The pivotal question of why the Bill of Rights includes the Second Amendment is one of those fun, Constitutional arguments that anyone can interpret. We most often get treated to an armed population being the last defense against tyranny as the sound, and forward looking theory behind the amendment. This argument presupposes certain aspects of the Framers’ philosophy which we are generally quite certain was centered on freedom and democracy. Except that it probably wasn’t and there’s very little in the Constitution to suggest that it was. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson didn’t want you to be able to defend yourself against the US Government. After all, nobody raised much of a stink when Washington sent the army to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion, a popular rebellion trying to stop Big Government from taxing small businessmen into oblivion. So if the favored reasoning for the Second Amendment wasn’t even operative within the first eight years of the Constitution’s reign, what other reasons might have prompted its inclusion?
“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.”
Central to the argument of Hartmann is a first draft that shows “country” rather than “state” and the reason why there was an edit. Publius focuses on the militias of the Southern states which functioned not as a defense against outsiders or oppressive government, but rather as the means to keep the slave population in check. Remember, blacks greatly outnumbered whites and slave rebellions were fairly common. The Haitian slave revolt was only a few years away when the Constitution was ratified and the Bill of Rights wasn’t ratified until months after the Haitian slave revolt began. Those slave patrols were the thin, armed line between the status quo and hundreds of thousands of angry slaves. They were also mandated by law in several, Southern states.
The need for militias to protect against foreign invasion was moot with the ratification of the Constitution, as now the US government had the power to raise an army in a far more orderly manner than was used during the Revolutionary War, more importantly, it had the means to fund that army through debt and taxes. The Second Amendment using the word “country” would make no sense, but following Hartmann’s argument, the edit to “state” and the inclusion of the Second Amendment as a prerequisite for Southern support of the Constitution makes a great deal of sense. After all, Lincoln would end up doing exactly what the founding Southerner’s feared and find a Constitutional argument to abolish slavery. The Second Amendment was a check against what would eventually come to pass.
The right to bear arms in support of what is essentially a police state just doesn’t have the same ring of freedom to it. And while i cannot yet say that it changes my opinion on owning guns, it does – unfortunately – go towards confirming my growing suspicions of the men we deify as grand philosophers in the cause of freedom and democracy.