Debunking Quotes Attributed To The Founders

Many people attribute spurious quotes to famous men.

Many famous men have commented on weapons. The present page concerns the Founders of the USA, the scholars that they studied, and their near-contemporaries who commented on them.

While A. E. van Vogt was a great man, he was not a Founder of the USA, and his wisdom regarding weapons is addressed elsewhere.

 I am currently attempting to verify the accuracy or inaccuracy of the following:

“A free people ought to be armed.”
– George Washington
“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”
– Thomas Jefferson
“I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”
– Thomas Jefferson
“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
“Arms in the hands of citizens may be used at individual discretion in private self defense.”
– John Adams
“To disarm the people is the most effectual way to enslave them.”
– George Mason
“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
“A government resting on the minority is an aristocracy, not a Republic, and could not be safe with a numerical and physical force against it, without a standing army, an enslaved press and a disarmed populace.”
– James Madison

For Jefferson quotes, the following website offers some insight:

Jefferson quoted some sayings that he did NOT originate, but he also originated some sayings that are highly quotable and highly misquotable.

On the Power to Issue Currency:

[quoted from link below]

this quotation (“The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs”) may be a misquotation of Jefferson’s comment to John Wayles Eppes, “Bank-paper must be suppressed, and the circulating medium must be restored to the nation to whom it belongs.”

On Beccaria’s View of Guns:

[quoted from link below]

The following quotation is sometimes attributed to Thomas Jefferson:

“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 prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed one.”
This is not something Jefferson wrote, but rather comes from a passage he included in his “Legal Commonplace Book.” The passage is from Cesare Beccaria’s Essay on Crimes and Punishments.

On Everyday Carry Of Guns:

[quoted from link below]

In 1785 Thomas Jefferson wrote to his fifteen-year-old nephew, Peter Carr, regarding what he considered the best form of exercise: “…I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprize, and independance 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 the constant companion of your walks.”

Evidence exists to show that Jefferson was a fair marksman. At twenty-five he noted in his accounts: “Won shooting 1/6.”2 In a later contest during a muster of Captain Jacob Moon’s Albemarle County militia company he lost 2/6.3 But as he grew older, Jefferson limited his exercise to horseback riding while restraining his attachment for firearms and hunting.

References to ownership of arms and accoutrements may be found throughout his manuscripts and accounts. A cursory compilation shows that he owned a shotgun called a “two shot-double barrel,” purchased in France, a number of pistols and other shoulder weapons. Further evidence that he used these may be found in the columns of his account books. In 1775 he paid to have a pistol repaired; a year later he bought a “double barrel gun-lock” for £5-5; in 1799 he had Henry Yost, a Staunton, Virginia gunsmith, mend his pistols (possibly those he carried for protection when traveling) and, as late as 1817 he was charged eight dollars for having a gun put in order by a Charlottesville repairman.4

Unquestionably, the finest arms that Jefferson owned were a pair of Turkish pistols received from the estate of General Isaac Zane in place of a money bequest. He described them and, at the same time, modestly alluded to his ability as a pistol shot: “They are 20. inch barrels so well made that I never missed a squirrel at 30 yards with them…”5

– Text from James A. Bear, “Some Jefferson Ideas on Exercise, Guns and Game,” Monticello Research Report, n.d.

The origins of the  following quotes have been identified:
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
– attributed to Benjamin Franklin

This statement was used as a motto on the title page of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania. (1759) which was attributed to Franklin in the edition of 1812, but in a letter of September 27, 1760 to David Hume, he states that he published this book and denies that he wrote it, other than a few remarks that were credited to the Pennsylvania Assembly, in which he served. The phrase itself was first used in a letter from that Assembly dated November 11, 1755 to the Governor of Pennsylvania. An article on the origins of this statement here includes a scan that indicates the original typography of the 1759 document, which uses an archaic form of “s”: “Thoſe who would give up Essential Liberty to purchaſe a little Temporary Safety, deſerve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Researchers now believe that a fellow diplomat by the name of Richard Jackson is the primary author of the book. With the information thus far available the issue of authorship of the statement is not yet definitely resolved, but the evidence indicates it was very likely Franklin, who in the Poor Richard’s Almanack of 1738 is known to have written a similar proverb: “Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power.

Many paraphrased variants derived from this saying have arisen and have usually been incorrectly attributed to Franklin:

“They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
“Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.”
“He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.”
“He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”
“People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”
“If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both.”
“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”
“He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither.”
“Those who would trade in their freedom for their protection deserve neither.”


I have not yet debunked the following, but they are notable, and their true authors will be fact-checked in due course.

