Sunday, May 24, 2009

Root Causes of Never-ending Second Amendment Dispute - Part 18

Off-Track Militia Powers Historiography Erroneously Linked to Origin of the Second Amendment in the Rakove Heller Amicus Brief
[Updated July 18, 2009]

The heart of Professor Rakove's Heller amicus brief consists of eight consecutive pages consisting of militia powers development in the Federal Convention, subsequent ratification era dispute about those powers, culminating with Virginia Ratifying Convention debate on that subject. An Antifederalist argument about disarming the militia is the emphasized point concerning militia powers discussion in Virginia's convention. The historians point out that Virginia's convention is where the Second Amendment's antecedent language originated, ostensibly as the result of all the militia powers debate and the Virginia Convention disarming statement they have detailed and emphasized.

A George Mason statement regarding disarming the militia made in Virginia's convention is the vehicle used in the brief to link the militia powers debate to appearance of the Second Amendment's predecessor language.

"George Mason similarly imagined how the militia might be disarmed: not by the federal government confiscating weapons, but rather, “Under various pretences, Congress may neglect to provide for arming and disciplining the militia, and the State Governments cannot do it, for Congress has an exclusive right to arm them.” [p.20]

The brief points out that Virginia Federalists responded to Mason indicating that power over the militia was concurrent between the state and federal governments, thus assuring the state's ability to arm the militia. Mention of the Second Amendment predecessor is then inserted into the historians' militia powers history at this point:

"Because the Virginia convention was so evenly divided, Federalists accepted a proposal to recommend constitutional amendments to the first Congress. This was where the antecedent wording of the Second Amendment can be found, closely followed by the similar language adopted by New York two weeks later." [pp. 20-21]

While the subjects of the militia and disarming can certainly be related to the Second Amendment's language, the Second Amendment antecedent from Virginia did not result from the militia powers dispute that Mason was discussing in the quote presented by Professor Rakove. The Second Amendment instead resulted from ongoing demands for a federal bill of rights based on existing state bill of rights protections, an intense ratification era dispute that Professor Rakove virtually ignored in the professional historians' brief. Further examination of the Virginia militia powers debate details and the actual amendments proposed by Virginia make this point very clear.

The Mason quote in the brief relating to disarming the militia was his presentation of a plausible method by which the new federal government could justify a permanent standing army by destroying the militia through inaction. The government could simply fail to provide for arming and disciplining the militia. Mason's disarming argument was offered in support of the Antifederalist view that power over arming and disciplining the militia should be guaranteed to the states in the new Constitution. In fact, Mason stated exactly what type of amendment Antifederalists in Virginia desired to solve these concerns immediately after making his militia disarming related arguments:

"in case the general government should neglect to arm and discipline the militia, there should be an express declaration that the states may arm and discipline them. With this single exception, I would agree to this part [of the Constitution]" [The Origin of the Second Amendment, p.402]

The concern expressed in the militia powers related arguments, including Mason's quote in the brief, related to guaranteeing state authority over the militia. It did not relate to adding state bill of rights protections, such as the Second Amendment predecessor, to the U.S. Constitution. At the close of Virginia's convention, Antifederalists proposed two lists of amendments - a complete Bill of Rights and a list of twenty "other" amendments, both later adopted by the Convention. All of the Bill of Rights provisions were directly based on existing state bills of rights provisions, while none of the "other" amendments were so based.

George Mason, as chairman of the Antifederalists' amendments committee, was the author of both lists of amendments. It was one of these “other” Mason prepared amendments that was specifically intended to solve the lack of state militia power concern expressed in his disarming argument.

"11th. That each state respectively shall have the power to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining its own militia, whensoever Congress shall omit or neglect to provide for the same." [OSA, p.460]

It cannot be more clear that it was this proposed “other” amendment that resulted from Mason's militia disarming argument in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, not the antecedent Second Amendment language from the proposed Bill of Rights.

Professor Rakove does not accurately quote the Second Amendment predecessor language that his brief suggests as the resolution of Mason's disarming argument and the militia powers debate. This language comes from Article 17 of the proposed Bill of Rights:

"17th. That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; 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; that standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power." [OSA, p. 459]

This Bill of Rights proposal is obviously based directly on the existing 1776 Virginia Bill of Rights Mason Triad, the major difference being addition of a right to bear arms variant added to the well regulated militia language at the beginning. [See part 7 for development of the original Mason Triad.] Making use of both right to bear arms and well regulated militia language from existing state bills of rights, it is the original two-clause Second Amendment predecessor.

There is absolutely nothing in this Second Amendment antecedent language indicating any intent to guarantee state authority over the militia or to shift such power from the federal government back to the states. Both clauses of this provision are taken from existing state government limiting bill of rights with the intention of limiting the new government in exactly the same way the state governments were limited. Existing state bill of rights provisions could not have been intended to alter or shift powers between the state governments and the new federal government because all of their protections had been adopted years before the U.S. Constitution was written.

The Rakove professional historians' Heller brief presentation of Second Amendment history has ripped the Second Amendment out of the Bill of Rights, torn it in half, and discarded the right of the people to keep and bear arms clause in order to advance the militia clause as relating solely to protection of state authority. But this argument is directly contrary to the origin of the Second Amendment predecessor clauses in existing state government limiting bills of rights. Blindly advancing a militia powers only intent for the Second Amendment, the professional historians have failed to connect any of the proposed ratification era protections for the right of the people to keep and bear arms with their immediate state bill of rights antecedents.

The more one studies the details and facts relating to the origin of the Second Amendment, the more it becomes evident that the historians' have made a major historical blunder by emphasizing militia powers development and related disagreements during ratification as the origin of the Second Amendment while virtually ignoring the extensive period demands for a federal bill of rights based on existing state bill of rights protections. The latter arguments resulted in development of the Second Amendment, not the former. This is the very reason why the Rakove professional historians' Heller amicus brief contains so many erroneous statements and inconsistencies, as documented in previous parts of this series.

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