On June 16, 1788, Patrick Henry and George Mason both gave speeches regarding the need for a federal bill of rights. Henry set up their upcoming arguments by reading six specific provisions from Virginia's 1776 Declaration of Rights:
"Mr. Henry moved to read from the 8th to the 13th article of the declaration of rights; which was done."
[The Origin of the Second Amendment, p.434]
Those specific articles of Virginia's state bill of rights included predecessors of protections later included in the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The well regulated militia language of Virginia's ratifying convention Article 17, which Justice Stevens erroneously conflated, was copied verbatim by George Mason from this 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights Article 13 original:
"13. That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state;"
[The Origin of the Second Amendment, p.434]
Interestingly, both Patrick Henry and George Mason were members of the drafting committee in the Revolutionary Era convention that adopted this 1776 Virginia well regulated militia clause as part of America's first state bill of rights over a decade earlier. Mason was acknowledged as its author by the other delegates. In the modern dispute over meaning of well regulated militia clause language in American bills of rights, the comments of Mason and Henry are essential for determining period understanding because they originated the language in 1776 and utilized what they originated again later verbatim in 1788 as model U.S. Bill of Rights language. Their 1788 bill of rights comments directly contradict the Heller dissent Second Amendment intent argument.
Mason spoke first on the bill of rights subject, explaining his understanding of Virginia's state bill of rights and the general purpose of the specific provisions Henry had read shortly before, which included the original well regulated militia clause:
"there were certain great and important rights, which the people, by their bill of rights, declared to be paramount to the power of the legislature. . . .it was necessary that the great rights of human nature should be secure from the encroachments of the legislature, . . ."
[The Origin of the Second Amendment, p.436]
Henry followed Mason indicating the general need for the protections he had read to be added in a federal a bill of rights:
"You have a bill of rights to defend you against the state government, . . . and yet you have none against Congress,"
[The Origin of the Second Amendment, pp.437-438]
Patrick Henry and George Mason both understood Virginia's 1776 well regulated militia clause as a restriction on state government power. Prior to making the above statements in Virginia's ratifying convention, they had already inserted an exact quote of that clause into their Antifederalist committee model U.S. Bill of Rights, which was developed by assembling existing state bill of rights limitations on state government into a new Federal bill of rights of limitations on the power of the proposed Federal Government.
[See The Founders View of the Right to Bear Arms, pp.61-66 for more detailed history and citations regarding the origin of Virginia's well regulated militia clause.]
Contrary to the view of the framers who originated the well regulated militia clause in 1776, and who described and adopted it again in 1788, Justice Stevens, as documented in Part 1, conflated the clause's intent into protection for state authority. Early in his dissent, after quoting the Second Amendment's first clause, Justice Stevens directly quotes Virginia's 1776 language as evidence that the founders' intent matches his understanding of protecting “state militias”:
"“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State”
The preamble . . . is comparable to provisions in several State Declarations of Rights that were adopted roughly contemporaneously with the Declaration of Independence.5 Those state provisions highlight the importance members of the founding generation attached to the maintenance of state militias:"
"5 The Virginia Declaration of Rights ¶ 13 (1776) provided: "That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free State:"
[Heller dissent, p.5, note 5]
The framing founders responsible for the 1776 language understood it as a limit on state power protecting a militia composed of the people, or in other words, protecting an armed populace. These drafting founders used the 1776 language again in the 1788 immediate predecessor of the Second Amendment with the clear intention of limiting the Federal Government in the same way it limited the state government, by protecting a militia of the people. Justice Stevens is totally confused about the meaning of this language, and his Heller dissent arguments are not only factually unfounded, but directly contradicted by the period evidence.