Text of the Second Amendment
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.
The Second Amendment, as passed by the House and Senate and later ratified by the States, reads:
The hand-written copy of the Bill of Rights which hangs in the National Archives had slightly different capitalization and punctuation inserted by William Lambert, the scribe who prepared it. This copy reads:
Both versions are commonly used by "official" Government publications.
Samuel Adams, (February 6, 1788), reported in Charles Hale, Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1856), p. 86. This language was proposed in the Massachusetts convention for ratification of the U.S. Constitution to be added to Article I of that document.
Original text of what was to become the Second Amendment, as brought to the floor to the first session of the first congress of the U.S. House of Representatives. (original text)
Reworded version of the Second Amendment by the select committee on the Bill of Rights, July 28th 1789. AoC pp. 669).
Draft version of the Second Amendment sent by the House of Representatives to the United States Senate, on August 24th, 1789. (Note: When the Amendment was transcribed, the semicolon in the religious exemption portion was changed to a comma by the Senate scribe).
The following statements were made by various founding fathers prior to the adoption of the Second Amendment. While most date from before the wording of the second amendment was established, four were made during the 1789 debates over its adoption:
- No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.
- Proposed Virginia Constitution, June, 1776.
"No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms." This quote is added to the end of a proven Jefferson quote "No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms..." Thomas Jefferson, Proposed Virginia Constitution, 1776, Jefferson Papers 344.
What he actually said, in context is:
"No Freeman shall be debarred the use of arms in his own lands or tenements."
- The constitutions of most of our States assert, that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves, ... or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of the press.
- Letter to Major John Cartwright (5 June 1824).
- Here every private person is authorized to arm himself, and on the strength of this authority, I do not deny the inhabitants had a right to arm themselves at that time, for their defense, not for offence.
- As defense attorney for the British soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre. Reported in L. Kinvin Wroth and Hiller B. Zobel, ed., Legal Papers of John Adams (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1965), 3:248.
- To see that the people be continually trained up in the exercise of arms, and the militia lodged only in the people's hands.
- Marchamont Nedhams, reported in Adams', 'A Defense of the Constitutions of the Government of the United States of America 3:471 (1788); Adams wrote there that "The rule in general is excellent".
- To suppose arms in the hands of citizens, to be used at individual discretion, except in private self-defense, or by partial orders of towns, countries or districts of a state, is to demolish every constitution, and lay the laws prostrate, so that liberty can be enjoyed by no man; it is a dissolution of the government. The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws.
- A Defence of the Constitutions of the United States 3:475 (1787-1788).
- The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for the common liberties and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the late successful resistance of this country against the British arms will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments of 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.
- Federalist No. 46 (1788)
- In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
- Federalist No. 51 (1788)
George Mason is considered the "Father of the Bill of Rights." Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which detailed specific rights of citizens. He was later a leader of those who pressed for the addition of explicitly stated individual rights as part of the U.S. Constitution.
- When the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man, who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually. . . .
- At Virginia's U.S. Constitution ratification convention (June 14, 1788), reported in Elliot, Debates of the Several State Conventions 3:380.
- I ask, who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers. But I cannot say who will be the militia of the future day. If that paper on the table gets no alteration, the militia of the future day may not consist of all classes, high and low, and rich and poor. . . .
- Virginia's U.S. Constitution ratification convention (June 16, 1788), reported in Elliot, Debates of the Several State Conventions 3:425.
- That the People have a right to keep and bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, composed of the Body of the People, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe Defence of a free state.
- Within Mason's declaration of "the essential and unalienable Rights of the People", later adopted by the Virginia ratification convention (1788).
- Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.
- Virginia's U.S. Constitution ratification convention (June 5, 1788), reported in Elliot, Debates of the Several State Conventions 3:45.
- My great objection to this government is, that it does not leave us the means of defending our rights or of waging war against tyrants.
- Virginia's U.S. Constitution ratification convention (June 5, 1788), reported in Elliot, Debates of the Several State Conventions 3:47.
- Where and when did freedom exist when the power of the sword and purse were given up from the people?
- Virginia's U.S. Constitution ratification convention (June 9, 1788), Elliot, Debates of the Several State Conventions, 3:169.