Explore The NRA Universe Of Websites

APPEARS IN Legal & Legislation

Madison And The Bill Of Rights

Friday, July 16, 1999

By by Michael K. McCabe

James Madison`s lonely struggle against his fellow Federalists yielded one of the greatest documents of liberty ever written.


Newly elected Congressman James Madison arrived at New York in March of 1789 with a double burden. In addition to his official responsibilities, he carried a commitment to honor an unusual agreement struck the preceding year with fellow Virginians Patrick Henry and George Mason.

As the largest, most populous state in the new nation, Virginia`s ratification of the new Constitution had been crucial to permitting replacement of the flimsy national government under the Articles of Confederation. To secure Virginia`s support, Madison, although he was a "Federalist," had agreed to its proposal for amendments to the Constitution that were to become known as the Bill of Rights. Madison`s agreement to seek those amendments in the new Congress carried Virginia into the new government.

This support for a Bill of Rights was rather remarkable in light of Madison`s earlier conflicts with its proponents. Madison had previously disparaged such amendments as mere "parchment barriers," hardly worth the paper it took to print them. The Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which had drafted the Constitution, considered and rejected a Bill of Rights. This omission provoked anti-Constitution sentiment; two of Madison`s fellow Virginians, George Mason and Edmund Randolph, refused to sign the Constitution without such a fundamental guarantee of liberty.

Madison`s advocacy of the Constitution also brought him into direct conflict with the immensely popular Patrick Henry. Madison`s narrow victory on the Constitution had done little to diminish Henry`s populist influence within Virginia. Henry remained unconvinced that Madison`s conversion to the cause was genuine.

Patrick Henry`s skepticism was understandable. Unlike Henry, Madison had spent most of the Revolution as a member of Congress under the Articles of Confederation. Educated at New Jersey`s Princeton rather than William & Mary in his native Virginia, he shared the nationalist sentiments of George Washington and other Federalists. He had seen the difficulty the United States had in prosecuting a war under a weak central government.





"Notwithstanding the military establishments in several kingdoms of Europe...the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." --James Madison






When the Virginia legislature selected U.S. senators, Henry was able to deny Madison the seat he had expected. Instead, two opponents of the Constitution, Richard Henry Lee and William Grayson, were chosen. Madison then sought election to the House of Representatives in a district that was designed to be unfavorable to him. In what was virtually a door-to-door campaign, unheard of in 18th century America, Madison managed to narrowly win a House seat against future President James Monroe.

During the first Congress, several states submitted proposals for a Bill of Rights, and Madison introduced his version in May of 1789. The Bill of Rights attracted remarkably little attention in the Congress.

This had not been the case two years earlier, before Madison`s commitment to a Bill of Rights. During the drafting and ratification of the Constitution at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, the Federalists argued against the necessity of a Bill of Rights. They had even suggested that a federal Bill of Rights could be dangerous to liberty, for any rights not specifically protected might be presumed to have been forfeited.

By 1789, however, many of Madison`s fellow Federalists considered the discussion of a Bill of Rights much ado about nothing. Because it had been a major concern of the Anti-Federalists (those who had opposed the Constitution), it was regarded as little more than throwing a bone to a noisy dog. The Federalists figured that if they could keep the Anti-Federalists busy chasing a Bill of Rights, they would be free to get on about the business of organizing a government without interference.

Madison`s difficulty was twofold. First, his fellow Federalists thought the Bill of Rights unnecessary at best and a waste of time at worst. Second, there was no consensus as to exactly which rights should be protected. Further, the Federalists` concern over leaving rights out of the bill presented a legitimate issue.

While there was general agreement over the inclusion of certain rights, there was not necessarily any agreement as to specific language. What would finally become the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, provides a good example of how the amendment process worked. In Madison`s original resolution, the right was guaranteed in the following language:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.

Having used the Virginia Declaration as a model for his resolution, Madison`s language varied in two ways. First, he had inserted specific language dealing with the right to bear arms. No such language had been contained in the Virginia Declaration, which spoke in terms of maintaining a militia as the best security for a free people. The proposal that Virginia submitted to Congress did, however, contain the "right to keep and bear arms" language. George Mason, author of the original Virginia Declaration, would have concurred, for he had already stated that the militia consisted of "the whole people."

Second, Madison inserted language which recognized the right to be a conscientious objector. While this provision had been suggested by Virginia and others, it was obvious that he felt strongly that it should be included. This was also in accord with the increasing recognition of religious freedom.

