Was the 2nd Amendment About Preserving Slavery?

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Reenactors portraying Pennsylvania Continental troops.

I come down pretty hard on the conservative pundits for distorting the 2nd Amendment; but this time, it seems it is the liberal pundits who are distorting history.

Today, the Facebook Group ‘Americans Against the Republican Party’ shared a rather bizarre post entitled, “Founding Fathers’ Words Reveal 2nd Amendment Was… To Preserve Slavery?” written by Nathaniel Downes.  The research in the article, posted to the website Addicting Info, was not actually done by Mr. Downes, but by Thom Hartmann over at Truth-out.org (click the link to go to original article).  His thesis statement:

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the Framers knew the difference – see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote.  Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

But is this true?  His best evidence (which I assume are the quotes he uses throughout the article) seems to fall short of proving his thesis.  He draws heavily upon state articles written prior to the Constitution (and prior to the Revolution itself); e.g., in the year 1680, the governing committee at Jamestown, Virginia issued the proclamation that all blacks be disarmed and were prohibited from joining the militia.  Mr. Hartmann also uses the laws, passed in Georgia, in the mid-late 1750’s as examples of how slaves were prohibited from being armed and were also to be put under the watchful eye by local militia.  It should be clear, though, that this isn’t his thesis.

That slavery was an issue is not the debate; nor is pre-Revolutionary colonial society, nor are the individual state laws concerning slavery (because this is about the 2nd Amendment, after all).  The real question should be: what evidence does Mr. Hartmann present that would otherwise prove his point that ‘the Second Amendment was ratified…to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states’?

In fact, while Mr. Hartmann does provide an abundance of quotes from Madison, Mason, and Henry (and he aptly points out they were slave owners), the only one of any real significance is this one from Henry:

“If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress [slave] insurrections [under this new Constitution]. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress . . . . Congress, and Congress only [under this new Constitution], can call forth the militia.”

But notice that ‘[slave]’ is in lacunae.  Lacunae ‘[brackets like this]’ indicate that this word is not in the original text, but was added by the author of the article.   So the original quote goes, “If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress insurrections.”  It is important to recognize that insurrections were a serious issue during the period of the framing of the constitution and the founding era itself, but it had nothing to do ipso facto with people of color.

This isn’t to suggest that slavery and the arming of African Americans in the south wasn’t something that white slave owners feared; my goodness, it certainly was a huge terror to them.  The British utilized the freeing of slaves to devastating effect during the Revolution (as many as 100,000 slaves took up arms with the British against their white oppressors during the war), and Mr. Hartmann is correct that it started, essentially, with Lord Dunmore (though it was Sir Henry Clinton, British Commander-in-Chief, who really got the ball rolling).  Yet again, the issue is not whether the south feared a slave uprising or the freeing of all slaves (of which there is clear evidence), but whether the 2nd Amendment itself and those Southern framers of the constitution, as Mr. Hartmann claims, ‘wanted southern states to preserve their slave-patrol militias independent of the federal government.’  To this, I’m sorry to say, Mr Hartmann has not made his case.

The whole point of even having a Constitutional Convention–the very reason the need for a new central governing document in fact–was over the fear of tax insurrections.  The most vital being Shays’ Rebellion (which you can read all about here).  Shays’ Rebellion was not about people of African descent rebelling against slavery, but started over the failure of the current government, under the Articles of Confederation, to distribute back pay to veterans of the American Revolution (and the stiff taxes upon land and property in Massachusetts under the state legislature under those Articles of Confederation; slavery was not even an issue since it had been essentially an abandoned practice in New England).  Following the initial failures to put down the resurrection by the state militia, the framers of the constitution debated the issue as to whether states or the central federal government should be permitted to allot military action and arm individuals.

