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.

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