Saturday, April 17, 2010

Historians Try to Sell Brooklyn London Benjamin Franklin Bridge to U.S. Supreme Court - Part 6

Contradictions and Errors in the Pennsylvania History McDonald Amicus

The historians brief attempts to convince the Supreme Court Justices that their unanimous Heller case understanding that Section XIII of Pennsylvania's 1776 Declaration of Rights ("that the people have a right to bear arms") related to individual rights was in error.

"As the Heller majority and both dissents recognized, the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution provides insight into the then-prevalent conception of the right to bear arms. . . . Three clauses of its [Pennsylvania's] Declaration of Rights in particular warrant attention, the first, eighth, and thirteenth, all of which deal with individual or collective self-defense:" [p.18]

The historians then quote the following from Pennsylvania's Declaration of Rights:

"I. THAT all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable Rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
VIII. THAT every member of society hath a right to be protected in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property, and therefore is bound to contribute his proportion towards the expence of that protection, and yield his personal service, when necessary, or an equivalent thereto . . . Nor can any man who is conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms, be justly compelled thereto, if he will pay such equivalent.
XIII. THAT the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the State; and as standing armies, in the time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up: And that the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power." [pp.18-19]


The first assertion from the historians relating to the language they have quoted is as follows:

"This language reflects the Presbyterian complaints against the Quaker government’s perceived failure to provide for the common defense over the previous twenty years." [p.19]

The quoted language could not be a complaint against Pennsylvania's Quaker government for several reasons, the least of which is that Pennsylvania did not have a "Quaker government." The colony had a representative assembly, and Quakers, while a large minority, had not been the majority population in the colony for some time. Quakers were, however, able through political alliances to prevent the adoption of militia laws like those of the other colonies during the described period as well as throughout the prior colonial history when it was more directly under Quaker control. As a result, colonial Pennsylvania never required men to perform militia duties or obtain arms for such purposes, unlike the other American colonies that all passed militia laws in colonial times.

Pennsylvania copied most of the language in Sections I, VIII, and XIII from Virginia's Declaration of Rights. All Revolutionary Era Declarations of Rights borrowed or copied provisions from the declarations of earlier states except for Virginia, which produced the first such declaration. Thus, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the second state to produce a declaration of rights, were often borrowed from or copied by later states. The language quoted by the historians from Pennsylvania's Declaration of Rights is not unique to Pennsylvania because much of it was copied from Virginia, and all of Pennsylvania's was copied verbatim by Vermont. Pennsylvania's provisions were also borrowed by other states. These facts contradict the historians' assertion since the language clearly does not relate to any Quaker specific Pennsylvania history in these other states.

Examining the provisions of Section XIII specifically, it is evident that these clauses are not complaints against Quakers, but rather complaints against the British. Quakers never attempted to raise an army in time of peace, but the British actually did so in Massachusetts. Suggesting otherwise would be inane. Similarly, Quakers were the last persons on the planet to have any interest in making the military superior to the civil power, but that was exactly what the British had done in Massachusetts. As far as the people's right to bear arms for defense, Quakers never prevented any of the people from defending themselves, their families, their communities, or the colony. However, the British had been making every effort for a considerable time to prevent the inhabitants under their military control in Massachusetts from possessing powder or arms (a few Loyalists excepted), thus making it impossible for the people there to protect themselves or the colony.

Not only have the historians confused the Quakers and the British, but they have confused the power limiting intent of Section XIII bill of rights protection with the idea that the Section somehow authorized the government to control arms. This is evident in the very next sentence of the brief:

"Their [Presbyterians] predominant concern—as reflected in the [quoted] text—was establishing a coherent system of community defense so that the government could protect the people’s natural rights." [p.19]

Nothing in the language of the three sections quoted in the brief has anything to do with "establishing a coherent system of community defense so that the government" could take actions. The historians entirely overlook the stated purpose of these Declaration of Rights provisions. The title of the Declaration of Rights indicates that purpose as follows:

"A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF THE COMMONWEALTH, OR STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA" [OSA, p.752]

In other words, the quoted language represents rights of the inhabitants, not establishment of government power over defense. This is made even more clear by reference to Section 46 of Pennsylvania's FORM OF GOVERNMENT, a major portion of Pennsylvania's Constitution that the historians fail to mention even exists:

"Sect. 46. The declaration of rights is hereby declared to be a part of the constitution of this commonwealth, and ought never to be violated on any pretence whatever." [Thorpe, V, p.3091]

