There is much talk lately about the 2nd Amendment. The President even attacked it this week.
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations…evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” That was exactly the intent of the Founders. And they were badasses.
In 1768, “the freeholders” led by John Hancock and James Otis, met in Boston at Faneuil Hall and passed several resolutions. Including “that the Subjects being Protestants, may have Arms for their Defense.” The royal governor rejected this proposal. So this petition was circulated under the pseudonym “A.B.C.” (Who was more than likely Sam Adams):
WHEREAS, by an Act of Parliament, of the first of King William and Queen Mary, it is declared, that the Subjects being Protestants, may have Arms for their Defence; it is the Opinion of this town, that the said Declaration is founded in Nature, Reason and sound Policy, and is well adapted for the necessary Defence of the Community.
And Forasmuch, as by a good and wholesome Law of this Province, every listed Soldier and other Householder (except Troopers, who by Law are otherwise to be provided) shall always be provided with a well fix’d Firelock, Musket, Accountrements and Ammunition, as in said Law particularly mentioned, tot he Satisfaction of the Commission officers of the company; . . . VOTED, that those of the Inhabitants, who may at present be unprovided, be and hereby are requested duly to observe the said Law at this Time.
It is reported that the Governor has said, that he has Three Things in Command from the Ministry, more grievous to the People, than any Thing hitherto made knonw. It is conjectured 1st, that the Inhabitants of this Province are to be disarmed. 2d. The Province to be governed Martial Law. And 3d, that a Number of Gentlemen who have exerted themselves in the cause of their country, are to be seized and sent to Great-Britain.
Unhappy America! When thy Enemies are rewarded with Honors and Riches; but thy Friends punished and ruined only for asserting thy Rights, and pleading for thy Freedom.
Shortly after Sam Adams’ petition was circulated, per the Boston Evening Post, (Oct. 3, 1768) British troops took over Faneuil Hall. And per The New York Journal, (Feb. 2, 1769) they ordered colonists turn in their guns.
Sam Adams would write about this time later that month saying, “it is said orders will soon be given to prevent the exportation of either navel or military stores, gun-powder, to any part of North-America.”
In another article he signed “E.A.”, Samual Adams went on to recall, “The right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence.” Under the auxiliary subordinate rights of the English Bill of Rights.
Then, on March 5, 1770, a riot that is known as Boston Massacre happened on King Street in Boston. It began as a street brawl between American colonists and a lone British soldier, but quickly escalated to a chaotic, bloody slaughter. The conflict energized anti-British sentiment and paved the way for the American Revolution.
It would be 4 years before the first physical attempt to disarm the Colonists would be tried and would fail, per the Massachusetts Spy, Sept. 8, 1774.
In an affidavit, a man named Thomas Ditson testified that an Undercover British soldier pressured to him to buy a gun he had. Tensions between British soldiers and American townspeople ran increasingly high – especially over rebel arms. Early on March 8, Thomas Ditson, Jr., a Billerica farmer in his early 30s, was walking along Fore Street in Boston. While he was in Boston to sell his wares, he also asked around town about a new gun. One man, a British solider, stepped forward, claiming he had a very fine gun to sell. The solider identified himself as McClenchy and led Ditson to a house nearby, where he met another British soldier, the sergeant, who also had a gun, a “rusty piece,” to sell. Ditson began to negotiate his price, happy that he had come across two soldiers of the type who financed their recreational excursions about Boston with the selling of the King’s property. The reservations persisted in his mind, though, and he asked McClenchy and the sergeant, several times if they had the right to sell the arms. Each time, the soldiers, increasingly annoyed, answered that they did. McClenchy even reassured Ditson that he himself had stood sentry and often let American townspeople pass with such arms. When Ditson caved, a group of British soldiers appeared and he was tarred and feathered.
This was followed shortly thereafter by the widely published American account of April 19, 1775, when a British officer shouted: “Disperse you Rebels—Damn you, throw down your Arms and disperse.”
Then per the Connecticut Current newspaper, a General Gage decided to change the British narrative. He noted that the British just wanted to hold the guns for a little bit “for safe keeping” and then they promised to return them, “And that, the arms aforesaid at a suitable time would be return’d to the owners.”
Bostonians proceeded to turn in 1778 muskets, 634 pistols, 973 bayonets and 38 blunderbusses.
In June of 1775 General Gage declared martial law and offered to pardon all who would lay down their arms— except Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Per the (Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, June 21, 1775).
The Gazettes in Virginia and Maryland both reported more attempts to confiscate weapons through the summer of 1775.
The Continental Congress adopted “The Declaration of Causes of Taking Up Arms”, July 6, 1775. This was drafted by Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson. It notes that the colonists have taken up arms “in defense of the Freedom that is our Birthright and which we ever enjoyed until the late Violation of it”, and will “lay them down when hostilities shall cease on the part of the Aggressors”.
The opening paragraph likens the colonies as being enslaved to the Legislature of Great Britain by violence, against its own constitution, and gives that as the reason for the colonies taking up arms:
The Legislature of Great Britain, however, stimulated by an inordinate passion for power, not only unjustifiable, but which they know to be peculiarly reprobated by the very Constitution of that Kingdom, and desperate of success in any mode of contest where regard should be had to the truth, law, or right, have at length, deserting those, attempted to effect their cruel and impolitic purpose of enslaving these Colonies by violence, and have thereby rendered it necessary for us to close with their last appeal from reason to arms.
In 1777, British General William Knox, under British Secretary of State, circulated a proposal entitled “What is it to be Done with America?” Along with the unlimited power to tax and an official Church, he proposed gun confiscation. He said:
The Militia Laws should be repealed and none suffered to be re-enacted, & the Arms of all the People should be taken away, & every piece of Ordnance removed into the King’s Stores, nor should any foundry or manufactory of Arms, Gunpowder, or Warlike Stores, be evre suffered in America, nor should any Gunpowder, Lead, Arms or Ordnance be imported into it without License; they will have but little need of such things for the future, as the King’s Troops, Ships Forts will be sufficient to protect them from any danger.
Adams made clear that private citizens could use arms to protect themselves from military oppression. He went on to point out that the same persons who opposed the right to have arms also opposed the right to petition:
But there are some persons, who would, if possibly they could, persuade the people never to make use of their constitutional rights or terrify them from doing it. No wonder that a resolution of this town to keep arms for its own defence, should be represented as having at bottom a secret intention to oppose the landing of the King’s troops: when those very persons, who gave it this colouring, had before represented the peoples petitioning their Sovereignm, as proceeding from a factious and rebellious spirit. . . .
As the Biden government moves forward with its gun control proposals, it may helpful to reflect on what Americans have always held to be true.