The House Committee made few substantive changes to any of Madison`s proposals, though there was considerable change to phrasing. The committee reversed the "militia" and "right to bear arms" clauses in the Second Amendment:

A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms.

A proposed requirement that the militia be "trained to arms" failed for want of a second.

A major issue with this amendment dealt with conscientious objectors. The full House was concerned that the House Committee version could alleviate a conscientious objector of the responsibility of providing a substitute for military service. Accordingly, the full House changed the language regarding religious objection from not being "compelled to bear arms" to not being "compelled to render military service in person." There was also concern expressed that the national government "can declare who are those religiously scrupulous, and prevent them from bearing arms."

The House version of the Bill of Rights and the Second Amendment underwent considerable change in the Senate. The conscientious objector provision was omitted. The Senate also defeated an effort to insert "for the common defence" next to the words "bear arms." The Senate, for reasons not fully revealed by history, streamlined and reordered much of the language in the Bill of Rights. The Senate version of the Second Amendment is as it was finally adopted by the States:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Twelve amendments were put forth to the states for
TRENDING NOW
Gun Control Lobby Seeks to Thwart SHARE Act with Hysteria, Fear Mongering

News  

Hunting  

Friday, September 22, 2017

Gun Control Lobby Seeks to Thwart SHARE Act with Hysteria, Fear Mongering

The panic is now starting to set in amongst the gun control lobby, which is desperately searching for ways to smear a bill that has been around for years in various forms without attracting much ...

Washington Post Employs Deceptive Tactic on “Children” and Guns

News  

Friday, September 22, 2017

Washington Post Employs Deceptive Tactic on “Children” and Guns

The Washington Post has surpassed the Brady Campaign and Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety to take a place alongside the New York Times as the premier anti-gun propagandists in the country.

Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll Throws Wrench in Anti-gun Agenda

News  

Friday, September 8, 2017

Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll Throws Wrench in Anti-gun Agenda

Demonstrating the importance of the gun issue to the American electorate, 35 percent of respondents reported that “gun rights or gun control” had an impact on their voting behavior. The issue was the highest-rated answer, ...

Reuniting The United States With Reciprocity

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Reuniting The United States With Reciprocity

Most concealed-carry permit holders understand the potential pitfalls of traveling with a firearm, given the outrageous patchwork of state laws involved in even a short interstate trip. And while we haven’t posted much about reciprocity ...

Long Term Trends in Gun Sales Remain Strong

News  

Friday, September 22, 2017

Long Term Trends in Gun Sales Remain Strong

Discussion of the state of the firearms industry began again with the release of the August NICS numbers. Allegations of a fading industry recur every month. Obama was the greatest gun salesman ever, Hillary Clinton ...

Rhode Island:  House Gives Final Approval to Gun Control Bill

Friday, September 22, 2017

Rhode Island: House Gives Final Approval to Gun Control Bill

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello summoned lawmakers back to Providence in a rare September session, and the House passed an anti-gun bill Tuesday afternoon.  The session had abruptly ended in June with the budget and a ...

UK: Growing Support for Arming More Police

News  

Friday, September 22, 2017

UK: Growing Support for Arming More Police

The UK’s fear of firearms, and potential weapons of all kinds, is well-documented. Subjects are urged not to carry any item, such as pepper spray, that might be adapted for self-defense. Officers take to social media to boast of ...

Anti-Gun Politicians: Blocking Out The Facts About Suppressors

Hunting  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Anti-Gun Politicians: Blocking Out The Facts About Suppressors

As soon as the Hearing Protection Act was put forward on Jan. 9, 2017, leftists came out of the woodwork to criticize and misconstrue the goals of those who supported removing suppressors from the auspices ...

National Reciprocity Bill Nears Goal Line in the House but Needs Your Support to Reach the End Zone

News  

Friday, September 15, 2017

National Reciprocity Bill Nears Goal Line in the House but Needs Your Support to Reach the End Zone

Gun owners received good news this week with the passage of the SHARE Act by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources (see related story). Meanwhile, progress continued to be made on another NRA legislative ...

House Committee Passes SHARE Act by Wide Margin

Hunting  

News  

Friday, September 15, 2017

House Committee Passes SHARE Act by Wide Margin

As we have reported, this year’s version of the SHARE Act is the most expansive and far-reaching yet. Besides previously-introduced provisions aimed at enhancing opportunities for hunting, fishing, and shooting and broadening access to federal lands ...

MORE TRENDING +
LESS TRENDING -
NRA ILA

Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.