This preoccupation with the Second Amendment began a few months back when I wrote a column entitled "Guns don't kill people. Really?" The amount of interest in that topic directed me to do additional research on the subject and every avenue pointed back to the key question. Why did we need a militia/gun amendment added to the Constitution?
As is true with most momentous decisions in the life of our country, to fully understand why something was done we must study the times in which such decisions were made. The "why" of the Second Amendment in the 1780s is very different from answering that same question in 2017. The United States was a very different country in the years following the Revolution than it is today. When President Washington first took office two key challenges faced him and the leadership in congress.
First, the Revolutionary War had concluded just eight years before. England had been defeated on our shores and withdrew their troops. However, that didn't make us the strongest nation on the globe. England still had the strongest combination of army and navy. They still controlled Canada, just a short trip up the Hudson River from New York City. In short, they were still a threat to us. At the conclusion of the war, General Washington and the leadership in Congress did not have the money to support a standing army. It was the consensus that the U.S. must make do with smaller, live-at-home militia units in the various states rather than a centralized army. Thus, it was their hope that the new country could be protected with a citizen army that was armed and ready to be called up at a moment's notice. To make that work each military age male needed to be armed and ready if needed.
Second, several citizen rebellions had occurred between the end of the war and the time of the passage of the new Constitution. Principal among these were the Shays' Rebellion in Massachusetts and the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania. Without the creation of a local militia neither state had the firepower to protect the government or the people.
In short, our young country did not have the money to support a standing army so adding the Second Amendment was for the expressed purpose of making sure that each state had the legal right to call men to arms. Just as important, it was necessary that those men were able to join the militia fully armed and ready to defend their state and their government.
The contention from some that the framers of the Constitution adopted the Second Amendment because they wanted an armed population that could take down the U.S. government should it become tyrannical just has no credence in history.
In past columns about the Second Amendment, we have established the historical context of the creation of the Second Amendment. The primary purpose was to create a legal foundation for a state militia, the forerunner of our National Guard. President Washington not only wrote letters to support such action but actually created his own militia to put down the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania. Congress supported his action by creating "The Militia Act," that allowed states to call up militia units to protect the government and the people as needed.
Resources used for these columns on the Second Amendment came from "His Excellency: George Washington" by Joseph Ellis (2004), James Madison's arguments for a strong federal government in "The Federalist Papers, (1777-78)" and "The Reader's Companion to American History" by John A. Garraty and Eric Foner, which tells the stories of Shays' Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion. If a reader missed the two earlier columns, contact me at email@example.com for copies.
-- Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins' latest book, "Journey to Gettysburg," on Amazon.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.