The Second Amendment Was Not Ratified to Preserve Slavery

originally published at The Beacon

An article at Truth Out by Thom Hartmann argues that the Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery, particularly to empower the state militia that used arms to enforce the institution through slave patrols. I wrote to Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, a historian who has written at some length about the history of American militia and whose working paper Deadweight Loss and the American Civil War: The Political Economy of Slavery, Secession, and Emancipation extensively discusses slave patrols as a key method by which slaveowners socialized the costs of slavery’s enforcement.

Hummel’s response to the Second Amendment slavery theory? Don’t buy it. Hartmann’s argument is overstated “to put it mildly.” In particular, the argument suffers from “presentism, back-dated from the Civil War, where everything that happened prior in U.S. history was driven by slavery.”

Hummel takes issue with some of the basic historical background in the Hartman piece, particularly “with the claim about ‘hundreds of substantial slave uprisings’ prior to the Constitution’s adoption. This would astonish most serious colonial historians.” Hummel explains the confusion:

Hartmann lifts this claim from the Carl T. Bogus article he cites, which in turn relies on Herbert Aptheker’s 1949 book, generally considered exaggerated even at the time it was published, before much additional research on slave revolts had made historians curious about their relative infrequency when compared with other slave societies in the New World. Nor were the few serious slave revolts during the colonial period confined to the South, with two in New York City (1712 and 1741).

Indeed, contrary to the reductionists, maintaining slavery was not the primary motivation lurking behind everyone’s actions at the Constitutional Convention.

The fact of the matter is that the Slave Power had not fully coalesced into a cohesive, dominant special interest by the time of the Constitution’s adoption. Opponents of the Constitution did of course sometimes use proslavery arguments, but this was hardly their primary concern, whether with respect to the Constitution generally or its militia clause specifically. And the change of the proposed Second Amendment’s wording from “free country” to “free State” is making a mountain of molehill. Hartmann doesn’t even get the story right, because as Bogus correctly reports, the change was made by the House committee, not by Madison.

(The House committee reviewing Madison’s proposed Bill of Rights had 11 members, one from each state. Madison was the representative from Virginia. There is no record of the committee’s deliberations. But since Madison had opposed creating the committee in the first place, preferring that the House consider the amendments directly, and since many of the members of the committee were initially opposed to a Bill of Rights, it is highly doubtful that Madison was responsible for the changed wording in ANY of the amendments as they were reported by the committee.)

The “more fundamental issue” here is the debate over the right to bear arms as an individual right, or a collective right. Hummel continues:


Obama and Civil Liberties: The Prospect of Four More Years

originally published at The Beacon

Most voters prioritize the economy and far behind that comes foreign policy, where both major presidential candidates offer more of the same. One can make arguments that on these important issues, one side is worse than the other. But another important set of issues, those of civil liberties, has gotten much less attention than jobs, health care, or war. This is unfortunate because precedents set today on questions of law enforcement, presidential power, detention policy, surveillance, and the relationship between national-security approaches and due process will forever affect the character of American political culture and its governing institutions. In the very long term, civil liberties issues are as important as any, and in the very short term, they often mean life or death, torture or humane treatment, imprisonment or freedom, for flesh-and-blood individuals.

Focusing on civil liberties issues, one could make a strong case that a second Obama term would be even worse than a Romney presidency. This prospect hinges on two basic factors: what Obama has done so far in the areas of civil liberties, and, just as important, what Obama has done to national discourse.

In practice, Obama has for the most part solidified Bush’s extremist detention policies and in some respects gone further. He did officially repudiate torture, but with enough loopholes that the abuses have continued – the beatings and forced feedings at Guantánamo and limited use of renditioning and black sites. The ad hoc Bush policy of indefinite detention became formalized by Obama in May 2009 whe he unveiled his new doctrine of “prolonged detention,” and was codified, even for American citizens, in the NDAA he signed this last New Year’s eve.


The Wretched Nationalization of School Lunch

originally posted at The Beacon

Don’t you love how all political debates seem to center around two false alternatives? The Obama administration’s school lunch guidelines, codified in a 2010 law and spearheaded by the First Lady, have prompted many students, teachers, parents, and conservative opponents of the regime to protest the smaller portions. Kids complain that they are hungry after eating the low-calorie meals. In response, liberals point to high levels of American obesity and say that under the status quo ante children consumed excessive gobs of fat and sugar. And so these are the two options: unhealthy and not very appetizing Republican school lunches, or even less appetizing and marginally more healthful Democratic school lunches. Or to put it in the Manichean terms of the pundit class—mass obesity and diabetes vs. mass starvation.

Lost in the talking points is the most pressing question: why do the USDA and White House have anything to do with what tens of millions of young Americans eat every day in the first place?


One of Reagan’s Greatest Acts on Behalf of American Freedom

It seems that every year, conservatives and Republicans go further in their admiration of President Reagan. Surely he is held up as some kind of paragon of proper governance, and many nostalgically look to his reign as some kind of high point in the executive branch’s devotion to American liberty.