It may very well be that slavery was part of the issue for Southern delegates, but if so, it doesn’t come up in any of the debates directly, and that is a serious problem for Mr. Hartmann’s argument.  Because there is clearly some vagueness as to whether or not Henry is disputing the federal authority over his right to maintain slaves or whether in fact he is concerned about tax uprisings in the south like those faced by the state of Massachusetts.  It may actually be both, but Henry does not bring up slaves directly (Mr. Hartmann believes that his statement is ‘blunt’ about it, but it’s not remotely clear about slavery at all) and therefore we might speculate about his motives, but it will never be more than a baseless assertion.

It is important to note a few final items concerning this issue; first and foremost, the 2nd Amendment did actually help put down additional tax rebellions during George Washington’s presidency (the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania) and during John Adam’s presidency (Fries’ Rebellion in Eastern Pennsylvania).  Second, the 2nd Amendment failed the United States in the War of 1812.  The state sanctioned militia turned out to be no match against hardened British regulars and it was only when the federal troops (US Regulars) were deployed that the tides of the war began to change.   Third, and perhaps most ironically, the 2nd Amendment was used by Lincoln to put down the uprising of the southern states and slave owners in a conflict that we know as the American Civil War.  And I would add that the arming of African Americans, while initially troubling to Southerners, eventually became a less-important issue towards the end of the war as troops were desperately needed.

So while the conservative myth, that the 2nd Amendment is made to support the people against the authority of their federal government, is a false one (the 2nd Amendment was formulated with the intended purpose to help the federal and state governments subdue uprisings by citizens against the government itself); it is also a myth to claim that the 2nd Amendment was only about, or even mostly about, preserving slavery.  This liberal myth, like the conservative myth, must be put to rest.

UPDATE 8/29/14: Concerning Jay Parini’s CNN Op-ed

Professor Jay Parini has apparently decided to publish an article demanding the banning of assault weapons–full disclosure: I agree with that position–but then goes on to argue the very same mythological construct as did the authors mentioned above.  Unfortunately, the article falls short for many of the very same reasons.  This blog post actually deals with all of Professor Parini’s claims about the 2nd Amendment and slavery.  Most vitally, I am surprised that Professor Parini does not know that slave patrols after the Constitution had been ratified were not the same thing as the state militia, the latter of which falls under the 2nd Amendment. 

This bothers me a great deal, as I fully support the arguments in favor of assault weapons bans, but I do not think that Professor Parini makes the case, nor can anyone, with this sort of anti-historical nonsense.  With all the statistics and charts and historical evidence that actually demonstrates the founders disarmed people all the time, there is no reason to resort to pop-history that distracts and takes away from the larger issues.

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16 responses to “Was the 2nd Amendment About Preserving Slavery?

  1. This argument about slavery is weaker than I had thought. Great work.

    Oh, there are a couple of typos in the first sentence after the second block quote (‘worse’ instead or ‘word’, ‘but’ instead of ‘by’).

  2. Very good article. Slave patrols were going to exist whether or not the Second Amendment existed or not. One of the biggest issues with the militia system was not about guns. Guns were not perceived as much of a problem in that time because people usually put their guns out of reach of children, pistols were rare, and they couldn’t leave them lying around loaded due to the nature of gunpowder in that period. It would harden up and become useless. So two of the biggest problems we have with firearms today were practically non-issues in the past which changes the national discussion quite a bit.

    The militia system was a failure. It consistently failed during the Revolution and it failed during the wars against the Native Americans in the Northwest Territory. It failed spectacularly during the War of 1812. The strong sentiments against a standing army were responsible for the militia system being promoted so heavily and the Second Amendment. The question was who would control the militia? Would it be state or federal? Using the concept of federalism, the states would control the militia with the acknowledgement that the federal government could request the militia via call ups or federalizing the militia.

    Slave patrols were not really militia, although that depends on state and local areas. No one was concerned about slave insurrections and the use of troops against them. There was no doubt that they would be used against slave insurrections when the militias were created throughout American history. They were worried about slave insurrections, but they had the means to put them down. The Second Amendment really had nothing to do with that idea at all.

