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Strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms (Spurious Quotation)

Quotation: "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."

Variations: None known.

Sources consulted:

  1. Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition
  2. Thomas Jefferson: Papers and Thomas Jefferson: Biographies collections in Hathi Trust Digital Library
  3. Thomas Jefferson Retirement Papers

Earliest known appearance in print: 19891

Other attributions: None known.

Status: This quotation has not been found in any of the writings of Thomas Jefferson. It is often seen preceded by the sentence, "No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms," which is from Jefferson's draft of the Virginia Constitution. 

- Anna Berkes, 2/26/09; updated 1/9/12

  • 1. Charley Reese, "Founding Fathers Gave Individuals the Right to Bear Arms," Orlando Sentinel, June 22, 1989.  This quotation appeared in a number of publications in quick succession in the mid-1990s, including in The Militia Movement in the United States: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Government Information of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundred Fourth Congress, first session ... June 15, 1995 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1997), 120.


Billak's picture
Just a thought: The security of a free state is not threatened by foreign invasion and internal insurrection alone. As we have seen in Mexico crime, too, can pose a threat to the security of a free state. In our own history we have examples of governments either being totally corrupt and being in bed with various criminal factions or completely incompetent to handle crime in the communities leading to levels of crime that threatened the security of the communities of the individual states. As we are a nation of individuals the security of the free state goes well below the level of the state alone to each and every person in that state. We don't just have the right to be secure in our homes but also in the public sphere. The authorities are not our masters the work for us and when they cannot do their jobs properly, or at all, it is not incumbent for us to sit idly by and do nothing. The police represent us and do a job that, for whatever reason, we do not do ourselves, but, historically, have done when necessary. I would venture the founders realized this and therefore understood that there are many angles from which a threat to the "security" would come. If I walk down a street and there are criminals lurking do they not pose a threat to my security and that of others? If criminals rule the streets because only they have the weapons and, as is self evident, the police mostly respond after the crime has been committed, then how secure are we without the ability to carry our weapons with us? Are we to only be secure in our homes where a very narrow, and inaccurate, view of the 2nd amendment would allow us to have weapons but be insecure in the public sphere where we spend a very large amount of our time? It is absurd to believe the founders would imagine such a scenario for themselves or for future citizens of the country.
Billak (not verified)
BullshiotRepellant's picture
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. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. -Madison None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army. To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important. -Jefferson 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 the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist. -Hamilton Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of 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 bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. -Webster This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty. . . . The right of self defence is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction. -Tucker
Rodney William Niles's picture
"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, 1 Thomas Jefferson Papers, 334
Rodney William Niles
aberkes's picture
Hi Rodney, Yes, I saw that reference crop up a number of times when I was researching this quote. It does not pan out, however. I assume it is supposed to be a reference to the Princeton Papers of Thomas Jefferson, volume 1, page 334, but this quote does not appear on that page - it is an editorial note for the Virginia Constitution (viewable here:
Anna Berkes
collette's picture
It's an empty endeavor, indeed; to claim that Jefferson never uttered these words. It certainly sounds like something he would have said, no? Perhaps of paramount importance, is the simple fact that it is a profound statement that bears particular truth and relevance to the current state of affairs in the radical and unconstitutional push for gun control in The United States. History shows that when countries took the guns away from the citizens, mass extermination of the populations occurred soon after. With the recent deployment of armored personnel carriers equipped with gun ports in American cities; along with the government's purchase of an extraordinary amount of ammunition - including excessive hollow-points that the government refuses to comment on - Americans should be very alarmed and very concerned. Regardless of who said this statement about protecting themselves from tyranny in government - the concept could never be more relevant than now; for the American citizens; and they should adhere to The Constitution and they should heed the suggestion. Jefferson doesn't have to have said this to render it full of truth.
Calvinus's picture
So what you're saying is, it doesn't matter if it's a fake quote because you think it sounds like something he would have said? But then, given that you're believing conspiracy theories about "excessive hollow-points" that even the National Rifle Association has dismissed as nonsense, I guess reality just isn't that important to you.
Columbia's picture
