“But as liberty consists only in being subject to no man’s will, and nothing denotes a slave but a dependence upon the will of another; if there be no other law in a kingdom than the will of a prince, there is no such thing as liberty.” — Algernon Sydney, 1698 (1)
In just the past weeks Americans have been treated to retired Supreme Court Justice Stevens, Hilliary Clinton, and Fox News’ Bob Beckel decrying the continued existence of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. What is it with such supposedly intelligence people? Do they really believe that the 2nd Amendment is unnecessary? Do they think it is only about guns for hunting and personal defense? Can they possibly believe that the Founders would have included this amendment in the Bill of Rights just so Americans could stock up on venison?
Let as assume that Stevens, Clinton, and Beckel are not the arrogant, near-addled liberal ideologues they appear to be in public. And then let us simply and charitably conclude that they — poor things — are typical products of the grotesquely inadequate and utterly failing U.S. educational system, and that they have neither familiarity nor respect for the intentions of the Founders when they wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Let us then move on to explain to them the absolutely clear intent of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
The 2nd Amendment is an offshoot of the English Bill of Rights (1689), which included an article making it the right of each Protestant Englishmen to be armed; the Protestants’ trust of Great Britain’s Papists at the time being correctly minimal. Our Founders, being determined to create a nation truer to British liberty than Britain then was, took the article from the English Bill of Rights and improved it by making its application universal for all citizens regardless of confession.
In the 2nd Amendment, the Founders clearly recognized that citizens needed weapons for the defense of persons and homes, for hunting, for participating in the state militias the Constitution mandated (and which should be reestablished), for repelling marauding Indians and the atrocities they routinely practiced, and, most important, for rebelling against and eliminating any politician or political grouping that, having won power at the polls, proceeded to to build a tyranny. This, it seems, ought not to be too hard a concept to grasp even for the likes of Stevens, Clinton, and Beckel, and yet they show no sign of knowing or caring anything about the Founders’ intent or American history.
Now, the Founders, in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, were seeking to create an effective and durable national government, one that would be able to govern and defend the nation and promote its prosperity without violating fundamental liberties. They also sought to create a three-branch government with each branch armed with enough power to check any tyrannical tendencies emerging in the others. The Founders expected this structure to work as long as it was made up, by and large, of honest men of good will who respected the views of all and sought consensus where it was possible. Nonetheless, they knew that history proved that such a result was far from a sure thing, and they feared that the separation of powers might one day be ignored and one branch might usurp powers from the others and become a tyranny. If a tyranny emerged, the Founders knew that Americans would have at hand two tools for use in righting the situation. One was the motivation Americans would have to rebel against tyranny because of the absolute right to self-defense that is found in Natural Law. The other was the arms-to-kill-tyrants they would always possess because of the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment.
Needless to say, the Founders did not see this right to rebellion as a measure to be used with any kind of frequency. Indeed, they were prudent men who expected and demanded obedience to the law from the citizenry as long as the national government obeyed the law, promoted prosperity, and defended the nation. Rebellion was a legitimate option in the face of growing tyranny, but it was to be used by Americans only as their last resort, and only after the accumulation of a lengthy record of actions that clearly denoted tyrannical intentions.
What would such a record look like? Well let us imagine a package of actions taken over a several-year period that might qualify as proof of intended tyranny. And to ensure that the nervous nellies do not go off half-cocked and claim this article is calling for rebellion now, let us constitute the package with actions so outrageous that no sane, intelligent, or competent person would undertake them unless he/she really did intend to create a tyranny to replace our constitutional system.
Let us imagine, then, that in less than a decade a specific political grouping and its leader:
- Preached the need to help improve the prosperity of the U.S. middle class, but refused to sanction a project that would create more than 40,000 high-paying jobs because a rich man offered that grouping $100 million for partisan political purposes if they stymied the project.
- Refused opportunities to move to energy self-sufficiency, thereby freeing the United States from all dependence on and military commitments to foreign tyrants who hate America and fund those who attack the United States and its allies.
- Lied to Americans about the nature and motivation of the most lethal enemy they currently face, and down played the threat that foe presented to the United States, even as it grew in numbers, motivation, media savvy, weaponry, and geographic reach.
- Drove the national government’s deficit to unprecedented heights to promote its political prospects, and made no effort whatsoever to bring that ruinous expansion to an end.
