This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty…The right of self defense is the first law of nature: in most government it has been the study of rules to confirm this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color of pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.
— St. George Tucker from View of the Constitution of the United States
Taylor Millard at HotAir, and Damon Root from Reason Online recently did every American a favor by dredging up the important writings of an early American legal scholar by the name of St. George Tucker.
Tucker was a Law Professor at the College of William and Mary before being named as a justice on the Virginia Supreme Court in the early 1800s (1804 – 1811). After several years of service to Virginia, he was called to the Federal bench by Presidents Madison and then Monroe where he served as a US District Court Judge. So the man knows of what he speaks when it comes to commenting on the 2nd Amendment and the Constitution. The above mentioned bloggers used the furor surrounding the Orlando terrorist attack and the subsequent calls from Democrats for gun control to remind us all about the true meaning of the 2nd Amendment… and it’s not hunting.
Millard points out that Tucker’s words echo loudly today because it’s almost as if he were answering the very objections modern Democrats continue to raise about what the Founders intended when it came to guns. Democrats often argue that they only spoke of muskets, to which Tucker replies “not so fast.” Democrats also complain that England (from where we get much of our legal tradition) has outlawed guns, to which Tucker responds, ‘Tyranny’!
Here’s what Tucker had to say about England’s early attempts at gun control:
In England, the people have been disarmed, generally, under the specious pretext of preserving the game: a never failing lure to bring over the landed aristocracy to support any measure, under that mask, though calculated for very different purposes. True it is, their bill of rights seems at first view to counteract this policy: but the right of bearing arms is confined to protestants, and the words suitable to their condition and degree, have been interpreted to authorize the prohibition of keeping a gun or other engine for the destruction of game, to any farmer, or inferior tradesman, or other person not qualified to kill game. So that not one man in five hundred can keep a gun in his house without being subject to a penalty.
Then over at Reason, Root, further uses Tucker to illustrate that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written with today’s Democrats in mind (and not in a good way).
James Madison, the primary architect of the new Constitution, took seriously such Anti-Federalist objections. “The great mass of the people who opposed [the Constitution],” Madison told Congress in 1789, “dislike it because it did not contain effectual provision against encroachments on particular rights.” To remove such objections, Madison said, supporters of the Constitution should compromise and agree to include “such amendments in the constitution as will secure those rights, which [the Anti-Federalists] consider as not sufficiently guarded.” Madison then proposed the batch of amendments that would eventually become the Bill of Rights.
What “particular rights” did the Anti-Federalists consider to be “not sufficiently guarded” by the new Constitution? One right that the Anti-Federalists brought up again and again was the individual right to arms.
For example, Anti-Federalists at the New Hampshire ratification convention wanted it made clear that, “Congress shall never disarm any Citizen unless such as are or have been in Actual Rebellion.” Anti-Federalists at the Massachusetts ratification convention wanted the Constitution to “be never construed…to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable, from keeping their own arms.”
Meanwhile, in the Anti-Federalist stronghold of Pennsylvania, critics at that state’s ratification convention wanted the Constitution to declare, “that the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and their own State, or the United States, or for the purpose of killing game; and no law shall be passed for disarming the people or any of them, unless for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals.”
It seems pretty clear, based on the writing and observations of one of America’s foremost early legal scholars, that the 2nd Amendment was intended to be sacrosanct. In fact, Tucker wasn’t just any old legal scholar… his work, View of the Constitution of the United States, was the very first systematic commentary on the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
When liberals try to argue that the Founders never intended for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to protect American ownership of firearms, end their ignorance and point them to St. George Tucker.