by J. Neil Schulman
That was the question I asked A.C. Brocki, editorial coordinator of the Los Angeles Unified School District and formerly senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Publishers -- who himself had been recommended to me as the foremost expert on English usage in the Los Angeles school system. Mr. Brocki told me to get in touch with Roy Copperud, a retired professor journalism at the University of Southern California and the author of "American Usage and Style: The Consensus."
A little research lent support to Brocki's opinion of Professor Copperud's expertise.
Roy Copperud was a newspaper writer on major dailies for over three decades before embarking on a a distinguished 17-year career teaching journalism at USC. Since 1952, Copperud has been writing a column dealing with the professional aspects of journalism for "Editor and Publisher", a weekly magazine focusing on the journalism field.
He's on the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and Merriam Webster's Usage Dictionary frequently cites him as an expert. Copperud's fifth book on usage, "American Usage and Style: The Consensus," has been in continuous print from Van Nostrand Reinhold since 1981, and is the winner of the Association of American Publisher's Humanities Award.
That sounds like an expert to me.
After a brief telephone call to Professor Copperud in which I introduced myself but did not give him any indication of why I was interested, I sent the following letter:
"I am writing you to ask you for your professional opinion as an expert in English usage, to analyze the text of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, and extract the intent from the text.
"The text of the Second Amendment is, 'A well-regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.'
"The debate over this amendment has been whether the first part of the sentence, 'A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State', is a restrictive clause or a subordinate clause, with respect to the independent clause containing the subject of the sentence, 'the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.'
"I would request that your analysis of this sentence not take into consideration issues of political impact or public policy, but be restricted entirely to a linguistic analysis of its meaning and intent. Further, since your professional analysis will likely become part of litigation regarding the consequences of the Second Amendment, I ask that whatever analysis you make be a professional opinion that you would be willing to stand behind with your reputation, and even be willing to testify under oath to support, if necessary."
My letter framed several questions about the test of the Second Amendment, then concluded:
"I realize that I am asking you to take on a major responsibility and task with this letter. I am doing so because, as a citizen, I believe it is vitally important to extract the actual meaning of the Second Amendment. While I ask that your analysis not be affected by the political importance of its results, I ask that you do this because of that importance."
After several more letters and phone calls, in which we discussed terms for his doing such an analysis, but in which we never discussed either of our opinions regarding the Second Amendment, gun control, or any other political subject, Professor Copperud sent me the follow analysis (into which I have inserted my questions for the sake of clarity):
[Copperud:] "The words 'A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,' contrary to the interpretation cited in your letter of July 26, 1991, constitutes a present participle, rather than a clause. It is used as an adjective, modifying 'militia,' which is followed by the main clause of the sentence (subject 'the right', verb 'shall'). The to keep and bear arms is asserted as an essential for maintaining a militia.
"In reply to your numbered questions:
[Schulman:] "(1) Can the sentence be interpreted to grant the right to keep and bear arms solely to 'a well-regulated militia'?"
[Copperud:] "(1) The sentence does not restrict the right to keep and bear arms, nor does it state or imply possession of the right elsewhere or by others than the people; it simply makes a positive statement with respect to a right of the people."
[Schulman:] "(2) Is 'the right of the people to keep and bear arms' granted by the words of the Second Amendment, or does the Second Amendment assume a preexisting right of the people to keep and bear arms, and merely state that such right 'shall not be infringed'?"
[Copperud:] "(2) The right is not granted by the amendment; its existence is assumed. The thrust of the sentence is that the right shall be preserved inviolate for the sake of ensuring a militia."
[Schulman:] "(3) Is the right of the people to keep and bear arms conditioned upon whether or not a well regulated militia, is, in fact necessary to the security of a free State, and if that condition is not existing, is the statement 'the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed' null and void?"
[Copperud:] "(3) No such condition is expressed or implied. The right to keep and bear arms is not said by the amendment to depend on the existence of a militia. No condition is stated or implied as to the relation of the right to keep and bear arms and to the necessity of a well-regulated militia as a requisite to the security of a free state. The right to keep and bear arms is deemed unconditional by the entire sentence."
