America’s Founding Fathers found themselves in contentious debate about almost all aspects of what would become our United States Constitution. The debates between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists would be outlined in thousands of pages of documents. The two groups, one being proponents of a nationalized government body (Federalists), and the other favoring power being consolidated within the states (Anti-Federalists) found themselves at odds about a federally-representative government, terms of office, powers of the executive, autonomy of the courts, trade, national defense, and so much more.
But there was one thing they all concurred with: not just the right, but the necessity of America’s citizens to be armed.
Consider these eight separate instances, in which six pivotal voices to the respective sides made clear their intention for an armed constitutional republic.
Alexander Hamilton (Federalist)
Hamilton frequently wrote about the importance of an armed citizen body, but his most profoundly-clear sentiments are consolidated in Federalist 29, written to the People of the State of New York, in January 1788. Hamilton professed much in this paper, but arguably the two most impactful statements can be found first in his assertion that, in part, “Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped.” Language is important, and the founders knew that. They communicated everything in a clear and eloquent, concise manner so as to not create confusion. The language “properly armed and equipped” paired with the premise of the Second Amendment – to guard against government tyranny – instantly obliterates the gun control narratives about assault rifles (an absurdly uneducated label in itself).
Secondly, as to the logistics and composition of a militia, Hamilton said, in part, “The project of disciplining all the militia of the United States is as futile as it would be injurious.” Hamilton further elaborates on that point in Federalist 29, which essentially denies the gun control narratives about the National Guard being the only constitutional militia. That is further upheld to be true in the landmark SCOTUS Case in 2008, District of Columbia vs Heller. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the fact that the right to bear arms was an individual liberty, not a collective liberty – which reinforced the Founders’ core beliefs and intentions regarding individual liberties. It also dispels the notion that the National Guard be considered the People’s militia intended by our America’s Founders.
George Mason (Anti-Federalist)
Mason was one of the most frequent speakers at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. He exerted great influence, but during the final two weeks of the convention he decided not to sign the document, citing the absence of a declaration of rights as his primary concern. During the Elliot’s Debates in Richmond in June 1788, Mason said, in part, “who are the militia, if they be not the people of this country,” further adding, “I ask, Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers.”
In his 1775 Remarks on Annual Elections for the Fairfax Independent Company, Mason again highlights the importance of citizens rights to guard against tyranny when he remarks, in part, “it was intended in these times of extreme danger, when we are threatened with the ruin of that constitution under which we were born, and the destruction of all that is dear to us, to rouse the attention of the public, to introduce the use of arms and discipline, to infuse a martial spirit of emulation, and to provide a fund of officers; that in case of absolute necessity, the people might be the better enabled to act in defense of their invaded liberty.”
Benjamin Franklin (Federalist)
Among his contributions to the Historical Review of Pennsylvania, are some of the most recognizable statements Franklin pontificates, when he says regarding an individual’s right to bear arms, “The thoughtful reader may wonder, why wasn’t Jefferson’s proposal of ‘No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms’ adopted by the Virginia legislature? They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” While Franklin disagreed with Jefferson on many issues, this was not one of them.
Thomas Jefferson (Anti-Federalist)
In November 1787, Thomas Jefferson penned a letter to William Stephen Smith, in which he stated, in part, “what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”
In Jefferson’s Legal Commonplace Book, he quoted On Crimes and Punishment, by criminologist Cesare Beccaria (1764), furthering his stance that the right of armed defense is one of every citizen. “The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes” Further quoting, “Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”
Jefferson, arguably, is quoted more than any other Founding Father with regards to the importance of armed citizens, and the lack of any infringement on a citizen’s right to bear arms.
Noah Webster (Federalist)
Noah Webster was a textbook pioneer, who in 1789 was recruited by Alexander Hamilton to become the editor for a Federalist newspaper. Two years early, Webster had authored “An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution,” a pamphlet aimed at swaying Pennsylvania toward ratification of the Constitution. In that pamphlet, Webster lamented the fate of past civilizations that had forfeited their inalienable right to self defense. He stated, “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.” Webster was a master lexicographer. He spoke in clear and concise context in every penned endeavor. “The whole body of the people” is a deliberate choice of words and provides clear context about the second amendment rights of all citizens.
Samuel Adams (Anti-Federalist)
During the debates of the Constitutional Convention, Adams was a staunch proponent of individual liberties (including and especially the unconditional right of the people to bear arms), saying, “That the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms; or to raise standing armies, unless necessary for the defense of the United States, or of some one or more of them; or to prevent the people from petitioning, in a peaceable and orderly manner, the federal legislature, for a redress of grievances; or to subject the people to unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, papers or possessions.”
The examples from Adams, Webster, Jefferson, Franklin, Mason, and Hamilton are merely cursory for the purpose of this article. They offer only a momentary glimpse at the deeply-rooted passion these men and all of our founding fathers of both sides felt toward the importance of individual liberties, especially the right of every American to bear arms. Bigger than that, it wasn’t so much their belief of it being an individual’s right as it was their belief that the government should have no power to infringe on that right.
As the Supreme Court gets ready to hear what might prove to be a landmark case regarding the second amendment, gun control advocates are regurgitating the same lazy and unsubstantiated narratives. And in many cases, they irresponsibly misquote the founding fathers or maliciously ignore the sentiments and context in our founding documents. It is up to We the People to continue to spread the truth about our most scared liberties, and the full, unmistakable context that was delivered by our founding fathers.
“Shall not be infringed!”
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