The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Slaveholder Origins of the Second Amendment

Jun 6, 2022

The second amendment to the U.S. Constitution—what gets called the right to gun ownership—is constantly mentioned by politicians, the media and the firearms industry. Yet what is seldom mentioned is the historical fact that the second amendment became part of the Bill of Rights at the insistence of southern slaveholding states.

The U.S. Constitution was written coming out of the American Revolution at a time when slavery—the unpaid labor of black workers—was already generating massive wealth. Right from the start, the developing U.S. political system rested on compromises made between the representatives of wealthy interests. In the late 1780s, it was slaveholding interests in the South versus wealthy merchants and landholding interests in the North.

The U.S. Constitution that emerged was a document that first and foremost protected the property interests of the wealthiest in the North and the South. Yet ordinary people were expecting improvements in their lives from the American Revolution. One of the first acts of Congress was passing the Bill of Rights, hoping to build popular support for the new U.S. Government.

The history behind the second amendment in the Bill of Rights, which calls for a “well-regulated militia” and “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” has been largely hidden.

In a 2021 book by Carol Anderson, “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America", she researched the Second Amendment. She details how "Virginia’s Patrick Henry and George Mason expressed fears that the federal government would not help them defeat slave uprisings, and demanded that the Second Amendment be included so they could deal with such revolts" at the state level.

In other words, slaveholding “founding fathers” insisted on the Second Amendment to insure themselves a well-regulated militia—to put down rebellions of black people! Anderson says in summary, "The Second Amendment was really a bribe to the South to not undercut the Constitution."

When the Second Amendment was written, there was never any question of arming the black population. Soon after the Second Amendment was passed, most states passed laws barring black people from possessing firearms. Next, states passed laws removing “free” black people from the well-regulated militias in which they served during the American Revolution.

Later, clarifying the racist undercurrent running through the Second Amendment, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1857 Dred Scott decision that black people were not citizens, because if black people were citizens, they’d have a constitutional right to firearms.

The Second Amendment’s talk of a “well-regulated militia” is unspoken code for the all-white slave patrols used to put down rebellion and to terrorize the black population in general.

The racist “compromises” that produced the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, whether acknowledged or not, wreak havoc on working people to this day. That is because these “compromises” baked racism and other oppressions into the U.S. legal system.