We’ve all heard the arguments from the gun manufacturers lobby: “The 2nd Amendment was about freedom!” “The 2nd Amendment was to ensure that men could stand against their government” or other similarly absurd thoughts. But, what did the Founding Fathers think of the 2nd Amendment? It turns out, thanks to research done by Thom Hartmann, the 2nd Amendment was about slavery.
What is ignored in the NRA’s arguments is that, at the time the U.S. Constitution was written, the militia in the south was known by another name: the slave patrol, and virtually all men of age served in its ranks at one point or another. As far back as 1680 in Virginia, the militias were organized to prevent:
“…the frequent meetings of considerable numbers of negroe slaves, under pretence of feasts and burialls is judged [to be] of dangerous consequence.” (sic)
In other words, the Virginia Militia was tasked with breaking up slave rebellions by busting any slave who might be organizing one. It even gave ‘incentive’ to men to serve on the militia: any freed colored person (black, Native American, or any other), if caught fleeing by the Militiaman, would be turned over to them as property, enslaved. A very effective incentive in colonial Virginia.
By 1755, the Militia was established not only as a foundation to enforce slavery in the south, but it was a structure which it could be expanded if need be. Countless records of captured free people of color, even people such as the Irish, were pressed as slaves under the system.
With the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, there was concern among slave holders that their militias, their slave patrols, would be usurped by the new federal government using the provisions outlined in Article 1, Section 8. Patrick Henry in particular was quite vocal on the subject, saying:
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 defence 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. [Source]
He also is quoted as saying:
If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress [slave] insurrections. 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, can call forth the militia. [Source]
He was not alone either, with George Mason joining him in concern:
The militia may be here destroyed by that method which has been practised in other parts of the world before; that is, by rendering them useless, by disarming them. Under various pretences, 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. [Source]
In other words, the U.S. Congress could disarm the patrols needed to keep slaves in line, eliminating slavery with one bold and quick move overnight. The 2nd Amendment itself was purposefully designed to empower the states to manage and handle their slave patrols, their militias. Which is why when Thomas Jefferson had James Madison draft up the 2nd Amendment, he had the language changed, from this:
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: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.
To the language we know today:
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. [Source]
A serious redesign, would you not say? The focus shift from a civil, non-conscripted force to a state-regulated entity which can be conscripted into service fit the needs of the slave holders. In a stroke of irony, when Abraham Lincoln did free the slaves, he used the very power which Patrick Henry and George Mason feared the government would, only at that time, by the Confederate states acting in revolt, they had abandoned their voting positions within the United States and therefore were unable to block the legislation. Their petty revolt resulted in their institution of slavery being wiped away. It still was a bloody civil war, but their “right to bear arms” destroyed what they had hoped to preserve.
When people call themselves patriots, or say they’re standing for what the founding fathers stood for when it comes to the 2nd Amendment, they are, in fact, doing nothing of the sort. Unless, of course, they’re arguing for the right to press people into involuntary, lifetime-indentured servitude, passed from parent to child in perpetuity. Or perhaps, that was, in fact, the plan all along.
Nathaniel Downes is the son of a former state representative of New Hampshire, now living in Seattle Washington.
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