How Fears of Abolition Shaped the Second Amendment

How Fears of Abolition Shaped the Second Amendment

Gun Rights

Editor’s note: What follows is an excerpt from nationally syndicated talk-show host Thom Hartmann’s new book, his twenty-fifth, The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment , published today by Berrett-Koehler Publishers . “Give me liberty or give me death.” —Patrick Henry Article 1, Section 8, of the proposed Constitution had Southern slave owners concerned about the future of their economy. Slavery can exist only in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias. If the antislavery folks in the North could figure out a way to disband those southern militias—or even just to move the militias out of the states—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 more than 300 slaves), and the southern Christian evangelical Patrick Henry (the largest slaveholder in the state of Virginia). 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, twelve years earlier, during […]

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