3817 Notable Quotes

Notable Quotes

The following quotes are taken from several sources. They provide some guidance for interpretation of the Constitution.


"It is every Americans' right and obligation to read and interpret the Constitution for himself."

— Thomas Jefferson

"On every question of construction, let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed."

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, June 12, 1823, The Complete Jefferson, p. 322.

"Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction."

— Thomas Jefferson to W, Nicholas, 1803.

"The true key for the construction of everything doubtful in a law, is the intention of the law givers. This is most safely gathered from the words, but may be sought also in extraneous circumstances, provided they do not contradict the express words of the law."

— Thomas Jefferson to A. Gallatin, 1808.

"I had rather ask an enlargement of power from the nation, where it is found necessary, than to assume it by a construction which would make our powers boundless."

— Thomas Jefferson to W. Nicholas, 1803.

"The particular phraseology of the Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void; and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument."

— John Marshall: Opinion as Chief Justice in Marbury vs. Madison, 1802

"[E]very act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid."

— Alexander Hamiltion

"... God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. ... And what country can preserve its liberties, if it's rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

— Richard Henry Lee, Senator, First Congress, Additional Letters from the Federal Farmer (1788) at 169.

"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.

"... 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." Under the pseudonym "A Pennsylvanian" in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789 at 2 col. 1.

"To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms..."

— Richard Henry Lee, 1788, Member of the First U.S. Senate.

"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 (Peirce & Hale, eds., Boston, 1850. 2, col. 2.

"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."

— Attributed to Samuel Adams, but there is no evidence he wrote it, and the terms "irate" and "brushfire" are anachronistic. However, it is still a good saying, whoever wrote it.

"Germans who wish to use firearms should join the SS or the SA — ordinary citizens don't need guns, as their having guns doesn't serve the state."

— Heinrich Himmler.

"The battle, Sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, Sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable; and let it come! I repeat, Sir, let it come!"

— Patrick Henry, in his famous "The War Inevitable" speech, March, 1775.

"It is in vain, Sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace! But there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the North will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that Gentlemen want? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

— Patrick Henry, in his famous "The War Inevitable" speech, March, 1775.

"A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence 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 walk."

Encyclopedia of Thomas Jefferson, 318 (Foley, Ed., reissued 1967)

"That the 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..."

"Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."

— Winston Spencer Churchill, address at Harrow School, October 29, 1941.

"Never turn your back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!"

— Winston Churchill

"The rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine. Propaganda must therefore always be essentially simple and repetitious."

— Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda

"The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly ... it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over."

— Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda

"God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it."

— Daniel Webster

"Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster, and what has happened once in 6000 years, may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world."

— Daniel Webster

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

— Edmund Burke

"Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them."

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

— Oliver Cromwell, "Lord Protector of the English Commonwealth", upon dissolving Parliament

"Whenever people ... entrust the defense of their country to a regular, standing army, composed of mercenaries, the power of that country will remain under the direction of the most wealthy citizens..."

— "A Framer", in the Independent Gazetteer, 1791

"We, the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts — not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow men who pervert the Constitution."

— Abraham Lincoln

"If cowardly and dishonorable men sometimes shoot unarmed men with army pistols or guns, the evil must be prevented by the penitentiary and gallows, and not by a general deprivation of a constitutional privilege."

— Arkansas Supreme Court, 1878

"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 proved to be always possible."

— Senator Hubert H. Humprey (D-Minnesota)

"Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest."

— Mahatma Gandhi

"The one weapon every man, soldier, sailor, or airman should be able to use effectively is the rifle. It is always his weapon of personal safety in an emergency, and for many it is the primary weapon of offense and defense. Expertness in its use cannot be overemphasized."

— General Dwight D. Eisenhower

"Before God I swear this is my creed: my rifle and myself are the defenders of our country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life. So be it until victory is America's and there is no enemy, but peace!!

— From "My Rifle", by Major General W.H. Rupertus, USMC.

"The American Revolution was a beginning, not a consummation."

— Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United 'States (1856-1924).

"With reasonable men I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but with tyrants, I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost."

— William Lloyd Garrison

"...to disarm the people is the best and most effective way to enslave them..."

— George Mason, 3 Elliot, Debates at 380.

"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 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."

— Noah Webster, "An Examination into the leading Principles of the Federal Constitution." in Paul Ford, ed., Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States , at 56 (New York, 1888).

"... if raised, whether they could subdue a Nation of freemen, who know how to prize liberty, and who have arms in their hands?"

— Delegate Sedgewick, during the Massachusetts Convention, rhetorically asking if an oppressive standing army could prevail ... Johnathon Elliot, ed., Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 2 at 97 (2d ed., 1888).

"Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation ... nothwithstanding 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."

— James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, in Federalist Paper No. 46, at 243-244.

"As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the 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 private arms."

— Tench Coxe, in "Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution." under the pseudonym, "A Pennsylvanian" in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789 at 2 Col. 1.

"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 the world would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside...Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the world deprived the use of them..."

— Thomas Paine, I Writings of Thomas Paine at 56 (1894).

"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 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 ultimate authority ... resides in the people alone."

— James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, in Federalist Paper No. 46.

"The whole of the Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals ... It establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has the right to deprive them of."

— Albert Gallatin of the New York Historical Society, October 7, 1789.

"All military type firearms are to be handed in immediately ... The SS, SA and Stahlhelm give every responsible opportunity of campaigning with them. Therefore anyone who does not belong to one of the above-named organizations and who unjustifiably nevertheless keeps his weapon ... must be regarded as an enemy of the national government."

— SA Oberfuhrer of Bad Tolz, March, 1933.

"There are going to be situations where people are going to go without assistance. That's just the facts of life."

— LA Police Chief Darryl Gates

"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 and that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of press."

— Thomas Jefferson

"Enlighten people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day."

— Thomas Jefferson


Apocryphal Quotes

The following are often quoted but dubious:

"This Year Will Go Down In History. For The First Time, A Civilized Nation Has Full Gun Registration! Our Streets Will Be Safer, Our Police More Efficient, And The World Will Follow Our Lead Into The Future!"

— Adolph Hitler 1935 'Berlin Daily' (Loose English Translation) April 15th, 1935 Page 3 Article 2 by Einleitung Von Eberhard Beckmann "Abschied vom Hessenland!"

Refuted at http://www.guncite.com/gcbogus.html

"The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

Thomas Jefferson Papers, 334 (C.J. Boyd, Ed., 1950)

"The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that is good."

— George Washington

"Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is a force, like fire: a dangerous servant and a terrible master".

— George Washington

Refuted at http://www.guncite.com/gc2ndbog.html


Ancient Quotes

The following are from ancient philosophers who can inspire our times:

"We can have justice whenever those who have not been injured by injustice are as outraged by it as those who have been.".

— Solon, author of the Constitution of Athens, 594 B.C.

"More law, less justice."

— Cicero, De Officiis, 44 B.C.

"So far as the Civil Law is concerned, slaves are not considered persons, but this is not the case according to natural law, because natural law regards all men as equal."

"The precepts of the law are the following: to live honorably, to injure no one, to give to every one his due."

— Ulpian, Roman jurist, ~222 CE

Home » Defense
Original URL: http://www.constitution.org/cons/quotes01.htm
Maintained:
Jon Roland of the Constitution Society
Original date: 1996/4/6 — 

What you can do

8114
68731278889140885239