Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - Bill of Rights

"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."

Preservation and Proposition

Our mission is to document the pivotal Second Amendment events that occurred in Frontier Mercersburg, and its environs, and to heighten awareness of the importance of these events in the founding of our Nation.

We are dedicated to the preservation of the place where the Second Amendment was "born" and to the proposition that the Second Amendment (the "right to bear arms") is the keystone of our Liberty and the Republic.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mercersburg - Birthplace and Rebellion (Part I)

By Tim McCown

Justice William Smith one of the leaders of Smith's or the Black Boys Rebellion, so called because of painting their faces black to disguise their identity, was a magistrate for Cumberland County Pennsylvania. According to Phillip E. Pendleton in an article in Pennsylvania Magazine vol. XXII #3- Summer 1996, entitled, "Conrad Weiser Homestead: Finding a light into the Forest", the role of a magistrate is as follows," Justice of the Peace was one of the most powerful offices in local or county governmental system of colonial Pennsylvania. Operating independently in their loosely defined districts, these magistrates excercised a wide variety of functions. The justices directed the activities of other county officers such as the elected sheriff and county commissioners and acting as judges heard civil suits and criminal misdemeanor cases. Chosen by the Governor from among individuals of local standing and prosperity, justices made money by charging fees for issuing licenses, certifying deeds and performing marriages."

As early as 1550 in England, Calvinist writers argued that magistrates and citizens as individuals or as a body of people, could engage lawfully in acts of political resistance. According to L.S. Koetsier in Natural Law and Calvinist Political Theory, Calvin in his 1559 work, "Institutes of the Christian Religion", stated that, "Magistrates who have been appointed protectors by God's ordinance....Dishonestly betray the freedom of the people if they fail to restrain the fierce licentiousness of kings." Calvin's ideas were transported to the American and Pennsylvania frontiers by Scotch Irish Presbyterians. Over 100 years later John Locke would replace Calvin's belief in resistance as religious duty and remake this idea into a political right that would inspire England's Glorious Revolution in 1689, The American Declaration of Independence and Constitution and the French Revolution in 1789. There are copies of the Second Treatise by John Locke published in 1689 and then again in 1690.

The Amicus Brief in McDonald vs Chicago, the recent Supreme Court decision, has an impressive Table of Authorities when it sheds light on Pennsylvania's frontier history. The Amicus Brief notes that conceptions of individual and collective rights to self defense, in the 17th and 18th century, evolved from an understanding of the Contract Theory of government; and that self defense, as would be articulated by the Smith's and the Black Boys, were natural rights to be exercised should the government fail in its responsibility to protect the citizens. The Penn government failed repeatedly to protect the frontier because of a failure to have a militia. Pennsylvania was the only state without a standing militia in 1764-1765.

The anger on the frontier at feeling that the government failed in its task to protect its citizens was compounded by what appeared to be a willingness to appease the Indians with gifts after a war where frontier settlers suffered in a brutal war for survival. Starting in 1764 with the Paxton uprising this anger unleashes a radical furor. Into this political climate come the Scotch Irish Presbyterians who will revolt against both the Quakers and the British Military Authority and will ultimately codify ideas of self defense that will become our right to bear arms.

This is the philosophical underpinning of where the values and beliefs that would go from rights to defend ourselves to the Second Amendment came from. Many of our frontier settlers came with an idea that they had a right to self defense and from religious and political traditions that approved of and accepted this as part of the way of life. . . next Part II - History of the Right to Bear Arms . . . Part III - Smith's Rebellion.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article Tim! Thanks for raising peoples awareness about how the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms came about. Congratulations Jerry on a great website.

    For anyone interested in reading more about Smith's Rebellion in 1765 please check out my new website

    Karen Ramsburg
    President for the Committee to Save the Justice William Smith House