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Ron Saeger, Fargo, Published February 05 2013

Letter: A brief 2nd Amendment lesson for Reps. Grande and Streyle

North Dakota Reps. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, and Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, made an inaccurate statement when they claimed that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was written to protect “each individual’s natural right of self-protection.” (Forum, Jan. 30.) It was actually written to assure Southern states that Congress would not undermine the slave system by using its new constitutional authority to disarm the state militias and destroy the principal instrument of slave control (Article I, Section 8). The Second Amendment supplemented the “slavery compromise” made at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, which was directly and obliquely codified in other provisions (e.g., Article IV, Sec 2. [3], mandating return of escaped slaves).

The failed Articles of Confederation had required each state to “always keep up a well-regulated and disciplined militia.” The new Constitution gave all authority and responsibility, including arming, to Congress, except for training and the appointment of officers. The states had no authority to employ the militia without federal approval, “... unless actually invaded or in such imminent Danger as will not admit delay.” (i.e., Indian uprisings). Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia had regulated slave patrols that, by the mid-18th century, became the responsibility of the militia.

States feared that Congress would use its powers to eliminate supplies and equipment as a method of abolishing slavery. Georgia statutes enacted in 1755 and 1757 had carefully divided militia districts into discrete patrol areas and specified when plantation owners or their male white employees, and most other men between ages 18 and 45, would muster. The statutes required patrols to examine every plantation each month and authorized them to search “all Negro Houses for offensive Weapons and Ammunition,” and to apprehend and give 20 lashes to any slave found outside plantation grounds. Law defined which counties had which armed militias and required members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.

Because of concerns by many states, both North and South, a bill of rights had long been considered during the formation of the confederation. Inclusion was debated again five days before the final draft was signed by Constitutional Convention delegates on Sept. 17, 1787.

Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas by the time the Constitution was ratified in 1788. Hundreds of slave uprisings had occurred across the South, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put them down. Hence, of 12 considered, the Second Amendment was among the 10 approved in the final Bill of Rights ratified by the states in December 1791.

Saeger lives in .