    We have to remember that the Second Amendment did not apply to the states in 1791 when it was ratified. It applied to the federal government. The states did not have to abide by the amendments because they were not incorporated into the Constitution for many years. So right there the idea that the Second Amendment applied to slave patrols gets shot down.

    • “… the Second Amendment did not apply to the states in 1791 when it was ratified. It applied to the federal government. The states did not have to abide by the amendments because they were not incorporated into the Constitution for many years. So right there the idea that the Second Amendment applied to slave patrols gets shot down.”

      But the States woulld have no reason, wish or desire to prevent the slave patrols from being armed. The federal government (and specifically the interests of the North therein) might have such a desire. So the fact that the amendment applied to the federal government enhances the view that it was designed to protect the slave patrols. The language asserts the right of the individual to bear arms whilst implying, by its language, that the State is on the side of the individual over the (federal) government.

      Also the fact that the word “slave” was an insertion for clarification of the Patrick Henry quote must be tempered by the fact that the word “slave” appears explicitly by Henry in the sentence immediately following – i.e. “If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded.” That renders Henry’s meaning clear. Nothing about a tax revolt, but a clear reference to a slave insurrection.

      • David, thanks for commenting. Sorry it took so long for me to get back to you. My weekend has been hectic.

        “But the States woulld have no reason, wish or desire to prevent the slave patrols from being armed. The federal government (and specifically the interests of the North therein) might have such a desire. So the fact that the amendment applied to the federal government enhances the view that it was designed to protect the slave patrols.”

        Not at all. First, your claim would be hard to prove since at this time ‘slave patrols’ were not considered ‘a well regulated militia’ but an armed rabble. The ‘well regulated militia’ of the 2nd Amendment specifically has to do with the arming and training of the common people as a defense against insurgency and insurrection (it didn’t matter the color of the skin–like I said above, this came about directly as a result of Shay’s Rebellion–white Revolutionary War veterans of Massachusetts). The notion that the 2nd Amendment was intended for individuals, and their right to carry weapons openly and freely, is a modern one and did not apply to our earlier ancestors. Unless you can produce specific testimony to the fact, your case rests on very unstable ground.

        Also the fact that the word “slave” was an insertion for clarification of the Patrick Henry quote must be tempered by the fact that the word “slave” appears explicitly by Henry in the sentence immediately following – i.e. “If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded.” That renders Henry’s meaning clear. Nothing about a tax revolt, but a clear reference to a slave insurrection.

        No, sorry, but you haven’t made your case. I think it is important to respect the context of the full discussion, rather than cherry pick a paragraph or a sentence and situate that as the ‘be all’ of the Amendment debate, which is neither practical nor useful. Henry is asking a broad question, then clarifying with one example. It does not ipso facto mean there aren’t other examples out there, or that this is the only sort of insurrection Henry expects. To presume so is to serve one’s agenda only. It does not give us a greater appreciation of the history of the debates.

        Incidentally, Henry is right in his claim; if slaves revolted it would not be considered an invasion, but a domestic insurrection–just like any form of insurrection–and Henry’s larger question is posed in relation to the Federal government’s involvement with a State’s ability to defend itself against insurrection (under the current draft of the constitution they were debating).

        In other words: If the militia is under only Federal control only, and another insurrection (like Shay’s–and remember, this is the context for holding the first Constitutional Convention!), how would states subdue it if it is not considered an ‘invasion?’ Once context is understood, the notion that the 2nd Amendment was about preserving slavery becomes a defunct one.

        Also, as I pointed out above, in the larger and broader conversation at the time of the 2nd Amendment, this was not a concern to ‘establish slave patrols’ (which is ignorant and presumptuous to assume), but to determine whether or not the government should form around a standing army or a citizen militia (again, slave patrols at the time of the Convention were not the same thing as ‘well regulated militia’ per the language of the Amendment). After what had happened with the British Regulars, how they became complacent in peacetime and abused the common folk on occasion, there was stern distrust of such a thing.

