The Sword Geek

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What does the 2nd Amendment Mean? Ask the people that wrote it…

Who would know better? OK, they’re all dead so we cannot literally ask them- but we can read what they wrote on the subject, specifically in commentaries during the ratification period where they explained and argued for it. Let’s have a look, shall we? This list is by no means exhaustive but it is representative of the opinions at the time:

Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it. 

—James Madison,The Federalist Papers, No. 46.

To suppose arms in the hands of citizens, to be used at individual discretion, except in private self-defense, or by partial orders of towns, countries or districts of a state, is to demolish every constitution, and lay the laws prostrate, so that liberty can be enjoyed by no man; it is a dissolution of the government. The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws.

—John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of the United States 475 (1787-1788)

Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive. 

—Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia 1787).

Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man gainst his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American…[T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people —Tenche Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.

[W]hereas, to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them; nor does it follow from this, that all promiscuously must go into actual service on every occasion. The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle; and when we see many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever they can prevail, no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding against it.  —Richard Henry Lee, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.

[C]onceived it to be the privilege of every citizen, and one of his most essential rights, to bear arms, and to resist every attack upon his liberty or property, by whomsoever made. The particular states, like private citizens, have a right to be armed, and to defend, by force of arms, their rights, when invaded.    Roger Sherman, during House consideration of a militia bill (1790) 14 Debates in the House of Representatives, ed. Linda Grand De Pauw. (Balt., Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1972), 92-3.

[T]he people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them.

No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.

—Thomas Jefferson: Draft Virginia Constitution, 1776.

“I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” George Mason, co-author of the Second Amendment– Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 14, 1778

“A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves… and include all men capable of bearing arms. . . To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms… The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle.” Richard Henry Lee Letters From the Federal Farmer to the Republican, Letter XVIII, January 25, 1788

“And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms…” – Samuel Adams, Debates of the Massachusetts Convention of February 6, 1788; Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1788 (Pierce & Hale, eds., Boston, 1850)

“It may be laid down, as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defence of it, and consequently that the Citizens of America (with a few legal and official exceptions) from 18 to 50 Years of Age should be borne on the Militia Rolls, provided with uniform Arms, and so far accustomed to the use of them, that the Total strength of the Country might be called forth at Short Notice on any very interesting Emergency.” George Washington– Sentiments on a Peace Establishment in a letter to Alexander Hamilton, May 2, 1783; The Writings of George Washington [1938], edited by John C. Fitzpatrick, Vol. 26, p. 289

“Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in possession and under our direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?” Patrick Henry– Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, ed. 1836, vol. 3, p.168

“… but if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people, while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 29, Concerning the Militia, Independent Journal, January 9, 1788; The Federalist (The Gideon Edition), (1818), Edited with an Introduction, Reader’s Guide, Constitutional Cross-reference, Index, and Glossary by George W. Carey and James McClellan (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001)

“Another source of power in government is a military force. But this, to be efficient, must be superior to any force that exists among the people, or which they can command: for otherwise this force would be annihilated, on the first exercise of acts of oppression. Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive. In spite of all the nominal powers, vested in Congress by the constitution, were the system once adopted in its fullest latitude, still the actual exercise of them would be frequently interrupted by popular jealousy. I am bold to say, that ten just and constitutional measures would be resisted, where one unjust or oppressive law would be enforced. The powers vested in Congress are little more than nominal; nay real power cannot be vested in them, nor in any body, but in the people. The source of power is in the people of this country, and cannot for ages, and probably never will, be removed.” – Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, Philadelphia, October 10, 1787; Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States, Published during Its Discussion by the People, 1787—1788, Paul Leicester Ford, editor; Brooklyn, 1888. Reprint, New York: De Capo Press, 1968

Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American … the unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.” – Tenche Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788

“Whereas civil-rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as military forces, which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.”– Tench Cotxe, writing as A Pennsylvanian, in Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution; Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789, p. 2 col. 1

“The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them.” Zachariah Johnson– Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 25, 1788; Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, editor, vol. 3, p. 646 (Philadelphia, 1836)

From these writings it is plain that the framers of the Constitution intended the ownership of arms to be an individual right, and that by ‘militia’ they were referring to the people as a whole and as individuals. The current claims that this is not the case are clearly misunderstandings of this intent and self-serving lies at worst.

Note that the words “Well regulated” appear in the text of the 2nd Amendment, and in Heller Vs. DC the Supreme Court stated that this right was ‘subject to regulation in the interests of the public good.’

December 5, 2015 - Posted by | Podcast