Origins of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms

 The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms

"Undoubtedly what went before the adoption of the Constitution may be resorted to for the purpose of throwing light on its provisions."- Mr. Chief Justice [Edward Douglass] White, deliver[ing] the opinion of the court, U.S. Supreme Court, MARSHALL v. GORDON , 243 U.S. 521 (1917).

"And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side..."--Exodus 32:27

The Works of Tacitus,
Vol. 3
Gordon’s Discourses II, History
(Books 1-2) [120 AD]
By Publius* Cornelius Tacitus

[The Works of Tacitus. In Four Volumes. To which are prefixed, Political Discourses upon that Author by Thomas Gordon. The Second Edition, corrected. (London: T. Woodward and J. Peele, 1737). Vol. 3.]

Sect. I.

The infatuation of Men in power: they are much apter to oppress, than the People to rebel. People oppressed rejoice in public misfortunes. In disputes between Magistrates and People, the former generally to blame.

IT is a miserable infatuation of Men in power, to push that power and the People’s patience as far as either will go, and leave no room for a retreat. Those of this spirit finding the People tame and patient to a certain degree, conclude that they will or must be so to every and the utmost degree, and so never think of taking off their heavy hands, till the People, grown desperate, throw of them and their power, and having found no mercy, may be tempted to shew none. Promises of amendment will then be too late. They will not trust to the faith and good usage of one, who had dealt faithlessly and barbarously with them, even before they had exasperated him by opposition. His remorse and promises, however sincere, will be thought false and ensnaring; and even of his good actions unkind constructions will be madea.

Under an evil Administration, or one suspected and hated (a misfortune that seldom comes without cause) People will rejoice in the public distress, suffer themselves to be invaded, submit to be vanquished, bear national dishonour and private loss, rather than assist their Governor to prevent it. Thus the Romans behaved under the Decemvirate. That People of all others the most brave, of all others the most signal for public spirit, refused to fight, and bore a defeat; because rather than not be revenged upon that usurped Magistracy, they chose that the public enemy should execute that revenge, and to obtain it, ventured the worst that could befall themselves and their Country. Under Tiberius, people received with joy any news of revolts and invasions. In the year 1639, the English Nation was pleased that the Scots had seized the four northern Counties; and in the Reign of Charles the second his Subjects hated the French, because the King loved them, as a Droll pleasantly told him, when he was wondering what might be the reason.

The People are sometimes long patient under unjust usage, where it is not altogether violent and severe. The Romans under the usurpation of the Decemvirate, continued peaceable whilst the exercise of that power was tolerable; nay, they suffered many efforts of Tyranny, oppressive enormities, murder, arbitrary imprisonment, lawless decrees, and lust passing for Law, before they had recourse to resistance and self-defence. At last they roused themselves, driven to outrage by outrageous oppression. This their proud Oppressors might have foreseen, had not power and pride made them altogether blind. Appius Claudius the chief of them, had hardened his spirit against all reason and tenderness: So strangely was he intoxicated with the possession of his enormous power. Yet with all their provocation, they hurt no man’s person. They at first threatned high, and sufficient cause they had: But by a few reasonable words they were soon softened, upon assurance of seeing the usurpation abolished. These Usurpers were like most others: They had their authority from the Law, would keep it against Law, and stretch it beyond Law. I could mention a Commonwealth, in which the People have seen themselves for many years, daily divested of their rights, and instead of chusing their Magistrates themselves, according to the very fundamentals of their Constitution, see their Magistrates chuse one another, their Government changed, and an Aristocracy grown out of a popular Government. This public abuse, corruption and breach of Trust, the People see, complain of it indeed, but bear it. Their patience too may have a period: I wish that they may never be prompted to seek a violent remedy, such as may shake or overturn their State.

Governors are apt to censure the People as restless and unruly, the People their Magistrates as unjust and oppressive. It is generally very easy to decide who are most to be censured. There are many Countries where arbitrary oppressions are felt every day, yet not one insurrection or rebellion known in an age. Power is an incroaching thing, and seldom fails to take more than is given. Men in limited authority are apt to covet more, and when they have gained more, to take all. The People, who aim chiefly at protection and security, are content to keep what they have, nor seek to interfere in matters of Power, till Power has attempted to rob them of liberty and right: When these are seized by those who are bound to defend them, are the People to blame for expressing resentment, and seeking redress? It is but the natural Law of self-preservation, a Law that prevails even amongst Brutes; and is the effect of Reason as well as of Passion. In the first sallies of their wrath, they sometimes discharge it violently and shed blood, and when justice is denied, seek redress from force: but their wrath lasts not, and when they once have recovered their usurped rights, they even spare the Usurpers.

[a ]Inviso semel principe, seu bene seu male facta premunt.

    * - “Publius” was the pseudonym used by Hamilton, Jay and Madison, (authors of The Federalist Papers).


Theory of the Feudal Laws among the Franks in the Relation They Bear to the Establishment of the Monarchy.

18. Of the double Service.

It was a fundamental principle of the monarchy that whosoever was subject to the military power of another person was subject also to his civil jurisdiction. Thus the Capitulary of Louis the Debonnaire, [117] in the year 815, makes the military power of the count and his civil jurisdiction over the freemen keep always an equal pace. Thus the placita [118] of the count who carried the freemen against the enemy were called the placita of the freemen; [119] whence undoubtedly came this maxim, that the questions relating to liberty could be decided only in the count's placita, and not in those of his officers. Thus the count never led the vassals [120] belonging to the bishops, or to the abbots, against the enemy, because they were not subject to his civil jurisdiction. Thus he never commanded the rear-vassals belonging to the king's vassals. Thus the glossary of the English laws informs us [121] that those to whom the Saxons gave the name of Coples [122] were by the Normans called counts, or companions, because they shared the justiciary fines with the king. Thus we see that at all times the duty of a vassal towards his lord [123] was to bear arms [124] and to try his peers in his court.
[117] Art. 1, 2, and the council in verno palatio of the year 845, art. 8, edition of Baluzius, tome ii, p. 17.
[118] Or assizes.
[119] "Capitularies," book iv of the "Collection of Angezise," art. 57; and the fifth capitulary of Louis the Debonnaire, in the year 819, art. 14, edition of Baluzius, tome i, p. 615.
[120] See the 8th note of the preceding chapter.
[121] It is to be found in the "Collection of William Larabard," De Priscis Anglorum legibus.
[122] In the word Satrapia.
[123] This is well explained by the assizes of Jerusalem, chaps. 221, 222.
[124] The advowees of the church (advocati) were equally at the head of their placita and of their militia.
- Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, Book XXX. (1748).

Assize of Arms

1. Let every holder of a knight's fee have a hauberk, a helmet, a shield and a lance. And let every knight have as many hauberks, helmets, shields and lances, as he has knight's fees in his demise.

2. Also, let every free layman, who holds chattals or rent to the value of 16 marks, have hauberk, a helmet, a shield, and a lance. Also, let every free layman who holds chattals or rent worth 10 marks have an aubergel and a headpiece of iron and a lance....

4. Moreover, let each and every one of them swear before the feast of St. Hilary he will possess these arms and will bear allegiance to the lord king, Henry, namely the son of empress Maud, and that he will bear these arms in his service according to his order and in allegiance to the lord king and his realm..."


 "In 1619, the colony of Virginia had statutes that not only required everyone to attend church on Sunday, but “all such as bear arms shall bring their pieces, swords, powder and shot” or be subject to a three-shilling fine. That same statute was renewed in 1632, and again in 1738."-- David A. Yeagley, "The Christian Case Against Gun Control" [ 4/7/2004]


 "...24. That no man go or send abroad without a sufficient parties well armed.

