Via Brad Delong's economics blog, we're directed to a website called The Smirking Chimp, and from that to a body of historical research that indicates that the original intent of the Second Amendment was to help preserve slavery by guaranteeing southern states the ability to terrorize their slaves.
Much of the research quoted was done by Carl T. Bogus of Roger Williams University, whose full paper on what he calls "the hidden history of the Second Amendment" can be downloaded here. He documents that, in order to get Virginia to ratify the Constitution, the Amendment was written to guarantee that abolitionist forces in Congress would never be able to disarm the southern militias whose near-exclusive function was to act as slave patrols to prevent "servile insurrection."
From the introduction of slavery into the colonies in the 17th century right up to the Civil War, the slaveowner's biggest fear was of being murdered in his bed during a slave revolt. Sensibly enough: Bogus cites research indicating there were around 250slave insurrections throughout the South during colonial times. At the time of the ratification debates, the biggest and best-known was in 1739 South Carolina, when and where a group of 20 blacks broke into a store and stole weapons and gunpowder. Bogus: "They decapitated the two storekeepers, displaying their heads on the front steps, and then headed south, sacking and burning homes and killing whites on the way. They marched while flying banners, beating drums, and calling out "Liberty!" to attract more slaves to the rebellion." Eventually they numbered near 100, and were only subdued after fighting two full-fledged battles with mounted militiamen. After the first, black captives were beheaded and their heads hung from mileposts along the road as a warning to other slaves. Most of those who had escaped were tracked down a week later by another militia company and wiped out.
|Newspaper woodcut following Nat Turner's revolt, 1831|
Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas to the effect that virtually all men between 18 and 45--not even physicians or ministers were exempted--were required to serve in the militia, which is to say on slave patrols. One reason the 1739 uprising was quelled promptly was that the white men attending Sunday services at a nearby church were, as required by law, armed.
The myth of the citizen militia during the Revolution is that it was an important element in defeating the British--patriot Minutemen rushing from their homes to battle redcoats, and all that. Bogus points out that in fact a number of Southern states refused even to contribute any militia to the war effort, for the perfectly sound reason that doing so would leave their homes unprotected against slave uprisings. And on at least one occasion George Washington refused to accept the offer of militiamen, as his experience had taught him that they were too undisciplined to be useful in battle: they tended to desert. At the battle of Camden, militia from Virginia and North Carolina, though outnumbering the entire British force, fled from the field without firing a single shot. No, what the citizen militia was good at was terrorizing slaves, and little else.
|No apparent sense of irony or self-awareness|
The militia may be here destroyed by that method which has been practiced in other parts of the world before; that is, by rendering them useless--by disarming them. Under various pretenses, Congress may neglect to provide for arming and disciplining the militia; and the state governments cannot do it, for Congress has an exclusive right to arm them . . .Patrick Henry, greatest orator of the Revolutionary era and another Virginia delegate to the ratifying convention, agreed:
If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, [the states] cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress. . . . Congress, and Congress only, can call forth the militia. . . . I see a great deal of the property of the people of Virginia in jeopardy, and their peace and tranquility gone.
|He feared certain others might take his same course.|
|Ratification votes and dates|
The legacy of all this is that we today have been convinced we have no practical means of stopping crazy people from gunning down children.