Following the armed conflict between American colonists and British forces at Lexington and Concord on April 19, l775, Gen. Thomas Gage, commander of British forces and the royal governor of Massachusetts, demanded that Boston`s citizens deposit their arms at Faneuil Hall under the care of a Selectman before being permitted to leave the city, then under siege by the colonial militia. After obtaining 1778 muskets, 634 pistols and 36 blunderbusses from citizens, the governor had an armed guard mounted over their arms and refused to permit their owners to depart from the city. Illustrated for American Rifleman by Harry Lloyd Jaecks
As we celebrate the Bicentennial of the Bill of Rights, evidence has been discovered that shows the Second Amendment was prompted by British plans to disarm each and every American.
In 1777, William Knox, Under Secretary of State in the British Colonial Office, circulated a proposal entitled "What is Fit to be Done with America?" Knox advocated the creation of a ruling aristocracy loyal to the Crown, establishment of the Church of England throughout the colonies and an unlimited power to tax. To keep them servile, Knox offered the panacea of disarming all of the people and relying solely on a standing army:
- The Militia Laws should be repealed and none suffered to be re-enacted, & the Arms of all the People should be taken away, & every piece of Ordnance removed into the King`s Stores, nor should any Foundry or manufactory of Arms, Gunpowder, or Warlike Stores, be ever suffered in America, nor should any Gunpowder, Lead, Arms or Ordnance be imported into it without License; they will have but little need of such things for the future, as the King`s Troops, Ships & Forts will be sufficient to protect them from any danger.`
It all began in September 1768, when rumors of an impending occupation by British troops, allegedly to suppress riots and collect taxes, inflamed Boston. A group of the freeholders led by James Otis and John Hancock met at Faneuil Hall and passed several resolutions, including the following:
- WHEREAS, by an Act of Parliament, of the first of King William and Queen Mary, it is declared, that the Subjects being Protestants, may have Arms for their Defence; it is the Opinion of this town, that the said Declaration is founded in Nature, Reason and sound Policy, and is well adapted for the necessary Defence of the Community.
- And Forasmuch, as by a good and wholesome Law of this Province, every listed Soldier and other Householder (except Troopers, who by Law are otherwise to be provided) shall always be provided with a well fix`d Firelock, Musket, Accoutrements and Ammunition, as in said Law particularly mentioned, to the Satisfaction of the Commission officers of the Company; . . . VOTED, that those of the Inhabitants, who may at present be unprovided, be and hereby are requested duly to observe the said Law at this Time.2
A convention of Boston and several other towns met to consider the resolutions, and then petitioned the royal governor. When the governor rejected the petition, a patriot "A.B.C." (probably Samuel Adams) wrote:
|"But there are some
persons who would. . . perswade the people never to make use of their constitutional rights. . ."
- It is reported that the Governor has said, that he has Three Things in Command from the Ministry, more grievous to the People, than any Thing hitherto made known. It is conjectured 1st, that the Inhabitants of this Province are to be disarmed. 2d. The Province to be governed by Martial Law. And 3d, that a Number of Gentlemen who have exerted themselves in the Cause of their Country, are to be seized and sent to Great Britain.
- Unhappy America! When thy Enemies are rewarded with Honors and Riches; but thy Friends punished and ruined only for asserting thy Rights, and pleading for thy Freedom.3
Two days later, the British troops landed in Boston and took over key points, including Faneuil Hall.4 However, only one report could be found that the inhabitants were being disarmed:
- Advices, so late as the 10th of October, mention
- That part of the troops had been quartered in the castle and barracks, and the remainder of them in some old empty houses.
- That the inhabitants had been ordered to bring in their arms, which in general they had complied with; and that those in possession of any after the expiration of a notice given them, were to take the consequences.5
It is difficult to imagine much compliance with such an order, especially since such reports were not widespread with extensive protests. However, disarming the colonists was clearly being contemplated. From London, "it is said orders will soon be given to prevent the exportation of either naval or military stores, gun powder, & c. to any part of North-America. "6
In an article he signed "E.A.," Samuel Adams recalled the English Bill of Rights as explained by Sir William Blackstone:
- At the revolution, the British constitution was again restor`d to its original principles, declared inn the bill of rights; which was afterwards pass`d into a law, and stands as a bulwark to the natural rights of subjects. "To vindicate these rights, says Mr. Blackstone, when actually violated or attack`d, the subjects of England are entitled first to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law--next to the right of petitioning the King and parliament for redress of grievances--and lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence." These he calls "auxiliary subordinate rights, which serve principally as barriers to protect and maintain inviolate the three great and primary rights of personal security, personal liberty and private property": And that of having arms for their defense he tells us is "a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression. "--How little do those persons attend to the rights of the constitution, if they know anything about them, who find fault with a late vote of this town, calling upon the inhabitants to provide themselves with arms for their defence at any time; but more especially, when they had reason to fear, there would be a necessity of the means of self preservation against the violence of oppresslon.7
|" . . upon the inhabitants lodging their arms in Faneuil Hall . (they) may depart . . . from the town. . .
Gen. Thomas Gage
Adams made clear that private citizens could use arms to protect themselves from military oppression. He went on to point out that the same persons who opposed the ri