Matt Gaetz (Florida-R) said the Second Amendment “is not about hunting, recreation, or sport.” Its true purpose: “The Second Amendment to the constitution is to maintain the ability of citizens to maintain armed rebellion against the government if necessary.” Because few Utahns share his delusion, it is worth considering some historical facts.
The leaders of this nation wanted to prevent the rebellious crowds from gathering. During the winter of 1786-1787, a group calling themselves “Regulators”, led by Daniel Shays (a Revolutionary War veteran who fought at Lexington, Bunker Hill and Saratoga), sought to help debt-ridden farmers to take control of the government of Massachusetts. The general who defeated Shay’s uprising called for mercy and a clemency commission. But Samuel Adams (American independence agitator and brother of John Adams) considered the Regulators “British emissaries” and said: “In a monarchy the crime of treason may be forgiven or lightly punished, but the man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic must suffer death.(The riotous Jan. 6 mob can be grateful that today’s public is far more liberal than Adams.)
Shay’s Rebellion played a role in the creation of our Constitution. James Madison, the father of our Constitution, noted in Federalist No. 10 that in “a vast republic,” that is, a great nation spanning 13 states, it is more difficult “to act at unison with each other”. “The influence of factional leaders may kindle a flame in their particular states but will be unable to spread a general conflagration in other states.” Madison, of course not anticipating the Internet, saw that it would be physically impossible for leaders in one locality to organize with like-minded leaders hundreds of miles away. Because local leaders would see that resistance to national policies would be as pointless as a bunch of army soldiers trying to overthrow their captain, when then they would only have to face their colonel or general, the Constitution would render local leaders unable to make major policy changes, and when people accept that a situation is inevitable, there is less resistance to it.
From the inception of our nation, the federal government showed that it would have little patience with tax protesters. During George Washington’s first term, the government imposed an excise tax on whiskey that was particularly onerous for poor farmers. To reduce transportation costs, farmers converted grain into whisky, which became a medium of exchange, so this tax was seen as a tax on the money itself. Additionally, citizens cited for noncompliance were sometimes forced to travel 350 miles to court – a task that would ruin them financially and cost them the full price of their farm. In 1794, they revolted. The federal government used the authority of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) to call “the militia to execute the laws of the union” and to “suppress insurrections”. Washington began leading a force of 13,000 militiamen – a larger force than he commanded during the Revolution. It was the only time in US history that a president commanded an army in the field. This unnecessarily large force had its intended effect and the revolt collapsed. A disappointed militiaman explained: “We all lament that so few insurgents have fallen – such troubles can only be cured by heavy bleeding. Washington had shown the world that republican revolutions (meaning anti-monarchical revolutions) would not necessarily spin out of control as the French republican revolution of the time had. Our nation’s first tax revolt had been crushed.
On July 14, 1798, a sedition law was passed criminalizing any “false, scandalous, and malicious” writing against the government, Congress, or the president; violators could be fined $2,000 and two years in prison. In the very first instance, Luther Baldwin was fined $100 for wishing out loud that the wad of a salute cannon might hit President Adams in his back. Others faced more serious consequences and spent months in jail and were fined hundreds of dollars. The First Amendment was not interpreted liberally at the time: every member of the Supreme Court from 1798 to 1800, sitting as appellate judges, ruled it constitutional.
There is overwhelming evidence that during this nation’s first decade – when the Second Amendment was passed – there was zero tolerance for sedition. Therefore, the idea that the Second Amendment was passed to enable and facilitate mob rebellion against the government is absurd and indicates abysmal historical ignorance on the part of those making this claim.
Rick Jones is a retired adjunct professor of economics from Weber State.