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|Quotes on the Second Amendment:
"On every question of construction (of the Constitution)
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)
"No Free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms."
(Thomas Jefferson, Proposal to Virginia Constitution,
1 T. Jefferson Papers, 334,[C.J. Boyd, Ed., 1950] )
"And what country can preserve its liberties, if its
rulers are not warned from time to time that this people
preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms....
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time,
with the blood of patriots and tyrants." (Thomas Jefferson
in a letter to William S. Smith in 1787. Taken from
Jefferson, On Democracy 20, S. Padover ed., 1939)
"A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species
of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate
exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise,
and independence to the mind. 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 walks.
(Thomas Jefferson, Encyclopedia of T. Jefferson, 318
[Foley, Ed., reissued 1967]; Thomas Jefferson to Peter
Carr, 1785. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, [Memorial
Edition] Lipscomb and Bergh, editors)
"What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers
are not warned from time to time that their people preserve
the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms." (Thomas
Jefferson to James Madison, Dec. 20, 1787, in Papers
of Jefferson, ed. Boyd et al.)
“Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm
only those who are neither inclined nor determined to
commit crimes.... Such laws make things worse for the
assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve
rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an
unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence
than an armed man.” (Jefferson's "Commonplace
Book," 1774-1776, quoting from On Crimes and Punishment,
by criminologist Cesare Beccaria, 1764)
“We established however some, although not all,
its [self-government] important principles. The constitutions
of most of our States assert, that all power is inherent
in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves,
in all cases to which they think themselves competent,
(as in electing their functionaries executive and legislative,
and deciding by a jury of themselves, in all judiciary
cases in which any fact is involved,) or they may act
by representatives, freely and equally chosen; that
it is their right and duty to be at all times armed…”
(Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824. Memorial
Edition 16:45, Lipscomb and Bergh, editors)
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This powerful advocate of liberty was born in 1743
in Albermarle County, Virginia, inheriting from his
father, a planter and surveyor, some 5,000 acres of
land, and from his mother, a Randolph, high social standing.
He studied at the College of William and Mary, then
read law. In 1772 he married Martha Wayles Skelton,
a widow, and took her to live in his partly constructed
mountaintop home, Monticello.
Freckled and sandy-haired, rather tall and awkward,
Jefferson was eloquent as a correspondent, but he was
no public speaker. In the Virginia House of Burgesses
and the Continental Congress, he contributed his pen
rather than his voice to the patriot cause. As the "silent
member" of the Congress, Jefferson, at 33, drafted the
Declaration of Independence. In years following he labored
to make its words a reality in Virginia. Most notably,
he wrote a bill establishing religious freedom, enacted
Jefferson succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister to
France in 1785. His sympathy for the French Revolution
led him into conflict with Alexander Hamilton when Jefferson
was Secretary of State in President Washington's Cabinet.
He resigned in 1793.
Sharp political conflict developed, and two separate
parties, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans,
began to form. Jefferson gradually assumed leadership
of the Republicans, who sympathized with the revolutionary
cause in France. Attacking Federalist policies, he opposed
a strong centralized Government and championed the rights
As a reluctant candidate for President in 1796, Jefferson
came within three votes of election. Through a flaw
in the Constitution, he became Vice President, although
an opponent of President Adams. In 1800 the defect caused
a more serious problem. Republican electors, attempting
to name both a President and a Vice President from their
own party, cast a tie vote between Jefferson and Aaron
Burr. The House of Representatives settled the tie.
Hamilton, disliking both Jefferson and Burr, nevertheless
urged Jefferson's election.
When Jefferson assumed the Presidency, the crisis in
France had passed. He slashed Army and Navy expenditures,
cut the budget, eliminated the tax on whiskey so unpopular
in the West, yet reduced the national debt by a third.
He also sent a naval squadron to fight the Barbary pirates,
who were harassing American commerce in the Mediterranean.
Further, although the Constitution made no provision
for the acquisition of new land, Jefferson suppressed
his qualms over constitutionality when he had the opportunity
to acquire the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon in
During Jefferson's second term, he was increasingly
preoccupied with keeping the Nation from involvement
in the Napoleonic wars, though both England and France
interfered with the neutral rights of American merchantmen.
Jefferson's attempted solution, an embargo upon American
shipping, worked badly and was unpopular.
Jefferson retired to Monticello to ponder such projects
as his grand designs for the University of Virginia.
A French nobleman observed that he had placed his house
and his mind "on an elevated situation, from which he
might contemplate the universe."
He died on July 4, 1826, within minutes of John Adams,
on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration
(The White House History of the Presidents)
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|Gilbert Stuart, Oil on Canvas
[National Gallery of Art]
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