[Schulman:] "(4) Does the clause 'A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,' grant a right to the government to place conditions on the 'right of the people to keep and bear arms,' or is such right deemed unconditional by the meaning of the entire sentence?"
[Copperud:] "(4) The right is assumed to exist and to be unconditional, as previously stated. It is invoked here specifically for the sake of the militia."
[Schulman:] "(5) Which of the following does the phrase 'well-regulated militia' mean: 'well-equipped', 'well-organized,' 'well-drilled,' 'well-educated,' or 'subject to regulations of a superior authority'?"
[Copperud:] "(5) The phrase means 'subject to regulations of a superior authority;' this accords with the desire of the writers for civilian control over the military."
[Schulman:] "(6) (If at all possible, I would ask you to take account the changed meanings of words, or usage, since that sentence was written 200 years ago, but not take into account historical interpretations of the intents of the authors, unless those issues can be clearly separated."
[Copperud:] "To the best of my knowledge, there has been no change in the meaning of words or in usage that would affect the meaning of the amendment. If it were written today, it might be put: "Since a well-regulated militia is necessary tot he security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged.'
[Schulman:] "As a 'scientific control' on this analysis, I would also appreciate it if you could compare your analysis of the text of the Second Amendment to the following sentence,
"A well-schooled electorate, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and read Books, shall not be infringed.'
"My questions for the usage analysis of this sentence would be,
"(1) Is the grammatical structure and usage of this sentence and the way the words modify each other, identical to the Second Amendment's sentence?; and
"(2) Could this sentence be interpreted to restrict 'the right of the people to keep and read Books' _only_ to 'a well-educated electorate' -- for example, registered voters with a high-school diploma?"
[Copperud:] "(1) Your 'scientific control' sentence precisely parallels the amendment in grammatical structure.
"(2) There is nothing in your sentence that either indicates or implies the possibility of a restricted interpretation."
Professor Copperud had only one additional comment, which he placed in his cover letter: "With well-known human curiosity, I made some speculative efforts to decide how the material might be used, but was unable to reach any conclusion."
So now we have been told by one of the top experts on American usage what many knew all along: the Constitution of the United States unconditionally protects the people's right to keep and bear arms, forbidding all governments formed under the Constitution from abridging that right.
As I write this, the attempted coup against constitutional government in the Soviet Union has failed, apparently because the will of the people in that part of the world to be free from capricious tyranny is stronger than the old guard's desire to maintain a monopoly on dictatorial power.
And here in the United States, elected lawmakers, judges, and appointed officials who are pledged to defend the Constitution of the United States ignore, marginalize, or prevaricate about the Second Amendment routinely. American citizens are put in American prisons for carrying arms, owning arms of forbidden sorts, or failing to satisfy bureaucratic requirements regarding the owning and carrying of firearms -- all of which is an abridgement of the unconditional right of the people to keep and bear arms, guaranteed by the Constitution.
And even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), staunch defender of the rest of the Bill of Rights, stands by and does nothing.
it seems it is up to those who believe in the right to keep and bear arms to preserve that right. no one else will. No one else can. Will we beg our elected representatives not to take away our rights, and continue regarding them as representing us if they do? Will we continue obeying judges who decide that the Second Amendment doesn't mean what it says it means but means whatever they say it means in their Orwellian doublespeak ?
Or will be simply keep and bear the arms of our choice, as the Constitution of the United States promises us we can, and pledge that we will defend that promise with our lives, our fortuned, and our sacred honor ?
(C) 1991 by The New Gun Week and Second Amendment Foundation. Informational reproduction of the entire article is hereby authorized provided the author, The New Gun Week and Second Amendment Foundation are credited. All other rights reserved.
About the Author
J. Neil Schulman is the award-winning author of novels endorsed by Anthony Burgess and Nobel-economist Milton Friedman, and writer of the CBS "Twilight Zone" episode in which a time-traveling historian prevents the JFK assassination. He's also the founder and president of SoftServ Publishing, the first publishing company to distribute "paperless books" via personal computers and modems.
Most recently, Schulman has founded the Committee to Enforce the Second Amendment (CESA), through which he intends to see the individual's right to keep and bear arms recognized as a constitutional protection equal to those afforded in the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth amendments.