There is one area where I do think Reagan was more clearly on the side of freedom than many of his contemporaries and, in particular, the presidents who have followed him. There is one issue—an important issue—where much of the nation and the Republican Party has strayed from a devotion to liberty where we can trace the decline as happening since the era of Reagan. That issue is immigration, on which Reagan would not only be seen as a liberal today, but more radical than virtually any Democrat running for major office. It was 25 years ago that Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act—also known, including by Reagan himself, as “immigration amnesty.”

Back then “amnesty” was not a dirty word. The Gipper was proud to call for legalizing the illegal aliens who, due to unjust immigration laws, were technically in violation of the law but were no kind of actual criminal other than this. Yet today even taking a moderate position pushes one outside of the Republican mainstream. People who do not advocate “amnesty” are smeared for doing so. This is a tragedy for freedom and also bad politics for the Republican Party, argues Alex Nowrasteh.


Redefining War Downwards

cross-posted from The Beacon

So let me get this straight. Obama is not in his actions in Libya violating the War Powers Resolution, passed in 1973, because Libya doesn’t count as a war? You can’t make this stuff up. It goes without saying that if Bush had done something so brazen, Obama and many of his other left-liberal critics would have likely — and correctly — called him out on it.

Arguably, even Bush did not do anything quite so bold regarding presidential warmaking. Now, under the Constitution, I believe that the Iraq war was also unconstitutional, for Congress never formally declared the war. But the federal legislature did, at least, empower Bush through a resolution to wage war on his own terms. This was a despicable forfeiture of constitutional authority, and many have compellingly argued that Gulf War II was no less unconstitutional, despite Congress’s passage of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. Yet Obama has been even more explicit in his rejection of procedural niceties than Bush, for, after having argued that the administration’s conduct of the Libya war was legal under the sixty-day grace period afforded to the president under the War Powers Resolution, the administration switched gears and argued that operations in Libya were not bound by the 1973 Act at all. The last president to demonstrate such temerity was Clinton, in regard to Kosovo. But this is perhaps even worse, as Clinton didn’t play the American people for quite the fools as Obama is doing.


The Tea Party Is a Brown-Shirt Movement, Mostly

cross-posted from the blog

It was obvious in the beginning of 2009 when all of a sudden many of them sprung up crying out for their liberty, after years of silence under the fascist Bush administration. They focused on culture-war hot buttons and symbolic battles while ignoring the programs that actually threatened fiscal catastrophe: Medicare and Social Security, which the older demographic behind this movement tended always to support since they guaranteed their status as tax feeders. Meanwhile, most of the Tea Party types complained that Obama the alleged Marxist Muslim wasn’t murdering enough people abroad, torturing and detaining enough Muslims and enemies of the state, or deporting enough people for the crime of crossing the border—although in every case, Obama has actually been like Bush but more so.

Now a big Tea Party leader says, on behalf of her movement, that they will support any Republican in 2012—even Mitt Romney, the socialist who doesn’t even have a better position on free market health care than Obama. This is a partisan and hypocritical movement, as many on LRC warned from the beginning (Ryan McMaken and I sounded the alarm more than two years ago; Laurence Vance warned about it consistently, even up to the 2010 election;Lew Rockwell told us to brace ourselves for betrayal). Regime libertarians have been praising this movement for two years, but LRC writers always saw through the subterfuge.


Nullification on the Left Coast, and Everywhere

If anything can get the humane left and thoughtful right on the same page, it’s opposition to the central state in Washington, the wars, the lies, the nationalist police forces, the corporatist welfare schemes, and everything else. In particular, the idea that the federal government is not supreme, that the several states have some say in setting policy, should be a common denominator in any political movement for fiscal sanity, civil liberties, and peace. Tom Woods’s Nullification: How to Resist Tyranny in the 21st Century is the decentralist movement’s manifesto, showing that the anti-federalists of today are anything but Republican shills.

Yet we who oppose Washington are libeled by the Rachel Maddows of the world as “Tenthers”—an implicit admission that to care about the most hardcore parts of the Bill or Rights is too kooky for the mainstream left. But the urge to strip the feds of their exclusive power is not only a conservative inclination. It was California, I’m a little proud to say, that has most embarrassed the national government on the tyrannical war on drugs, forcing the liberal fascists in DC to tone down their totalitarian medical marijuana raids in my state, which did this simply by ignoring federal law.


GOP: A Party Like it’s 1994

The Republican field has just been joined by Newt Gingrich, the ringleader of the 1994 “Republican Revolution.” After forty years in the minority, the GOP won the House and Senate that year in November and took over the reins the following January. Many expected a major shift toward smaller government.

The Contract with America—the Republicans’ literature offering hope and change to the American people—was filled with reforms supposedly aimed at limiting the power of Washington, but much of it had to do with expanding government to crack down on crime or uphold family values. Unsurprisingly, the Republicans had more success passing legislation that made government more powerful than they did at cutting back government’s intrusion into our personal and economic lives.

