Errors, Misquotes, and Omissions in the Professional Historians' McDonald Amicus Brief
As documented in the three previous posts of this series, the issues raised in the professional historians McDonald brief ignore the most relevant information relating to the American origin of the Second Amendment, the development of state bills of rights. The first part of this series examined errors of fact and misquotes diverting away from any mention of these revolutionary era sources. This fourth part examines a major argument presented in the brief relating to the vote of a Boston Town Meeting in 1768. Regarding this vote, the historians misquote the period document, misattribute one of its statements, and incomprehensibly misinterpret not only its source, which they cite, but its purpose.
The historian's brief includes the following statement and quote, described as relating to "the 1768 Boston Town Council’s militia resolve" [p.3]:
"the resolve stated its purposes as the "necessary Defence of the community that the good and wholesome Law of this Province, [which requires] every listed Soldier and other householder ... [to be] provided with a well fix’d Firelock, Musket, Accoutrements and Ammunition." [p.30, emphasis added]
This is the source referred to and misquoted above:
"Upon a Motion made and seconded, the following Vote was passed by a very great Majority ---Vizt.---
Whereas, by an Act of Parliament of the First of King William and Queen Mary it is declared that the Subjects being Protestants, may have Arms for their Defence; It is the opinion of this Town, that the said Declaration is founded in Nature Reason and sound Policy, and is well adapted for the necessary defence of the Community----
And for as much as by a good and wholesome Law of this Province, every listed Soldier, and other Householder (except Troopers who by Law are to be otherwise provided) shall be always provided with a well fixed Fire Lock Musket, Accoutrement and Ammunition as in said Law particularly mentioned, to the satisfaction of the Commission Officers of the Company; and as there is at this Time a prevailing apprehension, in the Minds of many, of an approaching War with France: In order that the Inhabitants of this Town may be prepared in case of sudden danger; Voted, that those of the said Inhabitants who may at present be unprovided, be and hereby are requested duly to observe the said Law at this Time --------" [Report of the Record Commissioners, Boston Town Records 1758-1769, City Document No. 88, p.264, emphasis added]
For ease of identification, two words are made bold in the historians' misquote and seven in the actual quote of Bostons' vote. The quote provided in the historians' brief deletes the seven bold opening words of the vote's operative section ("And for as much as by a") and substitutes in their place the two bold words ("that the") in their quote. The historians thus engage in two different unjustifiable actions in linking the "Whereas" and operative sections of the document. They delete the original words without indication and replace them with words picked out of thin air. Their associated statement also misattributes the ending description of the "Whereas" section, which specifically relates to the English Bill of Rights, as instead a statement of the purpose of Massachusetts' law. The voted provision did state a specific purpose, but it is not found in the mangled quote presented by the historians. The purpose of the vote was "that the inhabitants of this town may be prepared in case of sudden danger".
Contrary to the description used seven times in the historians' brief, neither the term "resolve" nor "resolution" is found in this document, nor is there any reference to a "Boston Town Council". The historians' understanding of who composed a "Boston Town Council" is as follows:
"the right of "self-preservation" was to be exercised not by individuals acting privately or independently, but as a militia organized by their elected representatives, whether Parliament, the Boston Town Council, or otherwise." [pp.7-8]
Referring to a "Council" or "Town Council" or "Boston Town Council" a total of nine times in the brief, it is obvious that the historians are under the mistaken impression there was a "Boston Town Council" consisting of elected representatives who passed the "resolve" they discuss at length. But the very source they cite for all of this information also directly contradicts their interpretation of who passed it:
"AT A MEETING OF THE FREEHOLDERS AND OTHER INHABITANTS OF THE TOWN OF BOSTON, LEGALLY QUALIFIED AND WARN[E]D IN PUBLIC TOWN MEETING ASSEMBLED (1768)" [Note 82, p.30]
This source indicates the vote originated in a town meeting where inhabitants vote directly. Not only do the historians confuse who passed the vote, they also mix up exactly what the vote was all about in this statement:
"the Council issued a resolve invoking the Declaration of Rights’ "have arms" provision by calling upon the Massachusetts militia to defend Boston." [p.29]
As anyone can read above in the reprint of the vote, there was no "Council' involved, the Massachusetts militia were not mentioned, nor were they requested to defend Boston. The men of Boston simply "requested" those inhabitants of the town who did not possess arms to observe the law so that they would be prepared in case of sudden danger.
The historians make another erroneous assertion in their brief:
"Just as Parliament had called upon the militia to defend against the tyranny of Charles I and James II, the Boston Town Council asserted its right of "self-preservation" by invoking the 1693 Militia Act." [p.30]
Again, there was no "Boston Town Council" asserting "its" right of self preservation. What is interesting is the inability of the historians to recognize the fact that what the inhabitants of Boston did was prepare to openly resist the tyranny of Parliament and the current king by simply following existing law, which protected the exercise of their natural rights. The inhabitants of Boston stated in their vote that the arms provision of the English Bill of Rights "is founded in Nature". The historians even quote Samuel Adams describing Boston's vote as relating to the:
"natural Right which the People have reserved to themselves, confirmed by the Bill of Rights, to keep Arms for their own Defence". [p.31]
This vote of Boston raises some questions that the uninquisitive historians naturally fail to ask. It implies that British officials were not making sure that every able-bodied man possessed arms as the law required. Considering the nature of the disagreements between the colonists and the British, such inaction on the part of the governor, a British appointee, seems quite natural. And the response of the British to the Bostonians' vote supports the view that this was purposeful inaction on the governor's part.
In a February 9, 1769 resolve, Parliament condemned the Boston inhabitants' vote as being "illegal and unconstitutional", and this in spite of the fact that the Town Meeting not only cited the English Bill of Rights but simply requested inhabitants to comply with the law. This indicates a difference of opinion about who should control arms, government or the people themselves. Boston's vote and later actions in America relating to obvious disagreement over arms possession are undoubtedly why the inhabitants of Massachusetts later included a provision in the declaration of their rights established as part of the state constitution specifying that the people have a "right" to keep arms. It is most interesting that such an important subject relating to the Second Amendment is not mentioned by the historians.
So, the historians confuse a vote of the freemen of Boston in Town Meeting with a "resolve" of a "Boston Town Council" that did not exist. They also misquote the vote, misatribute one of its statements, seriously misinterpret its stated purpose, and fail to examine its clear implications relating to disagreement over who should control arms, Parliament or the people. All of the historians' arguments are largely diversionary in nature. The historians are avoiding having to deal with American state bill of rights development, which is the most relevant information for understanding the Second Amendment.