"25. That men go not to worke in the ground without their arms (and a centinell upon them).

"26. That the inhabitants go not aboard ships or upon any other occasions in such numbers, as thereby to weaken and endanger the plantations.

"27. That the commander of every plantation take care that there be sufficient of powder and amunition within the plantation under his command and their pieces fixt and their arms compleate.

"28. That there be dew watch kept by night.

"29. That no commander of any plantation do either himselfe or suffer others to spend powder unneccessarily in drinking or entertainments, &c.--Laws and Orders Concluded by the Virginia General Assembly, March 5, 1624


"Nevertheless, with all these defects, the colony was admirably governed in the main. One great right of freemen, the right of bearing arms, a highly necessary right to men planted suddenly among wild beasts and savages, was certainly not taken from the people. On the contrary, the government took care that all should be duly trained to self-defence. There is no man who bears a head, says Wood, (New Englands Prospect, 1639,) but bears military arms; even boys of fourteen years of age are practised with men in military discipline every three weeks. And they practised to some effect, as the records of the time prove, and as the Pequods learned to their cost."-- John Lothrop Motley, (1814–1897). 'Polity of the Puritans'. (Concerning early colonial times).[The North American review. Vol. 69, Issue 145, Oct. 1849]. Son of Thomas Motley, born in Dorchester, Mass. Graduated Harvard in 1831. American historian, and briefly a Secretary of Legation to Russia.


Necessity to take up Arms

August 4, 1642

From John Rushworth, Historical Collections of Private Passages of State, Weighty Matters in Law, Remarkable Proceedings in Five Parliaments: Beginning the Sixteenth Year of King James,  anno 1618, and Ending with the Death of King Charles the First,  1648

(London : Printed by J.A. for Robert Boulter, 1680-1701).

"We the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, having taken into serious Consideration, the present State and Condition of imminent Danger in which the Kingdom now stands, by reason of a Malignant Party prevailing with his Majesty, putting him upon violent and perilous Ways, and now in Arms against us, to the hazarding of his Majesty's Person, and for the Oppression of the true Religion, the Laws and Liberties of this Kingdom, and the Power and Priviledge of Parliament: all of which every honest Mand is bound to defend, especially those who have taken the late Protestation, by which they are more particularly tied unto it; and the more answerable before God, should they neglect it:

"Wherefore we finding ourselves ingaged in a Necessity to take up Arms likewise for the Defense of these, which otherwise might suffer and perish, And having used all the good ways and means to prevent Extremities, and preserve the Peace of the Kingdom (which good endeavors of ours the Malignity of our Enemies hath rendered altogether successless and vain) do now think fit to to give this Account unto the World, to be a Satisfaction unto all Men of the Justice of our Proceedings, and a Warning unto those who are involved in the same Danger with us, to let them see the Necessity and Duty which lies upon them, to save themselves, their Religion and Country, for which purpose we set out this ensuing Declaration...."


 "29. It is ordered, that all ye Inhabitants in each Towne shall choose their Military Officers from among themselves on the first Tuesday after the 12th of March; and that eight sevarall times in the yeare, the Bands of each plantation or Towne, shall, openlie in the field, be exercised and disciplined by their Commanders and Officers, in the months of May, August, January and February excepted; and on the first Monday of ye other months, all the Train Bands to make their personal appearances completely armed, to attend their colors, by 8 o’clock in the morning, at the second beate of ye Drum; and if any appear not, they shall forfeit and pay five shillings into the hands of the Clarke of ye Band; and if any shall come defective in his Armes or furniture, he shall forfeit and pay ye sum of twelve pence, after the Town Council have caused them to be supplied; and that all men who shall come and remaine ye space of twenty days, shall be liable to ye injunction of this order; Provided, herdsmen, fighter-men and such as be left of necessity at Farmes, shall pay two shilings and sixpence for every dayes absence: And that the two Chief officers in each Towne, to witt: one of the Commonweale, the other of the Band, upon the exhibition of the complaint by ye Clark (which shall be within three dayes after the fault committed,) shall judge and determine of ye reasons of the excuses, who, upon the hearing thereof, shall determine whether every such person shall pay five shillings, two shillings and sixpence, or nothing; and according as they find any defective, shall give their warrants to ye Clark to distraine their Goods if they shall refuse to pay what is ordered. And if the Clarke shall neglect to gather up what is ordered, he shall forfeit and pay so much into the hands of the Captain, the next training day; And that all the fines and forfeitures shall be imployed to the use and service of the Band. And the Towne Councils shall have power to cause those which are defective in armes, to be supplied in an equal way according to Estate and strength. And if any of ye Traine Band after his appearance shall refuse or neglect the command of his Captain, to be exercised and disciplined, he shall forfeit as much as if he had not appeared: And that the Town Council shall order the power of the Military Officers within the Towne, and in all caes that concerne ye whole, the President and ye foure assistants, and ye Captains of every Band shall be the Councill of Warr; that if any of the Officers of ye Band be at any time left out, they shall beare Armes again, for ye Constitution of our place will not beare the contrary: that every Inhabitant of the Island above sixteen or under sixty yeares of age, shall alwayes be provided of a Musket, one pound of powder, twenty bullets, and two fadom of Match, with sword, rest, bandaleers all completely furnished.

"30. It is ordered, that in regard of ye many incursions that we are subjected vnto, and that an Alarum for ye giving of notice thereof is necessary when occasion is offered. It is agreed, that this form be observed. Vidg’t: Three Muskets distinctly discharged, and a Herauld appointed to go speedilie threw the Towne, and crie, Alarum! Alarum!! and the Drum to beate incessantly; upon which, all to repair (upon forfeiture and the Town Councill shall order) unto the Town House, there to receive information of the Town Councill what is farther to be done.

"31. It is ordered and agreed, that if any person or persons, shall sell, give deliver, or any otherwayes convey any powder, shott, lead, gunn, pistoll, sword, dagger, halberd or pike to the Indians that are or may prove offensive to this Colonie, or any member thereof, he or they, for the first offence, shall forfeit ye sum of five pounds; and for his second offence, offending in the same kind, and being lawfully convicted, shall forfeit ten pounds; half to the State, and half to him that will sew for it, and no wager of Law by any means to be allowed to the offender. And, it is further ordered, that if any person shall mend or repaire their Guns, or [ ] he shall forfeit the same penaltie."--Acts and Orders

Made and agreed upon at the Generall Court of Election, held at Portsmouth, in Rhode Island, the 19, 20, 21 of May, Anno. 1647, for the Colonie and province of Providence.

[Bartlett, Vol. I, 1636 to 1663, 38–65.]


July 8th 1663
Granted by King Charles H. in the Fourteenth Year of his Reign.

Quintadecima pars Patentium Anno Regni Regis Caroli Secundi Quintodecimo.

Printed Collection of Amer. Charters Lon. 1766

"...And that they may be in the better capacity to defend themselves in their just rights and liberties, against all the enemies of the Christian faith, and others, in all respects; . . . "

". . . That for the more peaceable and orderly Government of the said Plantations, it shall and may be lawful for the Governor, Deputy Governor, Assistants, and all other Officers and Ministers, of the said Company, in the Administration of justice, and exercise of Government, in the said Plantations, to use, exercise, and put in execution, such methods, rules, orders, and directions, not being contrary and repugnant to the laws and statutes of this our realm, as has been heretofore given, used, and accustomed in such cases respectively, to be put in practice, until, at the next, or some other General Assembly, especial provision shall be made and ordained in the cases aforesaid. And We do further, for Us, Our Heirs and Successors, give and grant unto the said Governor and Company, and their Successors, by these presents, That it shall and may be lawful to and for the said Governor, or in his absence the Deputy Governor, and major part of the said Assistants for the time being, at any time, when the said General Assembly is not fitting, to nominate, appoint and constitute such and so many Commanders, Governors, and Military Officers, as to them shall seem requisite, for the leading, conducting, and training up the inhabitants of the said Plantations in martial affairs, and for the defence and safeguard of the said Plantations; and that it shall and may be lawful to and for all and every such Commander, Governor, and Military Officer, that shall be so as aforesaid, or by the Governor, or in his absence the Deputy Governor, and six of the Assistants, and major part of the Freemen of the said Company, present at any General Assemblies, nominated, appointed and constituted, according to the tenor of his and their respective commissions and directions, to assemble, exercise in arms, marshal, array, and put in warlike posture the inhabitants of the said Colony, for their especial defence and safety, and to lead and conduct the said inhabitants, and to encounter, repulse, and resist by force of arms...."


