 1778, Speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention
Thomas Paine Common Sense Approach to Gun Rights
Thomas Paine is most well-known for his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense. In this quote from an article in Pennsylvania Magazine, Paine discusses how the possession of firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens helps to maintain order and civility in the world.
“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, July 1775, “Thoughts on Defensive War”
Thomas Paine also had some interesting things to say about the close relationship between political liberty and spiritual freedom. He says them as deeply intertwined, and both necessary for the creation of the free nation they desired.
“Spiritual freedom is the root of political liberty…As the union between spiritual freedom and political liberty seems nearly inseparable, it is our duty to defend both.”–Thomas Paine, July 1775, “Thoughts on Defensive War“
George Mason: No Gun Rights; People are Enslaved
George Mason has been referred to as the “forgotten founder.” Not a household name by any means, George Mason is often left out of the list of celebrated Founding Fathers.
Mason was responsible for penning substantial portions of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which later greatly influenced and served as a basis for the Bill of Rights.
“To disarm the people…[i]s the most effectual way to enslave them.”-George Mason, June 14, 1788, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution
“I ask who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers.”-George Mason, June 4, 1788, Address to the Virginia Ratifying Convention
Noah Webster: Firearms Equal Freedom
Here’s another often-forgotten Founding Father. Noah Webster was involved in Hamilton’s Federalist Party newspaper as an editor and writer.
In this quote, he describes how having an armed populace protects the people from the rule of a standing army. Through having regular Americans possess firearms, unjust laws wouldn’t stand.
“Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed, as they are in almost every country 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.”-Noah Webster, October 10, 1787, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution
Founding Father Quotes: Understanding What They Believed, in Their Own Words
There are a lot of contentious political and social issues in this day and age, and the gun control debate might be one of the most hotly contested of these. In the age of endless content, there is a lot of speculation about what the Founding Fathers would have thought about the power of modern firearms.
These Founding Father quotes are important. This is because we should look for ourselves at what they had to say about guns.
While they don’t all have the same opinion, there is a shared thread. This was that having the right to bear arms protected Americans from falling under a tyrannical rule and being subject to unjust laws.
A few of them also point out that banning firearms only hurts law-abiding citizens. They see that it makes them weaker in the face of criminals who do not abide by the law. They believed that an armed citizenry was an important ingredient in maintaining order, civility, and most importantly, the inalienable rights of all people.
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