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Yes, Another Blog Post About the Second Amendment!

Here is brief, introductory paper I wrote about the history of the Second Amendment for a graduate class.  Enjoy, if you are inclined to this sort of thing.

To define the history and purpose of the Second Amendment would be futile without an understanding of what the Second Amendment is.  In the Constitution of the United States, the Second Amendment is defined as, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”[1]  Readers might be surprised to understand the level of dispute that this amendment elicits.  Most of the disputes come from those that are well versed in the field of political science.  Often they have a very educated understanding of the history and purpose of the Second Amendment.  On the other hand, many do not have the same understanding.  The purpose of this paper is not to settle the debate among those who disagree and argue about the Second Amendment, but rather to give a simple and analytical understanding of the Second Amendment by examining the historical definition of a militia, abuse of power, and the birth of the Second Amendment.

 History Explains Militia

     While seeking to understand the history surrounding this amendment, the reader will inevitably be led to ask the question, “What is the necessity of the Second Amendment?”  The answer will start the reader on an historical search of the subject, where he will land in England somewhere between the seventh and tenth centuries.  This is when the kings of England decided that all Englishmen are obligated to serve, not in a professional army, but rather a citizen army. [2]   This way of thinking about citizen armies continued through The Tudor Period, where the name militia actually began to take the place of citizen army, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.[3]  It is very important to understand the ramifications of a citizen army, not a professional army, being given the name Militia.  One of the great debates concerning the differing school of thoughts is what constitutes a well-regulated militia.  That question seems to be answered during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, as a citizen army.

     Intentional or not, what seemed to be occurring in English history dura system of checks and balances in government.  Vandervroy explains how a shift toward individual rights had begun. “Historians suggested that English universal armament caused a moderation of monarchial rule and fostered individual liberties because the populace had in reserve a check which soon brought the fiercest and proudest King to reason: the check of physical force.”[4]

 Abuse of Power

     An intense series of events that began in the Stuart Period and lasted for the next 100 plus years included: a Civil War, execution of a king, and an outright battle of supremacy between the English Parliament and the crown.  In the midst of these circumstances, something began to happen that has carried over into present American history – “various factions sought to control the militia and intermittently to disarm opposing factions.”[5]  It is imperative for the reader to remember that the militia, at this point, was defined as the citizens of England.  As the power struggle between the monarchy and the Parliament continued, they eventually worked together to pass the Militia Act of 1661.  Led by Charles II, the government of England began to mold a militia loyal to the throne, and anyone who was deemed dangerous to the English Kingdom had their arms seized by the government militia.  A major disarmament of the people had begun.[6]

     In the late seventeenth century, King James, brother of Charles II, began to abuse his power.  He was eventually forced to flee to France when his son-in-law, William of Orange, came to England with a Dutch army.  This led to a declaration in the land that all subjects may have arms to provide themselves with self-defense.  There would be no more disarming of citizens.  At least this is how the first draft of the declaration read.  Parliament decided it would decide how the people could use their firearms.  With a sly illusion, Parliament claimed that they were not taking away the rights of the people to bear arms, but what they were doing in actuality was regulating the use of those arms.[7]

 The Birth of the Second Amendment

     The Second Amendment was born out of the conflict in England.  The Founding Fathers understood the need for Congress to call a standing army, but they also wanted to make sure that the militia remained under the care of the states, thus keeping the standing army of the government in check.[8]  Antifederalists went so far as to argue, “that a select militia composed of less than all the people ought to be avoided.  One Maryland farmer took to writing essays about the danger of a centralized government:

I cannot think that any able and virtuous citizen, would in his cool and dispationate moments, wish to blend or risque the fundamental rights of men, with any organization of society that the Americans can or will make for fifty years to come. — Let us keep these rights of individuals — these unalienable blessings[ — ]reserved and separated from every constitution and form — If they are unmingled, the attentive eyes of every citizen wilt be kept fixed upon them. We shall watch them as a sacred deposit, and we may carry them uninjured and unimpaired through every vicissitude and change, from the government we have left, into some other that may be established on the fixed and solid principles of reason. — Nor can there be, I imagine, any prudent man, who would trust the whimsical inventions of the day, with that dangerous weapon a standing army, in our present unsettled circumstances — striving to substantiate inefficient and unnatural forms — it would wield us into despotism in a moment, and we have surely had throat-cutting enough in our day.[9]

Antifederalist George Mason had some strong words concerning arms and the militia.  “To disarm the people is the best and most effective way to enslave them.”  He also believed that the militia was not something that could be called together by Congress, but rather it was the whole people.[10]  Patrick Henry also weighed in on the dangers of a centralized government that intended to take away the rights of the people to bear arms.  “Are we at last brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defence?  Where is the difference between having our arms in our own possession and under out own direction, and having them under the management of Congress?”[11]

