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Jan 22 2013

Root of all evil?

While I’m criticizing the South, I should also damn the whole country. They Yankees also contributed to the history of slavery: that whole second amendment thing that troubles us so much now was a sop to slavery, enabling ‘militias’ that were intended to capture escaped slaves and suppress insurrections.

…most southern men between ages 18 and 45 – including physicians and ministers – had to serve on slave patrol in the militia at one time or another in their lives.

And slave rebellions were keeping the slave patrols busy.

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South. Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings. …slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

So many of the high ideals of this country were poisoned by compromises to allow deep inequities. And the founding fathers were complicit.

44 comments

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  1. 1
    randay

    The irony is that the NRA originally, until the seventies, supported gun control, as did Republicans and governor Ronald Reagan in the sixties who voted for and signed the strictest gun control law in the nation. Why? Because under existing law at the time, one could carry loaded arms in public and the Black Panther Party prominently paraded them even to the state capital. They also followed the racist Oakland police to protect their brothers and sisters in their community. So you could say that they were a “well regulated milita”. If if had been a bunch of white guys, I doubt that there would have been such a law. For more, see The Atlantic article by Adam Winkler, “The Secret History of Guns”. One can only conclude that the NRA and anti-control Republicans are racists.

  2. 2
    comradebob

    James Madison spells out the reasons for and importance of citizen militias fairly clearly in Federalist 46. Militias are intended to resist the encroachments of the federal government, who Madison theorized may one day have the audacity to create a ‘military force for the projects of ambition’. The only party to this discussion who seems to have an obsession with and fear of Africa-evolved people is Thom Hartmann.

    Read Federalist 46 for yourself:

    http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed46.asp

  3. 3
    captainoblivious

    Calm down. The Evil SecondAmendment was not created to promote slavery.

    Atheists are supposed to deal with facts– even when they conflict with our deeply held convictions. To let your fear of one of our Constitutional rights override your usual logic and truthfulness is unseemly.

    I second comradebob’s post. Go learn what really happened.

  4. 4
    bjtunwarm

    Second Amendment was tied up with the whole myth the Revolution was won by militias like at the Battle of Lexington and Concord along with a fear of military dictatorship from the English Civil War. If it was just about enabling slavery I would think they would have also demanded a regular army to back the militia up and specifically forbid slaves and African Americans to own guns.

    As far as slave rebellions go I was always told that it was the successful rebellion in Haiti that created the atmosphere of fear and loathing in the South.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitian_Revolution#Impact

  5. 5
    dantelevel9

    Assuming for a moment that both comradebob and captainoblivious (interesting monickers indicating communistic and know-nothing tendencies) are correct about the original reasoning regarding militias one is still left with the nagging problem of the 21st century application of this amendment. Does a paranoid guy in Montana with a cache of assault rifles fit Madison’s ideal of a citizen militia? Do either of these commenters secretly harbor the fantasy of hordes of angry, gun-toting men marching on DC to overthrow an elected government? The word Militia always seems to get pushed into the background when discussing the 2nd Amendment. It seems to mean whatever anyone wants it to. And then there is the troubling matter of what constitutes ‘arms’? Just what is an acceptable definition of arms? Is it an old squirrel gun or a bolt action hunting rifle? Does it include 50 cal machine guns or mortars or military grade assault rifles? That is where the arguments concerning the right to own guns always hangs up. Just because it throws lead doesn’t mean people have a right to own it.

    I think both of these gentlemen are absolutely wrong. Of course the militias, what the blacks called paterolers, were used to control 4 million restive slaves. The South was an abomination prior to 1860. Slavery is America’s Original Sin. But the militias were also used to put down anti-tax uprisings on the frontier and Indian resistance to everywhere. The wealthy land and slave owners who wrote the Constitution had no desire to see mobs of armed men coming after them, especially not after successfully kicking the British out.

    We live in the 21st century and we must accept the responsibilities that go with our increasingly effective killing technologies.

  6. 6
  7. 7
    Christopher

    You got it backwards, it was the racists that have been the biggest bugbear for gun rights. After all if the negros can go all “deacons of defense” on the racist fucks threatening their lives, the chickenshit racists won’t feel so emboldened…

    No guns for negros

    The Racist Roots of Gun Control

    Honor Martin Luther King by defeating racism inherent to ‘gun control’

  8. 8
    Gregory in Seattle

    What became the Second Amendment (it was actually 4th item on the bill submitted to the states) was very clearly promoted in the south as a means of protecting and preserving slavery. It is just as clear that it was promoted in the north as an anti-federalist measure. As it happens, these were not mutually exclusive aims, and the regional marketing helped to guarantee ratification.