211 Arms are the only true badge of liberty. The possession of
arms is the distinction of a free man from a slave.

Andrew Fletcher(1653-1716)

212 A free people ought to be armed.

George Washington (1732-1799)
Boston Independent Chronicle, Jan. 14th 1790

214 The people have a right to keep and bear arms.

Patrick Henry (1736-1799)
(Elliott, Debates at 185)

215 In a polity, each citizen is to possess his own arms, which
are not supplied or owned by the state.

Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC)

216 The great object is that every man be armed.
Everyone who is able may have a gun.

Patrick Henry (1736-1799)
Virginia Convention – Ratification of Constitution – 1788

220 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.

Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794)

221 When firearms go, all goes – we need them every hour.

George Washington (1732-1799)
Address to the Second Session of 1st U.S. Congress

246 Though defensive violence will always be ‘a sad necessity’
in the eyes of men of principle, it would be still more
unfortunate if wrongdoers should dominate just men.

St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430)

247 For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so,
a well organized and armed militia is their best security.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Eighth Annual Message, November 8, 1808

249 Every citizen should be a soldier.
This was the case with the Greeks and Romans,
and must be that of every free state.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

257 … in all countries where personal freedom is valued,
however much each individual may rely on legal redress, the
right of each to carry arms – and these the best and the
sharpest – for his own protection in case of extremity, is
a right of nature indelible and irrepressible, and the more
it is sought to be repressed the more it will recur.

James Paterson
quoted in Joyce Malcolm’s “To Keep and Bear Arms… ”

259 If the representatives of the people betray their
constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the
exertion of that original right of self-defense which is
paramount to all positive forms of government, and which
against the usurpations of the national rulers may be
exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than
against those of the rulers of an individual State. In a
single State, if the persons entrusted with supreme power
become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or
Districts of which it consists, having no distinct
government in each, and take no regular measures for
defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms,
without concert, without system, without resource; except in
their courage and despair.

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)
Federalist No. 29 [January 9. 1788]

261 Without doubt one is allowed to resist against the unjust
aggressor to one’s life, one’s goods or one’s physical
integrity; sometimes, even ’til the aggressor’s death… In
fact, this act is aimed at preserving one’s life or one’s
goods and to make the aggressor powerless. Thus, it is a
good act, which is the right of the victim.” [There are
three conditions under which legitimate self-defense must
lie:] “That he who is the target of the force is an
aggressor and an unjust aggressor… That the object of the
defense is an important good, such as the life, physical
integrity or worthy goods… [and] That defensive violence 3
is proportionate to aggression.” [Under these conditions,]
“One is also allowed [not required] to kill other people’s
unjust aggressor.

Thomas Aquinas
Dizionario ecclesiastico (“Ecclesiastic dictionary”) UTET

298 [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 (1751-1836)
Federalist, No. 46.

300 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 (1743-1826)
Proposal Virginia Constitution, June 1776

303 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.

Nicholas Collin (1746-1831)
Fayetteville Gazette (N.C.), October 12, 1789

304 The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly
been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a
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

Joseph Story (1779-1845)
Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States1833

305 That the people have a Right to mass and to bear arms; that
a well regulated militia composed of the Body of the people,
trained to arms, is the proper natural and safe defense of a
free state, that standing armies, in time of peace, are
dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided…

George Mason (1725-1792)
Draft proposal, 3 Elliot, Debates at 659.

306 “… but if circumstances should at any time oblige the
government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can
never be formidable to the liberties of the people, while
there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior
to them in discipline and use of arms, who stand ready to
defend their rights…”

Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804)
Federalist, No. 29

310 The supposed quietude of a good man allures the
ruffian; while on the other hand, arms like laws discourage
and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve
order in the world as well as property. 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…Horrid mischief would ensue were one half
the world deprived of the use of them…

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
Thoughts on Defensive War, 1775

318 Are we at last 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 own 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 (1736-1799)
Virginia Convention – Ratification of Constitution – 1788

324 You are bound to meet misfortune if you are unarmed because,
among other reasons, people despise you….There is simply
no comparison between a man who is armed and one who is not.
It is unreasonable to expect that an armed man should obey
one who is unarmed, or that an unarmed man should remain
safe and secure when his servants are armed. In the latter
case, there will be suspicion on the one hand and contempt
on the other, making cooperation impossible.

Nicollo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
“The Prince”

340 The great body of our citizens shoot less as times goes on.
We should encourage rifle practice among schoolboys, and
indeed among all classes, as well as in the military
services by every means in our power. Thus, and not
otherwise, may we be able to assist in preserving peace in
the world… The first step – in the direction of
preparation to avert war if possible, and to be fit for war
if it should come – is to teach men to shoot!

Theodore Roosevelt (1958-1919)
President Theodore Roosevelt’s last message to Congress.

341 A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined but
they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain
a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse
them, which would include their own government.

George Washington (1732-1799)

342 Arms in the hands of citizens [may] be used at individual
discretion… in private self-defense …”

John Adams (1735-1826)
A Defense of the Constitutions of the…USA, 471, 1788



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