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The Origin of the Second Amendment

A Documentary History of the Bill of Rights

Second Edition
Edited by David E. Young


"the authoritative books on the subject [of the Second Amendment’s history] are David E. Young’s The Founders’ View of the Right to Bear Arms: A Definitive History of the Second Amendment and The Origin of the Second Amendment."

--Reality Based Litigation, National Constitution Center Event, June 4 (by Alan Gura), May 19, 2014

This is an indispensable scholarly resource that reprints every single original documentary source about the origin of the Second Amendment from 1787 until the early 1790s. There are about 500 documents altogether; collected, they clearly show the falsity of the notion that the Second Amendment is merely a "collective" right, or a right belonging only to persons in active militia service. The Origin was cited extensively by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in its landmark decision U.S. v. Emerson, which upheld the Second Amendment as an individual right. Although all the documents are available elsewhere, many are hard to find: having them all in a single volume provides a wonderful way for the reader to enter the intellectual and political world of the great men who made the Second Amendment.

--America's First Freedom, Ten on the Second - The Ten Must-Read Books for Gun-Rights Proponents (by David Kopel), March 2007

Readers who want to study the Founding documents and the right to arms should quickly purchase "The Origin of the Second Amendment: A Documentary History of the Bill of Rights." The book has a new edition in hardback this year, but the 1995 paperback edition is nearly as good. Starting with the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787, and continuing through 1792, the book reprints the text of relevant sections (broadly defined) of every legislative proceeding, newspaper article, correspondence, and every other document related to the Second Amendment and the right to arms. Besides 750 pages of these original documents, the book also offers an appendix of the full text of state constitution Bills of Rights from the Founding Era. Another appendix shows which states recognized certain rights or demanded their recognition in the federal constitution; the right to arms was nearly ubiquitous, and much more often recognized or demanded than the rights of assembly or petition. When the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the individual right to arms in the landmark Emerson case, the court cited Young's book scores of times, demonstrating its status as a leading source of original constitutional documents.

--Ideas on Liberty, Book Reviews: A Nation of Cowarads and The Origin of the Second Amendment (by David Kopel), March 2002

This book is a thorough, massive and well-researched compilation of writings related to the adoption of the Bill of Rights, more specifically as it relates to the Second Amendment. Not all of the hundreds of documents deal directly with gun ownership; many have to do with the general nature of freedom and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. The selections from letters, pamphlets, speeches, newspapers and legislative debates date from August 1787 to March 1792, the period when the U.S. Constitution was debated and ultimately ratified. Some of the selections are well known to everyone familiar with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, while others will be new to virtually all scholars of the Second Amendment. The book also includes selections from state bills of rights extant at the time and the various proposals for the bill of rights. Nothing in the book lends support to former Chief Justice Warren Burger's inane claim that the Second Amendment protects either a) the standing army or b) the right to fish. The book is an excellent reference work.

--American Rifleman, Books in Brief, March 1992 at p. 59

Last month I announced that Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America by Gary Kleck was one of two books published in 1991 to be awarded the "Gun World Book Prize" for illuminating the right to bear arms debate.

The second book to be given the honor is a little-known gem titled The Origin of the Second Amendment. The book reprints 480 documents from the period surrounding the introduction and ratification at the Second Amendment. Included are newspaper articles, pamphlets, letters to the editor, debates from the federal Constitutional Convention, debates from the state ratifying conventions and Congressional debates.

Author David Young has brought together, for the first time, all of the original source material regarding what the Second Amendment meant to the nation which enacted it. The book opens in the summer of 1787 with the federal Constitutional Convention debating Congressional powers regarding the militia.

The final major document of the book is a January 29, 1791 article in the Independent Gazetteer, a Philadelphia newspaper, in which the author, who identifies himself only as "A Farmer" warns: "Under every government the dernier [last] resort of the people, is an appeal to the sword; whether to defend themselves against the open attacks of a foreign enemy, or to check the insidious encroachments of domestic foes."

In between the first and last documents are a treasure trove of American history. Leafing through these pages, you encounter the great men who founded our Republic and whose words speak to us today. Wrote Tench Coxe, James Madison's friend, in the Feb. 20, 1778 Freeman's Joumal, "Who are the militia? are they not our selves... Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American." (emphasis in original).

Hear Patrick Henry thundering from the June 5, 1788 Virginia ratifying convention: "Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force you are inevitably ruined."

The men who speak to us through The Origin of the Second Amendment harbor no fear that government would interfere with "sporting" guns or hunting. They express the greatest apprehension of select, uniformed military forces, such as the standing army (and such as the modern National Guard).

As The Origin of the Second Amendment makes unmistakably clear, the great object of the Second Amendment was to preserve liberty by ensuring that the American people would have in their individual hands the weapons with which to resist federal tyranny. The "well-regulated militia" included almost every able-bodied free male.

In addition to the excellent selection of documents, author David Young provides a good introductory essay summarizing the historical context of the debate and ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as an appendix giving the full text of all state Bills of Rights from 1787-89, and a thoroughly detailed index.

--Gun World, Kopel's Komment (by David Kopel), October 1992

Late last year, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, an impressive new book was published by Golden Oak Books. Titled The Origin of the Second Amendment it is a documentary history in commentaries on liberty, free government and an armed populace during the drafting and adoption of the Bill of Rights. David E. Young is the editor of this 876-page book with quality library binding.

Young spent some 20 years researching the original documents and commentaries related to the political philosophies of the Founding Fathers, their intent for a new nation and their views of personal and political liberty. He has collected in The Origin of the Second Amendment all of the relevant documents and excerpts, including newspaper articles of the time, pamphlets and broadsides explaining the core issues, debates and proceedings from the federal convention, state conventions, Congress and state assemblies. Also included are the official records of ratification proceedings and actual laws.

The Origin of the Second Amendment contains over 480 original selections totalling 744 pages of text.

--New Gun Week, Hindsight (by Joseph P. Tartaro, Executive Editor), November 6, 1992 at p. 15.

...the definitive compilation of material related to the origins of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights itself. Young painstakingly researched the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, as well as broadsides and publications of the late 18th century, seeking out all references to the Right to Bear Arms.

--Gun News, (by Mike Cupston), August 1993.

Long-time readers of this column know that book reviews show up several times a year, far more frequently than in the pages of most other gun magazines. How come? In the long run, the fight to save the right to keep and bear arms is an information war. The more pro-rights folks can inform their fellow citizens about the true facts, the less support there will be for gun control. Conversely, the more the anti-gun groups and their ventriloquists' dummies in the national media can spread disinformation, the more the Second Amendment will suffer.

So, because knowledge is power, here's another set of important books related to the Second Amendment. Not only would these books be good choices for personal acquisition, they are all well suited for donation to a school library or a public library.

In most cases, your local bookstore won't have these books on hand, but the store will special order you a copy for no extra charge. Alternatively, you can order the book directly from the publisher....

For those who really want to get to the source of the Second Amendment, the clear choice is The Origin of the Second Amendment: A Documentary History of the Bill of Rights 1787-1792. Back in October 1992, I reviewed the hardback edition of this book, which is a collection of every known writing about the Second Amendment from 1787 (when debate on the Constitution began) to 1792 (when ratification of the Second Amendment was completed)....

With The Origin of the Second Amendment, you can immerse yourself in the world of George Mason, Richard Henry Lee, James Madison, Patrick Henry, and the other founders who worked so hard to guarantee that the great bulwark of liberty, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, would never be infringed. You can read all 800 pages of this collection of speeches, articles and letters, without finding a word of support for Handgun Control, