American Quotes on Slavery and the Right to Bear Arms

From: Walter E. Williams

http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/wew/index.html

Slavery

  • “It were doubtless to be wished, that the power of prohibiting the importation of slaves had not been postponed until the year 1808, or rather that it had been suffered to have immediate operation. But it is not difficult to account, either for this restriction on the general government, or for the manner in which the whole clause is expressed. It ought to be considered as a great point gained in favor of humanity, that a period of twenty years may terminate forever, within these States, a traffic which has so long and so loudly upbraided the barbarism of modern policy; that within that period, it will receive a considerable discouragement from the federal government, and may be totally abolished, by a concurrence of the few States which continue the unnatural traffic, in the prohibitory example which has been given by so great a majority of the Union. Happy would it be for the unfortunate Africans, if an equal prospect lay before them of being redeemed from the oppressions of their European brethren!”
    — James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 42
  • “Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, or morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both.”
    — Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, 1816
  • “I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil.”
    — Patrick Henry, letter to Robert Pleasants, January 18, 1773
  • “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.”
    — Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, 1821
  • “[The Convention] thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.”
    — James Madison, Records of the Convention, August 25, 1787
  • “There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it.”
    — George Washington, letter to Robert Morris, April 12, 1786
  • “We have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.”
    — James Madison, speech at the Constitutional Convention, June 6, 1787
  • “Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States … I have, throughout my whole life, held the practice of slavery in … abhorrence.”
    — John Adams, letter to Robert Evans, June 8, 1819
  • “It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The honour of the States, as well as justice and humanity, in my opinion, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.”
    –John Jay, letter to R. Lushington, March 15, 1786
  • Another of my wishes is to depend as little as possible on the labour of slaves.
    — James Madison, Letter to R. H. Lee, July 17, 1785 (Madison, 1865, I, page 161)
  • [W]e must deny the fact, that slaves are considered merely as property, and in no respect whatever as persons. The true state of the case is, that they partake of both these qualities: being considered by our laws, in some respects, as persons, and in other respects as property. In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body, by the capricious will of another, the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which fall under the legal denomination of property. In being protected, on the other hand, in his life and in his limbs, against the violence of all others, even the master of his labor and his liberty; and in being punishable himself for all violence committed against others, the slave is no less evidently regarded by the law as a member of the society, not as a part of the irrational creation; as a moral person, not as a mere article of property.
    — James Madison, Federalist, no. 54
  • American citizens are instrumental in carrying on a traffic in enslaved Africans, equally in violation of the laws of humanity and in defiance of those of their own country. The same just and benevolent motives which produced interdiction in force against this criminal conduct will doubtless be felt by Congress in devising further means of suppressing the evil.
    — James Madison, State of the Union,1810
  • It is due to justice; due to humanity; due to truth; due to the sympathies of our nature; in fine, to our character as a people, both abroad and at home, that they should be considered, as much as possible, in the light of human beings, and not as mere property. As such, they are acted on by our laws, and have an interest in our laws. They may be considered as making a part, though a degraded part, of the families to which they belong.
    — James Madison, Speech in the Virginia State Convention of 1829-30, on the Question of the Ratio of Representation in the two Branches of the Legislature, December 2, 1829.
  • Outlets for the freed blacks are alone wanted for the erasure of the blot from our Republican character.
    — James Madison, Letter to General La Fayette, February 1, 1830.
  • [I]f slavery, as a national evil, is to be abolished, and it be just that it be done at the national expense, the amount of the expense is not a paramount consideration.
    — James Madison, Letter to Robert J. Evans
  • In contemplating the pecuniary resources needed for the removal of such a number to so great a distance [freed slaves to Africa], my thoughts and hopes have long been turned to the rich fund presented in the western lands of the nation . . .”
    — James Madison, Letter to R. R. Gurley, December 28, 1831.

