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No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms (Quotation)

This sentence comes from Thomas Jefferson's three drafts of the Virginia Constitution. The text varies slightly from the first draft to the subsequent drafts:

First Draft: "No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms."1

Second Draft: "No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands or tenements]."2

Third Draft: "No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands or tenements]"3

This sentence does not appear in the Virginia Constitution as adopted.

Note: This sentence is often seen paired with the following: "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." That sentence does not appear in the Virginia Constitution drafts or text as adopted, nor in any other known Jefferson writings.

  • 1. The Virginia Constitution of 1776, First Draft by Jefferson, [before June 13, 1776], in PTJ, 1:344. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 2. The Virginia Constitution of 1776, Second Draft by Jefferson, [before June 13, 1776], in PTJ, 1:353. Brackets appear in the original manuscript. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 3. The Virginia Constitution of 1776, Third Draft by Jefferson, [before June 13, 1776], in PTJ, 1:363. Brackets appear in the original manuscript. Transcription available at Founders Online.

Comments

Rick2101's picture
At first thought, Jefferson believed it was a good idea to allow citizens to have "arms" which is generally considered to be firearms. After giving it considerable thought, the idea of just anybody running around with a gun was not a good idea after-all. Jefferson and the rest of the "Framers" of the Constitution decided on the 2nd Amendment which clearly refers to a "Well Regulated Militia", such as the individual state's National Guard, to protect against a Federal attack.
Rick WA
kauboy's picture
While the Constitution does clearly state "well regulated militia", there is no indication given that this was intended to be an officially governed(state or otherwise) group. At the time, "the militia" was understood by all to be the entire population of able-bodied men. "Well regulated" was a descriptor to their discipline and equipment, not an implication of regulation under authority. The amendment clearly denotes that the right it specifies belongs to "the People", whereas it would be necessary for such people to band together as a militia. No other instance of "the People" within the Constitution is ever considered to be requisite upon the existence of a specific *group* of people, government regulated or not. A right owned by "the People" has no prerequisite.
kauboy
Messenger's picture
This expression means that any man, if not constrained can arm himself with anything he can get his hands on. Arms is a generic. You can arm yourself with a rock, a stick and even a musket if you can get your hands on one. Simple English, no need to paint it with conjecture and speculation.
Messenger
Ratherdrive's picture
Yep, "within his own lands and tenements."
Ratherdrive
jet3's picture
but did he write or say the part about the protection from "tyranny in government" and further to the point, how does what he wrote in the draft of the Virginia Constitution relate his writing of the US Constitution.
jet3
OrangeFree's picture
Madison was the prime author of the Constitution. Jefferson was in Paris.
OrangeFree
Swigrus's picture
While the Monticello site tries their best to say he didn't say it, they print it up and say it was in 1.) his first draft, 2.) his 2nd draft..... So HE DID say (or write it), even if he did change it later. Sort of like John Kerry saying he was for it before he was against it (and) BO saying he is against sequestration (even though he used to be for it). Don't you just love how these libs are literally trying to change history while talking out of both sides of their mouth??!!!
Scott S, Ohio
cwollerton's picture
Scott, I think it's pretty clear that this research firmly establishes that Jefferson did write at least part (perhaps the most important part) of the quotation attributed to him. That it was not ultimately adopted in the Virginia Constitution is not a coverup, any more than the the final version of the Declaration of Independence is a coverup of Jefferson's initial draft.
Chad

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