Monday, August 01, 2005

What Is A Well Regulated Militia?

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States 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.”

Throughout the Federalist Papers the term ‘well-regulated militia’ is discussed. This militia they spoke of was to be composed of all the people, and not of an organized military as some have suggested. Alexander Hamilton is said to have written that a man should be allowed to own a cannon if he wished. Madison and Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers: “They [the Swiss] have no common treasury, no common troops, even in war, no common coin, no common judicatory, nor any other common mark of sovereignty. They are kept together by the peculiarity of their topographical position, by their individual weakness and insignificancy, by the fear of powerful neighbors…So far as the peculiarity of their case will admit of comparison with that of the United States, it serves to confirm the principle intended to be established.”[1] That is, the Swiss, who had a civilian militia and still do to this day, were to be a model for the United States. Patrick Henry stated that, “the great object is that every man be armed.”[2] Additionally, George Mason, co-author of the Second Amendment, wrote in his Fairfax County Militia Plan: “A well-regulated militia, composed of the Gentlemen, Freeholders, and other Freemen was necessary to protect our ancient laws and liberty from the standing army…and we do each of us, for ourselves respectively, promise and engage to keep a good Fire-lock in proper Order & to furnish Ourselves as soon as possible with, & always keep by us, one Pound of Gunpowder four Pounds of Lead, one Dozen Gun Flints, and a pair of Bullet Moulds, with a Cartouch box, or powder horn, and Bag for Balls.”[3] Samuel Adams said, “The militia is composed of free Citizens.”[4]

Our Declaration of Independence incorporated the idea that citizens should be able to overthrow the government if necessary, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government …”[5] The Second Amendment to the Constitution was, without a doubt, meant to ensure that people had not only the right, but the ability, to alter or abolish a destructive government.

[1] Federalist Papers, pp. 132-33
[2] Debates and Other Proceedings of the Convention of Virginia, convened at Richmond, on Monday the 2nd day of June 1788.
[3] Halbrook, Stephen. That Every Man Be Armed. p. 61
[4] LaPierre, Wayne. Guns Crime and Freedom, taken from Writings III, by Samuel Adams, HarperCollins, 1995.
[5] The Declaration of Independence, 1776.

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