Right to Keep and Bear Arms

“The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing.”
— Adolph Hitler, Hitler’s Secret Conversations 403 (Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens trans., 1961)

What the Framers said about our Second Amendment
Rights to Keep and Bear Arms

  • “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.”
    — George Mason, in Debates in Virginia Convention on Ratification of the Constitution, Elliot, Vol. 3, June 16, 1788
  • “Whereas civil-rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as military forces, which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.”
    — Tench Coxe, in Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution
  • “The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.”
    — Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers at 184-188
  • 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, can 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, Federalist No. 28
  • “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, Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at 86-87 (Pierce & Hale, eds., Boston, 1850)
  • “[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 Papers, No. 46
  • “To suppose arms in the hands of citizens, to be used at individual discretion, except in private self-defense, or by partial orders of towns, countries or districts of a state, is to demolish every constitution, and lay the laws prostrate, so that liberty can be enjoyed by no man; it is a dissolution of the government. The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws.”
    –John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of the United States 475 (1787-1788)
  • “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, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia 1787).
  • “Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American…[T]he 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.”
    –Tenche Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
  • “Whereas, 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; nor does it follow from this, that all promiscuously must go into actual service on every occasion. The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle; and when we see many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever they can prevail, no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding against it.”
    –Richard Henry Lee, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
  • “What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.” 
    — Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787. ME 6:373, Papers 12:356
  • “No Free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”
    — Thomas Jefferson, Proposal Virginia Constitution, 1 T. Jefferson Papers, 334,[C.J. Boyd, Ed., 1950]
  • “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 Annals of Congress 434, June 8, 1789
  • “What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty …. 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, spoken during floor debate over the Second Amendment, I Annals of Congress at 750, August 17, 1789
  • ” … to disarm the people – that was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
    — George Mason, 3 Elliot, Debates at 380
  • ” … 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 speaking of standing armies in Federalist 29
  • “Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in possession and under our direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of 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 J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions 45, 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1836
  • “The great object is, that every man be armed … Every one who is able may have a gun.”
    — Patrick Henry, Elliot, p.3:386
  • “O sir, we should have fine times, indeed, if, to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people! Your arms, wherewith you could defend yourselves, are gone …”
    — Patrick Henry, Elliot p. 3:50-53, in Virginia Ratifying Convention demanding a guarantee of the right to bear arms
  • “The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them.”
    — Zacharia Johnson, delegate to Virginia Ratifying Convention, Elliot, 3:645-6
  • “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 … The right of citizens to bear arms is just one guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard, against the tyranny which now appears remote in America but which historically has proven to be always possible.”
    — Hubert H. Humphrey, Senator, Vice President, 22 October 1959
  • “The militia is the natural defense of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpation of power by rulers. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as 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 … enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”
    — Joseph Story, Supreme Court Justice, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, p. 3:746-7, 1833
  • ” … most attractive to Americans, the possession of arms is the distinction between a freeman and a slave, it being the ultimate means by which freedom was to be preserved.”
    — James Burgh, 18th century English Libertarian writer, Shalhope, The Ideological Origins of the Second Amendment, p.604
  • “The right [to bear arms] is general. It may be supposed from the phraseology of this provision that the right to keep and bear arms was only guaranteed to the militia; but this would be an interpretation not warranted by the intent. The militia, as has been explained elsewhere, consists of those persons who, under the laws, are liable to the performance of military duty, and are officered and enrolled for service when called upon…. [I]f the right were limited to those enrolled, the purpose of the guarantee might be defeated altogether by the action or the neglect to act of the government it was meant to hold in check. The meaning of the provision undoubtedly is, that the people, from whom the militia must be taken, shall have the right to keep and bear arms, and they need no permission or regulation of law for the purpose. But this enables the government to have a well regulated militia; for to bear arms implies something more than mere keeping; it implies the learning to handle and use them in a way that makes those who keep them ready for their efficient use; in other words, it implies the right to meet for voluntary discipline in arms, observing in so doing the laws of public order.”
    – Thomas M. Cooley, General Principles of Constitutional Law, Third Edition [1898]
  • “And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress … to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms…. ”
    –Samuel Adams

