The American Militia

Some thoughts of others on its heritage

I have never seen a more thorough distortion of the Constitution.

Many friends regularly send me information for my edification and enjoyment; and perhaps just to “bug” me a bit too. Take for example the following solicitation, from a group the should be named the “Anti-Freedom States Alliance”, as they were pimping for a Militia book from someone I had never heard about before.

Knowing FSA’s past rants, I assumed the worst. Being curious, however, and more than willing to dig out some facts, I searched on line and inquired of a few dozen friends in knowing places, who is this author, Saul Cornell. Boy did I get an education. It turns out that the author Saul Cornell says he is not really anti-gun or anti-Second Amendment, but in reality it looks like he is; well, he is just a little bit different.

First, here is the solicitation for his book from FSA.

April 12, 2007
Freedom States Alliance

We've offered Saul Cornell's great book here before, and so we were thrilled to hear, this past week, that his book is now an award-winning success. "A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America" has won the David J. Langham, Sr. Prize in American Legal History. Here's what the Langham Trust has to say about this book, which is yours free with a $50 or more donation to Freedom States Alliance.

"Somewhat of an intellectual history as well as a legal history, Cornell shows us how interpretations of the Second Amendment and views of the role of the militia have varied over time and among different sets of Americans. There has been much serious scholarly study of the interpretation of the Second Amendment, with less concerned with its history over the lifetime of the country. However, almost none of either category is directed toward the educated general public. Saul Cornell's book well fills a need in an area of great public interest."

To get the book for free, just click on the link below and enter a tax-deductible donation of $50.00 or more. Your support will go directly to the work of state groups around the country fighting to end gun violence.

Next, and responding to my inquiry about Saul Cornell and his book, the historical author Clayton Cramer sent me his already written and posted blog on the author in question.

From Clayton Cramer
Friday, September 22, 2006

“Saul Cornell Is Suddenly No Longer a Partisan on Gun Control. At least, that's what this editorial from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune claims:

First, a calming caveat: Saul Cornell doesn't want to take away your guns. He's neither antigun nor progun. He really isn't a gun guy at all. His thing is history.

Cornell, a professor at Ohio State University, passed through town the other day with much to say about regulating guns. Yet his aim isn't to take sides in the modern gun-control debate --a squabble he thinks has strayed rather off-topic. It's far more interesting, he thinks, to look back to learn what this country's founders actually thought about gun regulation.”

Any of you who are familiar with Professor Cornell's work can start the insane giggling right now--yeah, he's not really on one side or the other, nor is he trying to disarm the masses.

Now, the editorial raises some good points, one of which is that gun regulation was pretty common when the Second Amendment was written:

"As long as we've had guns in America," says Cornell, "we've had gun regulation." “In fact, the Second Amendment's chief purpose is to assure such regulation. Without it, the founders feared, anarchy might take hold.”

“The amendment was born of the founders' desire for "a well-regulated militia." Having opted against a standing army, the Constitution's cobblers determined that every able-bodied man would serve as a member of a local militia --prepared to respond in unison against invasion.”

I'm hoping that they misquoted Cornell. The Second Amendment was not passed out of fear of anarchy. The Constitution was adopted at least partly out of concern that a stronger central government was needed, but the Second Amendment gave no new power to the federal government concerning the organizing of militias. The Constitution already granted federal authority in this area. Art. I, sec. 8 gave Congress authority:

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

The Second Amendment grants no more authority to the federal government. At best (and this is the argument that gun control advocates such as Professor Cornell used to make), the Second Amendment grants authority to the states to maintain state militias. There is no argument ever advanced through the courts or at the time of its adoption that claimed the Second Amendment gave any more power to the federal government.

"It would have been impossible to muster the militia without a scheme of regulation," says Cornell --and the early Americans had one. "Muster rolls" kept track of militia members and their firearms. And every hamlet in the land had its own de facto gun registrar: the local gunsmith, who knew every gun and gun-owner in town.

Ah, no. Muster rolls kept track of who was a member of the militia, and to the extent that militia members obeyed the law requiring them to own a military weapon, I guess you could say it "kept track" of their firearms. But other than the requirement to own one musket, firelock, or rifle (depending on the year, and whether the 1792 or 1803 Militia Act was in play), the muster rolls didn't tell you if militia members also owned a hunting weapon, a pocket pistol, or even a cannon. If you weren't a militia member, these muster rolls had no such effect. Remember that most Americans were not members of the militia; boys and men over 45 weren't militia members; non-citizens weren't members; free blacks weren't members of the militia (except, oddly enough, in North Carolina, which ignored federal law on this); women weren't in the militia. We know that all of these non-militia members owned guns.

To claim that every town had a "de facto gun registrar" is just wishful thinking. Most towns had a gunsmith, but guns were quite simple back then. There were people who probably never went to a gunsmith. There was no way that Cornell's supposed "de facto gun registrar" could have used his knowledge to confiscate guns.

“There's one right the Second Amendment wasn't written to confer: an entitlement to take up arms against the government. The founding fathers drew a distinction between a well-regulated militia, which operates under the authority of the state, and an armed mob," says Cornell. History couldn't be clearer about this point: "Once you have constitutional government," Cornell points out, "you have no right of revolution anymore."

