George Washington’s Militia: Context of the Second 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.” -- 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Aside from the liberal and progressive’s left total derision of the American system of customs, traditions, values and laws in general and the Constitution in particular, they seem particularly fixed on trying to disarm law-abiding citizens.

One of their perennial (but patently false) contentions is that the 2nd Amendment was only meant by our Founders to apply to the Army (or “militia”.) Their very argument betrays their deep ignorance of the American Revolution and history of the language, or worse.

Perhaps the foremost Founder of all was George Washington. During the Revolutionary War, he and his army suffered humiliating defeat after defeat in the early stages, with the British Redcoats and Navy pretty much doing whatever they wanted. Washington won a few skirmishes here and there, but overall was in terrible shape entering the winter of late 1776. Perhaps one of his largest problems was the terrible state of training or competence of the “citizen soldiers” who spontaneously joined his rag-tag army, (along with lack of sufficient numbers of men, lack of gunpowder, lack of supplies, etc.)

Writing of this lack of training and discipline of these new volunteers, he wrote:

To place any dependence on Militia, is, assuredly resting upon a broken staff. Men just dragged from the tender scenes of domestick life; unaccustomed to the din of Arms; totally unacquainted with every kind of military skill, which being followed by a want of confidence in themselves, when opposed to Troops regularly train'd, disciplined, and appointed, superior in knowledge and superior in Arms, makes them timid, and ready to fly from their own shadows. (— 6 The Writings of George Washington 110, 112, J. Fitzpatrick, ed., 1931-44)

Please let that sink in. It puts the entire 2nd Amendment into crystal-clear focus. “A well-regulated militia”, in the vernacular of the late 18th century, meant a well-trained citizenry in today’s language. The new United States did not wish to repeat Washington’s near-disastrous experience with un-trained volunteers who did not know how to shoot straight. Well-regulated meant well-trained, not restricted out of owning and understanding how to handle a gun.

The militia was NOT the already trained and paid army. The militia was and is “We the People”.


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