Slave owners were concerned that their plantations would be taken from them
WASHINGTON – There is clear evidence that the Second Amendment was more about slavery than it was about owning a hand gun to protect themselves. The Second Amendment. It might surprise many people that owning a hand gun was not was not a guarantee in the Amendment.
If you read the words of The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution it seems straight forward, but it really isn’t.
The amendment says: “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.”
Let’s look at history and Congress, passed September 25, 1789 and then ratified on December 15, 1791, the first 10 amendments form the Bill of Rights. This very important part of the Second Amendment is very misunderstood part of the law that says: “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.”
Thom Hartmann, an author, talk show host penned an interesting look at history and Second Amendment. The following is an excerpt from his article published in 2013 in Turthout column. Most of what you are about to read came from that column.
According to many historians, both Republican and Democrats have explained the lead up to the passage of the of the Second Amendment. The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the framers knew the difference — see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason and James Madison were totally clear on that… and we all should be too.
In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the “slave patrols,” and they were regulated by the states.
In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state. The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprising.
As Dr. Carl T. Bogus wrote for the University of California Law Review in 1998, “The Georgia statutes required patrols, under the direction of commissioned militia officers, to examine every plantation each month and authorized them to search ‘all Negro Houses for offensive Weapons and Ammunition’ and to apprehend and give twenty lashes to any slave found outside plantation grounds.”
If the anti-slavery folks in the North had figured out a way to disband — or even move out of the state — those southern militias, the police state of the South would collapse. And, similarly, if the North were to invite into military service the slaves of the South, then they could be emancipated, which would collapse the institution of slavery, and the southern economic and social systems, altogether.
These two possibilities worried southerners like James Monroe, George Mason (who owned more than 300 slaves) and the southern Christian evangelical, Patrick Henry (who opposed slavery on principle, but also opposed freeing slaves).
Their main concern was that Article 1, Section 8 of the newly-proposed US Constitution, which gave the federal government the power to raise and supervise a militia, could also allow that federal militia to subsume their state militias and change them from slavery-enforcing institutions into something that could even, one day, free the slaves.
This was not an imagined threat. Famously, 12 years earlier, during the lead-up to the Revolutionary War, Lord Dunsmore offered freedom to slaves who could escape and join his forces. “Liberty to Slaves” was stitched onto their jacket pocket flaps. During the war, British General Henry Clinton extended the practice in 1779. Numerous freed slaves served in General Washington’s army.
At the ratifying convention in Virginia in 1788, Henry laid it out:
“Let me here call your attention to that part [Article 1, Section 8 of the proposed Constitution] which gives the Congress power 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….
“By this, sir, you see that their control over our last and best defense is unlimited. If they neglect or refuse to discipline or arm our militia, they will be useless: the states can do neither … this power being exclusively given to Congress. The power of appointing officers over men not disciplined or armed is ridiculous; so that this pretended little remains of power left to the states may, at the pleasure of Congress, be rendered nugatory.”
Mason expressed a similar fear:
“The militia may be here destroyed by that method which has been practiced in other parts of the world before; that is, by rendering them useless, by disarming them. Under various pretenses, 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 [under this proposed Constitution] …. “
Henry then bluntly laid it out:
“If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress [slave] insurrections [under this new Constitution]. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress…. Congress, and Congress only [under this new Constitution], can call forth the militia.”
And why was that such a concern for Patrick Henry?
“In this state,” he said, “there are two hundred and thirty-six thousand blacks, and there are many in several other states. But there are few or none in the Northern States…. May Congress not say, that every black man must fight? Did we not see a little of this last war? We were not so hard pushed as to make emancipation general; but acts of Assembly passed that every slave who would go to the army should be free.”
Henry was also convinced that the power over the various state militias given the federal government in the new Constitution could be used to strip the slave states of their slave-patrol militias. He knew the majority attitude in the North opposed slavery, and he worried they’d use the Constitution to free the South’s slaves (a process then called “Manumission”).