Why, then, did New Hampshire's 1784 state constitution include a right to revolution?

[Art.] 10. [Right of Revolution.] Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.

Now, it is true that if you rise in rebellion against the government, you can't expect them to say, "Oh, that's okay," but in practice, the relatively mild punishments handed out to the participants in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 was at least partly because the Framers recognized that even when in the wrong, it was best to err on the side of too little punishment, not too much. As Jefferson wrote concerning Shay's Rebellion in 1786:

"God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion [Shays's Rebellion]. The people cannot be all, and always, well-informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had thirteen States independent for eleven years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each State. What country ever before existed a century and a half without a rebellion. And what country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that the people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms! The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

It just gets more and more "alternate universe" the deeper I read:

What Cornell wishes people would understand is that our tradition of gun ownership grew up alongside gun regulation. When this country was young, Cornell notes, the Second Amendment created a climate in which "gun ownership wasn't driven by antipathy toward the government or one's neighbors. It was part of an ethic that knit the community together and bound it to government."

Uh, no. Gun ownership was driven largely by the desire to kill and eat cute furry little creatures. The various militia laws existed because the government wanted the population armed for the defense of the government--and the experience of the Revolution demonstrated that the population needed to be armed for defense from the government. Now, I'm going to quote from an obscure political trouble maker of the time that Professor Cornell has apparently never heard of before, but if he opens his wallet, he'll find a picture of this radical, anti-government sort:

An energetic national militia is to be regarded as the capital security of a free republic, and not a standing army, forming a distinct class in the community.

It is the introduction and diffusion of vice, and corruption of manners, into the mass of the people, that renders a standing army necessary. It is when public spirit is despised, and avarice, indolence, and effeminacy of manners predominate, and prevent the establishment of institutions which would elevate the minds of the youth in the paths of virtue and honor, that a standing army is formed and riveted for ever....

If it should be decided to reject a standing army for the military branch of the government of the United States, as possessing too fierce an aspect, and being hostile to the principles of liberty, it will follow that a well constituted militia ought to be established. [American State Papers: Military Affairs, 1:7.]

President Washington wrote that in 1790, arguing that a standing army was "hostile to the principles of liberty" and the militia was the only safe alternative. Why? Because Whig political philosophy taught that standing armies followed the orders of the government, not necessarily of the people; militias were the people, and were therefore safer than a standing army. The militia's primary function was external defense--but the alternative, a professional standing army, was dangerous, and the purpose of the militia was to keep the government afraid of the people. I don't know how Professor Cornell could have read much of the primary or secondary sources on this question, Washington's writings, the debates in the 5th and 6th Congresses about enlarging the standing army, books such as Kohn's Eagle and Sword--and missed this important theme.

Republicans in 1798 saw the standing army as an instrument of political oppression. Representative Albert Gallatin observed that proponents of this enlarged standing army "speak not only of the danger of an invasion, but of the danger of a revolution—-of an oversetting of the Government...” Gallatin suggested that the enlarged standing army would be used in response to "fictitious conspiracies, pop-gun plots, and every other party artifice which has been practiced in England." Representative Joseph McDowell argued that the army proposed would "answer the like purposes to which a similar force had been raised in England and Ireland. And what have they been used for there but to suppress political opinion? The military force is there riding over the people, and dragging husbands and fathers from their wives and children to prison, merely because they have taken the liberty to think." [Annals of Congress, 5th Cong., 2nd sess., 1736, 1744-5, 1760.]

That's it: Professor Cornell is visiting us from a parallel universe, where Whig political thought never developed, and no one in the Revolutionary and early Republic periods ever feared governmental oppression.

Labels: gun rights
posted by Clayton at 9:55 PM permalink

This statement and analysis, of Saul Cornell by Clayton Cramer, is certainly thorough, it is a bit subtle and is worthy of careful rereading. The Second Amendment and the Militia are debated and described in some detail. The fundamental opposition to a strong central government and its standing army is clearly set as the need for an armed citizen Militia. Tyranny is best offset by such a force.

Yep, that’s the American Militia.

The FSA reviewer cited above says, “...Cornell shows us how interpretations of the Second Amendment and views of the role of the militia have varied over time and among different sets of Americans...” Please note the terms; how the Second Amendment was “interpreted” and the “views” of the role of the militia, and that such rolls and views have varied over time. This is rather like the concept of the “living and breathing Constitution”. You know, you’ve heard this before. The idea that the document which lays down the rules of our government can be easily changed or just re-interpreted in the middle of the game.

The American Militia KNOWS this is not right.

That is not the case, the rules are set. Some are defined as un-changeable (as in unalienable or inalienable, which ever the case may be). We post them in the Bill of Rights. Some can be changed, but only by a lengthy and cumbersome process; a good idea when it comes to the rules of the game of Liberty.

When some try to trivialize Liberty, the Second Amendment or the Citizen role in the American Militia, take notice of this. Take it as a warning too. What do they fear? They may just want to secure their hold on power and control of the civilian masses by disabling the Citizen ability to speak with force to correct tyranny. I guess you would call that Second Amendment First Amendment Rights, free speech and a petition to redress grievances backed by force.

The American Militia knows this. Defense of liberty is not a radical idea.

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