"Another source of power in government is a military force. But this, to be efficient, must be superior to any force that exists among the people, or which they can command; for otherwise this force would be annihilated, on the first exercise of acts of oppression. Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in 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 band 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
(1758-1843) American patriot and scholar, author of the first dictionary of American English usage (1806) and the author of the 1828 edition of the dictionary that bears his name.
An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, Philadelphia, 1787
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Reader comments about this quote:
The quintessential reason for State militias (not the National Guard or FEMA, FBI, etc.). Interesting how the average American has been conditioned to trust authority and distrust himself and his neighbors with the responsibility of defending oneself and one's country -- the Founders didn't.
 -- E Archer, NYC     
     -- Bob, Eugene, OR      
    E. Archer, absolutely and amen.
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
    He gets it.
     -- warren, olathe     
    Arm the people--no perpetual standing army
     -- Al, DC     
    The Second Amendment is the backbone of all other rights. Without it, you have no rights...none! And all we need do is look at the last couple of administrations (regimes) to see that our liberties and rights have never been so threatened since we were subjects of King George who sparked a revolution by trying to disarm...the peasants.
     -- J Carlton, Calgary     
    I don't get it.
    Why are you guys so lockstep in agreement here? The first two sentences posit that it is meaningless to have an army if it isn't the most potent force in the country. Next he claims that for this to be the case we have to have gun control. Right? So far he seems to be arguing the case for the liberals. But then he says that if you had such a force, congress would be tempted to create unjust laws.
    Is he saying that the police/militia/army, whatever, should never be as strong as a spontaneous organization of individuals intent on killing or by the threat of killing, preventing the acts of congress? Why is there no mention of how big this armed body can be or how it can tell the difference between patriots with guns and liberals with guns? And who do you propose will take the place of the fleeing congressmen? Clearly... the men with guns. And finally, what mechanism are they accustomed to using to run a government after that?
    The commenters to Liberty Quotes tend to be conservatives rather than libertarians, so you should have trouble with Noah's quote here. You are into law and order but don’t trust government. Libertarians can escape this dilemma by noting the problem isn't who rules, but that there is a government that rules. The desire to run the government is primarily driven by the fact that there is power there to wield.
     -- Walter Clark, Fullerton CA     
    The last line of the quote may have been valid in Webster's day but I doubt that it is operable today. Too many people who know nothing of and care less about the Constitution.This includes most of the people in Congress and the Obama bunch for sure.
     -- jim k, Austin, Tx     
    Walter in Fullerton: First of all we aren't actually supposed to have a standing army according to the Constitution....just a Navy. The Army is to be raised from a well regulated militia (able bodied men between 18 and 45) when Congress Declares a state of war. Now this may not be practical in this day and age, but the principle is still somewhat workable. What standing armies we have should be of a size to secure our borders and protect America...not fielded in foreign wars of Imperialism to secure "American (corporate) Interests". As is stands, we have an entire alphabet of high tech police agencies, laws that repeal all of our rights in a single stroke of a pen and an ever increasing dictator like form of government forcing us all to comply to a "legal" system as opposed to a "justice" system. I agree with you that those seeking political appointment are doing so for the power they would receive.
    So far all I can see are more and better reasons to keep and maintain the Second Amendment in its purest form.
     -- J Carlton, Calgary     
    I defy anyone to take my gun rights away! It was not given by the State, but by God himself, as described in the Declaration of Independence.
     -- Tom, Jacksonville FL     
    Carlton in Calgary,
    Thank you for your comments. I did not know that only a navy was authorized. I appreciate your attachment to the 2nd Amendment. I am, however, so wedded to the non-aggression principle, that I worry about the emphasis on weapons as a means of intimidating the state. They of course have no moral justification to exist, so it is not for reasons of empathy that I resist. It is that whatever force the state perceives as its enemy it will build up its own force until it does not feel that threat is real. You can't win against that which the state is best at; force. And then there's the problem Robert LeFevre is famous for. However bloody the revolution is, is how bloody the regime that follows must be. Our Revolution was not a revolution. We threw out occupiers. The enemy went away. All revolutions since then were bloodbath's that continued forever. Instead I'd like to offer a 28th Amendment. What do you think of a confession on the part of the federal government about the Civil War; that preventing secession was not a reason to kill single American, let alone 640,000 Americans and at a cost that was more than what it would cost to buy the freedom of every slave in the south? There should be a Right Of Secession.
     -- Walter Clark, Fullerton CA     
    walter from fullerton i am not sure what you are reading, but please go back and read it a few more times. your comments do not make any sense when compared to websters writings
     -- j freudenthal, omaha ne     
    Walter, we've strayed from the original thread a little. Being a Libertarian I'm more or less in agreement with you. But however bloody a revolution, the intent of which being to secure liberty, might be it must be considered necessary if a people are forced into a position which demands it. I am not advocating violence here, but if the state feels intimidated it feels so because it's activities are agitating "We The People" in their normally peaceful existence. And the cotton States had in fact legally seceded. And the Confederate Constitution was to have included emancipation once they had secured autonomy from the north. It was considered too radical to include initially as the organizers of southern defense needed the support of slave owning land owners. Slavery would have died a natural death in the US as it did in much of the rest of the world. In other words that war was about control of southern resources, raw materials etc. for the industrial north...not slavery.
     -- J Carlton, Calgary     
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