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You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

The Second Amendment is not the federal government's suicide pact with the citizenry

The Baltimore Sun

It is a familiar trope in the fever districts of the right that the Second Amendment was included in the Bill of Rights because the Founders wanted an armed citizenry to have the means to resist the federal government, should it turn tyrannical.

As it happens, we can gauge whether the Founders had such an intention by looking at an event early in the history of the Republic: the Whiskey Rebellion.

In 1791, Congress enacted an excise tax on distilled spirits to pay for the nation’s debts. This outraged farmers in western Pennsylvania, who complained that the tax fell too heavily on them and was as illegitimate as the taxes the British Crown had formerly imposed.

As resistance grew, the collectors had to flee the region, and, as Joseph Ellis recounts in His Excellency, his biography of George Washington, six thousand men took up arms and gathered at Braddock’s Field near Pittsburgh, threatening to march on Philadelphia and seeing themselves, Ellis writes, as “actors in … the resistance movement against arbitrary taxation.”

In response, President Washington assembled a force of 13,000 militiamen and marched with them—the only time in our history that a sitting president has led troops in the field—to suppress the rebellion. The rebellion dissolved before Washington arrived, and that was the end of it.

From this it does not appear that Washington—and Hamilton, who marched with him in Pennsylvania—thought that the Second Amendment was a ticket to resist federal authority.

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