How would the mainstream media have reacted to James Madison?
“[T]he advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation… forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.”
That was Madison writing in the Federalist No. 46 in 1788, noting that one of the advantages of an armed citizenry is that it would curtail the ambitions of those who would impose a tyranny in the U.S. — in this case, via a standing army.
Here, Madison’s point was that the American people didn’t need to fear a standing army — a common criticism leveled by Anti-Federalists against the Constitution during the ratification debate — because the armed citizenry of the U.S. would always greatly outnumber whatever number of professional soldiers the federal government had enlisted. Madison even guessed the factor would be about 16 armed citizens for every 1 professional soldier.
Wrote Madison, doubting a standing army would prove to be much of a threat, “The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence.”
So, if a standing army ever proved to be a real threat to the lives and liberty of the people — which Madison doubted — there would be more than enough armed citizens to take it out in an armed conflict.
That was not sedition. Or a call to violence. It was a political observation, intended to make a political point about the limits of federal power — and how the people themselves, possessed with the natural right to defend themselves with guns, would be the ultimate check on the exercise of government power.
That was before the Second Amendment was even considered by the first Congress. But even then, not only was an armed citizenry taken as a given, it was viewed as an essential check on the tyrannical exercise of federal power, particularly by a standing army.
By the time the Second Amendment came up for debate, the most controversial provision was not the right of the people to keep and bear arms, but actually the consideration of a religious conscience exemption to military service. Ultimately that was decided against, since it was feared that the provision might be read to deny the right to bear arms based on religion. Unquestioned throughout the debate was the provision protecting individual gun rights. The purpose of the local militia as a state-organized armed force separate from the feds was also discussed.
Fast forward 228 years to 2016, where it seems almost everyone — except for apparently Donald Trump — has forgotten that one of the advantages of an armed citizenry is as a check against federal power.
At a rally in Wilmington, N.C. on August 9, Trump stated, “Hillary [Clinton] wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
Another thought crime that has the mainstream media up in arms of its own.
Trump has since clarified his remarks, saying he was suggesting that people should go out and vote and exercise their political power to affect change. And surely, they should vote. That can be reasonably interpreted from his remarks. It was a campaign rally after all.
So too could Madison’s warning from Federalist No. 46 be inferred — just not in the way the mainstream media wants to portray it, as a call to assassination or revolution. That’s ridiculous.
But if an armed citizenry acts as a potential check against federal tyranny, then surely banning guns or severely curtailing Second Amendment rights via judicial decree, as Hillary Clinton has proposed, might actually be a dangerous proposition. Wouldn’t the armed citizenry resist?
Isn’t that a reasonable objection or concern to raise against the Clinton plan? Once again, the armed citizenry is being cast as a check against the exercise of federal power, just as Madison did more than two centuries ago.
Trump also did say it would be a “horrible day” if that happened, something the media leaves out its quotations. Which, by the way, means it would not be good. Nobody relishes the idea of tyrannical rule provoking civil war or worse. Trump, whether the campaign wants to talk about it or not, actually appeared to be warning against federal overreach on guns because it might promote blowback or worse.
Were those who warned of civil war in the 1800s advocating violence — or trying to plot a more prudent course? Actions have consequences, and here, Trump in vintage off-the-cuff manner, inadvertently reminded everyone of the very real dangers of Clinton planning to curtail one of the most important amendments in the Constitution — the one that protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
As Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning noted in a statement, “Noting how dangerous banning guns might be is not the problem. Undermining the Second Amendment and eroding what is a vital check against federal power is what is truly dangerous. If we ignore this fault line in the Bill of Rights, our society could be flirting with catastrophe. Hillary Clinton, Democrats and their war on guns is far more provocative — and dangerous — than anything Trump might say about it, and that’s the truth.”