Quotes used in letter were bogus

A recent letter in the Aiken Standard claims that “the true purpose” of the Second Amendment “is to protect Americans from abuses by the state.” The letter claims that Thomas Jefferson said that “The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

It also quotes George Washington as saying that “Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence.”

Unfortunately, both quotations are well-known fakes. The Monticello archivists carefully searched all of Jefferson’s papers, concluding that “this quotation has not been found in any of the writings of Thomas Jefferson.” Instead, they trace it to a 1989 Orlando Sentinel column.

The Washington quotation also cannot be found in any of Washington’s writings or speeches; it seems to have first appeared in a 1995 “Playboy” article. As a son of Virginia, I am proud of Washington and Jefferson and cannot let this stand.

Although both of these quotations (together with several other fakes) routinely crop up on cable television, talk radio, and pro-gun websites, they are, in fact, completely spurious.

Although Washington and Jefferson never held the bizarre opinions suggested by these popular, but bogus, quotations, the nation’s founders did consider it to be not only a right but an obligation for all able-bodied men to arm themselves and participate in the militia. Thus, the Second Amendment’s supporters could easily establish their point without making things up. They might want to read Washington and Jefferson’s complete papers, available in any research library. Our nation has a great heritage, and patriots are content with the truth.

William D. Harpine


Professor and Chair, Department of Communications, USC Aiken