Jefferson, Washington, and the Second Amendment

Oversized letters on the façade of the NRA’s headquarters depict an edited version of the Second Amendment. The letters on the NRA’s building read as follows: “. . . the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The full text of the Second Amendment is as follows: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Thomas Jefferson

The NRA store sells a Thomas Jefferson T-shirt. In describing the shirt, the site says: “‘No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.’ Thomas Jefferson was unequivocal in his views on this fundamental right.” This quote also appears on an NRA page entitled “America’s Founding Fathers on the Individual Right to Bear Arms.” On this page, the NRA attributes the quote to the proposed Virginia Constitution.

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation (which oversees Monticello) points out that this quote and two similar quotations do not appear in the Virginia Constitution as adopted.

You can buy a T-shirt with the quote: “One loves to possess arms.” This quote can also be found on the NRA website.

This quote came from a June 19, 1796 letter from Jefferson to George Washington and is taken wildly out of context. In the letter, Jefferson tells Washington he is expecting to be attacked for a position he took. Jefferson wants copies of letters he sent Washington during his time as secretary of state. The quotation is a metaphor for the idea that Jefferson wants correct versions of his words to defend himself. This quote has nothing to do with firearms.

Ladies, you can also buy a T-shirt with quotes falsely attributed to Jefferson. The T-shirt says: “Free men never ask permission to bear arms.”

The Facebook page for the Federalist Society (a conservative think tank), is one of several places where you can find another false Jefferson quote. “The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it won’t be needed until they try to take it.”

The Jefferson foundation says this quote and several variations are all false.

George Washington

The Buckeye Firearms Association has a page of quotes supposedly made by the founding fathers about the right to bear arms. At the top of the list is a quote that has been intensionally shortened. “A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined. . .”

The website for Washington’s Mount Vernon estate has the actual quote taken from Washington’s first message to Congress. “A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies.”

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