A Well-Regulated Definition

A Well-Regulated Definition

Catching up on my reading the other day, I came across the following quotation:

The distinction between a well-regulated army and a mob is the good order and discipline of the first, and the licentious and disorderly behavior of the latter.

The author of those words: General George Washington, upon arriving in Brooklyn on August 25, 1776, and observing this “licentious and disorderly behavior” in camp, as described by Philip Fithian:

Carts and horses driving every way among the army. Men marching out and coming in . . . . Small arms and field pieces continually firing. All in tumult.

Can there be any doubt that the “well-regulated militia” of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not simply mean a loose class of undisciplined citizens united only by the fact of firearms ownership?

Oh, that book I was reading was not a rare antique, but David McCullough’s 1776, a New York Times No. 1 best seller, with more than three million copies in print. Pick up a copy and read page 161 soon.


“Five types of gun laws the Founding Fathers loved,” Saul Cornell, The Conversation


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6 Responses to “A Well-Regulated Definition”

  1. Supreme Showdown. Get the Kids Inside. « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] don’t suppose Mr. Scalia cares what George Washington wrote about well-regulated militias, but the case isn’t about that. It is about the firearms […]

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    mike w.: Thank you, but it was uncessary for you to go to all that trouble proving that “a little learning is a dangerous thing.” We all know that already.

    You seem to know even less about language than about history, but Mr. Scalia has no such excuse. He has wilfully misinterpreted the initial phrase whiich determines the meaning of the 27 words in question. He knows better.

    When interpreting words written in the 18h century, you must refer to the usage of the 18th century in order to determine meaning. Mr. Scalia knows this, and even has a name for it — “Originalism” — yet he violates the principle in Heller:

    “The methodological heart of Heller … is Justice Scalia’s much vaunted theory of originalism: the idea that the Court reads the Constitution to mean precisely what its original audience, the ratifying citizens, would have understood it to mean. This has been a cornerstone of Justice Scalia’s tenure on the Court, and since the Meese era at the Justice Department, the rallying cry for conservatives seeking to rein in what they call judicial activism.

    Yet Heller shows just how flawed (and activist) “originalism” in fact is. Having announced his originalist credentials, Justice Scalia then passes quickly over the ratification period in order to spend about a quarter of his opinion (15 of 67 pages) discussing the post-1800 understandings of the Second Amendment. As an “originalist” matter, this is at best putting the constitutional cart before the ratifying horse since it’s hardly clear what people in the 1890s thought tells us anything about understandings at the time of the Founding. But then, as historian Jack Rakove has pointed out, the ratification history that an originalist would look to is not as favorable as the post-1800 texts Justice Scalia relies upon.”

    “Scalia’s Deuling Opinions,” Aziz Huq, Director of the Liberty & National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU. American Prospect, June 30, 2008.

  3. Mike Licht Says:

    [mike w. appended 697 more words he doesn’t understand here. I’m sure you can read them on his blog. This is not his blog.]

  4. The Armed American « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] or Due Process Clauses.” In other words, if the plaintiff prevails, forget your “well regulated Militia” and your state and local gun […]

  5. sopwith Says:

    The true meaning of the second ammendment is missed by just about everyone. If written today with our current definitions and without the flowery prose, it would read:

    In order to prevent a rouge military from attempting a coup against the civilian government, the people must be armed as the last defence of the republic.

    The founders knew history. They saw what happended in the Roman empire when wealthy citizens formed their own armies and fought over control of Rome. They did not want that for us…

  6. Mike Licht Says:

    sopwith wrote: The true meaning of the second ammendment [sic] is missed by just about everyone.

    We are grateful for your enlightened wisdom.

    If written today … it would read:

    In order to prevent a rouge [sic] military from attempting a coup against the civilian government, the people must be armed as the last defence of the republic.

    The founders knew history.

    Alas, you do not. Why was the Constitution written? Because the Confederation of states was inadequate and unworkable. What reassurance were state governments given that the new central government would not become despotic? States retained their own militias. Armed. Where does it say that? Article II of the U.S. Constitution. End of story. Period.

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