Thursday, June 27, 2024

The Origin of the Second Amendment - Early Sources On America's Armed Civil Population, Part 3

The Freemen Of Boston Recommend That Inhabitants Obtain Arms

As noted in Part 2, Britain began treating Americans as conquered in 1763. The hated Stamp Act, adopted in 1765, had been successfully defeated by Americans associating to boycott British goods in an organized manner resulting in the Act's repeal in 1766. Along with repeal came the Declaratory Act claiming unlimited authority for Parliament over the American Colonies - a right to "bind" Americans "in all cases whatsoever". Most Americans rejected this concept outright.

On June 15, 1768, due to some rioting in Boston relating to the new Townshend Acts including a duty on tea, a request was made that British troops be sent there to protect British customs officials in the performance of their duties.

At a Boston Town meeting held September 12/13 of 1768, the freemen of Boston passed a resolution recommending that the inhabitants who did not possess arms should provide themselves at that time. The resolution noted the English Bill of Rights protecting arms for protestants, and also Massachusetts militia law that required all males 16 to 60 to possess arms and a considerable quantity of ammunition. It cited a possible war with France as the reason for passage, but it was obvious to all as being directed against British threats of armed force. A British fleet with troops arrived at Boston a few weeks thereafter.

Why would there need to be any such vote on this subject if the law was still in effect? Because after the conquest of Canada, British officials were not enforcing existing militia laws that were intended to assure all able bodied males possessed their own arms and ammunition. Instead, they wanted taxes from America to support an army to guard British possessions, help pay for the previous war, and keep the unruly colonials in line. They wanted compliance to their decrees. Parliament referred to Boston's 1768 vote as "illegal and unconstitutional", in spite of the freemen noting the English Bill of Rights and existing law in their resolution.

Based upon the vote described above and the Tea Party information from Part 2, it appears that arms possession by the male population (those who fight for defense and vote on matters relating thereto) was common, and was also understood as a right.

British troops were later involved, on March 5, 1770, in the Boston Massacre, a demonstration that turned into a deadly riot. A number of Americans were killed, and the soldiers involved faced criminal trails for those deaths.

In Part 4, writings of the two patriot lawyers who defended British soldiers involved in the 1770 Boston Massacre will be identified, and their involvement in development of Second Amendment related concepts and language regarding the armed civil population will be examined.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Origin of the Second Amendment - Early Sources On America's Armed Civil Population, Part 2

What happened at the time of the Boston Tea Party? 

Updated  June 22, 2024
Many Americans died helping Great Britain defeat France and conquer Canada in the French and Indian War that ended in 1763. After that, Britain began treating the American colonists as if they were also conquered. Parliament imposed taxes upon Americans with no input from American legislative assemblies contrary to their rights and past practice. Well before the end of 1773, many Americans were vehemently opposed to British actions and determined to put a stop to them.

On November 29, 1773, one of Boston's selectmen wrote "twould puzzle any person to purchase a pair of p[istols] in town, as they are all bought up, with a full determination to repell force with force." Then on December 18th, he described what happened at the Tea Party two days earlier.

In the morning "a general muster was assembled" at the Old South Church numbering 5,000 to 6,000 men. A unanimous vote was taken that the tea in the three tea ships at the wharf should go out of the harbor that afternoon. Attempts were made by a ship's captain with a committee from the meeting to allow for the three ships' departure without paying the tea tax. The port officer refused. Then the committee went to another town to locate the governor, who also refused. Very late in the day when the committee returned with this news, there was considerable shouting at the Church, and the meeting broke up with more shouting and three cheers.

Immediately thereafter, about two hundred men appeared who were dressed like indians and marched two by two to the wharf, "each armed with a hatchet or axe, and a pair of pistols". By 9 o'clock, all the tea chests were broken and tossed into the harbor by these native american actors.

The population of Boston in 1773 included a maximum of approximately 3,500 males 16 and older. Assuming that every male over 16 from Boston attended the "general muster", it would have included a minimum of 1,500 to 2,500 men who were from the surrounding small towns.

Period actions like those described above indicate why the Founders understood the body of the people to be the militia and vice versa. In the next post, a vote of Boston's freemen in a town meeting recommending that the inhabitants without arms should arm themselves in September of 1768 will be addressed.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

The Origin Of The Second Amendment - Early Sources On America's Armed Civil Population - Part 1

What Did "A Well Regulated Militia" Mean To The Founders?

Updated June 22, 2024
The following short general post is planned as the first of many to examine specific details that directly relate to understanding the historical reality of America's armed civil population and Founding Era period usage of terms in the Second Amendment.

Did the Founders view the Second Amendment's "well regulated militia" language as a government institution reference or as intending the people themselves? There is extensive period source evidence that it was universally understood as applying to the latter - "the body of the people". That very definition is found in five direct American bill of rights related predecessors of the Second Amendment. The final four state ratifying conventions (VA,NY,NC,RI) prior to ratification of the U.S. Bill of Rights all included exactly that language.

Virginia's ratifying convention originated the proposal, which was copied by later conventions. Virginia simply copied verbatim from its own 1776 Declaration of Rights. Both the 1776 and 1788 iterations of Virginia's "the body of the people" understanding of a well regulated militia terminology were written by George Mason, and in both conventions Patrick Henry and James Madison were involved in adopting them. Madison promised in the 1788 convention to push for adoption of Virginia's Bill of Rights proposals and some other amendments by Congress in order to achieve ratification of the U.S. Constitution by his state.

The following year, Madison was able to convince the First Congress to adopt most of Virginia's rights proposals and four of its other amendment recommendations. While Americans refer to all of the first ten amendments as the Bill of Rights, that title was not applied to the amendments by Congress. It is an American oral tradition based on their origin in state ratifying convention bills and declarations of rights.

In the next post, sources from the Boston Tea Party period will be examined regarding period terminology and America's armed civil population.