“A Well Regulated Militia……….”

College of Political Knowledge

Subject:  Early American History

Part 3 of my series on the 2nd amendment of the US Constitution…..my look at historical events that could have led to the inclusion of the 2nd into the Constitution……may I emphasize the words “historical events”?  Try to leave your emotions and your ideology on the curb and think independently……..

When I was in grad school my studies were basically the era in American history, 1750-1815, this was a most fascinating time in the colonies…….and the Constitution…..I have attempted in some small way to get into the minds of our Founders…..we can read what they wrote but we cannot speak with them to see what they were thinking at the time……I looked at situations and issues and feelings of the time to try and explain why they felt it necessary to write parts of the Constitution……..this part is the examination of the term “a well armed militia” was placed into the document that set up the United States of America.

I have looked into the reason behind the 2nd amendment…….I have looked at the necessity for the inclusion and I have researched who thought it necessary……..and now I will write on the whole “militia” thing……..

The 2nd amendment states……..”A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  First what was the militia?

From Old English milite meaning soldiers (plural), militisc meaning military and also classical Latin milit-, miles meaning soldier.

The Modern English term militia dates to the year 1590, with the original meaning now obsolete:  “the body of soldiers in the service of a sovereign or a state”.   Subsequently, since approximately 1665  militia has taken the meaning “a military force raised from the civilian population of a country or region,  especially to supplement a regular army in an emergency,  frequently as distinguished from mercenaries or professional soldiers.”

For me, the term “a well regulated militia” is the key to the amendment…….more so than the right to keep and bear arms……..why?  First, we look at the founding document the Articles of Confederation……..article 6 paragraph 4…..

No vessels of war shall be kept up in time of peace by any state, except such number only, as shall be deemed necessary by the united states in congress assembled, for the defence of such state, or its trade; nor shall any body of forces be kept up by any state, in time of peace, except such number only, as in the judgment of the united states, in congress assembled, shall be deemed requisite to garrison the forts necessary for the defence of such state; but every state shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutered, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage.

This document was the set of governing laws during the war and was replaced by the Constitution in 1789 when it was ratified by 11 states……..keep in mind the the Bill of Rights, which includes the 2nd, was added to the Constitution in 1791…….in the original document in amendment 1 section 8 states……..

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress

During the debate for the new laws of the land a point was made in Federalist #29……….

If there should be an army to be made use of as the engine of despotism, what need of the militia? If there should be no army, whither would the militia, irritated by being called upon to undertake a distant and hopeless expedition, for the purpose of riveting the chains of slavery upon a part of their countrymen, direct their course, but to the seat of the tyrants, who had meditated so foolish as well as so wicked a project, to crush them in their imagined intrenchments of power, and to make them an example of the just vengeance of an abused and incensed people? Is this the way in which usurpers stride to dominion over a numerous and enlightened nation? Do they begin by exciting the detestation of the very instruments of their intended usurpations? Do they usually commence their career by wanton and disgustful acts of power, calculated to answer no end, but to draw upon themselves universal hatred and execration? Are suppositions of this sort the sober admonitions of discerning patriots to a discerning people? Or are they the inflammatory ravings of incendiaries or distempered enthusiasts? If we were even to suppose the national rulers actuated by the most ungovernable ambition, it is impossible to believe that they would employ such preposterous means to accomplish their designs.

In times of insurrection, or invasion, it would be natural and proper that the militia of a neighboring State should be marched into another, to resist a common enemy, or to guard the republic against the violence of faction or sedition. This was frequently the case, in respect to the first object, in the course of the late war; and this mutual succor is, indeed, a principal end of our political association. If the power of affording it be placed under the direction of the Union, there will be no danger of a supine and listless inattention to the dangers of a neighbor, till its near approach had superadded the incitements of self-preservation to the too feeble impulses of duty and sympathy.

The Continental Army was disbanded in 1783 after the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781……..the Constitution was ratified in 1789 and the United States had been without a standing army for 6 years…..that made the necessity for the different state militias to be used in the case of invasion, rebellion or war……..so a well regulated and armed militia would have been a dire necessity until the re-establishing of a standing army……….for the protection of the nation.

The facts and the events of history lead me to believe that the second was included into the Constitution to benefit the government/country……not necessarily for the people……

Once again I would like to remind the reader that this is a historical analysis….and is in NO way a pro or con look at the second amendment…..only a look at why it would be included in the Constitution…..what made the authors feel it necessary to include it…….if it cannot be read with an objective eye then I prefer that it not be read………


8 thoughts on ““A Well Regulated Militia……….”