Six out of eight years that Bill Clinton was president he had a Republican Congress to deal with. Both liberals and conservatives have a mixed recollection of these years. Democrats and Republicans both take credit for the relative fiscal restraint at the time, yet for some reason conservatives have often conjured up images of the Clinton years as though they were a period of particularly corrupt governance, and Democrats complain of the atmosphere of “deregulation” that permeated the era, even though their man in the White House signed off on most of it.


Republican Socialists and Medicare Part D

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anthony Gregory will be a featured speaker at Nullify Now! Los Angeles.  Get tickets here – – or by calling 888-71-TICKETS

There are many ways to determine whether a Republican is worth the least bit of support from advocates of limited government. One is to see what the person’s position was on Medicare D — Bush’s prescription drug program. In particular, anyone who was in a position to vote on it, and voted for it, can simply never, ever be trusted to guard free enterprise or the Constitution against the ravages of Washington’s welfare state.

Yes, I know this means that most of the Republicans in Congress at the time of Medicare D’s enactment would be beyond the pale. In October 2009, Laurence Vance wrote:

“There are 28 Republicans currently in the Senate who were in the Senate back in 2003. Of this number, 24 voted for health care reform in 2003: Lamar Alexander, Bob Bennett, Kit Bond, Sam Brownback, Jim Bunning, Saxby Chambliss, Thad Cochran, Susan Collins, John Cornyn, Mike Crapo, Mike Enzi, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Jim Inhofe, Jon Kyl, Richard Lugar, Mitch McConnell, Lisa Murkowski, Pat Roberts, Jeff Sessions, Richard Shelby, Olympia Snowe, and George Voinovich.

“There are 122 Republicans currently in the House who were in the House back in 2003. Of this number, 108 of them voted for health care reform in 2003: Robert Aderholt, Spencer Bachus, Roscoe Bartlett, Joe Barton, Judy Biggert, Gus Bilirakis, Rob Bishop, Marsha Blackburn, Roy Blunt, John Boehner, Jo Bonner, Mary Bono, John Boozman, Kevin Brady, Henry Brown, Virginia Brown-Waite, Michael Burgess, Steve Buyer, Ken Calvert, Dave Camp, Eric Cantor, Shelley Capito, John Carter, Michael Castle, Howard Coble, Tom Cole, Ander Crenshaw, Nathan Deal, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, David Dreier, John Duncan, Vernon Ehlers, J. Randy Forbes, Trent Franks, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Elton Gallegly, Jim Gerlach, Phil Gingrey, Bob Goodlatte, Kay Granger, Sam Graves, Jeb Hensarling, Wally Herger, Pete Hoekstra, Duncan Hunter, Darrell Issa, Lynn Jenkins, Sam Johnson, Timothy Johnson, Pete King, Steve King, Jack Kingston, Mark Kirk, John Kline, Tom Latham, Steven LaTourette, Jerry Lewis, John Linder, Frank LoBiondo, Frank Lucas, Donald Manzullo, Thaddeus McCotter, John McHugh, Buck McKeon, John Mica, Candice Miller, Gary Miller, Tim Murphy, Sue Myrick, Randy Neugebauer, Devin Nunes, Thomas Petri, Joseph Pitts, Todd Platts, Adam Putnam, George Radanovich, Dennis Rehberg, Harold Rogers, Mike Rogers (AL), Mike Rogers (MI), Dana Rohrabacher, Heana Ros-Lehitnen, Ed Royce, Paul Ryan, Aaron Schock, F. James Sensenbrenner, Pete Sessions, John Shimkus, Bill Shuster, Mike Simpson, Chris Smith, Lamar Smith, Mark Souder, Cliff Stearns, John Sullivan, Lee Terry, Mac Thornberry, Todd Tiahrt, Pat Tiberi, Michael Turner, Fred Upton, Greg Walden, Ed Whitfield, Joe Wilson, Frank Wolf, C.W. Bill Young, and Don Young.”


War’s Unbelievable Price Tag

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anthony Gregory will be a featured speaker at Nullify Now! Los Angeles. Get tickets here – – or by calling 888-71-TICKETS


Operation Odyssey Dawn—the bizarrely named military attack upon Libya—is a relatively small war. It is only because of this that Obama partisans are getting away with not calling it a war at all. It is indeed tiny compared to the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It pales in comparison to the great U.S. wars of the 20th century that each inspired a slew of movies and stand as major watersheds in American history, with lasting impacts on our culture and social consciousness.

Yet this infant war has almost surely cost hundreds of millions of dollars already and will likely cost billions before it’s over.

Let’s put this in perspective. Republicans, holding high the banner of fiscal discipline, recently targeted National Public Radio for spending cuts. Now, I always opposed federal funding for this or any other media outlet. And I suspect NPR will only improve, freed from the stigma of being governmental, a heavy price to pay for the mere 2% or so of its budget that directly came from Washington, DC. (Even the executive who recently resigned, having been caught lambasting the tea party, agreed that NPR would have been better off with no federal funding.)