Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Well Regulated Militia and The Federalist Papers

“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.” Amendment 2

As I listened to the debate about what the Founding Fathers meant about a well-regulated militia between history teachers and the representative of the National Rifle Association on CNN’s Town Hall last night, I thought I needed to offer something that might give an understanding of what The Founding Fathers meant in adding the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution by using the material I read in The Original Argument which was a complete compilation of The Federalist Papers written under a pseudonym by three of the Founding Fathers.

These papers were written over a period of time as essays to justify the need to have a central, federal government that would have sovereignty over the states in order to create a national economy and a “national police force” (military) that would protect the country from the threats that existed by foreign nations as well as insurrections like the Whiskey Rebellion that occurred during George Washington’s administration. In addition there was a need to have a militia that could support the new settlers in the Northwest Territory against Indian uprisings with arms being supplied by our enemy Great Britain.

 Groups supporting the opinions of the essays were called Federalists. Those opposed were called Anti-Federalists – thus setting the stage for the development of political parties in this country – something George Washington warned about in his Farewell Address. Despite these brilliant, convincing arguments, the Founding Fathers were well-aware of the abuses of the absolute monarchies in England that had used their power and control to deny individual citizens their inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Therefore, they were cautious about surrendering power to a central government.

It is ironic that when the Constitution was written speaking about these inalienable rights, the only people that had these rights were the White Anglo-Saxon Christian males who owned property and could vote. It has taken a long time for the other disenfranchised groups to secure these rights for themselves but the way it has been done is through a Living Constitution that can be amended and the power of a non-political judicial branch of government that can strike down laws that deny people their basic rights and declare them null and void. Such was the case with the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision that declared the separate but equal segregation laws of Plessy vs. Ferguson null and void.

The Constitution itself was structured in such a way to spread the powers of this central government over three branches with each branch having a power that would keep each of the three branches check. But that was not enough for the people in 1791. These men knew only too well how the abusive monarchs of England had abused their powers to deny Englishmen certain rights and despite the explanation of a need for a central government the states were unwilling to ratify the Constitution without a set of amendments known as The Bill of Rights – the first ten amendments that became part of the Constitution. Our history is one in which groups denied these rights and full participation in society have used these ten amendments to incorporate all of the various ethnic and cultural groups that make up our society into full participation. Perhaps the last group of people that will come under the protection of the “right to bear arms” is the African-American black living in urban ghettoes across the nation and subject to abuse by the police force that protects them. The Black Panther Movement of the 1970’s is a good example of this.

The men who met in Independence Hall in 1787 went to revise the first form of government established after the Revolution the “Articles of Confederation,” which by the way, was based on the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy which was destroyed during and after the American Revolution. As they met, the consensus of the Founding Fathers was that the loose league of friendship of 13 sovereign states was not working.

The economy was failing because each state wanted its own currency. Next, there were violent protests like the Whiskey Rebellion that needed addressing. In addition, the new government needed to get rid of the Native American uprisings in the Northwest Territory that were being supported by the British supplying the “terrorist” Indians with guns. The British were supplying the Indians with guns to maintain control of their forts along the Great Lakes which gave them control of vital transportation into the interior of the country. The settlers needed to have their Kentucky long rifles and weapons to use against the Indians in order to settle the land that the United States said, for some reason, belonged to them after the Revolution. So, these Founding Fathers went to Philadelphia to come up with a government that would establish a national economic system and a national army. Neither of these were popular among the Sons of Liberty who had just fought a war to be free of the abuses of an absolute monarch. So, the meetings were held in secret throughout the summer of 1787. Neither was the absured notion that African-American slaves should have the right to bear arms or any of the rights eventually listed in the Bill of Rights considered.

After the Constitution was written that established a federal government that would control the money and have a standing army, the Founding Fathers set about “selling” the idea of federalism to the governments of the 13 sovereign states. Three-fourths of the states had to ratify or approve the Constitution before the new government could proceed. That’s why Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote a series of articles that became known as “The Federalist Papers” under the pseudonym Publius. This debate over a strong central government versus a government of loosely connected sovereign states led to the development of political parties and ultimately to Civil War. 

The Federalist Papers which I read in a book entitled “The Original Argument” set forth all the reasons why the new United States should surrender power to a central government. The arguments were highly contested and even led to several duals between men like Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. The bottom line soon became apparent. Before any approval of a Constitution that would give sanction to a central government certain rights had to be guaranteed in the Constitution. These rights were listed in the first ten amendments to the Constitution and became known as the Bill of Rights. Amendment 2 was the protection of the individual citizen to bear arms in order to protect themselves against a government that had federal forts and arsenals of weapons that could easily be used against them.  

So, today, we have Amendment 2 still in operation which, if interpreted as I interpret its meaning, assault rifles are certainly allowed to private citizens to protect citizens from the abusive military. That also means citizens have the means to nuclear weapons and dirty bombs of all types. That’s how powerful our military has become. What should be done about Amendment 2 then? To what extent should the government or even private citizens have access to weapons whose only reason for existence is to kill? Kill whom? Only those the government deems our enemies or perhaps the emissaries of the government who have used these weapons against Native Americans, African Americans, and women for centuries?

As an added note, private citizens in this country are protected by the second Amendment to the Constitution from a powerful military. What about the third world countries that do not have that protection and where citizens face the daily terror of weapons manufactured and supplied by the United States to governments that dole out the weapons at will to all kinds of corrupt and hateful organizations?  The people of these countries live with endless war and death and must flee to other countries that will allow them to enter in order to find security. I find it ironic that our country now sees these refugees as “terrorists” and wants to treat them in many ways like the Native Americans were treated in the 19th Century. Build walls (forts) to keep them out and continue to fuel hate and fear while supplying the hate groups with weapons forged in the United States and supplied to these corrupt factions all over the globe. Some of them even end up back in the United States and when used to massacre our citizens the public outrage begins.

Therefore, the debate that is centered around the 2nd Amendment should start to address the issue of how do we regulate this military that has made the United States a super power with the weapons of mass destruction powerful enough to destroy our planet and in the name of the second amendment people having access to all the methods of making and using any or all of these? Yes, we need to discuss the many complex problems surrounding those to whom no access to these weapons (people like Hitler or the Ku Klux Klan for example) as well as others who are mentally disturbed and amenable to using anything to kill when aroused, but there first needs to be an examination of our own attitudes about the military and the continual idea that having super weapons is the way to make a country strong and that those who disagree with us in any way are the enemy.


No comments:

Post a Comment