A Declaration and Proposals of the Lord Proprietor of Carolina,

Aug. 25-Sept. 4, 1663

"...7. We will grant to every present undertaker for his own head, one hundred acres of land, to him and his heires forever, to be held in free and common soccage; and for every man-servant that he shall bring or sent thither, that is fit to bear arms, armed with a good firelock musket, performed bore, twelve bullets to the pound, and with twenty pounds of powder and twenty pounds of bullets, fifty acres of land; and for every woman-servant thirty acres; and to every man-servant that shall come within that time, ten acres after the expiration of his time; and to every woman-servant six acres after the expiration of her time...." 


"...CXVI. All inhabitants and freemen of Carolina above seventeen years of age, and under sixty, shall be bound to bear arms, and serve as soldiers whenever the grand council shall find it necessary...."--John Locke, March 1, 1669, The Fundamental Constitutions Of Carolina [The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, (London: Rivington, 1824 12th ed.). Vol. 9.]


 "TIS also agreed that in case the Subjects and Inhabitants of either of the Kings with their Shipping (whether Publick and of War, or Private and of Merchants,) be forced thro' Stress of Weather, pursuit of Pirates and Enemies, or any other urgent necessity, for seeking of Shelter and Harbour, to retreat and enter into any of the Rivers, Creeks, Bays, Havens, Roads, Ports and Shores belonging to the other in America, they shall be received and treated there with all Humanity and Kindness, and Enjoy all friendly Protection and Help: And it shall be Lawful for them to refresh and provide themselves at Reasonable and the Usual Rates with Victuals, and all things needful for the Sustenance of their Persons, or Reparation of their Ships, and Conveniency of their Voyage; And they shall no manner of way be detained or hindered from returning out of the said Ports or Roads, but shall remove and depart when and whither they please, without any let or hindrance: Provided always that they do not break bulk, nor carry out of their Ships any Goods, exposing them to Sale; nor receive any Merchandize on board, or employ themselves in Fishing; under the Penalty of Confiscation of Ships and Goods, as in the foregoing Article is expressed. And it is further Agreed, That whensoever the Subjects of either King shall be forced to enter with their Ships into the other Ports, as is afore-mentioned, they shall be Obliged at their coming in, to hang out their Flagg for the Colours of their Nation, and give Notice of their coming, by Thrice firing a Cannon; and if they have no Cannon, by firing Musket Thrice, which if they shall Omit to do, and yet send their Boat on Shore, they shall be lyable to Confiscation."--Of the Fifth & Sixth ARTICLES of the Treaty of Neutrality in America, between England and France, in the Year 1686. late sent in Orders to His Majesty's Frigots attending the Government of this Province, to be put in Execution to Effect.


An Account of the Late Revolution In New-England

Written by Mr. Nathanael Byfield, to his Friends, &c.

[The American Republic: Primary Sources, ed. Bruce Frohnen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).]

April 18, 1689

"...Upon the Eighteenth Instant, about Eight of the Clock in the Morning, in Boston, it was reported at the South end of the Town, That at the North end they were all in Arms; and the like Report was at the North end, respecting the South end: Whereupon Captain John George was immediately seized, and about nine of the clock the Drums beat thorough the Town; and an Ensign was set up upon the Beacon. Then Mr. Bradstreet, Mr. Dantforth, Major Richards, Dr. Cooke, and Mr. Addington & c. were brought to the Council-house by a Company of Soldiers under the Command of Captain Hill. The mean while the People in Arms, did take up and put in to Gaol, Justice Bullivant, Justice Foxcroft, Mr. Randolf, Sheriff Sherlock, Captain Ravenscroft, Captain White, Farewel, Broadbent, Crafford, Larkin, Smith, and many more, as also Mercey the then Goal-keeper, and put Scates the Bricklayer in his place. About Noon, in the Gallery at the Council-house, was read the Declaration here inclosed. Then a Message was sent to the Fort to Sir Edmund Andros, By Mr. Oliver and Mr. Eyres, signed by the Gentlemen then in the Council-Chamber, (which is here also inclosed); to inform him how unsafe he was like to be if he did not deliver up himself, and Fort and Government forthwith, which he was loath to do. By this time, being about two of the Clock (the Lecture being put by) the Town was generally in Arms, and so many of the Countrey came in, that there was Twenty Companies in Boston, besides a great many that appeared at Charles Town that could not get over (some say Fifteen Hundred). There then came information to the Soldiers..."


English Bill of Rights 1689

"An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown

"Whereas the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons assembled at Westminster, lawfully, fully and freely representing all the estates of the people of this realm, did upon the thirteenth day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred eighty-eight [old style date] present unto their Majesties, then called and known by the names and style of William and Mary, prince and princess of Orange, being present in their proper persons, a certain declaration in writing made by the said Lords and Commons in the words following, viz.: . . ."

". . . That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law; ..."

ACT of 26th August 1721. 1 Dallas p. 158 l Bioren p. 157 1 Smith p. 180.

  2. Sect. IV. If any person or persons, of what sex, age, degree or quality soever, shall fire any gun or other fire arms, or shall make or cause to be made, or sell or utter, or offer to expose to sale any squibs, rockets or other fireworks, or shall cast, throw or fire any squibs, rockets, or other fireworks, within the city of Philadelphia, without the governor's special license for the same, of which license due notice shall first be given to the mayor of the said city, such person or persons so offending, and being thereof convicted before any one justice of the peace of the said city, either by confession of the party so offending, or by the view of any of the said justices, or by the oath or affirmation of one or more witnesses, shall for every such offence forfeit and pay the sum of five shillings; one half to the use of the poor of the said city, and the other half to the use of him or them who shall prosecute, and cause such offender to be as aforesaid convicted; which forfeitures shall be levied by distress and sale of the offender's goods as aforesaid; and for want of such distress, if the offender refuse to pay the said forfeiture, he shall be committed to prison, for every such offence, the space of two days, without bail or mainprize: Provided, That such conviction be made within ten days after such offence committed. [Pg. 231]

ACT of 9th February 1750-51. 1 Dallas p. 339. 1 Bioren p. 311. 1 Smith p. 208.

  3. Sect. I. If any person or persons whatsoever, within any county town, or within any other town or borough in this province, already built and settled, or hereafter to be built and settled, not hitherto restricted nor provided for by our laws, shall set on fire their chimnies to cleanse them, or shall suffer them or any of them to take fire, and blaze out at the top, or shall fire any gun or other fire arm, or shall make or cause to be made, or sell or utter, or offer to expose to sale, any squibs, rockets or other fire works, or shall cast, throw or fire any squibs, rockets or other fire works, within any of the said towns or boroughs, without the governor's special license for the same, every such person or persons so offending, shall be subject to the like penalties and forfeitures, and to be recovered in like manner, as in and by an act, passed in the eighth year of the reign of king George the first, entitled 'An act for preventing accidents that may happen by fire,' are directed to be levied and recovered. [Act of 26th August 1721.] [Pg. 232]
[A Digest of the Laws of Pennsylvania: From the Year One Thousand Seven Hundred, To The Twenty Fourth Day of March One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eighteen. WITH References to Reports of Judicial Decisions in the SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA. BY JOHN PURDON. PHILADELPHIA: PUBLISHED BY PHILIP H. NICKLIN, No. 175, CHESNUT STREET. W. Fry, Printer. 1818. (Fines and Recognizances. Fire. Firing of Guns).]