J. Neil Schulman may be reached through: The SoftServ Paperless Bookstore, 24-hour bbs: 213-827-3160 (up to 9600 baud). Mail address: PO Box 94, Long Beach, CA 90801-0094. GEnie address: SOFTSERV
by Sue Wimmershoff-Caplan
Notwithstanding The Post's editorial gibe (June 23) that the ad simplemindedly implied that "you can never tell about governments," this is precisely what the Framers of the American Constitution believed. Detailed and sophisticated public discussions were led by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in 1787-88 on the inclinations of all governments to keep expanding their perogitives, both by sudden abrogations of power and by gradually chipping away at democratic processes at the expense of civil liberties. (The Federalist Papers, Nos. 12, 19, 28, 39, 46 and 48.) European history reveals countless betrayals of citizens by their rulers. The Founding Fathers concluded that such travesties of government were made possible by undemocratic structures and also by the failure of those regimes to "trust the people with arms" (Federalist, No. 46).
Actual shooting revolutions were what the Framers wanted to avoid at all costs. The "devastation and carnage" (Federalist, No. 19) endured by other peoples convinced them that the best way to prevent disasters in America was not to trust wholly to paper guarantees, but also to rely upon the fact that Americans would continue to keep privately owned firearms. Such arms would act as a quiet but tangible deterrent upon government criminality and despotism and function as a "barrier" (Federalist, No. 46) against governmental acts that might provoke armed rebellion. It was such political considerations -- not frontier conditions, hunting pleasures or the Indian threat -- that concerned the Framers when they premised the entire American republican form of government upon the understanding contained in the Second Amendment, that the people would always be armed.
"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."
The private individual right to own and use arms was thereby guaranteed. "Militia" in colonial parlance did not refer to men in uniform but meant every male in the community capable of carrying arms (as noted by contemporary scholar Don Higginbotham). Hamilton himself spoke of "the whole nation" or "the population at large" as the militia (Federalist, No. 28). "Arms" in this context were those weapons suitable for use in a one-to-one encounter. Indeed, a proposal to limit the language of the amendment to cover only public defense was soundly defeated in the very first session of the U.S. Senate in September 1789.
A disarmed population is forced to resort to desperate measures. The storming of the Bastille, which ushered in the 1789 French Revolution, was motivated by the desire to obtain the gunpowder stored there. Cobblestones and uprooted trees were the implements of frustrated French revolutionaries in the early 1830s, as vividly described in "Les Miserables." Likewise in 1989 Beijing, the Chinese students having found nonviolence futile, tore up the sidewalks and trees for ammunition and barricades. The point is not that the demonstrators should have confronted the army with weapons but that if all Chinese citizens kept arms, their rulers would hardly have dared to massacre the demonstrators, to say nothing of the continuing purges and executions taking place now.
Once a population is disarmed, any calamity is possible. The contrived Ukranian "Harvest of Sorrow" famine of 1932-33 was proceeded by the confiscation of civilian-owned rifles. Strict registration requirements, introduced in 1926, provided convenient lists of rifle owners and streamlined seizures by the police.
Constitutional principles accommodate modern technology. If the right to private ownership of firearms is limited to the colonists' muskets, by the same logic, freedom of speech does not cover radio, movies and TV, but is confined to the unamplified, untransmitted voice. The private keeping of handheld personal firearms is within the constitutional design for a counter to a government run amok, as when the military and police use firearms against their fellow nationals. As the Tiananmen Square tragedy showed so graphically, AK-47s fall into that category of weapons, and that is why they are protected by the Second Amendment.
Twentieth-century military machines are far from invincible when outflanked by armed citizen guerillas. Tanks and even high-tech military hardware were unavailing to the U.S. forces in Vietnam and the Russians in Afghanistan.
The price of liberty. Certainly firearms come into the hands of children, disturbed people and criminals. Needless deaths and injuries result. Even so, the number of gun-related deaths in the United States including Stockton, Calif.-type mayhem is approximately 20,000 annually, which includes 10,000 suicides. Compare that with the millions of deaths (including untold numbers of children) in the Ukraine and the carnage of youngsters in China. If we do no understand and cherish the Second Amendment, it can happen here.
