Nocera Gets It Half-Right: On the Freedom to Hunt Your Slaves

Joe Nocera does a good service with this history lesson, but he misses the key point (boldface mine):

The surprising discovery is that of all the amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights, the Second was probably the least debated. What we know is that the founders were deeply opposed to a standing army, which they viewed as the first step toward tyranny. Instead, their assumption was that the male citizenry would all belong to local militias. As Waldman writes, “They were not allowed to have a musket; they were required to. More than a right, being armed was a duty.”

Thus the unsurprising discovery: Virtually every reference to “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” — the second part of the Second Amendment — was in reference to military defense. Waldman notes the House debate over the Second Amendment in the summer of 1789: “Twelve congressmen joined the debate. None mentioned a private right to bear arms for self-defense, hunting or for any purpose other than joining the militia.”

What Nocera misses is that the key argument was over who would control the militias: Congress or the individual states. Virginian Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death”; boldface mine):

“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.”

The Southern delegations were terrified that the free states would prevent the militias from being used for slave patrols and to put down slave uprisings (boldface mine):

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 uprisings….

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South. Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings. …slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

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.

The Second Amendment was born out of the need to maintain slavery. It had nothing to do with a supposed right to own your own Polaris missile. That was the ‘original intent’ of the Second Amendment. It is as odious as it is lethal.

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8 Responses to Nocera Gets It Half-Right: On the Freedom to Hunt Your Slaves

  1. albanaeon says:

    I don’t know. Given “Stand Your Ground” Laws, the Second Amendment is still being used to keep blacks under constant threat.

    Odious and lethal is correct though.

  2. Gingerbaker says:

    “None mentioned a private right to bear arms for self-defense, hunting or for any purpose other than joining the militia.””

    Because the founding fathers never thought that anyone would ever want to ban guns used for those purposes. QED. Thanks for making my argument for me!

    None mentioned a private right! None mentioned banning guns either, did they? Was there ANY discussion, a hint, the merest scintilla of a rumour that the Founding Fathers felt that the personal guns of private citizens should be, could be, might be taken away? => No.

  3. Dimwit. The first ten amendments were a list of rights that the founders deemed the people already had and could not be taken away by government..

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