What Is A Militia?

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 founding fathers were pretty clear that a militia has nothing to do with an army.

“[The Constitution preserves] the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation…(where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

–James Madison, The Federalist Papers, No. 46

“No Free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”

— Thomas Jefferson, Proposal Virginia Constitution, 1 T. Jefferson Papers, 334,[C.J. Boyd, Ed., 1950]

… to disarm the people – that was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.

— George Mason, 3 Elliot, Debates at 380

“And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress … to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms…. “

–Samuel Adams

That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.

Virginia Bill of Rights

“I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.”

— George Mason, in Debates in Virginia Convention on Ratification of the Constitution, Elliot, Vol. 3, June 16, 1788

Bear Arms

h/t to gofer

“Whereas civil-rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as military forces, which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.”

— Tench Coxe, in Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution

“The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.”

— Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers at 184-188

If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual State. In a single State, if the persons entrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair.

— Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 28

“That the said Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms … ”

— Samuel Adams, Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at 86-87 (Pierce & Hale, eds., Boston, 1850)

“[The Constitution preserves] the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation…(where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

–James Madison, The Federalist Papers, No. 46

“To suppose arms in the hands of citizens, to be used at individual discretion, except in private self-defense, or by partial orders of towns, countries or districts of a state, is to demolish every constitution, and lay the laws prostrate, so that liberty can be enjoyed by no man; it is a dissolution of the government. The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws.”

–John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of the United States 475 (1787-1788)

“Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.”

–Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia 1787).

“Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American…[T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.”

–Tenche Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.

“Whereas, to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them; nor does it follow from this, that all promiscuously must go into actual service on every occasion. The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle; and when we see many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever they can prevail, no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding against it.”

–Richard Henry Lee, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
“What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.”

— Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787. ME 6:373, Papers 12:356

“The right of the people to keep and bear … arms shall not be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country …”

— James Madison, I Annals of Congress 434, June 8, 1789
“What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty …. Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.”

— Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, spoken during floor debate over the Second Amendment, I Annals of Congress at 750, August 17, 1789

” … but if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people, while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights …”

— Alexander Hamilton speaking of standing armies in Federalist 29

“Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in possession and under our direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?”

— Patrick Henry, 3 J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions 45, 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1836

“The great object is, that every man be armed … Every one who is able may have a gun.”

— Patrick Henry, Elliot, p.3:386

“O sir, we should have fine times, indeed, if, to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people! Your arms, wherewith you could defend yourselves, are gone …”

— Patrick Henry, Elliot p. 3:50-53, in Virginia Ratifying Convention demanding a guarantee of the right to bear arms

“The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them.”

— Zacharia Johnson, delegate to Virginia Ratifying Convention, Elliot, 3:645-6

“Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms … The right of citizens to bear arms is just one guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard, against the tyranny which now appears remote in America but which historically has proven to be always possible.”

— Hubert H. Humphrey, Senator, Vice President, 22 October 1959

“The militia is the natural defense of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpation of power by rulers. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of the republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally … enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”

— Joseph Story, Supreme Court Justice, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, p. 3:746-7, 1833

” … most attractive to Americans, the possession of arms is the distinction between a freeman and a slave, it being the ultimate means by which freedom was to be preserved.”

— James Burgh, 18th century English Libertarian writer, Shalhope, The Ideological Origins of the Second Amendment, p.604

“The right [to bear arms] is general. It may be supposed from the phraseology of this provision that the right to keep and bear arms was only guaranteed to the militia; but this would be an interpretation not warranted by the intent. The militia, as has been explained elsewhere, consists of those persons who, under the laws, are liable to the performance of military duty, and are officered and enrolled for service when called upon…. [I]f the right were limited to those enrolled, the purpose of the guarantee might be defeated altogether by the action or the neglect to act of the government it was meant to hold in check. The meaning of the provision undoubtedly is, that the people, from whom the militia must be taken, shall have the right to keep and bear arms, and they need no permission or regulation of law for the purpose. But this enables the government to have a well regulated militia; for to bear arms implies something more than mere keeping; it implies the learning to handle and use them in a way that makes those who keep them ready for their efficient use; in other words, it implies the right to meet for voluntary discipline in arms, observing in so doing the laws of public order.”