At the General Assembly of the Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode-Island, and Providence-Plantations, in New-England, in America; bugun in Consequence of Warrants issued by his Honor the Governor, and holden at Newport in said Colony, on Wednesday the Tenth of August, 1757, and in the Thirty-first Year of the Reign of His Most Sacred Majesty GEORGE the Second, by the Grace of GOD, King of Great-Britain, and so forth.

"...AND be it farther Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That the Deputies of the several Towns be, and they are hereby impowered to procure at the Expence of the Colony, half a Pound of Powder, twenty Bullets, six Flints, and seven Day's Provision, for each Soldier going upon the present Emergency; and they are farther impowered and directed to hire Horses for the Men, and to procure Arms and all other Necessaries, in like Manner. And if the said Arms, Horses, or any other Necessaries cannot be procured but by an Impress, the Deputies are hereby fully impowered to press each and every Article which they shall have Occasion for, to forward the said Men, they taking and keeping an exact Account of what they shall procure of any Man, that the same may be paid for by the Colony. Provided, that any Deputy who is a Captain, or who on any reasonable Account, cannot attend the above Service, may appoint some proper Person to do the same in his Stead; and said Person so appointed, is hereby requir'd and fully impower'd to perform the same...."

"...AND be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That each and every Commission Officer, and Soldier, who has a Gun fit for Service, shall make Use of the same, and those who have none, to be provided as above-mention'd. And each and every Officer and Soldier, shall take a Blanket with him, if he has any that can be spared from his Family; if not, to be furnished as above directed...." 


"...Thus encountering all the troubles and dangers which waylaid us on every side, we sustained innumerable disasters from the then numerous and blood thirsty savages, having our nearest friends torn from our bosoms and murdered before our eyes; children taken from their mothers breasts, and dashed to pieces, and we who escaped the sword of those devourers, like unto the children of Israel at the rebuilding the temple, sweat and toiled with our weapons of defence girt about us; labouring to raise supplies necessary for the support of life: But gracious Heaven benignly smil'd and the Almighty had compassion, and far exceeding the widow's barrel of meal, which, according to the prophecy of Elijah, wasted not, though in constant use; we were mangled, torn and wasted by our enemies, and not only sustained our numbers, but increased and became numerous: thus with views of making you our offspring happy people, we surmounted all difficulties, and endured all hardships with pleasure, hoping to have left you always in possession of those sacred rights which nature has given to all men, without the abridgment of any earthly prince or state; By this time our mother country feeing the flourishing state to which America would likely advance, and conscious of the advantages which might accrue to them from such a settlement, in addition to those rights derived to us from nature; entered into the most sacred engagements to give, secure, and preserve to us inviolably, all the rights and immunities of the inhabitants of Britain, agreeable to Magna Charta, with certain other privileges granted by particular charters, from time to time, made and recognized by the King and people of Britain, the confideration for which have been always paid and made good according to compact and agreement, by us and our successors, down to your day; in which time many innovations have been made on the liberties of our beloved offspring; and now at last the great legislature of the nation have been so far misled, as to strike at once at all those rights which are so justly deemed sacred; reducing you our offspring, and the generations which will follow you, to the most abject slavery, involving our numerous progeny, for whose sakes we so incessantly toyled in inevitable ruin. Shocking thought! amazing stupidity! ...."--A Manifesto and Address from HEAVEN, By the Guardian Angel of AMERICA: From HEAVEN, whoe'ere beholds on yonder Earth, Grieves at the Oppression sprung from vilest Birth. Into whose-soever hands this may first happen, see to it, that it be immediately published in all the provinces on the continent. Sold near the Burying-Place in Portsmouth, leading to the Mill-Pond; first publish'd in Connecticut. in the Year of our LORD CHRIST, 1766.


"...To point out the misconduct of the late assembly, in every particular instance, would (besides being a very disagreeable task) take up rather too much time. I shall, therefore, confine myself to only a few instances; and in order to prove that they have been guilty of the most glaring breach of trust, I need only mention the gunning act, which restrains the freemen and freeholders of this city from gunning on this island, and thereby deprives them of a privilege granted by his Majesty's charter, which the assembly, in this singular instance, have assumed a power to disannul--And tho' individuals may have suffered from the too free exercise of this privilege, yet there could not be the least necessity for passing such an act, as the persons aggrieved could have obtained redress by law, against any one who should have been guilty of trespassing upon their lands...."--A FEW OBSERVATIONS ON THE CONDUCT OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF NEW-YORK, FOR SOME YEARS PAST, ADDRESSED TO THE FREEMEN AND FREEHOLDERS OF THE CITY AND PROVINCE. PRINTED in the Year M,DCC,LXVIII., PHILANTHROPOS. New-York, Feb. 9, 1768.


"...They have prohibited us from purchasing any kind of goods or manufactures of Europe except from Great-Britain, and from selling any of our own goods or manufactures to foreigners, a few inconsiderable articles ex-cepted, under pain of confiscation of vessel and cargo, and other heavy penalties. If they were indeed our sovereign lords and masters, as they pretend to be, such regulations would be in open violation of the laws of nature. But what adds to this grievance is, that in the trade between us they can set their own prices both on our and their commodities, which is in effect a tax and of which they have availed themselves: And moreover, duties are laid on divers enumerated articles on their import, for the express purpose of a revenue. They freely give and grant away our monies without our consent, under the specious pretence of defending, protecting, and securing America, and for the charges of the administration of justice here, when in fact, we are not indebted to them one farthing for any defence or protection from the first planting the country to this moment, but on the contrary, a balance is due to us for our exertion in the general cause; and besides, the advantages which have accrued to them in their trade with us hath put millions in their pockets. As to the administration of justice, no country in the world can boast of a purer one than this, the charges of which have been always chearfully provided for and paid without their interposition. There is reason to fear that if the British people undertake the business of the administration of justice amongst us it will be worse for us, as it may cause an introduction of their fashionable corruptions, whereby our pure streams of justice will be tainted and polluted. But in truth, by the administration of justice is meant the keeping up an outfit of officers to rob us of our money, to keep us down and humble, and to frighten us out of our undoubted rights...."