Sue Wimmershoff-Caplan is a practicing attorney in New York City, who has done considerable volunteer work for pro-gun organizations at the local, state and national level, and has appeared on national television on behalf of the Second Amendment Foundation and other groups. This article was originally published in The Washington Post on July 6, 1989 and has been syndicated across the country.
* Origin: Dennis' Point: Pepperell, Massachusetts, USA (1:322/1.14)
Published in the American Rifleman magazine.
BY STEPHEN P. HALBROOK, Ph.D., J.D.
In 1777, William Knox, Under Secretary of State in the British Colonial Office, circulated a proposal entitled "What is Fit to be Done with America?" Knox advocated the creation of a ruling aristocracy loyal to the Crown, establishment of the Church of England throughout the colonies and an unlimited power to tax. To keep them servile, Knox offered the panacea of disarming all of the people and relying solely on a standing army:
The Militia Laws should be repealed and none suffered to be re-enacted, & the Arms of all the People should be taken away, & every piece of Ordnance removed into the King's Stores, nor should any Foundry or manufactory of Arms, Gunpowder, or Warlike Stores, be ever suffered in America, nor should any Gunpowder, Lead, Arms or Ordnance be imported into it without License; they will have but little need of such things for the future, as the King's Troops, Ships & Forts will be sufficient to protect them from any danger.1
It all began in September 1768, when rumors of an impending occupation by British troops, allegedly to suppress riots and collect taxes, inflamed Boston. A group of the freeholders led by James Otis and John Hancock met at Faneuil Hall and passed several resolutions, including the following:
WHEREAS, by an Act of Parliament, of the first of King William and Queen Mary, it is declared, that the Subjects being Protestants, may have Arms for their Defence; it is the Opinion of this town, that the said Declaration is founded in Nature, Reason and sound Policy, and is well adapted for the necessary Defence of the Community. And Forasmuch, as by a good and wholesome Law of this Province, every listed Soldier and other Householder (except Troopers, who by Law are otherwise to be provided) shall always be provided with a well fix'd Firelock, Musket,
Following the armed conflict between American colonists and British forces at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, Gen. Thomas Gage, commander of British forces and the royal governor of Massachusetts, demanded that Boston's citizens deposit their arms at Faneuil Hall under the care of a Selectman before being permitted to leave the city, then under siege by the colonial militia. After obtaining 1778 muskets, 634 pistols and 36 blunderbusses from citizens the governor had an armed guard mounted over their arms and refused to permit their owners to depart from the city.
Illustrated for American Rifleman by Harry Lloyd Jaecks
Accoutrements and Ammunition, as in said Law particularly mentioned, to the Satisfaction of the Commission officers of the Company; . . . VOTED, that those of the Inhabitants, who may at present be unprovided, be and hereby are requested duly to observe the said Law at this Time.2
A convention of Boston and several other towns met to consider the resolutions, and then petitioned the royal governor. When the governor rejected the petition, a patriot "A.B.C." (probably Samuel Adams) wrote:
It is reported that the Governor has said, that he has Three Things in Command from the Ministry, more grievous to the People, than any
"But there are
who would . . .
perswade the people
never to make
use of their
Thing hitherto made known. It is conjectured 1st, that the Inhabitants of this Province are to be disarmed. 2d. The Province to be governed by Martial Law. And 3d, that a Number of Gentlemen who have exerted themselves in the Cause of their Country, are to be seized and sent to Great-Britain.
Unhappy America! When thy Enemies are rewarded with Honors and Riches; but thy Friends punished and ruined only for asserting thy Rights, and pleading for thy Freedom.3
Two days later, the British troops landed in Boston and took over key points, including Faneuil Hall.4 However, only one report could be found that the inhabitants were being disarmed:
Advices, so late as the 10th of October, mention
That part of the troops had been quartered in the castle and barracks, and the remainder of them in some old empty houses.