— Thomas M. Cooley, General Principles of Constitutional Law, Third Edition [1898]

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9 Responses to What Is A Militia?

  1. squid2112 says:

    In my way in to work this morning, I was listening to Ralph Bristol on local talk radio. Some uber liberal dipshit called in and was arguing about the 2nd amendment. It just kills me to listen to idiot liberals argue about the constitution. It is astounding to me just how poor of reading and comprehension skills they possess. This fellow was trying argue that the 2nd amendment only pertains to “a well regulated militia”, completely ignoring the part about “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. Besides the fact that he completely blew the meaning of “a well regulated militia”, he is completely blind to the rest of the statement. Liberals like to twist the meaning of a comma to suit their needs at the time. In the case of the 2nd amendment, liberals like to claim the comma represents a “pause”, but in other amendments, liberals will claim a comma to mean a logical “or”, and in still other amendments liberals will recognize the comma as a logical “and”. In the case of the second amendment, liberals view the comma separating the “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state” [comma] “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” as a Klingon cloaking device that once the ready happens upon, words thereafter disappear. Because it is inconvenient for them, and infringes upon their personal worldly view, the words proceeding the [comma] do not exist.

    Never in my life have I understood such poor interpretation of logic as that of a liberal. Must be why every liberal computer programmer I have ever met could not program their way out of a wet paper bag.

    • squid2112 says:

      Oops… typo .. sorry… should read:

      … once the reader happens upon …

    • timg56 says:

      The hell with a caller to a talk radio show. How about the Vice President, an attorney by training?

      Vice President Biden seems to believe that the purpose of the 2nd Amendment is to protect the rights of duck and deer hunters and allow people to protect themselves in their homes. I’ll give him credit for stating that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right, but that’s about all he got right. I honestly think that to the VP, Concord is simply a grape.

  2. Paul in Sweden says:

    On 9/11 I was home in Vermont and pretty cut off from communications working on RFPs. No radio, No TV and a dial-up Internet connection. Some of my relatives were stuck in a Canadian airport with a looped recording stating that the USA has been invaded by terrorists, all air traffic in North America has been suspended. My mom got through on the phone to me sometime after 2pm on the phone. The picture she painted for me was confusing and grim. All bridges, tunnels etc in NYC where she was were closed. She also stated that nobody knows what is going on or how many terrorists there were or where they would be striking next. She used the term invasion also and said that the national guard was closing all the highways and setting up road blocks across the country. While on the phone with my mom I got onto the net and saw that all hell was in fact breaking loose. I told her to grab Gram, and Dad and get up to my house or my youngest brother’s house in Pennsylvania. I told her I was going into town to find out what was going on. After I hung up the phone I went to my gun cabinet grabbed a shotgun,,rifle, two .45s, a hell of a lot of ammo, go bag and basic hunting/camping gear and pulled out of the driveway within ten minutes. When I got into town I met up with my neighbors who had all done basically the same thing and gathered at the town pizzeria/pub. Other than the time of day and that we were all a little more armed than on an open season hunting day this was not an unusual gathering. We did not know what was going on, we knew there was trouble and we gathered in town to learn more and deal with whatever it might be.

    There are some of us that do not need to think twice as to why we have the second amendment and others that are clueless. -Paul

    • squid2112 says:

      Paul, well written and a nice recount. I was at John’s Hopkins University at the time of the attacks. Had to drive a rented mini-van non-stop back to Fargo, North Dakota. A very ominous drive indeed. We were supposed to fly out of Dulles just a couple of hours after the hijackings. I guess some people are dealt a good hand, and others, unfortunately, are not. It was a very sad day and a very difficult trip home.

  3. philjourdan says:

    A “Militia” was what fought the Battle of Athens. Not an army.

  4. Bloke down the pub says:

    “The right of the people to keep and bear … arms shall not be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country …”

    Does it say anywhere how a militia should be regulated and by whom?

    • slp says:

      In the language of the day “regulate” did not equal control. It essentially meant “to make regular.” In this case it would mean that an armed populace makes a militia commonplace.

  5. sunsettommy says:

    Posted this in the fine political forum : http://ai-jane.org/bb/index.php

    and in MY climate skeptic forum here: http://www.globalwarmingskeptics.info/thread-2105.html

    Many thanks to Steve and Gofer!

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