        I hope this helps clarify this discussion some more. If you have specific evidence to show otherwise, I’ll listen. At this point, my thesis stands. Mr. Hartmann has not proved his case, nor have you, and any conclusion drawn with the available evidence is futile in this regard.

        Henry has said, “

  3. Thank you for replying to me and allowing me to participate in this vibrant and interesting debate.

    I think, it’s important to distinguish between the RATIONALE of the Second Amendment (“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state”) and the right that it ultimately asserted (“the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”). Note that they did NOT say “the right of militia members to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” They could certainly have so written the amendment if that was their intention.

    I would concede that the DEBATE over whether the right was an individual right is a modern debate, but it doesn’t follow that the CONCEPT of the right being an individual right is a modern concept. It could just as easily be that it is only recently that the measures aimed at curbing gun ownership have provoked such a debate and that the belief that it was an individual right was taken for granted.

    My specific argument about the amendment applying to the federal not the state government, was made specifically in response to Jimmy Dick’s argument along those lines (about it only applying to the federal government) more than your thesis in general. But if you hold that the amendment was to protect the right of the militias to be armed and that the purpose of the militias was to prevent insurrections of ANY kind (such as tax revolts), then what was the second amendment designed to protect against? Actions by the federal government to ENCOURAGE insurrection? Surely not!

    If their concern was that state action to suppress an insurrection would be proscribed on the grounds that an insurrection was not an invasion, then an amendment asserting that the militia would be under state control would have been clearer and simpler than referencing the need for a “well-regulated militia” and then awarding the right to bear arms to “the people.” As worded, the Second Amendment would ensure that guns were as readily available to potential rebels as to the militias that put them down.

    Furthermore if the slave patrols were considered “an armed rabble” then the obvious question that arises is: did the states or their militias do anything to curb the activities of the slave patrols? Did they seek to disarm this “armed rabble” on the grounds that they were a threat to good order and NOT protected by the right to bear arms, as they were not the state militia?

    Hartmann cites laws in pre-revolutionary Georgia requiring the militias to inspect slave quarters and requiring them to “armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.” Do you dispute this? Or do you contend that it was peculiar to Georgia and unrepresentative of the general situation?

    “Henry is asking a broad question, then clarifying with one example.”

    This is not an obvious conclusion. That he refers to “an insurrection of slaves” suggests that that is precisely what was on his mind. You say that I have cherry-picked. But consider what else Henry said at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, which clearly shows his pre-occupation not only with slavery and the north-south divide, but also his fear that Congress may use its control over security and defense to advance an abolitionist agenda.

    “t has been repeatedly said here, that the great object of a national government was national defence. That power which is said to be intended for security and safety may be rendered detestable and oppressive. If they give power to the general government to provide for the general defence, the means must be commensurate to the end. All the means in the possession of the people must be given to the government which is intrusted with the public defence. In this state there are two hundred and thirty-six thousand blacks, and there are many in several other states. But there are few or none in the Northern States; and yet, if the Northern States shall be of opinion that our slaves are numberless, they may call forth every national resource. May Congress not say, that every black man must fight? Did we not see a little of this last war? We were not so hard pushed as to make emancipation general; but acts of Assembly passed that every slave who would go to the army should be free. Another thing will contribute to bring this event about. Slavery is detested. We feel its fatal effects—we deplore it with all the pity of humanity. Let all these considerations, at some future period, press with full force on the minds of Congress. Let that urbanity, which I trust will distinguish America, and the necessity of national defence,—let all these things operate on their minds; they will search that paper, and see if they have power of manumission. And have they not, sir? Have they not power to provide for the general defence and welfare? May they not think that these call for the abolition of slavery? May they not pronounce all slaves free, and will they not be warranted by that power? This is no ambiguous implication or logical deduction. The paper speaks to the point: they have the power in clear, unequivocal terms, and will clearly and certainly exercise it.”

