The peaceable part of mankind will be continually overrun by the vile and abandoned while they neglect the means of self-defence. The supposed quietude of a good man allured 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 balance of power is the scale of peace. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside…Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the world deprived of the use of them;…the weak will become prey to the strong.
Thomas Paine— 1 WRITINGS OF THOMAS PAINE 56 (Conway ed., 1894).
“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”
Thomas Jefferson— 8 PAPERS OF THOMAS JEFFERSON 407 (J. Boyd, ed., 1953).
“[W]hat country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that the people preserve their spirit of resistance? Let them take arms, the remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & 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 nature’s manure.”
Thomas Jefferson— Id., vol. 2 at 344.
I used these quotes from “the Toms” today because of their uniquely contrarian natures. Paine was a fairly astute observer of human nature, and because of it, he understood that society, and government were both necessary evils…neither to be wholly trusted, and both should meet with some limitations preserved by the individual. While his keen perception was not enough to keep him from the hubristic belief that man is capable of becoming better based on his intellect and self-restraint alone, and the sad consequences that followed for him, he still understood that arms were and are the great equalizer, which allow those who want to be able to live in peace, from all who threaten it, to do so, some without ever having to rely on their actual use.
Jefferson had no illusions about arms. As the primary author of the prose of the Declaration of Independence, he also understood that at times, it falls upon the governed to open the ears of those who would govern them, and that sometimes, sadly, that means using arms. Clearly, he also understood that the right to bear arms was a pillar of liberty, as he knew firsthand that going to government, hat in hand, and asking “Please sir, may I have some more freedom?” is no more effective than a sternly worded letter to a member of Congress who is convinced that the august body of which he is a member does not have a spending problem.