Ever wonder why exactly the Second Amendment of the Unites States Constitution, granting every citizen the right to arm themselves and organize militias, was ever written? The answer is a pretty simple one that conservatives do not want you to know about.
The passage was not written to protect American citizens from the power of the government. It was written to protect the practice of black slavery during an extremely and racially tense time in American history.
Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were very concerned about this new document’s possible ability to take away the power of individual citizens to protect and regulate their property, namely, their slaves.
It goes back earlier than that, however. In 1755 and 1757, legislation was created in Georgia that required all white males between the ages of 18 and 45 to patrol as members of a slave policing militia. These militias kept plantation slaves in check, going so far as to rally once a month to inspect the living quarters of all slaves in their delegated jurisdiction. Militia members were specifically instructed to keep an eye out for signs of possible slave uprisings.
Dr. Carl T. Bogus said this in the 1998 University of California Law Review:
“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 you’re like me, you’ve begged the question many times, why didn’t they (slaves) just organize and take over? Well, now you know. Slaves and plantations were heavily patrolled by these militias, whose sole purpose was to ensure the continuation of slavery. This is not to say that slave rebellion was not a regular occurrence; those captured never gave up on the chance of freedom.
When the U.S. Constitution was ratified, one part in particular stood out to pro-slavery politicians like founding fathers: James Madison, George Mason, an owner of over 300 slaves, and devout Christian, Patrick Henry, who was pro-slavery despite recognizing it as an immoral practice.
Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution states that Congress alone would have supervision and control over the armed militias, and anything else that falls under the state “welfare” guidelines. The section states that it is Congress’ duty to “provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.”
This passage was seen as extremely dangerous to slave owners because it gave Congress the power to absorb all sub-militias into one federal organization, working for a federal agenda. This would spell disaster for slave-owners who would be at the mercy of any future anti-slavery legislation that would have the militias doing the opposite of their intended goal. They could actually be ordered to assist in the freeing of captive slaves.
These founders weren’t exactly paranoid, as that exact thing happened just 12 years earlier when John Murray, also known as Lord Dunsmore, the governor of the province of New York, offered freedom to any slave who could escape and join his military forces. During the Revolutionary War, British General Henry Clinton carried on the practice, and General Washington comprised his army of white soldiers, as well as countless freed slaves.
So just eleven years later, when this newly formed constitution came about, those southern politicians found themselves in a pretty precarious situation. Patrick Henry said this at the ratification convention in 1788:
“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.”
George Mason was also very vocal about his concerns regarding Article 1 Section 8 of the United States Constitution:
“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 [under this proposed Constitution]…. “
Evangelical Christian, Patrick Henry continued:
“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.”
“In this state. 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.”
Patrick Henry was worried that the Northern states would use the Constitution to control the southern militias, and that that would lead to a catastrophic change for plantation owners, who would then either have to start paying employees to work their land or do it themselves. Mason said:
“[T]hey will search that paper [the Constitution], and see if they have power of manumission. And have they not, sir? Have they not power to provide for the general defence 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.”
“This is a local matter, and I can see no propriety in subjecting it to Congress.”
Founder James Madison was pretty shocked at Henry’s outrageous conspiracy theories, even though Henry ended up being absolutely right – Abraham Lincoln practically used that exact technique to disarm the slave militias nearly 100 years later.
Madison said this about Mason:
“I was struck with surprise 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.”
Henry did not relent. He went on to speak about how this would all end in massive property (slave) loss for southern plantation owners, not to mention the possible bloodbath that could ensue during a slave uprising:
“In this situation. I see a great deal of the property of the people of Virginia in jeopardy, and their peace and tranquility gone.”
Madison, by this time, had already written the amendment that covered militia control, and made one quick change to the final wording to ensure it could not be misinterpreted. The original passage read, “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.”
By changing the word “country” to “state,” James Madison wrote the future for hundreds of years to come. The final draft of what would soon be the Second Amendment reads, “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.”
That amendment is now used by conservative Republicans as an excuse to allow daily loss of life on American streets and regular domestic terrorism attacks using assault rifles.
How does it feel to know everything you’ve been told was a lie?
Copyright, Bipartisan Report. May not be republished without permission from the author.