    I don’t think it is correct to assert, as Thom Hartmann says in essay that kicked off this brouhaha, that preservation of slave patrols was “the real reason the Second Amendment was ratified.” It would be foolish, however, to ignore that it was one of several reasons.

  9. 9
    Gregory in Seattle

    @bjtunwarm #4 – The slave patrols that Hartmann mentioned as the basis for the Second Amendment began in South Carolina in 1704, more than a century before the insurrection in Haiti. It is not coincidence that this colony was the one that created the patrols: in 1720, an estimated 65% of the colony’s residents were slaves. The threat of slave rebellion was a very real threat long before the Declaration of Independence, and the slaveholders knew it.

  10. 10
    Captaintripps

    I have no problem with slave patrols being an additional reason for the adoption of the Second Amendment. Hartmann has some sources to back that up. However, much like all the other Amendments the reasons behind their creation, adoption, and “marketing” are multifarious. The “it’s all about slavery” trope is pretty wild.

  11. 11
    erichoug

    I’m just surprised that you’re surprised by this. Slavery is ALWAYS predicated on extreme brutality and violence. I used to be fascinated by the Spartans until I learned more about the Helots and in Rome the Senate once proposed requiring slaves to wear special clothing or caps, right up until someone pointed out that it might allow said slave to figure out exactly how much they outnumbered citizens by.

    But, I also don’t think it is entirely true that the entire second amendment is ONLY to enable militias to capture escaped slaves.

  12. 12
    Ingdigo Jump

    I can’t believe people think slave patrol is wild but accept the “over throw tyranny” horse shit

  13. 13
    erikthebassist

    For any amendment to pass it has to have 2 things, popular appeal and support from those in power. It may have been politically convenient at the time to pitch this as the common man’s right to overthrow an oppressive government in order to achieve the former, but the wealthy protecting their assets was more likely the reasoning behind the latter.

    There’s no reason to think these things are not related and that the point of the OP doesn’t still stand even if what the Bobs and the accurately named oblivious say is true.

  14. 14
    erikthebassist

    oops, meant to say the point of the OP still stands, preview is my friend.

  15. 15
    Daniel Martin

    As others have pointed out, the Second Amendment was passed because it meant different things to different parts of the country. You don’t have to let the free-state founders off the hook though; just check the rest of the Constitution, specifically Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 and the various laws that were then passed to further enforce that clause.

  16. 16
    erikthebassist

    and now I realized it worked either way, I’ll just shut up until I have MOAR COFFEE!

  17. 17
    Skatje Myers

    The main scholarly backing behind this theory seems to be a law professor named Carl Bogus, who wrote this piece.

  18. 18
    erikthebassist

    any chance a brief summary Skatje to tide me over until I have time to read that?

  19. 19
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1465114

    Abstract:
    Professor Bogus argues that there is strong reason to believe that, in significant part, James Madison drafted the Second Amendment to assure his constituents in Virginia, and the South generally, that Congress could not use its newly-acquired powers to indirectly undermine the slave system by disarming the militia, on which the South relied for slave control. His argument is based on a multiplicity of the historical evidence, including debates between James Madison and George Mason and Patrick Henry at the Constitutional Ratifying Convention in Richmond, Virginia in June 1788; the record from the First Congress; and the antecedent of the American right to bear arms provision in the English Declaration of Rights of 1688.

  20. 20
    shawnthesheep

    You mean the founders’ weren’t a bunch of benevolent uber-geniuses who created a set a foundational principles so perfect that no technological or social advancement could require us to revise them?

  21. 21
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Another’s take on it.

    When Americans think of militias, they tend to think of minutemen at Lexington and Concord and “the shot heard around the world.”

    Bogus explains, “Some assume the Founders incorporated the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights because an armed citizenry had been important to security in colonial America and is essential to throwing off the yoke of British oppression. Much of this is myth.”

    He concluded, “It cannot be overemphasized that slavery was the central feature of life in slave holding states, and that the South depended on arms and the militia itself against the constant danger of a slave revolt… Southerners had to be infinitely more concerned about slave control than abstract, ideological, or contingent beliefs about liberty and guns.”

  22. 22
    Gregory in Seattle

    @Daniel Martin #14 – What is now called the “Fugitive Slave Clause” is significantly broader than just slaves. It reads:

    No person held to service or labour in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labour may be due.