What part of; "The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not be Infringed", is so hard to comprehend? My limited education has came mostly from books. I did not start using the internet until 2004. Since that time I have been appalled at the ease of which the words of Good Men have been tampered with, contaminated, or even completely removed from the internet and it's search engines. I have noticed that there are no longer any links to the sites where one could read for hours on end, the actual letters that were hand-written by Jefferson and many of his Colleagues. People who tamper with American history do the rest of our citizens irreversible and terrible harm. If you wish to consider the intent behind our Second Amendment, maybe some deeper study into the National Archives, and also some study about men like Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry will help you discern facts from fictions on this, and other matters related to our Constitution and it's design. As knowledge is power, at some point one has to conclude to, and realize that this Country of ours never was a true Democracy. That is evident in the issue of slavery. No sooner than it was established that all men were created equal, it was also established that did not apply to slaves. And since Lincoln has been mentioned, the Civil War was not fought, nor did it begin, because of slavery. The Southern Agriculturists seceded because of unfair taxes and tariffs imposed by an ever increasing corrupt government headed up by Northern Industrialist. Lincoln responded in order to preserve the Union. Lincoln was very intent on the issue of war to be about preserving the Union and not waging war because of slavery. Only because of public outcry did he concede to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. (The issue of slavery was not addressed until 1863 while the war began in 1861). I might add that the single most harmful event to our people as a whole was the assignation of Lincoln. This event was the,"coming out party",for the age of corrupt lawyers. The corruption in government that followed was to the 100th power of what it had been before. It took only 20 years for people like Paul Warburg to set this Great Country on the path to financial ruin that is so evident today. (read Woodrow Wilson). Now after years of corrupt and ever increasing government, manipulated by and set into place by corrupt lawyers and courts, our form of government is better referred to as a Poly-Archy. You can have all the Justice you want in America as long as you can afford to pay for it. This is not True Democracy. These things are the result of people taking it upon themselves to re-write our National History and change or erase the words of Good Men like Thomas Jefferson. If I do have an agenda, it is to strike some chord in those who will realize the importance of these matters.
jthorne76's picture
You claim to take issue with the words of good men being tampered with but yet here you are on the internet doing it yourself. This has been a Right Wing talking point for some time now but fortunately if you are smart we don't need to take your word for it, or whatever historian you let sucker you into believing this. Because we can just look at historical records, documents and quotes and easily read the South seceded over slavery. You can look at South Carolina's declaration of secession and see it plainly stated several times it was over slavery. This is why you shouldn't learn history from a book alone if you have doubts. Go look at the real documents. Hear the words spoken from the mouths of the Souths leaders and it will save you further embarassment of yourself. Or perhaps you are confusing the war being fought over "Slavery" as opposed to "freeing the slaves". Yes we all know that the war wasn't fought to free the slaves. This isn't groundbreaking news. This has been understood for a long time. And spare us this garbage about the corrupt North bankrupting the poor South. The Southern Plantation owners effectively owned Washington at that time. In fact a law had just been passed to lower Tariffs to 20% which was the lowest in over 50 years. At a time when profits were at an all time high in the South due to the massive exporting of Cotton. With the election of Lincoln and the addition of more free states being added to the Union the South decided it was in their best interest to leave the Union rather than let a gradual shifting opinion of Anti-Slavery decide their fate. Like I said you can look at multiple historical documents of the time to see all of this is true. You dont have to simply take my word for it. So the South seceded because of Slavery. They said so themselves. Who cares what you think you know. Its ironic too, that in leaving the Union to preserve slavery it ultimately forced Lincoln to abolish it. Sad that Southerners would rather die than pay other Southerners with no jobs a small wage for work. Sad that human beings thought it was their God given right to own another human being. And sad all these years later some people in this country still haven't learned or understood the great lesson the Civil War should have tought us.
Rodney William Niles's picture
"The 2nd Amendment as it is written only places a restriction on the federal government from infringing on the right of the people to bear arms. It does not state that individual states may not do so." You may have forgot that would be in in violation of the Bill of Rights, and if you remember correctly, in the United States Supreme Court case of William Marbury Vs. James Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall clearly stated that ANY law that violates the Constitution of the United States (of which the Bill of Rights is clearly a part of) is repugnant and therefore considered null & void.
Rodney William Niles
Calvinus's picture
But McDonald v. Chicago applies to the entire nation.
John B's picture
Anti-gun control web sites are promulgating dozens of such quotations from the founding fathers -- most of which make the fathers sound oddly like Wayne LaPierre. The quotations are all of a size that makes them suitable for copying and pasting into the comment streams of online news stories. If sites such as this continue to provide the facts, the nonsense may be contained. As Lincoln said, you can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time -- except that Lincoln never said any such thing. (See Fehrenbacher, "The Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln").
Jesse Fell


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