#4. “To disarm the people…[i]s the most effectual way to enslave them.” George Mason, 1788
George Mason was George Washington’s hunting buddy, and a strong defender of the right to bear arms. Mason’s quote here in context was given in an address to the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788, when Virginia adopted the federal constitution. Mason told the story of how the governor of Pennsylvania, William Keith, sought to weaken the American people by removing their right to bear arms.
The full statement in context:
No man has a greater regard for the military gentlemen than I have. I admire their intrepidity, perseverance, and valour. But when once a standing army is established, in any country, the people lose their liberty. When against a regular and disciplined army, yeomanry are the only defence — yeomanry, unskillful & unarmed, what chance is there for preserving freedom? Give me leave to recur to the page of history, to warn you of your present danger. Recollect the history of most nations of the world. What havock, desolation, and destruction, have been perpetrated by standing armies? An instance within the memory of some of this house, — will shew us how our militia may be destroyed. Forty years ago, when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British parliament was advised by an artful man, [Sir William Keith] 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 to weaken them and let them sink gradually, by totally difusing and neglecting the militia. This was a most iniquitous project. Why should we not provide against the danger of having our militia, our real and natural strength, destroyed?