    No mention is made specifically of slaves. In text and application, it also applied to indentured servants and bound apprentices, which were important parts of the economy in the non-slave states. Typically, a wanna-be immigrant from Europe would sign a contract offering exclusive priviledge of his labor for a period of years in exchange for passage to the colonies: once there, the captain would sell the contract to a farmer or merchant in need of workers. The problem was that some of these indentured servants would flee the first chance they got.

    Whether escaped slave or a bound servant who has fled, the Constitution was written to consider such people fugitives, and benefited the North just as much as it benefited the South.

  23. 23
    d.f.manno

    @erikthebassist (#12):

    For any amendment to pass it has to have 2 things, popular appeal and support from those in power.

    Not applicable in the early republic, given the limited electorate (white male landowners).

  24. 24
    d.f.manno

    @comradebob (#2):

    James Madison spells out the reasons for and importance of citizen militias fairly clearly in Federalist 46. Militias are intended to resist the encroachments of the federal government, who Madison theorized may one day have the audacity to create a ‘military force for the projects of ambition’.

    All but irrelevant today. What exactly would a “citizen militia” do if they wake up one morning and find the 82nd Airborne bashing in front doors? I’ll tell you what they’re going to do: they’ll shit themselves, then meekly turn over their guns and hope, pray and beg to be left alone. For all the tough talk, the “militiamen” don’t have the balls to shoot an American soldier.

  25. 25
    gussnarp

    I don’t see enough evidence to buy this argument. We should certainly not forget that state militias were, in fact, essential to the security of Northern states as well.

    Interestingly, I read another article recently suggesting that the modern interpretation of the 2nd amendment as an individual right to bear arms independent of militia membership dates back to the reconstruction period and was actually borne of encouraging former slaves to carry guns to protect themselves from “militias” that were comparable to the KKK. Not sure how much support there is for that either, but it’s interesting.

  26. 26
    gussnarp

    It’s the answer to the question raised by the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained when he asks, “Why don’t they just rise up and kill the whites?” If the movie were real, it would have been a purely rhetorical question, because every southerner of the era knew the simple answer: Well regulated militias kept the slaves in chains.

    Well, that’s certainly a part of it, but it’s a gross oversimplification. Another answer to the question is: they did.

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/01/how-accurate-is-quentin-tarantinos-portrayal-of-
    slavery-in-django-unchained.html

  27. 27
    erikthebassist

    Not applicable in the early republic, given the limited electorate (white male landowners).

    It would still have to appeal to them and “white male” would be more accurate I think. I’m prepared to change my mind on evidence but my recollection is that there was never a post constitutional requirement to own land in able to vote, just the white male part.

    Of course, my recollection is from classes taken 20 years ago so I’m only about 50/50 in that conviction.

  28. 28
    erikthebassist

    thanks rev for the summary btw

  29. 29
    viggen111

    as a sop to slavery, enabling ‘militias’ that were intended to capture escaped slaves and suppress insurrections.

    Despite your inarguable intelligence PZ, it continues to amaze me how deep your confirmation bias goes for this motivated reasoning designed to support your political position. Correlation does not equal causation, however much you want to cherry pick a particular source that says it does. I would point out to you once again that without the second amendment, all of this “peaceful rebelling” you do ultimately puts you in exactly the same position as the negros who were being repressed in your own argument: if rights were applied evenly at the time and _they_ had had the right to bear arms, how many uprisings do think there would have been? One. You get the ability to demonstrate peacefully now because most people understand that they don’t want to resort to an ultimate solution. This does not mean that the ability to do so has been outdated, just that it has not been needed recently. I have exactly no desire of following you down the path to enabling myself to be irreversibly subject to the power of a bunch of taliban theocrats. Or liberal wingnuts, for that matter… the door to fascism swings both ways: it just requires somebody thinking they need an enforceable rule to make somebody else do what they “ought” to do.

    The thing that defines this argument in my mind is the assumption that all people can be made to make rational decisions by writing a law and that the government implementing those laws is somehow an inhuman and pristine entity above people issues. You’re all pissed about a child or maybe your neighbor making a stupid decision with a gun, but are completely overlooking the fact that governments and armies also make stupid decisions –and it has happened in my lifetime. Your arguments only work if the government (the ultimate authority which mediates the implementation of the rights you so crave) is completely above failure, which obviously can’t be true given half of the bitching that you yourself do. The gun is the easiest tool for typical people, like you and me, to not be the slave when the conditions permitting passive resistance fail. So, of course rules permitting gun use have been abused –somebody is always going to think somebody else needs to be put in their place. Look at the slymepit for proof! Why you flicker back and forth between believing that the government is above all failure and assuming the government is in need of big corrections I can’t fathom, but you do –constantly!

