Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Second Amendment and Founding Era Arms Mantras

The People Are Not To Be Disarmed Of Their Weapons
Arms mantras from the period when ratification of the new U.S. Constitution was underway were statements based upon the necessity of an armed population offered in support of, or opposition to, the new government's adoption. Of the previous seven posts immediately below, the first three present Federalist arms mantras from supporters of ratification (Noah Webster, Tench Coxe, and Zachariah Johnson), and the last three are arms mantras from Antifederalists (Federal Farmer, A Landholder, and George Mason), who opposed ratification for two main reasons - lack of a bill of rights in the Constitution and the new government's extensive military powers, which would lead to tyranny.

Federalists argued that the extensive military powers of the new government could not lead to tyranny and oppression because the people were armed and able to prevent that from happening. They routinely argued that the people or militia could not be disarmed, statements that were answers to contrary claims by their opponents. It was Federalists who argued against any amendments of the new Constitution, whether bill of rights proposals or other amendments to alter specific delegated powers. They adamantly opposed any alterations of the Article 1, Section 8 powers of Congress and never accepted a single one, especially after they gained control of the First Congress in 1789.

A bill of rights was not included within the Constitution because the Federal Convention of 1787 had unanimously voted down a bill of rights committee. Thus, since most Americans strongly supported a Federal Bill of Rights to limit government powers, Federalists were in the unenviable position of arguing against the need for one. Their arms mantras indicate that the Constitution's supporters based their entire polity on an armed population capable of controlling any forces that the government might raise to coerce the people. Note, however, Federalist arms mantras were not presented in support of protections like the Second Amendment to the Constitution since Federalists opposed all amendments (except when politically forced to accept them by their opponents).

Antifederalists completely agreed with their opponents that an armed population existed and that the people being armed was a necessity in the future to assure a free country. They feared that this essential situation would not continue to exist if the Constitution was ratified because the proposed Federal Government's powers were unrestrained, especially the military powers. Opponents of ratification argued these powers would allow the government to disarm the people in various ways, thus negating the essential control of the people over government raised forces. The Antifederalist arms mantra was generally used to argue for alteration of military powers. Proposals for limits on a standing army, guards against a select militia, and assurances that the states could organize, arm, and discipline their militia were all accompanied by Antifederalist arms mantras. 

The six Founding Era arms mantras presented below, and numerous others collected in The Origin of the Second Amendment, clarify why Federalist leaders and the overwhelmingly Federalist First Congress were willing to accept Antifederalist supported and developed Bill of Rights protections for individual rights taken directly from state bills of rights, like the Second Amendment's protection for an armed populace, which all understood as essential to free government, but they were unwilling to change the Federal Government's military powers one iota. These arms mantras also help us understand the fundamental purpose of the Second Amendment - constitutional level protection for the people's control over government employed forces that might be used for future oppression of the the people. 
[Further information on Founding Era arms mantras and the context of their use can be found in The Founders' View of the Right to Bear Arms, pp. 92-111. The next post will explore the fundamental purpose and full context of Second Amendment predecessors found in Mason Triads.]


  1. According to the Ralph Ketcham's edited Anti-Federalist Papers, Virginia's 1788 Convention proposed a 17th amendment to the new constitution. "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 ... in all cases, the military should be under strict subornation to, and governed by, the civil power.".

    IMO, this statement makes clear the militia is subordinate to an individual right to keep and bear arms.

  2. 1787's Pennsylvania Minority couldn't make clearer the founder's recognition of the people's inherited right to keep and bear arms, excluding anyone with dangerous behavioral tendencies and/or criminal history.

    "That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and their own state, or the United States, or for the purpose of killing game; and no law shall be passed for disarming the people or any of them, unless for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals ...". Edited by R. in The anti-federalist papers.

  3. That's Pennsylvania not the Federal Constitution. Pennsylvania was an anti-federalist stronghold at the time-mostly opposed to the Federal Constitution. You cannot therefore assume that Pennsylvania reflects the will of "the founders."