Informed Citizens and James Madison

Posted: February 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

Madison, Federalist # 46 and gun rights

James_madison “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it.”

James Madison (Publius) in Federalist Paper #46
arguing for the ratification of the present Constitution including the Second amendment.


To “sweeten” the medicine of an insistence on individual gun rights in the US, it is usually claimed now that Americans want guns for; hunting, target shooting, home defense, collecting…

In fact “Publius” argues here that the possession of firearms by the citizens and the potential for resistance to tyranny implicit in that possession is necessary as part of the system of checks and balances that holds tyranny at bay.

As one of the three authors of the Federalist Papers Madison is engaged in trying to persuade the states to ratify the present constitution.  Without such assurances as this one, it is quite possible that the constitution might never have been ratified.  In fact, two states, North Carolina and Rhode Island had voted against ratification by the time that Virginia voted in favor by the slimmest of margins thus establishing a majority.

NB that the private possession of weapons is mentioned by Madison BEFORE he mentions the similar effect of armed militias belonging to the states.  It is stated as an absolute good.  This explains the structure of the clauses in the second amendment.  The militia clause is intended to stand as an example of what in Madison’s view was an absolute right of the citizens.

For those who would reply that an armed citizenry could have no effect against a modern army, it is only necessary to direct their attention to the history of the last years.

To those on the left or right who think an unarmed citizenry is a good idea, consider your true thoughts regarding the scruples of government servants and possible future regimes. Thanks to Sic Semper Tyrannis Blog for this commentary.


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