Lest there be any doubt about Henry’s subject,
The point then of “the right to bear arms” in the “well regulated”
he thundered on about slavery and security, suggesting
that under the Constitution Congress could “provide for
the general defense” by enlisting blacks in the army and
then emancipating them.
1 Moreover, Henry feared that the federal
government could use Article I, Section 8 to subvert slavery by
marching the state militia away or taking it over, leaving the South
open to slave insurrection.
militias of the South was to protect slavery as an institution and
slaveholders as a class.
The slaveholders’ descendants would commit themselves to the
4 using any number of legal mechanisms to do it.
Militias and the Minuteman Myth
With the Southern militias occupied with slave control, it left those
militias often unavailable for the Revolutionary War. But despite
the icon of the Minuteman, militias from either North or South
were practically useless against a professional army.
ARIZONA ATTORNEY MARCH 2015 50
In the Revolution’s early days, several of the colonial leaders
believed militias could beat the British. But militias proved
utterly inadequate to take on British Regulars.
7 After repeated
pleas from George Washington explaining the inadequacies of
militias, the Continental Congress authorized a regular army.
Although the state militias were inadequate to beat the British,
the “minuteman” myth remains (mostly because of the victory
at Lexington and Concord).
9 Thus, the “minuteman” name is
nearly synonymous with independence and lends itself to all
manner of both military and paramilitary associations.
But what happened at Lexington and Concord also shows the
prevalence of gun regulation. It was, after all, the public pow-
der stores and magazines of the militia that the British wanted
Thus, perhaps the important question is not really whether the
Second Amendment’s framers believed in the individual’s right to
bear arms, but rather what they saw fit to regulate and control.
Dec. 6, 1865,
the South to
actually allows slavery for “punishment
of crime” after “conviction”:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor
involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of
the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the
United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Thus, Southern legal institutions convicted a lot of black people, which
then took away their civil right to own guns.
The Second Amendment
1. Bogus, Hidden History, at 352 (citing 3
Debates of the Several State Conventions, on
the Adoption of the Federal Constitution at 590
(Jonathan Elliot ed., 2d ed. 1891)).
The Supreme Court would later underscore the framers’ intent to exclude Southern
blacks from bearing arms in Dred Scott v.
60 U.S. 393 (1856) (the “Dred Scott
Decision”). In Dred Scott, the Supreme Court
held that a slave who traveled to a free state
did not become free.
Part of the reason he must stay a
slave is that the Southern delegates to the
Constitutional Constitution did not consent to
“the negro race … [having] … the full liberty
… to keep and carry arms wherever they
went.” See Carole Emberton, The Limits of
Incorporation: Violence, Gun Rights, and Gun
Regulation in the Reconstruction South,
STAN. L. & POL’Y REV. 615 (2006).
3. Again, similar to the Southern
attitudes toward blacks was the
ancient Spartan hatred of the
helots. Both originated in fear given
the relatively small number of
Spartans or Southern whites in
comparison to slaves. Thucydides
sums it up in a celebrated phrase:
“Spartan policy with regard to the
helots had always been based
almost entirely on the idea of
security.” THUC YDIDES, THE
PELOPONNESIAN WAR 313 (Rex
Warner trans., 1954). See PAUL
CARTLEDGE, THE SPARTANS: THE
WORLD OF THE WARRIOR-HEROES OF
ANCIEN T GREECE
70, 73, 228–29
(2002) for a brief discussion of the
Spartan slave system. The same
was true of the South’s “peculiar
institution” of slavery.
4. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan devoted itself to maintaining the plantation system and the servitude status
of blacks. To that end they worked to curb black education, economic advancement, voting rights, and the right to keep and bear
arms. For a discussion of the Ku Klux Klan and depriving blacks of guns, see Cornell & DeDino, at 523–24. See also Emberton
at 615. Again, in a tie to ancient Greece, the name Ku Klux Klan comes from combining the Greek “kyklos” (meaning circle) with
the English word “clan” (misspelled with a “K”).
Interestingly, D. W. Griffith’s silent film THE BIRTH OF A NATION (aka THE CLANSMAN) (Epoch Film Co. 1915) ends with the disenfranchisement and disarming of blacks. The film remains one of America’s most influential and controversial. Set during and
after the Civil War, the film favorably presents white supremacy and the rise of the KKK using innovative technical and narrative
techniques and counts as a first Hollywood “blockbuster.” Even today the Klan uses it as a recruitment tool “classic.” This piece
of Hollywood history puts into context the importance of a great film like GLORY (Tri-Star Pictures 1989).
The KKK and THE BIRTH OF A NATION also put into context Robert Franklin Williams’ book NEGROES WITH GUNS
(1961), which influenced the Black Panther Party. Williams
(1925–1996) was president of the Monroe, N.C. NAACP
in the 1950s and early 1960s when racial tension was
high and both official and KKK abuses against blacks rampant. Williams promoted both integration and armed black
self-defense, disagreeing with Martin Luther King, Jr., on
Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division escort
black students into the all-white Central High School
in Little Rock, Ark.
Robert F. Williams
The Thirteenth Amendment
6. Lexington and Concord
In 1774, the British government ordered General Gage to disarm the
colonies, and he went to Lexington and Concord to seize powder
stores. At the same time, the British raided the powder magazine at
Williamsburg, Va. The Virginia militia confronted the British officers and
seized 200 muskets from the royal governor’s mansion. The timing of
the two raids brought Massachusetts and Virginia together. See Fields
and Hardy at 417 n.112. On April 19, 1775, the Concord militia drove the British back from the North Bridge. The action
at Lexington and Concord was hardly a set battle—it was more like a badly planned British police action.
2. Bogus, Hidden History at 345–47. History would even-
tually prove Henry’s fear well founded—fortunately! On
Sept. 23, 1957, nine black high school students faced an
angry mob of more than 1,000 whites protesting integra-
tion in front of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. The next day, President Dwight
D. Eisenhower ordered the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort the nine
students into the school and also federalized the entire 10,000-man Arkansas
National Guard to take them out of Arkansas Governor Faubus’ hands. The incident
was the first important test for the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of
Education, 347 U. S. 483 (1954).
President Bill Clinton leading the
40th anniversary of desegregation
at Little Rock Central High School.