    • David,

      Comments are always welcome so long as they aren’t bizarrely insane or rude or offensive. You haven’t been any of those things. =)

      I don’t have the time to digest all you’ve written here, and therefore I won’t respond right away (because I can’t give it the attention it deserves). However, I pushed your comment through in case others felt the urge to discuss it more promptly. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get to it later this evening.

    • I think, it’s important to distinguish between the RATIONALE of the Second Amendment (“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state”) and the right that it ultimately asserted (“the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”). Note that they did NOT say “the right of militia members to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” They could certainly have so written the amendment if that was their intention.

      To a degree you’re correct; but your logic is also framed by modern day politics and rhetoric. I think we need to keep anachronisms like your last sentence out of the conversation. It is easy to speculate about what was said and why other ways to say those things weren’t said. But speculation is, itself, a futile game because it produces no useful results–just more speculation. It’s a vicious circle that I would ask we stay away from if at all possible.

      As for the ‘rationale’ of the 2nd Amendment, I would ask you to spend some time reading over the debates and the precursor to the 2nd Amendment (along with the three tax rebellions following the Revolution). Saul Cornell, a 2nd Amendment scholar (who writes a great deal about the 2nd Amendment in current and antique cultural contexts), has a great (and short) article in the NY Daily News. Here is the link: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/amendment-don-article-1.1223900

      His best point is perhaps this one: “The founders had a word for a bunch of farmers marching with guns without government sanction: a mob. One of the reasons we have a Constitution is the founders were worried about the danger posed by individuals acting like a militia without legal authority. This was precisely what happened during Shays’ Rebellion, an insurrection in western Massachusetts that persuaded many Americans that we needed a stronger central government to avert anarchy.”

      But do read the whole short discussion. It actually clarifies the context of the 2nd Amendment very well. I recommend his book on the subject as well.

      I would concede that the DEBATE over whether the right was an individual right is a modern debate, but it doesn’t follow that the CONCEPT of the right being an individual right is a modern concept.

      That is true. But let us not fall down the rabbit hole here. Did the state (or federal) governments confiscate weapons at the end of the war? No, they did not. In fact, heavier laws were enacted by state governments to restrict the use of those weapons. One must keep in mind that the militia laws imposed were not an American invention. The militia mentality predates the Revolutionary War, it can be traced back to the first settlers under British colonial law. Under the Monarchy, all settlers in the British colonies were ordered (under official decree, actually) to associate monthly; all men of a certain age group were commanded to take up arms and drill. And drill, and drill, and drill. They mainly kept their weapons in community magazines. For example, the magazine at Concord was one such community storage for firearms–the British were going to secure the community gun cabinet, if you will; not to secure individual arms from personal households (which, incidentally, was something that Continental provincial governments did do during the American Revolution). It is important to understand the structure of these militia laws because these highly-regulated militia units formed the foundation of the laws that were put into place later (especially when the state constitutions were written).

      So while you are correct that the individual could indeed own a firearm, those which did not belong to a community magazine mind you, personal ownership was never an issue for the founders. Most people couldn’t (a) afford a gun, (b) afford the black powder, (c) acquire black powder (since black powder was such a rare commodity outside of the amounts received by the French during the war–See Jim Dick’s article on this for the Journal of the American Revolution: http://allthingsliberty.com/2013/09/the-gunpowder-shortage/), and (d) the guns were often cobbled together from various parts of other guns and were often not in the best condition. So we cannot hold the founders to our same standards of today–not in the issue of personal ownership. Times have greatly altered the parameters of the debate. I’m sure you’d agree. And that is why it is perhaps best to avoid this discussion on this particular issue, in this particular thread.

      My specific argument about the amendment applying to the federal not the state government, was made specifically in response to Jimmy Dick’s argument along those lines (about it only applying to the federal government) more than your thesis in general. But if you hold that the amendment was to protect the right of the militias to be armed and that the purpose of the militias was to prevent insurrections of ANY kind (such as tax revolts), then what was the second amendment designed to protect against? Actions by the federal government to ENCOURAGE insurrection? Surely not!