"...Wherefore, dearly beloved, let us with unconquerable resolution maintain and defend that liberty wherewith God hath made us free. As the total subjection of a people arises generally from gradual encroachments, it will be our indispensible duty manfully to oppose every invasion of our rights in the beginning. Let nothing discourage us from this duty to ourselves and our posterity. Our fathers fought and found freedom in the wilderness; they cloathed themselves with the skins of wild beasts, and lodged under trees and among bushes; but in that state they were happy because they were free.—Should these our noble ancestors arise from the dead, and find their posterity trucking away that liberty, which they purchased at so dear a rate, for the mean trifles and frivolous merchandize of Great Britain, they would return to the grave with a holy indignation against us. In this day of danger let us exert every talent, and try every lawful mean, for the preservation of our liberties. It is thought that nothing will be of more avail, in our present distressed situation, than to stop our imports from Britain. By such a measure this little colony would save more than 173,000 pounds, lawful money, in one year, besides the advantages which would arise from the industry of the inhabitants being directed to the raising of wool and flax, and the establishment of manufactures. Such a measure might distress the manufacturers and poor people in England, but that would be their misfortune. Charity begins at home, and we ought primarily to consult our own interest; and besides, a little distress might bring the people of that country to a better temper, and a sense of their injustice towards us. No nation or people in the world ever made any figure, who were dependent on any other country for their food or cloathing. Let us then in justice to ourselves and our children, break off a trade so pernicious to our interest, and which is likely to swallow up both our estates and liberties.—A trade which hath nourished the people, in idleness and dissipation.—We cannot, we will not, betray the trust reposed in us by our ancestors, by giving up the least of our liberties.—We will be freemen, or we will diewe cannot endure the thought of being governed by subjects, and we make no doubt but the Almighty will look down upon our righteous contest with gracious approbation. We cannot bear the reflection that this country should be yielded to them who never had any hand in subduing it. Let our whole conduct shew that we know what is due to ourselves. Let us act prudently, peaceably, firmly, and jointly. Let us break off all trade and commerce with a people who would enslave us, as the only means to prevent our ruin. May we strengthen the hands of the civil government here, and have all our exertions tempered with the principles of peace and order, and may we by precept and example encourage the practice of virtue and morality, without which no people can be happy.

"It only remains now, that we dedicate the Tree of Liberty...."--A Discourse at the Dedication of the Tree of Liberty, “a son of liberty” [Silas Downer] 1768 [The American Republic: Primary Sources, ed. Bruce Frohnen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).]

"In the days of the Stuarts, it was look'd upon by some men as a high degree of prophaness, for any subject to enquire into what was called the mysteries of government: James the first thundered his anathema against Dr. Cowel, for his daring presumption in treating of--those mysteries; and forbad his subjects to read his books, or even to keep them in their houses. In those days passive obedience, non-resistance, the divine hereditary right of kings, and their being accountable to God alone, were doctrines generally taught, believ'd and practiced: But behold the sudden transition of human affairs! In the very next reign the people assum'd the right of free enquiry, into the nature and end of government, and the conduct of those who were entrusted with it: Laud and Strafford were bro't to the block; and after the horrors of a civil war, in which some of the best blood of the nation was spilt as water upon the ground, they finally called to account, arraign'd, adjudg'd, condemn'd and even executed the monarch himself! and for a time held his son and heir in exile. The two sons of Charles the first, after the death of Oliver Cromwell, reigned in their turns; but by copying after their father, their administration of government was grievous to their subjects, and infamous abroad. Charles the second indeed reign'd till he died; but his brother James was oblig'd to abdicate the throne, which made room for William the third, and his royal consort Mary, the daughter of the unfortunate James--This was the fate of a race of Kings, bigotted to the greatest degree to the doctrines of slavery and regardless of the natural, inherent, divinely hereditary and indefeasible rights of their subjects.--At the revolution, the British constitution was again restor'd to its original principles, declared in the bill of rights; which was afterwards pass'd into a law, and stands as a bulwark to the natural rights of subjects. "To vindicate these rights, says Mr. Blackstone, when actually violated or attack'd, the subjects of England are entitled first to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law--next to the right of petitioning the King and parliament for redress of grievances--and lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence." These he calls "auxiliary subordinate rights, which serve principally as barriers to protect and maintain inviolate the three great and primary rights of personal security, personal liberty and private property": And that of having arms for their defence he tells us is "a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression."--How little do those persons attend to the rights of the constitution, if they know anything about them, who find fault with a late vote of this town, calling upon the inhabitants to provide themselves with arms for their defence at any time; but more especially, when they had reason to fear, there would be a necessity of the means of self preservation against the violence of oppression.--Every one knows that the exercise of the military power is forever dangerous to civil rights; and we have had recent instances of violences that have been offer'd to private subjects, and the last week, even to a magistrate in the execution of his office!--Such violences are no more than might have been expected from military troops: A power, which is apt enough at all times to take a wanton lead, even when in the midst of civil society; but more especially so, when they are led to believe that they are become necessary, to awe a spirit of rebellion, and preserve peace and good order. But there are some persons, who would, if possibly they could, perswade the people never to make use of their constitutional rights or terrify them from doing it. No wonder that a resolution of this town to keep arms for its own defence, should be represented as having at bottom a secret intention to oppose the landing of the King's troops: when those very persons, who gave it this colouring, had before represented the peoples petitioning their Sovereign, as proceeding from a factious and rebellious spirit; and would now insinuate that there is an impropriety in their addressing even a plantation Governor upon public business--Such are the times we are fallen into!"--Samuel Adams, Boston Gazette
27 Feb. 1769,Writings 1:316--19


"Just before we left Bethlehem, eleven farmers, who had been driven from their plantations by the Indians, came to me requesting a supply of firearms, that they might go back and fetch off their cattle. I gave them each a gun with suitable ammunition. We had not march'd many miles before it began to rain, and it continued raining all day; there were no habitations on the road to shelter us, till we arriv'd near night at the house of a German, where, and in his barn, we were all huddled together, as wet as water could make us. It was well we were not attack'd in our march, for our arms were of the most ordinary sort, and our men could not keep their gun locks dry. The Indians are dextrous in contrivances for that purpose, which we had not. They met that day the eleven poor farmers above mentioned, and killed ten of them. The one who escap'd inform'd that his and his companions' guns would not go off, the priming being wet with the rain."--Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, 1771-1788 - Pg. 146.


The Rights of the Colonists
by Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin

The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting.

November 20, 1772

"Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature...."

"...When men enter into society, it is by voluntary consent; and they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such conditions and previous limitations as form an equitable original compact.

"Every natural right not expressly given up, or, from the nature of a social compact, necessarily ceded, remains.

"All positive and civil laws should conform, as far as possible, to the law of natural reason and equity...."

"...Just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty," in matters spiritual and temporal, is a thing that all men are clearly entitled to by the eternal and immutable laws of God and nature, [418]as well as by the law of nations and all well-grounded municipal laws, which must have their foundation in the former...."

"...[419] The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but only to have the law of nature for his rule...."

"...In short, it is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one, or any number of men, at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights; when the grand end of civil government, from the very nature of its institution, is for the support, protection, and defence of those very rights; the principal of which, as is before observed, are Life, Liberty, and Property. If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation. The right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave...."



"...2. That it is an indespensable Duty which we owe to GOD, our Country. Ourselves and Posterity, by all lawful Ways and Means in our Power, to maintain, defend and preserve those civil and religions Rights and Liberties for which many of our Fathers fought--bled--and died; and to hand them down entire to future Generations.

"...9. That the Fortifications begun and now carrying on upon Boston Neck are justly alarming to this County, and give us Reason to apprehend some hostile Intention against that Town, more especially as the Commander in Chief has in a very extraordinary Manner removed the Powder from the Magazine at Charlestown, and has also forbidden the Keeper of the Magazine at Boston to deliver out to the Owners the Powder which they had lodged in said Magazine.

