Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Abusing Federalist Paper No. 46: "the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation"

One thing that proponents of the "individual right" like to do is take quotations out of context, misquote, and generally play fast and loose with actual history: in this case Federalist Paper No. 46.

Madison's purpose in Federalist Paper No. 46 was to respond to Antifederalist fears of a strong central government and their strident opposition to ratification of the Constitution. He was not making cogent arguments in political theory. There is no implication in the passage below that Madison meant a individual right to be armed outside of accountability to public authority. Madison was describing a balance of power between state government and federal government, not Sue Wimmershoff-Caplan's "armed citizen guerrillas" and any and all government. The militiamen, commanded by officers, were beholden to state government. The favorite words that are lifted out of context are in bold:
The only refuge left to those who prophesy the downfall of the State governments is the visionary supposition that the federal government may previously accumulate a military force for the projects of ambition. The reasonings contained in these papers must have been employed to little purpose indeed, if it could be necessary now to disprove the reality of this danger. That the people and the States should, for a sufficient period of time, elect an uninterrupted succession of men ready to betray both; that the traitors would, throughout this period, uniformly and systematically pursue some fixed plan for the extension of the military establishment; that the governments and the people of the States would silently and patiently behold the gathering storm and continue to supply materials until it should be prepared to burst on their own heads must appear to everyone more like the incoherent dreams of a delirious jealousy, or the misjudged exaggerations of a counterfeit zeal, than like the sober apprehensions of genuine patriotism. Extravagant as the supposition is, let it, however, be made. Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government: still it would not be going too far to say the State governments with the people on their side would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for the common liberties and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the late successful resistance of this country against the British arms will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. 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 of 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 of Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it. Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors. Let us rather no longer insult them with the supposition that they can ever reduce themselves to the necessity of making the experiment by a blind and tame submission to the long train of insidious measures which must precede and produce it.

Of course, people who are ignorant are happy to just repeat the misquotations--only to make fools of themselves.


  1. It is interesting that Madison's concern, throughout No. 46, was that the Federal government might someday become more powerful than the states and that some succession of men--the presidents, presumably--would accumulate a military power for the projects of ambition.

    Does this sound familiar to anyone? It always amazes me how prescient the Founders were.

    But let's say that original application of the Second Amendment no longer has any meaning. (Although you're looking outside the text to establish that expired meaning. . .) We have two choices: Find a modern application or let the amendment go.

    I choose to find a modern application.

  2. greg, legally, you don't really have two choices.

    If the reason for a law ceases--so does the law.

    If you wish to have a modern application--then you go through the amendment process.

    But you have made it clear that niceities such as the rule of law don't matter much to you.

    1. if you wish to reinterpret the 2nd Amendment then you must go through the amendment process but you have made it clear that niceties such as the rule of law don't matter to you.

  3. And where does privacy or abortion occur in the text? Those ideas are interpretations of what the principles behind other amendments. The same can be done with the Second Amendment.

  4. Greg, you can come at the abortion and privacy issues under the Ninth Amendment since those are rights "which have not been enumerated".

    On the other hand, the right to arms is a well-defined and enumerated right.

    It's just that you choose to put your own interpretation on that right.

    1. Just as YOU are choosing to put YOUR own interpretation on the 2nd Amendment.

  5. But it's your claim that the Second Amendment doesn't address the rights of individuals. You say that the Second applied only to state militias. If that's true, then we can claim an individual right to firearms under the Ninth.

  6. Greg, do you understand the meaning of the word "enumerated"? What does that mean to you?

    Why would you claim a right to deadly weapons? For what purpose?

    There is a benefit of national defence in keeping and bearing arms for a militia, but no benefit to society if criminals, the mentally ill, idiots, and other undersirables have access to firearms. In fact, we see that is a detriment to society, not a benefit.

    I have demonstrated that the doctrine of self-defence refers to the minimum amount of force necessary to counter the threat.

    Additionally, that force must be reasonable, but it is not for the defendant to say what was reasonable force, but for the trier of fact. This is because the defendant would always say the force was reasonable.

    Additionally, one would have to posit that the unfettered access to firearms by idiots such as yourself was a benefit to society. That, of course, is like determining reasonableness, and not somethign you should do for yourself.

    As I said, Greg, you are coming off as being rather clueless in this discussion.

    1. Actuallly you are the clueless one here Laci,
      Greg has made some very cogent points and you are responding like a child with name calling and vague claims that disagreeing with your poorly supported points equal "clueless".

  7. Laci the Dog,

    What purpose? Self defense. Yes, you have made claims about that, but there are times when lethal force is the minimum necessary for the innocent person to survive.

    On the subject of reasonableness, the people who know me think of me as a reasonable person. I'll take their judgement over yours any day.


    It is quite obvious that you are totally clueless as to what I am saying.

    Additionally, once again you come up with the assertion that: there are times when lethal force is the minimum necessary for the innocent person to survive.

    You really are clueless as to the concept of reasonableness.

    Yes, but those times are few and far between. In the eyes of the law, carrying around a weapon demonstrates that you have the intent of acting rashly.

    Despite what you think--intent is an important factor in the law.

    But, greg, you love to show me how ignorant you are.

    As for reasonable--given how you act here--I would also say that you are fairly unreasonable as well.

    1. I would say that Greg has been quite reasonable here. I know in your childish view of the world, someone disagreeing with you equals being unreasonable but I would assert that your snide name calling combined with your rather shallow faux intellectualism shows us all who the unreasonable person is. Greg offered numerous points and your counter to them all are weak. You attempt to use a certain "logic" to defend your position but deny that the logic applies uniformly when Greg has folded it back and handed it to you neatly.

  9. Carrying a weapon demonstrates that I intend to act rashly? You really don't understand the laws of many states. Why would the state issue me a license if it had reason to believe that I'll act rashly? That may be the presumption in the case of someone without a license, but the concealed carry law of Arkansas specifically states that a license shall be issued to a qualified person who desires a legal means to carry a concealed handgun to defend himself or herself. You can review the details here:

    That doesn't sound like rashness to me.

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  11. The only abuse of Federalist 46 is by the author of this article on it. Federalist 46 clearly points to the need for a means to defend against tyranny as much as against a foreign government if not moreso.

    There is every indication that Madison intended that Madison meant there was a need for an individual to have the right to be armed outside of accountability to public authority. You clearly do not understand the meaning of tyranny, especially as it was defined in the day of these papers. Tyranny was defined as rule without legitimacy. We have expanded the meaning today a bit but the intention was that individuals retain the right to keep and bear arms.

    Furthermore, a read of English law from where we drew many of our lessons further supports the concern against despotic rulers. What good is it to have an armed militia if it serves only the tyrant or can be brought under his control?

    Your logic is ahistoric and YOU are the one guilty of playing fast and loose, attempting to allow your ideology to interpret history instead of the other way around.

    1. Albert, thanks for you comments. Why don't you have a look at some of the more recent discussions. This one's over a year old.