That the inhabitants had been ordered to bring in their arms, which in general they had complied with; and that those in possession of any after the expiration of a notice given them, were to take the consequences.5
It is difficult to imagine much compliance with such an order, especially since such reports were not widespread with extensive protests. However, disarming the colonists was clearly being contemplated. From London, "it is said orders well soon be given to prevent the exportation of either naval or military stores, gun-powder, &c. to any part of North America."6
In an article he signed "E.A.," Samuel Adams recalled the English Bill of Rights as explained by Sir William Blackstone:
At the revolution, the British constitution was again restor'd to its original principles, declared inn the bill of rights; which was afterwards pass'd into a law, and stands as a bulwark to the natural rights of subjects. "To vindicate these rights, says Mr. Blackstone, when actually violated or attack'd, the subjects of England are entitled first to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law--next to the right of petitioning the King and parliament for redress of grievances--and lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence." These he calls "auxiliary subordinate rights, which serve principally as barriers to protect and maintain inviolate the three great and primary rights of personal security, personal liberty and private property": And that of having arms for their defense he tells us is "a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression. "--How little do those persons attend to the rights of the constitution, if they know anything about them, who find fault with a late vote of this town, calling upon the inhabitants to provide themselves with arms for their defence at any time; but more especially, when they had reason to fear, there would be a necessity of the means of self preservation against the violence of oppression.7
". . . upon
in Faneuil Hall . . .
depart. . . from
the town.... "
GEN. THOMAS GAGE
APRIL 22, 1775
A pass issued
by order of
British Gov. Gage
from taking arms
out of Boston
during the siege.
@Bofton, May , 1775
PERMIT [illegible name], together with his
Family, confifting of seven Perfons, and their Effects, to pafs over the Line between Sunrife and Sunfet,
By Order of his Excellency the Governor.
To the Field officer in the line
No Arms nor Ammunitin's allowed to pafs. Nor Merchandize
Adams made clear that private citizens could use arms to protect themselves from military oppression. He went on to point out that the same persons who opposed the right to have arms also opposed the right to petition:
But there are some persons, who would, if possibly they could, perswade the people never to make use of their constitutional rights or terrify them from doing it. No wonder that a resolution of this town to keep arms for its own defence, should be represented as having at bottom a secret intention to oppose the landing of the King's troops: when those very persons, who gave it this colouring, had before represented the peoples petitioning their Sovereign, as proceeding from a factious and rebellious spirit....8
For the next half decade, the disputes escalated, from the shooting of civilians "armed" with sticks (what became known as the Boston Massacre in 1770), to the embargo on shipments of arms to America and the self-arming of the populace into militia in 1774. In September 1774, pro-British rulers in Boston proposed the disarming of the people, but the measure was voted down, perhaps because of the protest it would have evoked:
It is said, it was proposed in the Divan last Wednesday, that the inhabitants of this Town should be disarmed, and that some of the newfangled Counsellors consented thereto, but happily a majority was against it.--The report of this extraordinary measure having been put in Execution by the Soldiery was propagated through the Country, with some other exaggerated stories, and, by what we are told, if these Reports had not been contradicted, we should by this date have had 40 or 50,000 men from the Country (some of whom were on the march) appear'd for our Relief.8a
Nonetheless, by early 1775, the British began a de facto policy of disarming the colonists.
What was actually going on may be exemplified by the experience of one Thomas Ditson, who was
flamed into violence
on March 5,1770.
