Have you ever asked yourself why, whenever we have these battles over reasonable gun safety laws, the gun nuts huddle around the Second Amendment as if it were the Holy Grail? Say the word "militia" today and everyone thinks about those folks up
January 18, 2013

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Have you ever asked yourself why, whenever we have these battles over reasonable gun safety laws, the gun nuts huddle around the Second Amendment as if it were the Holy Grail? Say the word "militia" today and everyone thinks about those folks up in Idaho building their little fortresses, not anything resembling the "well-regulated militia" defined in the amendment. Thom Hartmann's been doing some research and surprisingly, the reasons behind it are not what everyone thinks:

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says "State" instead of "Country" (the Framers knew the difference - see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia's vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the "slave patrols," and they were regulated by the states.


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. As Dr. Bogus points out, 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.

If the anti-slavery folks in the North had figured out a way to disband - or even move out of the state - those southern militias, the police state of the South would collapse. And, similarly, if the North were to invite into military service the slaves of the South, then they could be emancipated, which would collapse the institution of slavery, and the southern economic and social systems, altogether.

These two possibilities worried southerners like James Monroe, George Mason (who owned over 300 slaves) and the southern Christian evangelical, Patrick Henry (who opposed slavery on principle, but also opposed freeing slaves).

So tell me again: Why do we have a bunch of people who practically worship at the altar of a constitutional amendment which was put there to protect slave owners -- when slavery has been outlawed for 150 years?

Oh, I see. Because there was some tension and mistrust between the states and the federal government.

Their main concern was that Article 1, Section 8 of the newly-proposed Constitution, which gave the federal government the power to raise and supervise a militia, could also allow that federal militia to subsume their state militias and change them from slavery-enforcing institutions into something that could even, one day, free the slaves.

This was not an imagined threat. Famously, 12 years earlier, during the lead-up to the Revolutionary War, Lord Dunsmore offered freedom to slaves who could escape and join his forces. "Liberty to Slaves" was stitched onto their jacket pocket flaps. During the War, British General Henry Clinton extended the practice in 1779. And numerous freed slaves served in General Washington's army.

Thus, southern legislators and plantation owners lived not just in fear of their own slaves rebelling, but also in fear that their slaves could be emancipated through military service.

Ultimately, it took a bloody war with guns and emancipated slaves to end the slavery in the South. But the Civil War is not quite completely in the past. We may not be fighting on open battleground with muskets, cannons and bayonets, but we are still fighting one, verbally and politically.

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