A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 12, 2012
“Firearms…are the American people’s liberty teeth” (George Washington?)

George Washington (1732-1799) is sometimes given credit for a “liberty teeth” quotation supporting the second amendment right to bear arms, but the quotation has been identified as bogus on several websites. The earliest known version is from 1975 (long after Washington’s lifetime):

“Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence. The church, the plow, the prairie wagon, and the citizen’s firearms are indelibly related...When firearms go, all goes—we need them every hour.”

The term “prairie wagon” was not used in the 18th century. Washington’s work is easily searchable on computer databases and there is no evidence that he ever said or wrote anything even resembling the “liberty teeth” passage.


BrainyQuote
Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples’ liberty’s teeth.
George Washington

stason.org
The “Liberty Teeth” Speech by “George Washington”
“Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence. The church, the plow, the prarie wagon, and citizen’s firearms are indelibly related. From the hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to insure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and the pistol are equally indispensable. Every corner of this land knows firearms, and more than 99 99/100 percent of them by their silence indicate they are in safe and sane hands. The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference; they deserve a place with all that’s good. When firearms, go all goes; we need them every hour.”
--falsely attributed to George Washington, address to the second session of the first U.S. Congress

This quotation, sometimes called the “liberty teeth” quote, appears nowhere in Washington’s papers or speeches, and contains several historical anachronisms: the reference to “prarie wagon” in an America which had yet to even begin settling the Great Plains (which were owned by France at the time), the reference to “the Pilgrims” which implies a modern historical perspective, and particularly the attempt by “Washington” to defend the utility of firearms (by_use_of_statistics!) to an audience which would have used firearms in their daily lives to obtain food, defend against hostile Indians, and which had only recently won a war for independence. The “99 99/100 percent” is also an odd phrase for 18th century America, which tended not to use fractional percentages.
(...)
("Playboy_published the “quote” in December 1995 as part of an article entitled “Once and for All: What the Founding Fathers Said About Guns”. After consulting with an assistant editor of the George Washington Papers at the University of Virginia,"Playboy_published a lengthy correction in March 1996.)

17 June 1975, The Morning Star (Rockford, IL), letters, pg. A6, cols. 3-4:
The sentiments of the Founding Fathers on the subject of owning and carrying guns was ably expressed by President George Washington:

“Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence. The church, the plow, the prairie wagon, and the citizen’s firearms are indelibly related...When firearms go, all goes—we need them every hour.”
(...)
-- The Rev. John Battell, Church of Christian Liberty, Sycamore.

Google News Archive
6 April 1979, Prescott (AZ) Courier, letters, pg. 4A, col. 1:
EDITOR:
A Person Speaking In Favor Of Firearms Said:
“Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution, itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence ... From the hour the Pilgrim’s landed, to the present day events, occurences and happiness, the rifle and the pistol are equally indispensable ... The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference—they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good...”
This statement was made by our first president!
(...)
Keep America Free
Marc Anderson

Google News Archive
21 November 1982, Lewiston (ID) Morning Tribune, letters, pg. 3E, col. 2:
George Washington said “Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty, teeth and keystone under independence.” “From the hour the Pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurences, and tendencies prove that to ensure peace security and happiness the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable...The very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference—they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.”
DON DRUFFEL
Colton

Google Books
The Rights of Gun Owners
By Alan M. Gottlieb
Ottawa, IL: Green Hill
1983
Pg. 5:
George Washington, commander of the Continental army, was particularly appreciative of the inportance of firearms in the struggle for freedom. Said he, “Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence.”

Google News Archive
15 January 1983, The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA), letters, pg. 11, col. 3:
“Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence. From the hour the Pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurrences and tendencies prove that to ensure peace, security and happiness the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable. The very atmosphere of firearms restrains evil interference. They deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.”—George Washington
JOSEPH THOMPSON
Fredericksburg

Second Amendment Foundation (November 1, 2001)
BOGUS, FAKE & QUESTIONABLE QUOTES FALSELY ATTRIBUTED TO THE FOUNDING FATHERS
George Washington
Perhaps the most ‘infamous’ bogus saying attributed to a Founding Father is the ‘liberty teeth’ quote alleged to have been said by George Washington. One version of this tale reads:

“Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence. The church, the plow, the prairie wagon, and citizen’s firearms are indelibly related.”
(...)
The problems with this quote are many. (1) Prairie wagons were not being utilized and the prairies were uninhabited by European settlers at the time. (2) The percentage use and other modern English phrases such as “safe and sane” are suspicious and atypical for the time period. (3) The bold proclamation of needing firearms is odd since nobody was considering gun control against law-abiding people at the time. (4) Too many convenient topics are covered in one passage.

Free Frank Warner
June 28, 2008
Liberty teeth: George Washington never said ‘Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself’
In the gun-control debate two days ago, two of our commenters “quoted” George Washington as saying:

“Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the people’s liberty teeth.”

I said then that, in all the writings I’ve seen by Washington, I have never seen anything so succinct. He just didn’t talk or write like that.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Thursday, July 12, 2012 • Permalink