The Second Amendment from the 18th-Century Yeoman’s Perspective

The basic principle remains the same, then and now.

This post updates the one at American Thinker.

The recent kerfuffle about the Second Amendment has another angle aside from that of the law professors today.  This post is written based not on current legal wranglings.  It’s about the Second Amendment from a historical perspective, on a lower class level than that of the upper-level Founders like Madison.

Yeoman farmers actually won the Revolutionary War, following the lead of various officers.  One such farmer was of German descent, though he was born in Berks County, Pennsylvania on May 20, 1755.  No doubt he was bilingual German and English, his father arriving on the ship Patience in August 1750, with many more Germans.  As the war heated up, he enlisted in the militia for Berks County on April 1, 1778.  No record shows that the government, such as it was, gave him a gun.  He served as a wagon master in various regiments and companies that dissolved as often as snow in the sun.  He was even captured by the British for an unknown duration.  Through it all, he somehow managed to find time to marry a local German girl on September 1, 1781.  (Her father, an immigrant, also contributed supplies, and one or two of his sons served too.) Their first child, a girl, was born near the end of the war on March 18, 1783.  His younger brother, incidentally, was a ranger in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, and their father contributed supplies, no doubt watching British soldiers slog on by, in these Pennsylvanians’ home state.

The job description of a wagon master was not appealing to the sunshine patriot:

Transport was the linchpin of supply and throughout the war was a logistical headache for the quartermaster general’s departments of both armies. The road system was sparse, the terrain rugged. In bad weather the roads turned to quagmire. (During February 1778 not one wagon could reach the encampment at Valley Forge.) It took over two days to travel the ninety miles between New York and Philadelphia. There were few bridges, and none across the main rivers. The lumbering wagons that carried goods throughout the interior were in short supply. Finding forage to feed the wagon horses was a constant challenge (Michael Stevenson, Patriot Battles: How the War of Independence Was Fought, Harper Perennial, 2007, pp. 105-06)

After the war, this farmer migrated with his young family to the frontier in Bedford County, Pennsylvania.  On January 26, 1789, six years after the war ended, he was required to join the militia in the county.  He also owned his gun – all his very own.  When he died before February 9, 1814, in neighboring Huntingdon County, the inventory and appraisement of his goods and chattels included a gun, valued at $3.00 (he owned no slaves, incidentally, as 80-plus percent of Americans did not).

The point is that the baby nation could not afford to distribute lots of guns widely to the rank and file.  Yes, there may have small armories here and there, but they were insufficient to the task at hand.  The privates and many more had to provide their own firearms.  After the war was over and they had to join a local militia, they still had to supply their own firearms.

So even if, as some leftists argue, gun ownership was connected to the local militia in the eighteenth century, the gun still belonged to the yeoman and was kept at his house.  He could use it to feed his family by hunting or to protect his family from hostile natives (who were friendly more often than not).

Private gun ownership was the custom, and no one dared take it away from them, either.

Of course the left replies that now that we have a standing army, we don’t need a citizen militia, so the citizens don’t need all those guns. In reply, however, we may not need a militia as it was back in those days, but here’s the Second Amendment in full:

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.

Now it makes sense. It’s not the militia or its captain that determines private gun ownership; instead, it’s the private gun owner that determines the quality of the militia. In early America, it was about grassroots  from the ground up.

The Second Amendment upholds the principle of private gun ownership, regardless of the changing, evolving circumstances then and now.

Related

John Ryland, patriot and yeoman

Paul Ryland (his father)

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