The Origins of the Second Amendment

In conservative American mythology, the purpose of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is to ensure that the people can defend themselves against a tyrannical central government. The reality is different. The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery.

Even before the revolution, the southern states had “slave patrols.”

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state. The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.

“The Georgia statutes required patrols, under the direction of commissioned militia officers, to examine every plantation each month and authorized them to search ‘all Negro Houses for offensive Weapons and Ammunition’ and to apprehend and give twenty lashes to any slave found outside plantation grounds.”

Sally E. Haden, in her book Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, notes that, “Although eligibility for the Militia seemed all-encompassing, not every middle-aged white male Virginian or Carolinian became a slave patroller.” There were exemptions so “men in critical professions” like judges, legislators and students could stay at their work. Generally, though, she documents how 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.

After the revolution came the Constitution. From Article I, Section 8:

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

I.e., the militia would be controlled by the Federal Government. The Southern states saw a problem with this.

…. 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.

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….

Southern leaders such as James Monroe, George Mason and Patrick (“Give me liberty or give me death!”) Henry were concerned the Southern states would no longer have the militia to control the slaves, which would of course mean the end of slavery. So they needed to change the constitution.

They succeeded: The Southern States kept there Slave patrols until slavery was abolished in 1865. Even after that their influence persisted in the Klu Klux Klan. Also Slave Patrols: An Early Form of American Policing notes that after the Civil War the practices of Southern police departments were influenced by the patrols.

More at Was Slavery a Factor in the Second Amendment? Spoiler: Yes.

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