The Second Amendment: The Founding Fathers (Part Two)

English: Portrait of Tench Coxe, participant i...

Portrait of Tench Coxe, participant in the Constitutional Convention. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part one covered most of the more well known Founding Fathers and their opinions on the right to keep and bear arms. Not the Second Amendment, because many of these quotes came before the Second Amendment existed.

Let’s pick up where we left off.

Tench Coxe:

Coxe was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and he attended teh Annapolis Convention of 1786, where a constitutional convention was called and led to the writing of the US Constitution. He served as Assistant Treasury Secretary under Alexander Hamilton, and later appointed Purveyor of Public Supplies in the Jefferson administration.

The power of the sword, say the minority of Pennsylvania, is in the hands of Congress. My friends and countrymen, it is not so, for THE POWERS OF THE SWORD ARE IN THE HANDS OF THE YEOMANRY OF AMERICA FROM SIXTEEN TO SIXTY.  The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? are they not ourselves. Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American. What clause in the state or [federal] constitution hath given away that important right …. [T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either thefoederal or state governments, but where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people. – “A Pennsylvanian” (Tench Coxe), To The People of the United States, PA. GAZETTE, Feb. 20, 1788, at 2, reprinted in 2 DOCUMENTARY HISTORY, supra note 57, at 1778-80 (Microform Supp.). Other installments are in PA. GAZETTE, Feb. 6, 13, 27, 1788.

Whereas civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms. – “Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution,” under the pseudonym “A Pennsylvanian” in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789.

In mid-1799, there were reports of seemingly imminent violence between the Federalist and Republican factions in Pennsylvania. Coxe took to the Aurora newspaper and wrote teh following:

But as men intent upon hostility have associated themselves in military corps, it becomes your duty to associate likewise-Arm and organize yourselves immediately ….

Do you wish to preserve your rights? Arm yourselves-Do you desire to secure your dwellings? Arm yourselves-Do you wish your wives and daughters protected? Arm yourselves-Do you wish to be defended against assassins or the Bully Rocks of faction? Arm yourselves-Do you desire to assemble in security to consult for your own good or the good of your country? Arm yourselves.-To arms, to arms, and you may then sit down contented, each man under his own vine and his own fig-tree and have no one to make him afraid….

If you are desirous to counteract a design pregnant with misery and ruin, then arm yourselves; for in a firm, imposing and dignified attitude, will consist your own security and that of your families-To arms, then to arms.

From this evidence, I think it is safe to say that Tench Coxe believed in the right to keep and bear arms for self defense, from intruders to political parties to the government itself.

Noah Webster, of Webster’s Dictionary fame:

Another source of power in government is a military force. But this, to be efficient, must be superior to any force that exists among the people, or which they can command: for otherwise this force would be annihilated, on the first exercise of acts of oppression. Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in 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 band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive. In spite of all the nominal powers, vested in Congress by the constitution, were the system once adopted in its fullest latitude, still the actual exercise of them would be frequently interrupted by popular jealousy. I am bold to say, that ten just and constitutional measures would be resisted, where one unjust or oppressive law would be enforced. The powers vested in Congress are little more than nominal; nay real power cannot be vested in them, nor in any body, but in the people. The source of power is in the people of this country, and cannot for ages, and probably never will, be removed. – An Examination into the leading principles of the Federal Constitution proposed by the late Convention held at Philadelphia. With Answers to the principal objections that have been raised against the system. By a Citizen of America

For those who think I am nuts for suggesting that the Constitution implies that arms goes beyond rifles and cannon to include warships and airplanes, here is evidence.

Noah Webster believed that the citizenry had to have, not just the same training as a “standing army”, they had to have the same weapons as the standing army or else it would be annihilated. While he was specifically saying the standing army had to be superior else it would be wiped out by the people, the opposite is just as true. Today’s left laughs about how anyone attempting to overthrow a tyrannical government would be outgunned by the Army. They are probably right, because we, as citizens do not have access to the same kind of funds as the government, and thus, we cannot access the same weapons as the United States Armed Forces.

Richard Henry Lee:

To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms, and be taught alike especially when young, how to use them. – Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican

A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves…and include all men capable of bearing arms. Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican

Most of these gentlemen are not as famous as their contemporaries, but they made up both the Federalist and anti-Federalist camps.

If I could not verify a quote, I did not use it. There are a lot of spurious quotes, out there.

So, what does this all mean?

What conclusions can we draw from this?

I think the answers may surprise you.

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