Monday, December 24, 2012
Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Anarchy
Seen some Patrick Henry quotes floating around during the gun thing, So I thought a few items from the early days of Virginia's ratification convention were worthy of some propagation. First of all, he weren't no democrat:
[S]ir, give me leave to demand, What right had they to say, We, the people? My political curiosity, exclusive of my anxious solicitude for the public welfare, leads me to ask, Who authorized them to speak the language of, We, the people, instead of, We, the states?
He feared enslavement by government, and claimed to hate slavery, but:
Among ten thousand implied powers which they may assume, they may, if we be engaged in war, liberate every one of your slaves if they please...Have they not power to provide for the general defence and welfare? May they not think that these call for the abolition of slavery? May they not pronounce all slaves free, and will they not be warranted by that power? This is no ambiguous implication or logical deduction. The paper speaks to the point: they have the power in clear, unequivocal terms, and will clearly and certainly exercise it. As much as I deplore slavery, I see that prudence forbids its abolition. I deny that the general government ought to set them free, because a decided majority of the states have not the ties of sympathy and fellow-feeling for those whose interest would be affected by their emancipation. The majority of Congress is to the north, and the slaves are to the south.
It's a puzzle that he focused so much on states' and not individual rights. Anyway, he was answered thus by Edmund Pendleton (who was unanimously elected president of the convention):
Personify government: apply to it as a friend to assist you, and it will grant your request. This is the only government founded in real compact. There is no quarrel between government and liberty; the former is the shield and protector of the latter. The war is between government and licentiousness, faction, turbulence, and other violations of the rules of society, to preserve liberty...
But an objection is made to the form: the expression, We, the people, is thought improper. Permit me to ask the gentleman who made this objection, who but the people can delegate powers? Who but the people have a right to form government? The expression is a common one, and a favorite one with me. The representatives of the people, by their authority, is a mode wholly inessential. If the objection be, that the Union ought to be not of the people, but of the state governments, then I think the choice of the former very happy and proper. What have the state governments to do with it? Were they to determine, the people would not, in that case, be the judges upon what terms it was adopted.
But on to a specific objection Henry had to the Constitution's construction. He asserted that giving Congress the power to call up militia was a dreadful encroachment on states' rights. James Madison rebutted:
[T]he honorable member sees great danger in the provision concerning the militia. This I conceive to be an additional security to our liberty, without diminishing the power of the states in any considerable degree. It appears to me so highly expedient that I should imagine it would have found advocates even in the warmest friends of the present system.
The authority of training the militia, and appointing the officers, is reserved to the states. Congress ought to have the power to establish a uniform discipline throughout the states, and to provide for the execution of the laws, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions: these are the only cases wherein they can interfere with the militia; and the obvious necessity of their having power over them in these cases must convince any reflecting mind.
Without uniformity of discipline, military bodies would be incapable of action: without a general controlling power to call forth the strength of the Union to repel invasions, the country might be overrun and conquered by foreign enemies: without such a power to suppress insurrections, our liberties might be destroyed by domestic faction, and domestic tyranny be established.
So I'm trying really hard to see where the militia was supposed to be our way of keeping the new, stronger central government in check. Regardless, Virginia ultimately ratified the Constitution with the promise that the First Congress would address a Bill of Rights, which Madison himself introduced:
I think there is more danger of those powers being abused by the State Governments than by the Government of the United States. The same may be said of other powers which they possess, if not controlled by the general principle, that laws are unconstitutional which infringe the rights of the community...it must be admitted, on all hands, that the State Governments are as liable to attack the invaluable privileges as the General Government is, and therefore ought to be as cautiously guarded against.
Indeed, if you're trying to find jackbooted thugs, look at what state governments did during Jim Crow or today in denying civil rights to LGBT citizens, what local governments do to violate Takings, or what your neighbors might do.
None of the horrible recent events changes my mind about the existence of an individual right to keep and bear arms. Neither do citations of some early politicians who were on the losing end of our Constitutional debate convince me that the 2nd Amendment was intended to allow us to fight a tyrannical government, or to own any weapon we like for "self-defense" in an age of professional police forces and guns that can liquidate entire classrooms full of innocent children. Get some fucking perspective, you fetishists.
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