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Noah Webster
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Lexicographer and Revolutionary Pamphleteer
Quotes on the Second Amendment
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Quotes on the Second Amendment:

"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. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive. " (Noah Webster, "An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution," 1787, a pamphlet aimed at swaying Pennsylvania toward ratification, in Paul Ford, ed., Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States, at 56 [New York, 1888])

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Noah Webster was born on October 16, 1758, in the West Division of Hartford. Noah's was an average colonial family. His father farmed and worked as a weaver. His mother worked at home. Noah and his two brothers, Charles and Abraham, helped their father with the farm work. Noah's sisters, Mercy and Jerusha, worked with their mother to keep house and to make food and clothing for the family.

Few people went to college, but Noah loved to learn so his parents let him go to Yale, Connecticut's only college. He left for New Haven in 1774, when he was 16. Noah's years at Yale coincided with the Revolutionary War. Because New Haven had food shortages during this time, many of Noah's classes were held in Glastonbury.

Noah graduated in 1778. He wanted to study law, but his parents could not afford to give him more money for school. So, in order to earn a living, Noah taught school in Glastonbury, Hartford and West Hartford. Later he studied law.

Noah did not like American schools. Sometimes 70 children of all ages were crammed into one-room schoolhouses with no desks, poor books, and untrained teachers. Their books came from England. Noah thought that Americans should learn from American books, so in 1783, Noah wrote his own textbook: A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. Most people called it the "Blue-backed Speller" because of its blue cover.

For 100 years, Noah's book taught children how to read, spell, and pronounce words. It was the most popular American book of its time. Benjamin Franklin used Noah's book to teach his granddaughter to read.

In 1789, Noah married Rebecca Greenleaf. They had eight children. Noah carried raisins and candies in his pockets for the children to enjoy. The Websters lived in New Haven, then moved to Amherst, MA. There, Noah helped to start Amherst College. Later the family moved back to New Haven.

When Noah was 43, he started writing the first American dictionary. He did this because Americans in different parts of the country spelled, pronounced and used words differently. He thought that all Americans should speak the same way. He also thought that Americans should not speak and spell just like the English.

Noah used American spellings like "color" instead of the English "colour" and "music" instead " of "musick". He also added American words that weren't in English dictionaries like "skunk" and "squash." It took him over 27 years to write his book. When finished in 1828, at the age of 70, Noah's dictionary had 70,000 words in it.

Noah Webster died in 1843. He worked for copyright laws, wrote textbooks, Americanized the English language, and edited magazines.

(The Noah Webster House Museum of West Hartford History)

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Image Information:

NPG.67.31 Noah Webster by Herring
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of William A. Ellis
All rights reserved.

Copyright © NPG (
For more information, contact the NPG Office of Rights and Reproduction.

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