"...11. That whereas our Enemies have flattered themselves that they shall make an easy Prey of this numerous, brave and hardy People, from an Apprehension that they are unacquainted with military Discipline, We therefore for the Honor, Defence and Security of this County and Province advise, as it has been recommended to take away all Commissions from the Officers of the Militia, that those who now hold Commissions or such other Persons be elected in each Town as Officers in the Militia as shall be judged of sufficient Capacity for that Purpose, and who have evidenced themselves the inflexible Friends to the Rights of the People, and that the Inhabitants of those Towns and Districts who are qualified do use their utmost Diligence to acquaint themselves with the Art of War as soon as possible, and do for that Purpose appear under Arms at least once every Week...."--At a Meeting of the Delegates of every Town and District in the County of Suffolk, on Tuesday the Sixth of September, [1774]


At a Meeting of Delegates of the Towns in the Counties of New-London and Windham, convened at Norwich, the 8th Day of September 1774, so consult for their common Safety, &c.
Hon. Gurdon Sattonstall, Chairman.
Col. William Williams, Clerk.
THIS Convention taking into their serious Consideration the present State of this Country, in that we are permitted to be threatened with the Loss of our Liberties and constitutional Rights, &c.
And when we view it's State, as to Arms, military Knowledge, proper Stores, and the Attention of this People to their just Defence, whenever it shall so happen that any common Enemy shall rise against us, and attempt our Subjection by Force of Arms, we cannot but be animated to address ourselves to all whose Business it is to attend upon military Affairs.
And in the first Place, We do seriously recommend to the Selectmen of every Town within the Counties of New-London and Windham, that as speedily as possible they supply their Town Stock with a full Complement of Ammunition and military Stores, as by Law is required.
  • 2dly. We recommend earnestly to every particular Troop and military Company within said two Counties, both Officers and Soldiers, and all others living within their several and respective Limits, who by Law are required to provide and keep Arms and Ammunition, as speedily as possible to arm and equip themselves, agreeable to the Directions of the Laws of this Colony; excepting where in Arms it may be thought expedient to vary; that such Variation be uniformly adopted...."
 Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 1

Caesar Rodney to Thomas Rodney

Sir, Philadelphia. Saturday Sepr. 17th 1774 By Express Which arrived here Yesterday, from the Committee of the Town of Boston to the general Continental Congress, Who are Informed the County of Suffolk of which the Town of Boston is the Capital, had entered into Certain Resolutions, a Copy of Which was inclosed us. Generally to the purport of not Suffering the Commander in Chief to Execute the Act of Parliament changing their Government by Persuading, protecting and Compelling officers under the new Regulation to Resign and by a Refusal in jurymen to Serve &c, That they have ordered all those able to bear Arms to keep in Readiess, to defend their inherent rights, Even with Loss of Blood & Treasure; That they are determined not [to] Injure the General or [any of the Kings Troops, Unless Compelled thereto by an Attack made by the Troops on them.
They complain of the General's Seizing the Powder at Cambridge Which they say was private property..."


"Mr. Henry for it. Says that a preparation for Warr is Necessary to obtain peace--That America is not Now in a State of peace--That all the Bulwarks, of Our Safety, of Our Constitn. are thrown down, That We are Now in a State of Nature--That We ought to ask Ourselves the Question should the planns of Nonim [portatio] n & Nonexp [oratio] n fail of success--in that Case Arms are Necessary, & if then, it is Necessary Now. Arms are a Resource to which We shall be forced, a Resource afforded Us by God &c.; Nature, & why in the Name of both are We to hesitate providing them Now whilst in Our power."-- Silas Deane's Diary, Oct. 3, 1774. [Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 1 AUGUST 1774 - AUGUST 1775]


Delegates to Congress: Letters of delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, Volume 1

Samuel Adams to Thomas Young

My dear Sir Philadelphia Octob [17?] 1774

"I have receivd your (1) favors of 29th Sept and 11th Instant, the latter of which is just come to hand. The affidavit inclosed confirms the report in Boston about the begining of July, of a Mans being seizd by the Soldiery, put under Guard & finally sent to England. But what Remedy can the poor injurd Fellow obtain in his own Country where inter Arma silent Leges! I have written to our Friends to provide themselves without Delay with arms &; Ammunition, get well instructed in the military Art, embody themselves & prepare a complete Set of Rules that they may be ready in Case they are called to defend themselves against the violent Attacks of Despotism. Surely the Laws of Self Preservation will warrant it in this Time of Danger & doubtful Expectation...."


In Provincial Congress,
Cambridge, October 26, 1774.

"...Also Resolved, That as the Security of the Lives, Liberties and Properties of the Inhabitants of this Province depends under Providence on their Knowledge and Skill in the Art Military, and in their being properly and effectually armed and equipt, if any of said Inhabitants are not provided with Arms and Ammunition according to Law, they immediately provide themselves therewith; and that they use their utmost Diligence to perfect themselves in Military Skill; and that if any Town or District within the Province is not provided with the full Town Stock of Arms and Ammunition according to Law, the Selectmen of such Town or District take effectual Care without Delay to provide the same."

A true Extract from the Minutes.

Benjamin Lincoln, Sec'ry.


"Self-preservation is the first principle of our nature. When our lives and properties are at stake, it would be foolish and unnatural to refrain from such measures as might preserve them because they would be detrimental to others."--Alexander Hamilton, A FULL VINDICATION. DECEMBER 15, 1774. [The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 1.]

ACT of 24th December 1774. 1 Dallas p. 701. 2 Bioren p. 125. 1 Smith p. 421.

  5. Sect. I. If any person or persons shall on any thirty-first day of December, or first or second day of January, in every year, wantonly, and without reasonable occasion, discharge and fire off any hand-gun, pistol or other fire arms, or shall cast, throw or fire any squibs, rockets or other fire works, within the inhabited parts of this province, to the disturbance of any of his majesty's subjects there inhabiting and being, every such person so offending, and being thereof convicted before any one justice of the peace of the county, or mayor or other head officer, or justice of peace of any city or town corporate, where such offence shall be committed, either by confession of the party so offending, or the oath or affirmation of one or more credible witness (which oath or affirmation the said justice or other officer aforesaid, is hereby empowered and required to administer) shall for every such offence forfeit, for the use of the poor of the township or district, where such offender lives, the sum of ten shillings, to be levied by distress and sale of the offender's goods and chattels by warrant, under the hand and seal of the justice or other officer, before whom such offenders shall be convicted, returning the overplus, if any, to the owner, the reasonable charge of distraining being first deducted; and for want of such distress, such offender shall be committed to prison for the space of five days, without bail or mainprize.

  6 Sect. II. If any person or persons shall willingly permit or suffer within the time aforesaid, any person or persons to discharge or fire off at his or her house, any hand-gun, pistol or other fire arms, or to cast, throw or fire any squibs, rockets or other fire works as aforesaid, every person so as aforesaid offending, and being thereof convicted in manner aforesaid, shall for every such offence, forfeit and pay, for the use aforesaid, the sum of twenty shillings, to be recovered in manner aforesaid. [Pgs. 232-33]

[A Digest of the Laws of Pennsylvania: From the Year One Thousand Seven Hundred, To The Twenty Fourth Day of March One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eighteen. WITH References to Reports of Judicial Decisions in the SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA. BY JOHN PURDON. PHILADELPHIA: PUBLISHED BY PHILIP H. NICKLIN, No. 175, CHESNUT STREET. W. Fry, Printer. 1818. (Fines and Recognizances. Fire. Firing of Guns).]


"...Good and wise men, in all ages, have embraced a very dissimilar theory. They have supposed, that the deity, from the relations, we stand in, to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is, indispensibly, obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever.

"This is what is called the law of nature, "which, being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over ALL the globe, in ALL countries, and at ALL times. No HUMAN LAWS are of any validity, if CONTRARY to this; and such of them as are valid, derive all their authority, mediately, or immediately, from this original. - Blackstone

"Upon this law, depend the natural rights of mankind, the supreme being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beatifying that existence. He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which, to discern and pursue such things, as were consistent with his duty and interest, and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty, and personal safety....

" The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power....

"Had the rest of America passively looked on, while a sister colony was subjugated, the same fate would gradually have overtaken all. The safety of the whole depends upon the mutual protection of every part. If the sword of oppression be permitted to lop off one limb without opposition, reiterated strokes will soon dismember the whole body."-- Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 23 Feb. 1775.