  30. 30
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    however much you want to cherry pick a particular source that says it does.

    Prove the cherry picking. Lets see how rational you really are.

  31. 31
    peterh

    The underground railroad ran right through here, and the escaped slaves had to go through / past many militias which made no overt attempts to apprehend them.

  32. 32
    Jafafa Hots

    Someone’s going to have to be childish and say “haha! You believe Professor Bogus?!” and since I have no reputation to burn, I guess it might as well be me.

  33. 33
    congaboy

    The Definition of “state,” used in the article is improper. “State” can mean an organized political community or area forming a part of a federal republic and it can mean a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government. The term is used in the plural form in the 10th Amendment–”states” as opposed to the singular form in the Second Amendment. I would not doubt that states in the south used the 2nd Amendment to justify organized slave-hunting militias, but it was not the reason the Amendment was written and/or ratified. I like Thom Hartmann, but he doesn’t always get it right–and I think he’s stretching it a bit too far here. But, I’m just commenting on this as an attorney,(which I am) and not as a gun advocate (which I’m not). Pauline Maier, historian, has written on the reason the 2nd Amendment (as well as the entire Bill of Rights) was included in the Constitution; it was to calm those who were frightened by Congress’ new military powers. Here’s a link to an oped by her:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/22/opinion/22maier.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=a212

  34. 34
    Menyambal

    I’m thinking that the southrons may have used their militia for supporting slavery at times, but that doesn’t make all militias slavery-oriented. In modern terms, the National Guard is called out to deal with natural disasters, but doesn’t mean it was formed for earthquake relief.

    I say that the phraseology of the Second Amendment is very much intended to ensure national defense—if it was a sop to slavers, there’s a lot of proving to do. I also say that it has nothing to do with gun ownership by individuals—no matter what the crazies believe.

  35. 35
    phoenicianromans

    The underground railroad ran right through here, and the escaped slaves had to go through / past many militias which made no overt attempts to apprehend them.

    Remind us again what they meant by “underground railway” – was it a subway they were talking about?

  36. 36
    WharGarbl

    @phoenicianromans
    #34

    Remind us again what they meant by “underground railway” – was it a subway they were talking about?

    It refers to a network of people who’s primary goal is to sneak out slaves from the south to the north (or to Canada) in order to free them.
    Part of the “underground railway” is literally an underground tunnel, with rails. However, the “underground railway” also includes simple roads and path people take to get out of the south plus hiding place for escape place to rest and hide before moving again.

    For a better description.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_Railroad

  37. 37
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Quote is from Memyambal, but this applies to most all of the people making similar arguments

    I’m thinking that the southrons may have used their militia for supporting slavery at times, but that doesn’t make all militias slavery-oriented.

    Things militias* have demonstrably been used for in U.S. History: Slave patrols/suppressing rebellions, land theft from natives, strikebreaking, suppressing demonstrations, and, yes, these days also emergency response for natural disasters. Things militias* have never been used for in the U.S: Resiting a tyrannical government, or indeed effectively resisting any government. The American Revolution was won by Regulars, trained and equipped with artillery by the French. Therefore, any claims by the founders to claim that such was the primary purpose of a militia were either a) being deliberately deceitful, b) ignored the evidence available even then regarding the effectiveness and uses of militias, and/or c) meant ‘security of a free State’ to mean ‘security against the blacks, natives, and uppity poor people.’ None of these really renders the claim that the second amendment was ‘genuinely intended’ for that purpose terribly relevant or tenable. Based on the evidence, either the authors were lying about their motives, or they were making decisions based on fantasy rather than fact; neither case makes the argument at all convincing, and since the evidence is that insurgencies not supported by outside governments fail miserably, if that is indeed the reason for the 2nd Amendment, it should be abolished immediately, as it’s provably ineffective.

    *Meaning officially recognized ones; armed strikers, Black Panthers, etc arguably also constitute militias, but the government has historically not recognized them as such in the context of the second amendment. Indeed, as has been noted elsewhere, systematic efforts to disarm them and label them terrorists have been the norm.

    peterh

    The underground railroad ran right through here, and the escaped slaves had to go through / past many militias which made no overt attempts to apprehend them.