BY PAUL REVERE
tarred and feathered by British soldiers. In his affidavit, Ditson claimed, "I enquired of some Townsmen who had any Guns to sell; one whom I did not know, replied he had a very fine Gun to sell."9 Since the one who offered the gun was a soldier, Ditson continued:
I asked him if he had any right to sell it, he reply'd he had, and that, the Gun was his to dispose of at any time; I then ask'd him whether he tho't the Sentry would not take it from me at the Ferry, as I had heard that some Persons had their Guns taken from them, but never tho't there was any law against trading with a Soldier; . . . I told him I would give four Dollars if there was no risque in carrying it over the Ferry; he
and Disperse. "
MAJ. JOHN PITCAIRN
APRIL 19, 1775
said there was not . . . I was afraid . . . that there was something not right . . . and left the Gun, and coming away he followed me and urg'd the Gun upon me....10
When he finally paid money to the soldier, several other soldiers appeared and seized Ditson, whom they proceeded to tar and feather. However, instead of entrapment, the soldier swore in his affidavit that it was a case of a rebel trying to obtain arms and urging a soldier to desert. The citizen said "that he would buy more Firelocks of the Deponent, and as many as he could get any other Soldier to sell him...."11
The British were wise to the American game, and the following ammunition seizure reported from Boston also alleged that soldiers killed people along the road:
The Neck Guard seized 13,425 musket cartridges with ball, (we suppose through the information of some dirty scoundrel, of which we have now many among us) and about 300 lb. of ball, which we were carrying into the countr--this was private property.--The owner applied to the General first, but he absolutely refused to deliver it. 12
The Revolutionary War was sparked when militiamen exercising at Lexington refused to give up their arms. The widely published American account of April 19, 1775, began with the order shouted by a British officer:
"Disperse you Rebels--Damn you, throw down your Arms and disperse. " Upon which the Troops huzz'd, and immediately one or two Officers discharged their Pistols, which were instantaneously followed by the Firing of four or five of the Soldiers, then there seemed to be a general discharge from the whole Body.13
Three days later Gen. Gage represented to the Selectmen of Boston that "there was a large body of men in arms" hostilely assembled, and that the inhabitants could be injured if the soldiers attacked.14 The next day a town committee met with Gage, who promised "that upon the inhabitants in general lodging their arms in Faneuil Hall, or any other convenient place, under the care of the Selectmen, marked with the names of the respective owners, that all such inhabitants as are inclined, may depart from the town . . . And that the arms aforesaid at a suitable time would be return'd to the owners."15
Bostonians proceeded to turn in 1778 muskets, 634 pistols, 973 bayonets and 38 blunderbusses.16 However, when "the inhabitants gave up their arms and ammunition--to the care of the Selectmen: the General then set a guard over the arms...."17 Gage then refused to permit the people to leave. "The same day a town meeting was to be held in Boston when the inhabitants were determined to demand the arms they had deposited in the hands of the select men, or have liberty to leave town."18
An anonymous patriot addressed "the perfidious, the truce-breaking Thomas Gage" as follows:
But the single breach of the capitulation with them [the people of Boston], after they had religiously fulfilled their part, must brand your name and memory with eternal infamy--the proposal came from you to the inhabitants by the medium of one of your officers, through the Selectmen, and was, that if the inhabitants would deposit their fire-arms in the hands of the Selectmen, to be returned to them after a reasonable time, you would give leave to the inhabitants to remove out of town with all their effects, without any let or molestation. The town punctually complied, and you remain an infamous monument of perfidy, for which an Arab, Wild Tartar or Savage would despise you!!!19
On June 12, Gage proclaimed martial law and offered a pardon to all who would lay down their arms except Samuel Adams and John Hancock.20 A patriot responded with a poem entitled "Tom Gage's Proclamation," which told how the general had sent an expedition "the men of Concord to disarm" and how he afterwards reflected:
Yet e'er I draw the vengeful sword,
I have thought fit to send abroad,
This present gracious Proclamation,
Of purpose mild the demonstration;
That whoseoe'er keeps gun or pistol,
I'll spoil the motion of his systole;
Or, whip his breech, or cut his weason
As has the measure of his Treason:--
But every one that will lay down
His hanger bright, and musket brown,
Shall not be beat, nor bruis'd, not bang'd,
Much less for past offences, hang'd,
But on surrendering his toledo,
Go to and fro unhurt as we do:--
But then I must, out of this plan, lock
Both SAMUEL ADAMS and JOHN HANCOCK;
For those vile traitors (like debentures)
Must be truck'd up at all adventures;
As any proffer of a pardon,
Would only tend those rogues to harden:--
But every other mother's son,
The instant he destroys his gun,
(For thus doth run the King's command)
May, if he will, come kiss my hand.--
* * *
Meanwhile let all, and every one
Who loves his life,
foresake his gun:21
Gage's seizures and attempts to seize the guns, pistols, Brown Bess muskets and swords known as hangers and toledos of the individual citizens of Boston who were not even involved in the hostilities sent a message to all of the colonists that the right to keep and bear private arms was in a perilous condition. A report from London that the British were coming to seize the arms of all the colonists hit the headlines in Virginia and Maryland:
It is reported, that on the landing of the General Officers, who have sailed for America, a proclamation will be published throughout the provinces inviting the Americans to deliver up their arms by a certain stipulated day; and that such of the colonists as are afterwards proved to carry arms shall be deemed rebels, and be punished accordingly.22
The final break came when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Causes of Taking Up Arms on July 6, 1775, which had been drafted by Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson and which complained:
It was stipulated that the said inhabitants having deposited their arms with their own magistrates, should have liberty to depart.... They accordingly delivered up their arms, but in open violation of honor, in defiance of the obligations of treaties, which even savage nations esteem sacred, the governor ordered the arms deposited as aforesaid, that they might be preserved for the owners, to be seized by a body of soldiers....23
Debate now turned to war, and William Knox's 1777 plan that "the Arms of all the People should be taken away" was far too late, had it ever been possible.
