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.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Mercersburg - Birthplace and Rebellion (Part III )

By Tim McCown

Why the Smith House is the Birthplace of the Second Amendment . . .

The Sideling Hill incident on March 6, 1765, which was the first armed resistance against British Military rule began in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania . . . It is for this reason that it is the birthplace of the Second Amendment.

In 1776 when Pennsylvania ratified its first constitution, it was the first of the thirteen colonies to have a "right to bear arms" clause. James Smith, a former leader of the Black Boy's, was a member of the Westmoreland County delegation to this constitutional convention. . . It is for this reason that it is the birthplace of the Second Amendment.

In 1765 Justice William Smith conferred legal standing on the actions at Sideling Hill of James Smith and the Black Boys to secure firearms that were illegally confiscated, it is claimed, by soldiers of the Crown. . . It is for this reason that it is the birthplace of the Second Amendment.

Key to the argument that Pennsylvania (and the Justice William Smith House) are the birthplace of the second amendment are the events surrounding the Sideling Hill (near present day McConnellsburg) attack. This was the beginning of what is known as Smith's Rebellion. On March 6, 1765, James Smith and his Black Boy militia attacked a wagon train near the "Hill" that they reasoned to be carrying illegal goods. It is believed that they were acting on the orders of Justice William Smith, who under the power given him by the Crown and the Governor of Pennsylvania, surmised that he had the right and duty to enforce the laws (by whatever means) if no "usual" means were available. This, he believed, included "deputizing" armed citizens (or militia).

Clearly that was the case. Because of the Quaker's pacifism there was no real law along the Pennsylvania frontier. With no standing state militia, and with the British military overwhelmed with the new tasks of ministering to a territory that now stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, Justice Smith had no established means to assert his authority and, not surprisingly, a state of "lawlessness" prevailed.

Petitions for protection to the Governor went unheeded. Frontier settlers were truly on their own as they found out when they wrote a, "Remonstrance of the Inhabitants of Cumberland County". This document laid out the area's suffering from two previous Indian Wars, The French and Indian War and Pontiac's Rebellion and notes that the traders are breaking the law because there is no treaty with the Indians. In fact, the Indian Trade Act prohibited selling goods that could be used as weapons unless there was a signed peace treaty. Trade goods found in the Sideling Hill raid were illegal because tomahawks, scalping knives, gun powder and lead are clearly war-like stores.

Because these pleas went unheeded, much of the argument about the Second Amendment becomes an issue of self defense. While many have characterized the actions of the Black Boys as taking the law into their own hands, others contend that they were merely securing their right to self preservation. The problem with 1765 Sideling Hill Pennsylvania is that unless or until the Smith's and the Black Boys asserted their right of self defense and William Smith stated he was the Civil Law, their was no law. It was pure anarchy with death a very real prospect at any minute.

The 18th century philosopher John Locke, deemed the father of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, weighed in on self defense. It stems from one's survival instinct and, it is a natural right to respond. In Locke's "State of Nature", the Sideling Hill Affair was a perfect example of the state of nature. His "Second Treatise on Government" (1690) asserted that the whole idea of government is to protect Life, Liberty, and Property. When this did not occurr in Locke's view you had a moral right to revolt.

The issue of self defense was further complicated by the confiscation of militia firearms. Shortly after Sideling Hill on March 7, 1765 Sgt. Leonard McGlashan made several arrests of men he thought were involved in burning Croghan's illegal trade goods and brought them back to Fort Loudoun. On March 9, 1765 the Black Boy's and James Smith laid siege to Fort Loudoun for the first time. They demanded the release of the prisoners and the release of nine fire arms that McGlashan confiscated claiming that without a firearm no one can defend themselves.

From March, 1765 to November 10, 1765 the issue of confiscation became the entire focus of the Smith's rebellion. It included an incident where James Smith and several Black Boys tied up, beat and threatened Lt. Charles Grant the officer commanding Fort Loudoun. Finally, Smith and the Black Boys laid siege to the fort for a second time for two days until Grant surrendered, arrested men were released, and the firearms confiscated were given over to another local magistrate until the Governor can determine what should happen to them.

What was Smith's motive? Perhaps Smith was concerned that the recently released men were without a means of self defense, or perhaps it was simply to have returned what was wrongfully taken - firearms were valuable commodities. Or, given Smith's lowland Irish history, the concept of confiscation struck a deep cultural cord. As Protestants, and mostly Presbyterians, Smith's ancestors had been the victims of weapons confiscation for hundreds of years. Mostly by Catholics bent on subjugating them to Catholic rule. It was, in fact, the history of weapons confiscation that caused the "Protestants" to include Article 7, a right to bear arms in the English Bill of Rights in 1689.

In the end, it was the failure to provide a militia for collective defense of the community, it was the right of self defense, and it was the confiscation of firearms at Sideling Hill that caused the citizens of Pennsylvania to include a right to bear arms in the Pennsylvania's Constitution in 1776, before any other colony. The Smiths's looked at Sideling Hill as the test case of their rights, and the "right to bear arms" . . . was born here in Pennsylvania.

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