Posted By David Bozarth on April 19, 2013
In recent months the debate over “The Second Amendment” has heated up and along with it the accompanying debate over what is, or is not “a well regulated militia.” Most of the debate, within the media, has focused on modern definitions and has included a total lack of understanding regarding the purposes and intents of first ten amendments to the Constitution, commonly referred to as “The Bill of Rights.” So, can we definitively identify what the founding generation meant by “militia”? Can we discover who were members of the militia according to the Federal Government? What actions were taken by the Federal Government as a result of the ratification of the Second Amendment?
Well, as those of you who have followed this blog are aware, the reason for this post is I have discovered the answers to the above questions. I believe the answers are revealing and important for us to consider.
The first ten amendments, again, commonly referred to as “The Bill of Rights,” we finally ratified when Virginia became the tenth State to ratify ten of the twelve amendments which had been sent to the States on December 15, 1791. Therefore, we need to identify some type of action by Congress, or some writing which would be contemporary to this time frame which would shed light on the questions. Further, this period is during the First Congress of the united States (Note: the current Congress is the 113th), and if we could find something enacted by them this would be critical to our discussions; should I even mention who was president at this time? Okay, for those of you reading this who don’t have a clue, the president was George Washington.
Less than FIVE months after the ratification of the Second Amendment, the First Congress passed TWO bills which were signed by President Washington and thus became law. The first was passed by Congress and signed by the president on May 2, 1792, and provided for how the militia would be called up for service by the President. This is often called the “First Militia Act of 1792.” The “Second Militia Act of 1792” was passed on May 8, 1792 and became law with the president’s approval. This second act was modified twice prior to “The War of Northern Hypocrisy,” oh… I’m sorry, “The War of Northern Aggression,” oh… that’s still controversial, “The War to Break the Power of States and Establish an Overreaching Federal Government,” oh… still not good, okay, “The American Civil War.” The first revision took place in 1795 and the second in 1814. In fact, this could be considered the first national law of conscription.
Why would I dare state this was a “conscription” law? “Conscription” is defined as, “compulsory enrollment of persons especially for military service : draft.”1 The second act defined:
“…That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia…”2
So, we can readily see here this act clearly states the militia will be made up of “every free able-bodied white male citizen…” between the ages of 18 and 45. Hmmm…. Every one? Yes, every one. Not those who had enlisted in the military, or those who had volunteered, but every single able-bodied male (with a few specified exceptions). Thus, according to the First Congress AND the first President (i.e. George Washington), the militia consisted of every “white male citizen” of these united States.
Were there any requirements placed on these citizen members of the militia by the law? Glad you asked. Yes, there were, the man was to:
…provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided…3 (Emphasis added)
Amazing!! Here the Federal Government REQUIRED every white male to own the assault rifle of their day, along with ammunition. How far have we come? Then the Federal Government and Congress required the possession of firearms, BUT today the government and congress want to restrict and even TAKE firearms and ammunition AWAY FROM the citizens. Well, I guess the major difference would be the laws enacted in 1792 were enacted by people who did not trust government, and even feared the power of the citizen, while today the laws are being pushed through by a powerful, all encompassing government which is attempting to limit ITS fear of the citizens. Dare I say the government of today has lost its fear of the citizen? From their actions I would say they haven’t, but that they are doing everything they possibly can to take the power of control away from the citizen, or “We the People.”
These laws remained in force until 1903, and were only amended in 1862 when the Union Congress added the stipulations to include black males as well. Again, hmmm……
A major revision of these took place in 1903 as a result of the Spanish-American War and the very negative consequences experienced with the various State militias which were called up. In fact, there were some governors who refused to transfer their State’s militia to the federal authority because they saw that the militias were to be restricted to the territorial boundaries of the united States. This was also experienced in the War of 1812 when some militia units wouldn’t cross into Canada and remaining federal army units were soundly defeated. Even further, some states refused to activate their militia during the War of 1812, practicing “State Nullification.” (Again, hmmm…. as these were States of the Northeast.)
In 1903 the new act (often called “The Dick Act”) further clarified and defined the term militia as follows:
That the militia shall consist of every able-bodied male citizen of the respective States, Territories, and the District of Columbia, and every able; bodied male of foreign birth who has declared his intention to become a citizen, who is more than eighteen and less than forty-five years of age, and shall be divided into two classes–the organized militia, to be known as the National Guard of the State, Territory, or District of Columbia, or by such other designations as may be given them by the laws of the respective States or Territories, and the remainder to be known as the Reserve Militia.4 (Emphasis added)
Again, we see here there is more to the militia debate than just the National Guard. The National Guard are by definition “the organized militia,” BUT we also see that every male not in the National Guard is considered by federal law to be a member of the “Reserve Militia.” Further, it is not abundantly clear in this latter act as to where the rifles were maintained, but I get the impression they were held in the custody of the individual member.
Therefore, if we take the Second Amendment and all of these various “Militia Acts” we find the various governments, both State and Federal, are placing themselves in violation of these. Since the Second Amendment declares “A well regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free State…”, and now with the knowledge that Federal law defines the militia as every “able-bodied” male between the ages of 18 and 45, and – again the Second Amendment – “…the right of the people to keep and Bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
This just further demonstrates how the governments of today have no clue about history, or even the laws of these united States. We need to hold them accountable for their actions which are not only un-Constitutional, but also ILLEGAL by federal law. To ensure “the security” of our freedoms, States and nation we need to revive the local militia to demonstrate just how serious we are in securing our freedoms. BUT at the same time we must practice caution and not give in to the conspiracy fanatics and those which are racist and/or extremist. We must be circumspect, mature and calm in our actions and not give in to emotions and paranoia.
1 “conscription,” Merriam-Webster Online, retrieved April 19, 2013 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conscription.
2 “The Militia Act of 1792”, retrieved from http://www.constitution.org/mil/mil_act_1792.htm.
4 “The Militia Act of 1903”, Wikisource, retrieved from http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Militia_Act_of_1903.