      Jim can reply to you on that point then.

      Furthermore if the slave patrols were considered “an armed rabble” then the obvious question that arises is: did the states or their militias do anything to curb the activities of the slave patrols? Did they seek to disarm this “armed rabble” on the grounds that they were a threat to good order and NOT protected by the right to bear arms, as they were not the state militia?

      I think you’re shifting goal posts here. The issue is not whether slavery happened, or that slave patrols exist, or even that they were allowed to continue with their activities. They did exist and states had the option to curb nonmilitia activity as they wished. States had their own laws and constitutions following the federal one. Please stay on topic here–the issue is whether the 2nd Amendment was added to preserve slavery. This is a very specific claim that requires rather specific evidence.

      Hartmann cites laws in pre-revolutionary Georgia requiring the militias to inspect slave quarters and requiring them to “armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.” Do you dispute this? Or do you contend that it was peculiar to Georgia and unrepresentative of the general situation?

      I address this in my original article. Did you not read it? Are you commenting on my blog post that you haven’t read? Now I’m a little concerned. Please go back and read my post again. Maybe you missed the few paragraphs I devoted to this.

      “Henry is asking a broad question, then clarifying with one example.”

      This is not an obvious conclusion.

      Actually, it is very obvious. He states a broad claim over the use and role of militias within state and federal bodies, “If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress insurrections”. And then Henry clarifies it specifically: “If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded.” This is not rocket science. It’s just basic reading comprehension. 😉

      That he refers to “an insurrection of slaves” suggests that that is precisely what was on his mind.

      Yes, he had this particular example on his mind for a type of insurrection. He does not therefore state, directly or indirectly, “therefore let us ratify an amendment so that my state militia can keep slavery in check.” That never appears in his quote. That is the sort of evidence we would need to prove Hartmann’s claim, because that is the extraordinary nature of his claim.

      You say that I have cherry-picked. But consider what else Henry said at the Virginia Ratifying Convention…

      The Virginia Ratifying Convention was NOT the same thing as the Constitutional Convention. We’re talking about two very different bodies of government. Nobody, not I for sure, is suggesting that Henry wasn’t pro-slavery, or that he wanted to get free his slaves. Nobody is saying that he wasn’t even perhaps prejudice against people of color (maybe he was). That is NOT the issue. The issue is, in point of fact, a simple one: Was the 2nd Amendment’s purpose to preserve the institution of slavery? This is a simple question. This is Mr. Hartmann’s (overly hyperbolic and agenda-driven) claim. It turns out that claim is false.

      No evidence exists to prove that case. And it is so absurd to presume that all the delegates who wanted the Amendment (some from the North and some from the South, some who owned no slaves at all), after they just won a war against the most powerful empire in the known world at the time, sought it–not for the logical reason of establishing the military culture of the whole of the United States while preparing for its national defense (cause, you know, they had to do that being a BRAND NEW COUNTRY and all)–but, according to Mr. Hartmann, to preserve the institution of slavery which, as it happened, only existed in one portion of the whole of the colonies and was largely opposed by half the delegates. That notion is so beyond insane that it makes me cringe. Anyone seeking to defend that notion needs to have their ideologies examined.

      I will state this plainly; stay on topic, either prove that the 2nd Amendment was cemented into the federal constitution to preserve slavery or concede. This conversation will become a huge waste of time (and I will lose my interest in allowing posts through) if the discussion gets shifted to non-sequitur arguments like ‘slavery existed’ or ‘Henry was a slave owner and was preoccupied with slavery’. These are (1) off-topic and (2) irrelevant; nobody is debating those points and certainly everyone agrees on them. I hope I’ve been clear. I look forward to your response.

