James Madison is known as the father of the United States Constitution. He wrote the initial draft of the document that slowly and painfully metamorphosed into what we now see as our framework for government.
Madison was also the framer who penned the original Bill of Rights, but he borrowed heavily from George Mason’s list – The Virginia Declaration of Rights. “Section 13” of said document read:
That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense 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.
Madison also considered the opinions of various states that wrote their own proposals.
New Hampshire sent a proposed amendment that stated:
That no standing Army shall be Kept up in time of Peace unless with the consent of three fourths of the Members of each branch of Congress…Congress shall never disarm any Citizen unless such as are or have been in Actual Rebellion.
New York wrote:
That the People have a right to keep and bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, including the body of the People capable of bearing Arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free State… That standing Armies in time of Peace are dangerous to Liberty, and ought not to be kept up…
Handwritten scans of almost all of our founding documents can be found in seconds now, but this was obviously not the case 240 years ago. As such, framers wrote letters frequently. These letters are also easily accessible today. There was a virtual consensus that demonstrably said that citizens should be armed and that the national government should never maintain a standing army. The state militias, instead, should join forces only when the states were attacked.
Madison proposed thirty-nine amendments to the House of Representatives on 08 June 1789, which the House agreed to discuss as a full body on 21 July. The House condensed and merged the amendments into seventeen and decided to add them to the end of the Constitution.
What is now known as the 2nd Amendment was passed as “ARTICLE the FIFTH.” It stated:
A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the People, being the best security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.
On 09 September 1789, the Senate agreed on a version of the amendment:
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.
A Conference Committee formed to resolve differences between the chambers, and by the end of September, Congress had sent twelve amendments to the states for consideration. The Senate version is the one that survived the joint resolution of Congress. It went into effect on 15 December 1791, when enough states ratified the Bill of Rights to certify its addition to the US Constitution.
It is abundantly clear that the founders of this country wanted an armed populace to protect the land from “threats both foreign and domestic.” There was a great fear that a centralized government would eventually destroy individual freedoms.
This is why Madison said, “A standing military force with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.” It is what happened to the colonies. Their own government tried to confiscate privately held firearms, which is by far the most overlooked cause of the War for Independence.
As you consider the bloody July 4th week this country has just emerged from, remember why individuals are free in this country and, by extension, this world. Understand what the tired, old, white guys with wigs were afraid of. The populace is entitled to change the plan for government, and any citizen is free to argue that these men were wrong. It is unmistakably manifest, however, that what they wanted was a thoroughly armed populace of empowered citizens as an additional check on distant, aloof power – especially the kind of power they knew would slowly metastasize throughout the executive branch.
When told that this country never afforded individuals the right to keep weapons – “No! – just the National Guard!”, read them the following written explanation from House Rep. and President of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Henry St. George Tucker, as published in 1803:
The right of self-defense is the first law of nature; in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Whenever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.