This provision and the title of the Declaration of Rights clarify that the historians are taking the quotes out of their actual bill of rights related context, which is a limit on government authority, and using them instead as if they confer authority on the government over duties relating to arms and defense. That this is a major blunder is further clarified by reference to Section 5 of the Form of Government:

"Sect. 5. The freemen of this commonwealth and their sons shall be trained and armed for its defence under such regulations, restrictions, and exceptions as the general assembly shall by law direct, preserving always to the people the right of choosing their colonels and all commissioned officers under that rank, in such manner and as often as by the said laws shall be directed." [Thorpe, V, p.3084]

It cannot be more clear that it is Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution's Form of Government that establishes "a coherent system of community defense so that the government" can take defensive actions, not any of the Declaration of Rights provisions. The historians have grossly confused the purpose of the government limiting Declaration of Rights protections they quote in an effort to tie the meaning of the Article XIII arms related clause to government authority.

There is no doubt that Pennsylvania's Quaker history influenced some of the state's Declaration of Rights language, but not in the way portrayed by the historians. The "people have a right to bear arms" language of Section XIII relates to longstanding activities of the people of Pennsylvania, not to the new government's authority. Remember, Pennsylvania's colonial government never required anyone to defend the colony or possess arms for that purpose. Thus, throughout the colony's history, all organized defensive activities, of which there were a considerable number, were carried out by individuals who voluntarily associated for defense when necessary. This defensive activity was possible because private arms possession and use were widespread in the colony, not because the government was providing direction under law for defense.

Individual men took up their privately owned arms, with which they could defend themselves, and joined with other individuals for organized defense. They formed companies of men, elected officers, and trained themselves for mutual defense. [see FVRBA, pp.15-25] It is these private arms possession related activities that the Section XIII language refers to. In fact, the people of Pennsylvania had been continuously engaged in defending their natural rights against the actions of British government officials and forces for over a full year before the text the historians quote was ever written.

Thus, the belief of the historians that the quoted language represents complaints against Quaker government in Pennsylvania or is intended as support for government authority rather than as provisions that are actually a limit on government authority is historically inaccurate and unsupportable.

Pennsylvania's 1776 Constitution began with an untitled preamble, which among other things indicated that the Constitution consisted of a Declaration of Rights and Form of Government. The following headings and excerpts of provisions from the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution are presented here because they are of essential importance in examining various misleading and erroneous claims in the historians' McDonald brief. Note that the underlined portions of Declaration of Rights sections I, VIII, and XIII, below, are the specific clauses quoted by the historians in their brief.

"A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF THE INHABITANTS OF THE COMMONWEALTH, OR STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA
I. That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, amongst which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
. . . .
VIII. That every member of society hath a right to be protected in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property, and therefore is bound to contribute his proportion towards the expence of that protection, and yield his personal service, when necessary, or an equivalent thereto: But no part of a man's property can be justly taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of his legal representatives: Nor can any man who is conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms, be justly compelled thereto, if he will pay such equivalent, nor are the people bound by any laws, but such as they have in like manner assented to, for their common good.
. . . .
X. That the people have a right to hold themselves, their houses, papers, and possessions free from search and seizure. . . [under general warrants that "are contrary to that right"]
. . . .
XII. That the people have a right to freedom of speech, and of writing, and publishing their sentiments; therefore the freedom of the press ought not to be restrained.
XIII. That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state; and as standing armies in the time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; And that the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.
. . . .
XVI. That the people have a right to assemble together, to consult for their common good, to instruct their representatives, and to apply to the legislature for redress of grievances, by address, petition, or remonstrance." [OSA, pp.752,754]
. . . .
"PLAN OR FRAME OF GOVERNMENT FOR THE COMMONWEALTH
OR STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA
. . . .
Sect. 5. The freemen of this commonwealth and their sons shall be trained and armed for its defence under such regulations, restrictions, and exceptions as the general assembly shall by law direct, preserving always to the people the right of choosing their colonels and all commissioned officers under that rank, in such manner and as often as by the said laws shall be directed.
Sect. 6. [Every freeman of twenty-one years of age resident in the state for one year prior to election for representatives who pays taxes, and their sons of that age, even if they do not pay taxes, shall be intitled to vote. {condensed}]
. . . .
Sect. 46. The declaration of rights is hereby declared to be a part of the constitution of this commonwealth, and ought never to be violated on any pretence whatever." [Thorpe, V, pp. 3084, 3091]

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