The Founding Fathers had seen the danger of centralized power in England.  They had seen the danger of disarming the people, and making the militia a government controlled entity. By no means did they want this in the states.  The desire of the Founding Fathers was that the people be armed for self-defense, not just against the common criminal, but against a tyrannical government.  This was the evil that both the Antifederalists and Federalists agreed upon.  If a tyrannical government were to go unchecked, this was a far greater danger to the people than anything else.  The only way to keep the government in check was to keep the people armed. The loss of arms was a loss of freedom, and history proved this to be true.[12]

As the Constitution was ratified in the states, one thing was kept clear – “the people had a right to keep and bear arms and that the militia was to include all the people capable of bearing arms, not just a select few.”[13]  Many of the states were concerned that an amendment was needed to protect the rights of the people to bear arms, however, Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton argued that there was no need for this amendment because nobody was looking to take away the rights of the people.[14]  The reader must carefully notice from the analysis that the intention of the Founding Fathers was to make sure the people kept their right to bear arms, and to get back to early English history where the militia was made up of all the people in the states.  Eventually the Bill of Rights was passed, which included the Second Amendment, and the protection of the rights of the people to bear arms.  David Hardy sums up this monumental decision well, “…in light of the historical evidence, documentation of the intent of the drafters of the Second Amendment and their contemporaries, and the need to maintain a consistent standard of constitutional interpretation, the individual rights approach is the only approach that has any validity.”[15]

 Conclusion

     One can clearly see how misinterpretations have grown out of a study of the history and purposes of the Second Amendment.  Many opposed to the rights of the people to keep and bear arms will claim that times today are much more different than times in the 18th century.  Yet the history of early England and early America has shown that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect the rights of the people to bear arms.  And it does not just protect the rights of the people to bear arms in order to hunt, but rather to protect itself in self-defense.  That self-defense also goes as far as the people protecting itself from a tyrannical government.  History is on the side of the people on this issue.  When their rights begin to be trampled by a government that thinks it is supreme, the people rise against this abuse of power.  This was and still is the very purpose of the Second Amendment.

Bibliography

Google. “A Farmers Essay, V.” accessed January 23, 2014, http://www.constitution.org/afp/md_farmer.htm.

Google. “Amendment II: To Keep and Bear Arms.” last modified 2014, accessed January 23, 2014,  https://www.rutherford.org/constitutional_corner/amendment_ii_to_keep_and_bear_arms/

Google. “Quotes on the Right to Bear Arms.” last modified 2002, accessed January 23, 2014, http://www.catb.org/esr/fortunes/rkba.html

Hardy, David T. “Armed Citizens, Citizen Armies: Toward a Jurisprudence of the SecondAmendment.” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy (1986): 2, accessed January 23, 2014, http://www.constitution.org/2ll/2ndschol/hardcit.pdf

Vandercroy, David E. “The History of the Second Amendment.” Valparaiso University LawReview 28, no. 3 (1994): 3-21, accessed January 23, 2014, http://www.constitution.org/2ll/2ndschol/89vand.pdf


[1] U.S. CONST. amend II.

[2] David Vandercoy, “The History of the Second Amendment,” Valparaiso University Law Review 28, no. 3 (1994): 3, accessed January 23, 2014, http://www.constitution.org/2ll/2ndschol/89vand.pdf

[3] Vandercoy,“The History of the Second Amendment,” 4.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Ibid,, 5.

[6] Ibid., 8-9.

[7] Ibid., 9-11.

[8] Ibid., 13-15.

[9] A Farmer, Essay V (March 1788): 1, accessed January 23, 2014, http://www.constitution.org/afp/md_farmer.htm

[10] George Mason, “Amendment II: To Keep And Bear Arms,” accessed January 23, 2014, https://www.rutherford.org/constitutional_corner/amendment_ii_to_keep_and_bear_arms/

[11] Patrick Henry, “Quotes on the Right to Bear Arms,”(1788), accessed January 23, 2014, http://www.catb.org/esr/fortunes/rkba.html

[12] Vandercoy, “The History of the Second Amendment,” 16.

[13] Ibid., 19.

[14] Ibid., 19-21.

[15] David T. Hardy, “Armed Citizens, Citizen Armies: Toward a Jurisprudence of the Second Amendment,” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, (1986): 2, Accessed January 23, 2014, http://www.constitution.org/2ll/2ndschol/hardcit.pdf

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