What was a “well regulated militia” in Second amendment’s era?

The U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment mentions a “well regulated militia”. What was a “well regulated militia” during the time of the writing of this amendment?

John Adams was there.* He would know the answer. After all, he proposed the Second Amendment.

President John Adams in his October 11, 1798 letter to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of Massachusetts:

“An address from the officers commanding two thousand eight hundred men, consisting of such substantial citizens as are able and willing at their own expense completely to arm and clothe themselves in handsome uniforms, does honor to that division of the militia which has done so much honor to its country.”

That’s right. Almost 7 years after the Bill of Rights, and 18 years after Massachusetts was a state (by the way, John Adams wrote the Massachusetts Constitution) the militia consisted of citizens willing to completely to arm themselves at their own expense. There is no mention of militia’s being government officers or government guns.

Tench Coxe was a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1788–1789. He was there and knew what the Second Amendment was for.

“As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.”
— Trench Coxe, Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789

“Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American…. [T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.”
— Tench Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.

Don’t be fooled into believing that this has changed. The Constitution does not change. Those who swore to defend it must perpetuate it. “We The People” did not authorize mutiny.

Many people will try to tell you that the word “militia” only refers to government regulated National Guard. The second amendment was written by those who suffered and fought against their government’s national guard. The war was still fresh on their minds. Most of the Colonialists were for the British rule. To suggest that the authors of the second amendment would want government regulated soldiers to be within their ranks is suicide.

The people themselves are the first line of any national defense, while the army and navy are called into service pursuant to Article 2, section 2.


Henry Knox, Secretary of War, report to George Washington, January 18, 1790:
“An energetic national militia is to be regarded as the Capital security of a free republic; and not a standing army, forming a distinct class in the community.”

George Mason:
“The Militia is the whole people, except a few public officers”
— Elliot, Jonathan (1937). The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution. Vol. 3 (3d ed.). page 425.

Patrick Henry:
“The great object is, that every man be armed. […] Every one who is able may have a gun… the militia, sir, is our ultimate safety. We can have no security without it.”
— Patrick Henry, speech of June 14 1788

Richard Henry Lee, a fellow Virginian and member of the first Senate, wrote: “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”

“To disarm the people… was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
— George Mason, speech of June 14, 1788

Militia Act of 1792

Now that you know what a militia is, read the Militia Act of 1792:



  • (signer of the Declaration of Independence, delegate to the Continental Congress, and former Congressman of Massachusetts, and who was one of the two Americans who signed the peace treaty that authorized the United States to exist)
    He knows more about the Constitutions restrictions on government than today’s politicians.

Steven Miller · originally answered February 9, 2019

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