Those Who Would Repeal That Right

  • “The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit.”
    — Samuel Gompers
  • “We can’t be so fixated on our desire to preserve the rights of ordinary Americans to legitimately own handguns and rifles … that we are unable to think about reality.”
    — Bill Clinton, USA Today, 11 March 93, pg. 2A
  • “The last time I checked, the Constitution said ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’. That’s what the Declaration of Independence says.”
    — Reuters News Agency
    ** Note: actually those words are in neither of those documents, but part of The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln
  • “We are taking the law and bending it as far as we can to capture a whole new class of guns [to ban]”
    — Jose CerdaLos Angeles Times, 22 Oct. 1997, Mr. Cerda was named as a White House Official who specializes in gun control
  • “Gun registration is not enough.”
    — Janet RenoU.S. Attorney General, Associated Press 10 Dec 1993
  • “I want to make it as hard as possible. Gun owners would have to be evaluated by how they scored on written and firing tests, and have to pass the tests in order to own a gun. And I would tax the guns, bullets and the license itself very heavily.”
    — Jocelyn EldersU.S. Surgeon General, Mother Jones magazine, Jan/Feb ’94
  • “Armas para que?” (“Guns, for what?”)
    — Fidel Castro, a response to a Cuban citizens who said the people might need to keep their guns, after Castro announced strict gun control in Cuba
  • “I have made it considerably tougher for residents to get handgun permits.”
    — Joseph McNamara, Police Chief, San Jose, CA, in his book Safe and Sane, 1984
  • “The second article of amendment (Second Amendment) to the Constitution of the United States is repealed.”
    — U.S. House Joint Resolution 438 introduced 11 March 1992 by Congressman Owens, D-NY
  • ” … we could tax them [firearms] out of existence.”
    — Daniel Patrick MoynihanU.S. Senator, Washington Post, 4 Nov 93
  • “If it were up to me we’d ban them all [firearms].”
    — Mel ReynoldsU.S. Congressman, CNN Crossfire, 9 Dec 93
  • “We’re going to have to take this one step at a time, and the first step is necessarily – given the political realities – going to be very modest. Right now, though, we’d be satisfied not with half a loaf but with a slice. Our ultimate goal – total control of all guns- is going to take time … The final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition – except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs and licensed gun collectors – totally illegal.”
    — Nelson T. Shields III, Founder of Handgun Control, Inc., New Yorker Magazine, p. 57-58, 26 Jul 1976
  • “There is no personal right to be armed for private purposes unrelated to the service in a well regulated militia.”
    — Sarah Brady, Chairman, Handgun Control, Inc., Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6 Jun 97, pg. 6
  • “We must reverse this psychology (of needing guns for home defense). WE can do it by passing a law that says anyone found in possession a handgun except a legitimate officer of the law goes to jail-period!”
    — Carl Rowan, Washington DC Syndicated Columnist, 1981 article
  • ” … as long as authorities leave this society awash in drugs and guns, I will protect my family.”
    — Carl Rowan, 1988 article titled “At Least They’re Not Writing My Obituary”
  • “Men possess handguns in order to compensate for sexual dysfunction.”
    — Dr. Joyce Brothers, Psychiatrist, TV personality
    ** her husband is among NYC elite that has been issued a permit to carry a concealed handgun
  • “Those now possessing weapons and ammunition are at once to turn them over to the local police authority. Firearms and ammunition found in a Jew’s possession will be forfeited to the government without compensation … Whoever willfully or negligently violates the provisions … will be punished with imprisonment and a fine.
    — Nazi Law, Regulations Against Jews’ Possession of Weapons, 11 Nov 1938, German Minister of the Interior
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