The above is only a small portion of newspaper extracts showing British attempts to disarm the Americans in the years 1768-1775. The grievances expressed led to the adoption of right to bear arms guarantees in the state Declarations of Rights beginning in 1776 and the federal Second Amendment in 1789.
The British resorted to every possible tactic to disarm the Americans--entrapment, false promises of "safekeeping," banning imports, direct seizure and finally shooting persons bearing arms. As the Bicentennial of the Second Amendment approaches, the American people must make a renewed commitment to understand the historical origins of the Bill of Rights, in order to preserve their liberties.
1. Sources Of American Independence 176 (H. Peckman ed. 1978). Emphasis added.
2. Boston Evening Post, Sept. 19, 1768, at 1, col. 3, and 2, col. 1.
3. Boston Gazette, and Country Journal, Sept. 26, 1768, at 3 cols. 1-2.
4. Boston Evening Post, Oct. 3, 1768, at 3, col. 2 (includes an account of the invasion).
5 New York Journal, Feb. 2, 1769, at 2, col. 2.
6. Boston Gazette, and Country Journal, Oct. 17, 1768, at 2, col. 3.
7. Id., Feb. 27, 1769, at 3, col. 1. Adams' authorship is confirmed in 1 H. Cushing ed., The Writings Of Samuel Adams 316 (1904).
8a. Massachusetts Spy, Sept. 8, 1774, at 3, col. 3.
9. Massachusetts Gazette; and Boston Weekly News-Letter, March 17, 1775, at 3, col. 1.
11. Id., col. 2.
12. Connecticut Courant, April 3, 1775, at 2, col. 2.
13. Essex Gazette, April 25, 1775, at 3, col. 3.
14. Attested copy of Proceeding between Gage and Selectmen, April 22, 1775, reprinted in Connecticut Courant, July 17, 1775, at 1, col. 3, and 4, col. 1.
15. Id. at 4, col. 2 (April 23, 1775).
16. R. Frothingham, History Of The Siege Of The Boston 95 (1903).
17. Connecticut Courant, May 8, 1775, at 3, col. 1.
18. Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, May 19, 1775, at 6, col. 2.
19. Connecticut Courant, June 19, 1775, at 4, col. 2.
20. Connecticut Journal and New-Haven PostBoy, June 21, 1775, at 3, cols. 1-2.
21. Connecticut Courant, July 17, 1775, at 4, col. 1.
22. Virginia Gazette, June 24, 1775, at 1, col. 1; Maryland Gazette, July 20, 1775, at 1, col. 2.
23. Connecticut Courant, July 17, 1775 at 2, col. 1. The Declaration was published in virtually every colonial newspaper.
The Continental Congress adopted a similar address on "To the People of Ireland" which complained that "the citizens petitioned the General for permission to leave the town, and he promised, on surrendering their arms, to permit them to depart with their other effects; they accordingly surrendered their arms, and the General violated his faith...." Id., Aug. 21, 1775, at 1, col. 3.
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Stephen Halbrook's comprehensive work on the Second Amendment, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right, is now available from the Liberty Tree Network, 350 Sansome St., San Francisco, Calif. 94104, Tel: (800) 872-4866. The new paperback edition is priced at $14.95, which includes postage and handling.
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