The abolitionists would, he was certain, use that power (and, ironically, this is pretty much what Abraham Lincoln ended up doing):
“They will search that paper [the Constitution], and see if they have power of manumission,” said Henry. “And have they not, sir? Have they not power to provide for the general defense and welfare? May they not think that these call for the abolition of slavery? May they not pronounce all slaves free, and will they not be warranted by that power?
“This is no ambiguous implication or logical deduction. The paper speaks to the point: they have the power in clear, unequivocal terms, and will clearly and certainly exercise it.”
He added: “This is a local matter, and I can see no propriety in subjecting it to Congress.”
Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” and a slaveholder himself, basically called Patrick Henry paranoid.
“I was struck with surprise,” Madison said, “when I heard him express himself alarmed with respect to the emancipation of slaves…. There is no power to warrant it, in that paper [the Constitution]. If there be, I know it not.”
But the southern fears wouldn’t go away.
Patrick Henry even argued that southerner’s “property” (slaves) would be lost under the new US Constitution, and the resulting slave uprising would be less than peaceful or tranquil:
“In this situation,” Henry said to Madison, “I see a great deal of the property of the people of Virginia in jeopardy, and their peace and tranquility gone.”
So Madison, who had (at Jefferson’s insistence) already begun to prepare proposed amendments to the US Constitution, changed his first draft of one that addressed the militia issue to make sure it was unambiguous that the southern states could maintain their slave patrol militias.
His first draft for what became the Second Amendment had said: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well-armed, and well-regulated militia being the best security of a free country [emphasis mine]: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”
But Henry, Mason and others wanted southern states to preserve their slave-patrol militias independent of the federal government. So Madison changed the word “country” to the word “state,” and redrafted the Second Amendment into today’s form:
“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State [emphasis mine], the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Little did Madison realize that one day in the future weapons-manufacturing corporations, newly defined as “persons” by a Supreme Court some have called dysfunctional, would use his slave patrol militia amendment to protect their “right” to manufacture and sell assault weapons.
What was never clear in the Second Amendment was for a U.S. citizen owning a gun for purposes protecting their home or for self – defense.
The U.S. Supreme Court, changed things for ever, in District of Columbia v. Heller, its landmark 2008 decision holding, for the first time in over 200 years, the court determined for the first time that the Second Amendment grants individuals a personal right to possess handguns in their home.
Heller was a game changer Justice Scalia wrote the opinion of the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision in favor of Heller. Scalia rejected the idea that the Second Amendment was limited exclusively to militia service, recognizing both a right to possess firearms and a right to use them for lawful purposes such as self-defense.
Scalia noted that several forms of gun regulation are acceptable under the Second Amendment. Some examples Scalia noted include concealed weapons bans, prohibitions on firearm possession by felons or the mentally ill, prohibitions on firearm possession in places such as schools and government buildings as well as regulations on the sale of firearms.
However, Scalia found that the D.C. handgun ban as well as the so-called “trigger-lock provision” were not acceptable. He found that the ban affected a class of weapons “that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense.” Similarly, he stated that the “trigger-lock provision” made it impossible for a firearm to be used in self-defense and was therefore unconstitutional. Scalia chose not to strike down the licensing requirement, noting that it is acceptable so long as it is not enforced arbitrarily or capriciously.
But in the decent Justices Stevens and Breyer each wrote a dissent. Dissents lack the force of law, but they are often instructive in examining the issues of a case. Justice Stevens focused on the Majority’s interpretation of the Second Amendment. In his dissent, he claimed that the Amendment did not protect the use of firearms for non-military purposes. Justice Stevens argued that the Majority had set aside normal standards of interpretation in its decision. He believed that the Majority had inappropriately ignored the first part of the Amendment: “A well- regulated Militia.”
He also cited the term “bear arms” as meaning “to serve as a soldier, to do military service, to fight,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In other words, his reading was that the right was tied inextricably to military service. Justice Stevens also presented historical evidence to counter the Majority’s claim of original intent, including a 1792 militia bill that required every white male of suitable age to “provide himself with a good musket or firelock.” That requirement to own a gun also suggests a military purpose.
History shows that the Second Amendment, was far more about keeping slaves turning on their owners than it was about your right to own an assault weapons.