- Boasted constantly that they would ignore the U.S. Constitution, enforce only laws they approved, bypass the peoples’ representatives, rewrite laws, and rule outside the Constitution by something akin to dictatorial decrees. And then fulfilled the boasts.
- Took the country to war, or injected it into in situations that could lead to war, without the formal congressional declaration of war mandated by the U.S. Constitution.
- Intervened politically, militarily, and economically in places of no genuine interest to the United States, thereby earning sharpened hatred for America and increases in both the U.S. debt and the chance of war.
- Allowed official representatives of the United States to be killed while serving in a foreign country because, for electoral reasons, they did not want Americans to know that a major aspect of their foreign policy had failed.
- Used the government’s tax collection agency to violate the 1st Amendment by harassing and suppressing political opposition groups and then destroyed the evidence of those actions.
- Intended to use health-care legislation to erode religious freedom guarantees under the 1st Amendment.
- Waged an endless war against the peoples’ absolute right to lawfully keep and bear arms because that right provided Americans the means with which to eliminate tyranny.
- Intentionally failed to control U.S. borders and so created an economic and social disaster for the U.S. citizens living in America’s southwest, and allowed the unopposed entry into America of foreign groups who refuse to assimilate, and unknown numbers of impossible-to-identify people who intend to stage domestic attacks.
- Deliberately shredded the 4th Amendment’s requirements by ordering national government agencies formed to destroy America’s foreign enemies to unconstitutionally collect the electronic communications of all U.S. citizens.
- Initiated a brazen and well-publicized plan to have cabinet ministers — led by the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer — develop ways that the political grouping’s leader could evade the U.S. Constitution and rule by diktat.
Clearly, only an imagined political grouping that was bent on installing a tyranny in the United States would have undertaken in so short a time such Constitution-wrecking measures or, as Mr. Jefferson said, such “a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object” — namely, tyranny. Thank goodness, we do not have such a grouping loose in America.
But what if we did? What if — though it is surely hard to imagine — Americans in the future encounter a governing political grouping and its leader behaving as if political power was given to them permanently by the people, and not as a trust to be held as long as they ruled lawfully and followed the will of the people? Would Americans be bound to accept the tyranny and suffer under its despotic mandates? Well, let us consider the words of one of our Founders most revered instructors in political philosophy, the Englishmen John Milton. Writing in 1651, Milton argued
“Certainly, if no people in their right wits ever gave power over themselves either to a king or to any magistrates for any other purpose than the common good of all, there can be no reason why, for exactly the inverse purpose, to prevent the utter ruin of them all, they may not take back again the powers they gave, and this as well from a king as from other magistrates: nay, and it may be with far greater ease be taken from one than from the many. And to commit to any mortal creature a power over themselves on any other terms than upon trust were extreme madness; nor is it credible that any people since the creation of the world, who had freedom of will, were ever so miserably silly as either to part with the power absolutely and entirely, or having once entrusted it to their magistrates, to recall it unto themselves without weightiest reasons. But though dissensions, though civil wars, arise thence, surely no royal right arises thence to withhold by force of arms that power which the people reclaims unto itself for its own.” (2)
So Milton’s answer, and that of our Founders, is that no free people are required to meekly and effeminately acquiesce in the face of a political grouping and its leader that the people perceive as being bent on betraying the public trust and installing a tyranny. Indeed, again as Mr. Jefferson put it, “it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw of such Government. and to provide new Guards for their future Security.” Armed rebellion to confront and destroy tyranny, then, is a legitimate option if a people perceives that their political leaders intend to establish tyrannical rule.
It is for this reason that the Founders left all Americans an inheritance as precious as the 2nd Amendment. For they believed, as did Seneca, one of the ancient Roman writers they valued most highly, that “There can be slain/No sacrifice to God more acceptable/Than an unjust and wicked king.” (3) Perhaps John Milton said the same but more clearly when explaining that “Justice don[e] upon a tyrant is no more but the necessary self-defense of the whole Commonwealth.”
- Thomas G. West, (Ed.). Algernon Sydney. Discourses on Government. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1996, p. 402.
- John Milton. Areopagitica and other Political Writings of John Milton. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1991, pp. 237-238.
- Ibid., p. 224
- Ibid., p. 94