  4. A judge has made a ruling that, while not directly legally relevant, is a modern principle we need to bear in mind while looking at things like the Second Amendment. (http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/12/16/3072731/important-paragraph-court-decision-nsa/)

    The important part is that the ruling which the NSA cited to give them broad powers of data gathering was made when current technology was literally the stuff of science fiction. The judge ruled that regardless of the original intent of the precedent, it is irrelevant because it is not technologically applicable.

    I would submit, then, that to a certain degree, all this bickering over what the framers intended the Second Amendment to do is functionally irrelevant since it was absolutely impossible for them to envision either the technology or the cultural environment in which the debate is framed today.

    So, in short, my point is that it is not helpful to be “slaves” to another time, regardless of which direction we’re going.

  5. I should also add that Amendments have been repealed. Most notably, prohibition was repealed because it was causing more problems than it solved.

    We should probably make note of that.

  6. Sorry for the delay, but I’ve had PC problems.

    I’m not exactly sure what the argument here is. Is it over the amendments only applying to the federal government until the 20th century? That’s a closed book subject because it is plainly obvious. I don’t know of any scholar who disagrees with that idea because when Madison proposed the original amendments in 1789 he specified that they be placed in the relevant parts of the Constitution itself where they would be incorporated into the body. That was rejected and they were placed at the end of the Constitution as we have seen them since. They were not incorporated at all. Later, the 14th Amendment would be seen as incorporating them.

    I think we’re running into two different issues here with Patrick Henry as well. His speeches as you’ve stated were to the Virginia Ratifying Convention and it is well documented that he adamantly opposed ratification of the Constitution. Gun Control did not exist in that era. Except of course to keep guns from people the government preferred not to have guns such as slaves. Henry’s speech to the convention had nothing to do with gun control or obviously the Second Amendment because it didn’t exist. His speech was one of fear.

    The state governments were going to have their power reduced and be subordinate to the federal government. That was clear to all. A new relationship known as federalism would come into being, but no one had a clear idea of what that would entail although The Federalist did explain it to some degree, but even then speculated on some of it. Henry did not want to give up state sovereignty. His speech was is cited above is a fear speech. It was meant to generate an emotional response among the delegates that the federal government could use its power to end slavery.

    He links the need for defense to the manumission of slaves by offering them freedom if they fight for the country. He indicates this happened during the Revolution which it did (both sides actually). What if the US faced a situation so dire it would decide to free the slaves in order to gain them as soldiers? The Northern states might have thought this to be a good idea as there were few slaves there. The South would never go for it. Henry was ironically foreshadowing how the Confederacy would approach freeing slaves to fight for that country. They decided not to until the very, very end when it was far too late.

  7. Part II
    Let’s leave Henry where he was. Let’s move on to the militia of the time. There was a strong negative reaction regarding a standing army in the Early Republic. The militia system was ingrained in the minds of the people. They liked it even when Washington and others hated it. The militia system of the United States was a consistent failure for most of its existence. It failed repeatedly over and over again. Finally, after World War II the system was overhauled based on its pathetic abilities in the 1940 Louisiana Maneuvers.

    Now, before we get carried away on this, let me say that I was a Missouri National Guardsman for 17 years. That is the militia of the United States of America. There is no other recognized militia. The people who call themselves one are an armed rabble who if they ever actually try to overthrow a federal or state or even local government will be dead in very short order. Do they have a right to own weapons as permitted by the federal government? Yes. Do they have to right to use said weapons to overthrow the lawful government of the US? NO.

    Back to 1940 and the militia. Let me state that most of the pathetic abilities exhibited by the militias over the years had a lot to do with its leadership, its manpower, and its equipment. The leadership was political, its manpower was often forced in the early years at both the state and federal levels, and the equipment was lacking. States usually gave little support to equipping the militia as they wanted the federal government to do it. The federal government often didn’t even equip the regular military very well so you can see how the militia got the short end of the short stick. Today’s National Guard is a far cry from the old system. The militia idea was nice on paper, but after the Revolution it became a paper force in most cases.