"...I am absolutely certain that New England men never would that of theirs. Nor would any Part of America ever forget or forgive, the destrucion of one New England man in this Cause. The Death of 4 or 5 Persons, the most obscure, and inconsiderable that could have been found upon the Continent, on the 5th March 1770 has never yet been forgiven by any Part of America. What then would be the Consequence of a Battle in which, many Thousands must fall of the best Blood, the best Families, Fortunes, Abilities and moral Characters in the Country?

"America, never will Submit to the Claims of Parliament and Administration. New England alone has 200,000 fighting Men. And all in a Militia, established by Law, not exact Soldiers, but all used to Arms."--John Adams to James Burgh, Decr. 28. 1774, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 1.


"...The people here however misrepresented are sincerely devoted to the Cause of Liberty. And tho' they are ungenerously condemned in other colonies [. . .] they will not suffer the press to be restraind, nor a decent Freedom of speech to be controled. These Indulgences in part proceed from a proper sense of Liberty. Under this advantage It is not difficult for a Man of Observation to discern the General Opinion on important & popular subjects. It seems to be agreed here that every pacific & persuasive Expedient ought to be tried before a Recourse to Arms can be Justified; and accordingly the petition to the King as well as the Association are highly approved. Here they conclude we ought to rest till Time is given for the Operation of these Solitary Measures on the Success of which they greatly rely. If we proceed to Extremities the principal Burthen of a War they think will fall upon New England without any effectual Succor from their Neighbours &c.; they cannot be persuaded that undisciplind & destitute of competent Artilery Ammunition, or Authority to enforce the Acts of War or [the Means] of defence these Colonies will long be able to maintain a Conflict with the formidable power of Great Britain. And if they shoud be subdued all is lost, & for an Age we must submit to the imperious Dictates of our Conquerors...."

"...They at the same time consider our Eastern Neighbours as highly irritated, impatient under severe and unmerited Sufferings, and so ready to rush into war that they are constrain'd by no other Consideration than a Respect to the advice of their Sister Colonies. The Enterprize of our New Hampshire Friends against Fort William &c.; Mary; the Seizure of the Cannon & Ammunition, and their removal into an interior Town, which some Construe to be repugnant to the Spirit of that Resolution of the Congress which restrains the Massachusetts from offering Violence to the King's property, they conceive to be a strong Indication of the Impetuosity of our Eastern Brethren. They therefore conclude it to be impolitic to inflame their Ardour or stimulate them to Action by military preparations in other Colonies. Besides it is apprehended that if such preparations shoud become general it will afford the ministry an opportunity of representing us as in a State of actual Hostility and of inciting against Us the passions, prejudice &c.; the Vengence &c.; Resentmt of the whole nation, frustrating all our moderate Councils, and extinguishing every Hope of Accommodation. These seem to be the prevailing Sentiments of a people who have engaged in this Contest with unusual Calmness &c.; Deliberation, and who [. . .] it in all its Stages with a fixd & pensive Attention. And under such Impressions you will naturally imagine that they will enter into Measures which may be ascribed to a hostile and unconciliating Spirit with Caution and Reluctance.

"But notwithstanding all I have said you may rest fully assured that the most tremendous prospect will never intimidate them into mean Submissions or an unworthy Surrender of an Atom of their Liberties; however great their Attachment to England & Monarchy, &c.; their desire of peace &c.; Tranquillity...."--James Duane to Thomas Johnson, 29th Decemr 1774, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 1.



My dear Friends and fellow Citizens,

AT a time when slavery is clanking her infernal chains, and tyranny stands ready with goads and whips to enforce obedience to her despotic and cruel mandates; when oppression, with gigantic strides is approaching your once happy retreats, and her tools and minions are eagerly grasping, to seize the cup from the lip of industry; will ye supinely fold your arms, and calmly see your weapons of defence torn from you, by a band of russians? Ye, whose glorious and renowned ancestors, freely lavished their blood and treasure, to secure to you the full enjoyment of liberty, that greatest of all temporal blessings; Forbid it Heaven; Forbid it gratitude and honour!--How long will ye patiently bear insult and wrong? Are ye so callous and dead to every sense of honour, as to disregard your reputation; and the taunts and scoffs, of your fellow subjects in the neighbouring colonies? What is become of your former magnanimity and spirit; ye who dared to degrade the Governor of the province, and exhibit his effigy, under the very muzzles of his cannon? Are ye dwindled to such dastards and poltroons, as to suffer yourselves to be insulted, and robbed of your arms, by a few petty custom house officers, with impunity? Methinks I hear ye say, It cannot, it must not be:--Rouze then, my friends and countrymen, rouze, and play the men upon this occasion; convince the world that ye are still possessed of the same noble spirit, by which ye were actuated in former times, and that whoever injures ye, shall not fail to feel the weight of your resentment; your country has been basely robbed (by the officers of the customs) of a considerable number of arms, which were legally exported from Great Britain, and imported here, in the ship Lady Gage, and therefore not liable to a seizure, upon any pretence whatsoever, as they are actually the manufacture of England:--Those arms (I am credibly informed) are now on board the man of war, and are in a few days to be sent to General Gage, and of consequence are to be used for your destruction: Can ye bear such a thought? especially when ye have it in your power to prevent it; does not the bare idea of it, harrow up your souls? In the name of Heaven throw off your supineness; assemble together immediately, and go in a body to the Collector, insist upon the arms being relanded, and that he must see them forth-coming, or abide the consequences; delays are dangerous; there is no time to be lost: It is not a season to be mealy mouthed, or to mince matters; the times are precarious and perilous, and we do not know but the arms may be wanted to morrow.


AT a General Assembly of the Governor and Company of the Colony of Connecticut, holden at Hartford, (by special Order of the Governor of said Colony) on the 26th Day of April, Annoque Domini, 1775.

WHEREAS the General Assembly of this Colony have ordered and enacted that one fourth Partof the Militia of said Colony should be forthwith enlisted, equip'd and assembled for the special Defence and Safety of said Colony, &c.

FOR the Encouragement of such able bodied and effective Men of said Militia or Others, as shall voluntarily offer and inlist themselves for said Service to the Acceptance of the proper Officers--It is Resolved by this Assembly, That each inlisted Inhabitant or Person as aforesaid, shall be entitled to a Premium of Fifty-Two shillings upon their Inlistment, they supplying themselves with a Blanket, Knapsack, Cloathing, & the Acceptance of their respective Captains, and also to One Month's advance pay.

That each Serjeant shall receive Forty-eight Shillings, each Corporal Forty-four Shillings, each Drummer and Fifer, Forty-four Shillings, and each Private Forty Shillings, per Calendar Month, during their Continuance in said Service.

That each inlisted Inhabitant, or Person, as aforesaid, who shall provide Arms for himself, well fixed with a good Bayonet and Cartouch-Box, shall be paid a Premium of Ten Shillings: And in Case such Arms are lost by any inevitable Providence, such Inhabitant, so providing himself, shall be allow'd and paid the just Value of such Arms and Implements so lost, deducting only the said Sum of Ten Shillings, allow'd as aforesaid--Said Premium of Ten Shillings to be paid as soon as such Inhabitant shall be so provided as aforesaid.
That a particular Account shall be taken of all the Arms that may be used, and the same shall beall appriz'd by indifferent Judges.

That each Inhabitant as aforesaid, upon his Inlistment shall be entitled to Six Pence per Diem for billeting Money, until they are otherwise provided for by the Colony.