  1. I agree with your analysis Dr. Chuq based on articles I have also read concerning this. I also have come to the conclusion that this country would have still allowed private ownership of guns but in a limited way. I think the decision the conservative Supreme court made in the Washington D.C. vs. Heller case concerning the 2nd amendment was based upon empathy for gun advocates rather than what they always like to tout – “original intent”.

    1. Larry, I am writing a piece about the constitution and using history I do not think if it had been written 10 or 15 years later it would read as it does today….

  2. I would agree that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” was talking more toward the States need to have militias as defense, and today we relay more on a National Guard presence in the states than a true ‘militia’.

    But besides history I learned grammer in government school and that common after ‘free State,’ makes all the difference in the world. Once the founders made their statement about State militias they then made a more specific claim to the rights of the people when they said “, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,”.

    There is clearly two statements being made to qualify what ‘rights’ they are claiming can not be ‘infringed’.

    Besides, Madison makes a great case in Federalist 46 about the need for the citizenry to be armed individually: “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, …” He acounted it a positive that the American people had the right to be armed when so many other nations denied their people this right. He even goes on to talk about the reason those other coutnried deny their people the right to bear arms and that is so that they can be subjected to the government easier.

    Good article and it is good to hear honest dicussion of this topic.

    1. Thanx FL…I was afraid that there would be those that want to argue about ownership and that was not my intent…..to me from a historical point wsas unnecessary to include if it was for ownership only….because in those times ownership was a given and none of the Founders were actually looking to the distant future….

      I am glad t6hat you liked the post……I will be doing many more in the future please add whatever you would like…..

  3. It has become almost heretical these days to point out that large sections of the original US Constitution simply did not work as intended. The idea that the candidate receiving the second highest vote total for President should become Vice-President was quickly revealed to be a BAAAAD idea, and changed within less than two decades. The section of the original Constitution on the Supreme Court and the Federal court system was so hopelessly botched that our Federal courts actually run off the Judiciary Act of 1789 rather than the US Constitution, and the whole premise of judicial review (declaring laws unconstitutional) is nowhere in either of those documents. Chief Justice John Marshall simply made it up and made it stick.

    Militias proved very quickly to be an inadequate reliance for national defense, first in the Whiskey Rebellion, then again in the War of 1812. The Nat Turner uprising in Virginia in 1831 turned most Southern militias from organizations committed to defense from external attack into organizations dedicated to suppressing slave revolts. The attempt by both Virginia and Tennessee to use their militias as the building blocks for their armies during the first months of the Civil War turned out to be abysmal failures. A few units, like some New York artillery militia units, would function well in that war, but their heritage was as private militia companies, not State militias, and they were the exceptions to the rule. After the Civil War, most National Guard units got their start as being the strong-arm forces that State governors used as strike-breaking forces against labor unions. In the Philippine War, World War 1 and World War 2 it was publicly acknowledged and planned for that National Guard units had to be almost completely retrained by the active-duty army before they were competent to deploy. (That truth has remained for combat arms units in the modern National Guard heading for Desert Storm and later conflicts until those units had each individually acquired tactical expertise and a cadre of veterans.)

    Instead of relying on militias as a counterpoint to a standing army, during the first half of the 19th Century the United States substituted a much stronger subordination of military to civil power than is found in most nations, and adopted the cultural value that active-duty officers should not be involved in politics. Moreover, our soldiers swear their oaths to the Constitution rather than to the government; it is an essential difference.

    OK if you have read this far you deserve some sort of conclusion, and here it is:

    There is a right to keep and bear arms for personal defense, but that right derives originally from the States, not the Federal government. The Feds were only originally enjoined not to mess with rights that the State granted.

    The whole “militia vs standing army” argument was resolved, for all practical purposes, by 1865 at the latest, with the close subordination of the military to civilian authority and the culture of apolitical officers.

    The 14th Amendment and the Supreme Court unfortunately muddied the waters when reinterpreting the Bill of Rights as basic protections enjoyed by all citizens against ALL levels of government.

  4. Two things, Lobotero.

    1). The English Bill of Rights (1689) restricted the King’s ability to curb personal firearm ownership. The right to keep and bear arms was viewed as a natural right under English Common Law, which you know carried over into the colonies. William Blackstone wrote,

    “The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.” [2]

    Is there room for common sense restrictions? Of course. Like I said before, we don’t need people roaming the streets in Panzers. Machines of war need to be kept on the battlefield.

    2). The National Guard being affiliated with the federal government means states do not actually have a free and independent militia, other than the people.

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