    The federal government has always had some form of militia act on the books too. In 1792 it passed one which has been modified and replaced over the years. That one required all able bodied white men to own a musket or rifle, and equipment thereof, and to be in the militia. I think the ages were 18 to 40 or something like that. Obviously that shows gun control was not a high priority. Yet, it also was a common sense priority. No one thought for a second that insane people should have a gun. Or incompetent people.

    When we reach that issue, that is something we have to talk about today. Not talking about it is only going to get more people killed. The nature of firearms has changed over the years as well. What would the Founders do today? I have no clue. They can’t help us because their situation was totally and radically different from ours. We obviously see they didn’t want a lot of gun control, but we also see where they relied on a militia system that eventually was a failure.

    Folks, at a certain point we have to stop with the Founders and their situation because it doesn’t fit today. They knew the future would require later generations to make changes. They made a living Constitution. The strict construction idea died with Jefferson’s terms when he too found that he couldn’t employ the idea effectively. It just didn’t work. Fortunately, the power does rest with the people. Often we have a debate framed the wrong way. Gun control is that way.

    Should we ban guns? I don’t think so. Do we have the right to limit access to them? Yes. The real question is what is the best way to prevent the carnage with guns? Punishment is out because the crazies are taking the suicide highway. We have to figure out a way to develop serious responsible gun ownership and safety. You want to put some pressure on people? Make laws about gun safety and enforce them. Make people have insurance on them. Make them secure the guns. Take away their privileges and guns when they do not comply.

    Owning a gun is a right AND A RESPONSIBILITY. If people want the right, they have to accept the responsibility. If they cannot accept the responsibility, they do not have the right. That is common sense.

  8. Thank you for taking on this idiot Hartmann.

    By the way, I am a descendant of slaves and Cherokees, and I know history.

    It’s absolutely jaw-dropping how Hartmann takes history out of context and spins the 2nd Amendment, and the debate over gun rights, 180 degrees. So slave States used their militia authority to keep slaves in line. Duh! Of course, he then omits the primary purpose of such patrols would have been was to enforce gun control on the slaves. Therefore, it’s the anti-gun nuts with their federal slave patrols (like BATFE) who are actually embodying the spirit of the old slave patrols.

    • Jay,

      Thanks for commenting. First, Hartmann isn’t taking the history out of context anymore than conservatives who argue that the Revolutionary War started over gun control–both are absurd and both arguments need to die. That said, while you’re correct that slave patrols would have kept guns away from slaves, that isn’t an argument in favor of less gun restrictions. In fact, I would say the opposite is true. When you arm anyone and everyone, some of them will start to use their guns for intimidation, for extortion, and for sedition. This couldn’t happen as often and as easily if firearms were more difficult to acquire (see any history of Wako, Texas). The FBI even has a watch page out for this sort of behavior: http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2011/september/militia_092211

      These individuals are under the same false notion–that a militia is just a group of regular people with guns. As the FBI notes: “They believe that the Constitution grants citizens the power to take back the federal government by force or violence if they feel it’s necessary. They oppose gun control efforts and fear the widespread disarming of Americans by the federal government.” These are the generally held beliefs of domestic terrorists. Not patriots. And I think that this is what Hartmann was trying to illustrate with his distortion of the 2nd Amendment and the false link with slavery. That when you have a group of prejudice men walking around with semi-automatic weapons, bad things will happen. And the answer isn’t just to arm everyone else either–because then you have turf wars and gun violence against rival factions. Guns aren’t a deterrent to gun violence. If so, we wouldn’t have any gun violence.

      That said, I’m not anti-gun. But I am pro-gun controls. You may disagree, and that is your right as an American. The real problem with this debate is that some people who disagree will threaten your life with the very thing they claim isn’t a threat to your life–a gun.

  9. Pingback: Am I an ‘Anti-Gun’ Activist? (Part 1: Why I Am Not a Gun Rights Extremist) |·

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