Did George Washington Want Citizens Armed Against the Government?

Founding Father George Washington supposedly said that a free people need "sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence" from their own government.

  • Published 7 January 2016


George Washington said that a free people need "sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence" from their own government.



In January 2016, a quote attributed to first U.S. president George Washington, about the importance of an armed citizenry, started recirculating on the internet:

This statement had been making the online rounds for several years, but it regained popularity in January 2016 after President Obama announced new measures on gun control.

George Washington never uttered the phrase in question. The first ten words (“a free people ought not only be armed and disciplined”) are taken from the former president’s annual address to the Senate and House of Representatives on 8 January 1790, in which he argued in favor of an armed citizenry and self-sufficiency in production military supplies as a deterrent to war:

Among the many interesting objects, which will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a Uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.

The proper establishment of the Troops which may be deemed indispensible, will be entitled to mature consideration. In the arrangements which may be made respecting it, it will be of importance to conciliate the comfortable support of the Officers and Soldiers with a due regard to economy.

A page dedicated to fake quotes attributed to George Washington on the Mount Vernon web site addressed this passage as follows:

This quote is partially accurate as the beginning section is taken from Washington’s First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union. However, the quote is then manipulated into a differing context and the remaining text is inaccurate.

Although this meme does include a portion of Washington’s first annual address to members of the Senate and House of Representatives in 1790, the majority of the quote was never uttered by the Founding Father, and does not accurately represent his views on gun control. Nonetheless, its apocryphal nature doesn’t hinder its continued reproduction as a genuine expression from George Washington:

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