    Yeeessss…because it was underground. As in hidden. You know who they were hiding from? It rhymes with ‘slave patrols.’

  38. 38
    Ingdigo Jump

    Shay rebellion. That is all

  39. 39
    David Marjanović

    For all the tough talk, the “militiamen” don’t have the balls to shoot an American soldier.

    I bet many of them do. What they don’t have are the weapons to shoot enough American soldiers to actually defend themselves. They can’t do shit against a modern army… you know, the “military force for the projects of ambition” that Madison warned about.

    You get the ability to demonstrate peacefully now because most people understand that they don’t want to resort to an ultimate solution.

    …By your logic, the USA is the only country in the world where peaceful demonstrations ever happen.

    What have you smoked, and can I get it legally in the Netherlands?

    The term is used in the plural form in the 10th Amendment–”states” as opposed to the singular form in the Second Amendment.

    But it talks about what’s necessary for “a state”, not “the state”. That unpleasant sound you just heard was your argument falling on its nose.

    Pauline Maier, historian, has written on the reason the 2nd Amendment (as well as the entire Bill of Rights) was included in the Constitution; it was to calm those who were frightened by Congress’ new military powers.

    Yeah, the slaveholders, who were afraid that Congress might decide to centralize the military and disarm the state militias.

  40. 40
    Menyambal

    Dalillama, Schmott Guy, I liked what you wrote. It does sound like there was some gamesmanship in the Constitution.

  41. 41
    Anri

    All but irrelevant today. What exactly would a “citizen militia” do if they wake up one morning and find the 82nd Airborne bashing in front doors? I’ll tell you what they’re going to do: they’ll shit themselves, then meekly turn over their guns and hope, pray and beg to be left alone. For all the tough talk, the “militiamen” don’t have the balls to shoot an American soldier.

    Why the automatic assumption that the self-styled ‘patriots’ will be opposed to the installation of a dictatorship?

    All anyone wanting to attempt a fascist takeover of the US (however vanishingly unlikely that concept is) would have to do is drape themselves with the flag, pound a bible on the podium, and be sufficiently white, and I feel reasonably certain the 2nd Amendment absolutists would fall all over themselves to get in line.

    - – -

    Why you flicker back and forth between believing that the government is above all failure and assuming the government is in need of big corrections I can’t fathom, but you do –constantly!

    Ah, I have determined your source of confusion – you lack the faintest idea of what you’re talking about.
    Once you get that fixed, things will become easier to understand.
    Good luck with that!

  42. 42
    congaboy

    “But it talks about what’s necessary for “a state”, not “the state”. That unpleasant sound you just heard was your argument falling on its nose.”

    The 2nd Amendment reads: “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 10th Amendment Reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

    The key phrase is “necessary to the security of a free state . . .” It does not read “necessary to the security of the free states . . .” As it would read if it were referring only to the individual states of the Union. As it reads, it is referring to an ambiguous governmental system. It is intentionally ambiguous so that it can be interpreted many ways, but its ultimate intention was to assuage anti-federalist fears of an overbearing central government. But, the centralized government to which it refers can be interpreted as either the federal government or anyone of the individual state governments. The ultimate goal was to assure that power rested in the hands of the people and not the government.

    Oh, that unpleasant sound you heard, it came from you.

  43. 43
    phoenicianromans

    @WharGarbl

    I must remember that sarcasm is often not recognised on the Interwebs. Thank you, Dalillama.

  44. 44
    culch

    Militias were an important part of the social fabric from the start of the American colonies. All free men from age 21 to late middle age were automatically members in early times. They existed for more than 300 years, in the several colonies and then states, so I believe the rules, laws, competence and expectations varied widely. They also existed in Britain. They were “constitutive” properties of the community, understood to exist, and that is the legal basis for the military draft (and naval press gang), which somehow continues to be legal despite the 13th Amendment.

    Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
    Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    Militias were important in an era when a small population was spread widely, without police, when help from any higher government force was days, weeks or months away. There were real (and imagined) threats from native Americans, foreign countries (such as France, Spain and Netherlands), pirates, and even other colonies and states. Militia troops expected to serve for a very short time, then return to their shops and farms. Training was mandatory, but in the 19th century, at least, Training Days often became drunken sprees.
    I don’t mean this to be thorough, but just to show that the “suppressing slaves” aspect is just a piece of the picture.

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