A true Copy of Record, 


By George Wyllys, Sec'ry.
A LETTER from General LEE, to General BURGOYNE, dated June 7, 1775; received at Boston, July 5. Printed from the New-York Gazetteer, July 6,

"...I have conversed with all orders of men, from the first estated gentlemen to the lowest planters and farmers, and can assure you that the same spirit animates the whole. Not less than an hundred and fifty thousand gentlemen, women, and farmers, are now in arms, determined to preserve their liberties or perish...."

"...What I have seen of courts and Princes convinces me, that power cannot be lodged in worse hands than in theirs; and of all courts I am persuaded that ours is the most corrupt and hostile to the rights of humanity. I am convinced that a regular plan has been laid (indeed every act since the present accession, evinces it) to abolish even the shadow of liberty from amongst us. It was not the deomlition of the tea, it was not any other particular act of the Bostonians, or of the other provinces which constituted their crimes. But it is the noble spirit of liberty manifestly pervading the whole continent, which has rendered them the objects of ministerial & royal vengeance...." 
North Carolina Committees

Philadelphia, June 19, 1775.

To the COMMITTEES of the several Towns and Counties of the Province of NORTH-CAROLINA, appointed for the purpose of carrying into execution the Resolves of the Continental Congress;


"When the liberties of a people are invaded, and men in authority are labouring to raise a structure of arbitrary power upon the ruins of a free constitution, when the first minister of Britain exerts every influence that private address or public violence can give him, to shake the barriers of personal security and private property, it is natural for us, inhabitants of America deeply interested in the event of his designs, to be anxious for our approaching fate and to look up to the sources which God and the constitution furnish, to ward off or alleviate the impending calamity...."

"...It becomes the duty of us, in whom you have deposited the most sacred trust, to warn you of your danger, and of the most effectual means to ward it off. It is the right of every English subject to be prepared with weapons for his defence; we conjure you by the ties of religion, virtue and love of your country, to follow the example of your sister colonies, and to form yourselves into a Militia; the election of the officers, and arangement of the men, must depend upon yourselves; study the art of military with the utmost attention; view it as the science upon which your future security depends.

"Carefully preserve the small quantity of gunpowder which you have amongst you; it will be the last resource when every other means of safety fails you; Great-Britain has cut you off from further supplies; we enjoin you, as you tender the safety of yourselves and fellow colonists, as you would wish to live and die free, that you would reserve what ammunition you have as a sacred deposit; he, in part, betrays his country who sports it away, perhaps in every charge he fires he gives with it the means of preserving the life of a fellow being.

"We cannot conclude without urging again to you the necessity of arming and instructing yourselves, to be in readiness to defend yourselves against any violence that may be exerted against your persons and properties. In one word, fellow subjects, the crisis of America is not at a great distance. If she falls, Britain must go hand in hand with her to destruction; every thing depends upon your present exertion, and prudent perseverence; be in a state of readiness to repell every stroke that through you must wound and endanger her; strengthen the hands of civil government; by resisting every act of lawless power; stem tyranny in its commencement; oppose every effort of an arbitrary minister, and by checking his licentiousness, preserve the liberty of the constitution, and the honour of your Sovereign; look to the reigning monarch of Britain as your rightful and lawful Sovereign; dare every danger and difficulty in support of his person, crown and dignity, and consider every man as a traitor to his King, who, infringing the rights of his American subjects, attempts to invade those glorious revolution principles which placed him on the throne, and must preserve him there...." 

Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789

"...We condemn, and with arms in our hands,--a resource which Freemen will never part with,--we oppose the claim and exercise of unconstitutional powers, to which neither the Crown nor Parliament were ever entitled. By the British Constitution, our best inheritance, rights, as well as duties, descend upon us: We cannot violate the latter by defending the former: We should act in diametrical opposition to both, if we permitted the claims of the British Parliament to be established, and the measures pursued in consequence of those claims to be carried into execution among us. Our sagacious ancestors provided mounds against the inundation of tyranny and lawless power on one side, as well as against that of faction and licentiousness on the other. On which side has the breach been made? Is it objected against us by the most inveterate and the most uncandid of our enemies, that we have opposed any of the just prerogatives of the Crown, or any legal exertion of those prerogatives? Why then are we accused of forgetting our allegiance? We have performed our duty: We have resisted in those cases, in which the right to resist is stipulated as expressly on our part, as the right to govern is, in other cases, stipulated on the part of the Crown. The breach of allegiance is removed from our resistance as far as tyranny is removed from legal government. It is alledged, that "we have proceeded to an open and avowed rebellion." In what does this rebellion consist. It is thus described--"Arraying ourselves in hostile manner, to withstand the execution of the law, and traiterously preparing, ordering, and levying war against the King." We know of no laws binding upon us, but such as have been transmitted to us by our ancestors, and such as have been consented to by ourselves, or our representatives elected for that purpose...."
Washington, George, 1732-1799: The writings of George Washington from the original manuscript sources: Volume 8, 1745-1799. [The Modern English Collection at the University of Virginia Electronic Text Center.]

George Washington To The Massachusetts Legislature

Cambridge, January 16, 1776.

"...In the mean while, as there is an appearance of this service going on but slowly, and it is necessary to have a respectable Body of Troops here as soon as possible, to act as circumstances shall require; I must beg that you will order in, with as much expedition as the Nature of the Case will admit of, Seven Regts. agreeable to the establishment of this Army, to continue in Service till the 1st of April, If required. You will be pleased to direct, that the Men come provided with good Arms, Blankets, Kettles for cooking, and if possible, with Twenty rounds of Powder and Ball.

"With respect to your other resolve relative to arms, I am quite ready to make an absolute purchase, of such as shall be furnished either by the Colony or Individuals. I am also ready to engage payment for all the Arms, which shall be furnished by the Recruits, if lost in the Public Service; but I do not know how far I could be justified in allowing for the use of them; when I know it to be the opinion of Congress, that every Man shall furnish his own Arms, or pay for the use of them, if put in his hands. To do otherwise, is an Indirect way of raising the pay. I again wish that the Honble: Court could devise some method of purchasing...."

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume: 3
the President of the Massachusetts Council



    April 3d 1776

    The Congress being Inform'd by a Letter from Genl. Washington,
that two Thousand of the Continental Troops at Cambridge & Roxbury are deficient in Fire Arms, & that he has not been able to Purchase the Same from the Inhabitants or obtain them from the Assemblies of the. New England Colonies, have Directed the General to make Returns to the Assemblies of the Numbers of men Inlisted from their Respective Colonies that are destitute of Arms, & to Dismiss from the service such of them as cannot be thus supplied.(1)
In Consequence of this, the Delegates from Massachusetts Bay think it their Duty to write to your Honour on the subject, & thro you to Inform the Honl. Assembly, that for the better Regulating the army & Promoting the Means of Defence, the United Colonies are divided into Districts or Departments, and are to supply with Fire Arms the Continental Troops that shall be Rais'd by them Respectively & be in Want thereof.(2)

The eastern District Consists of the N E Colonies, who during the whole of this Conflict have discover'd the firmest Attachment to American Liberty & the warmest Zeal & Ardor in it's Defence. Should they at any Time fail in this, or Nelgect to Supply their Quota's of Men & Arms they must in Consequence hereof be the greatest Sufferers & may infer on themselves the Censure of the rest of the Continent.

We are fully Sensible that the late Difficulties of Raising Men & Procuring Arms in the Eastern District are justly Chargeable on the Mode adopted for Establishing the Army at Cambridge, but We hope for a Different Regulation in future, & shall use our utmost Endeavours that in any New Levies of Men the General Assemblies may have the Direction of the same subject to the Controul of Congress.

We think it necessary to Inform the Honl. Assembly that in some of the Colonies all Persons whatever are Prohibited from Purchasing or selling Fire Arms to be carried from the same. The safety of the Eastern district may Possibly require the like Precaution...."

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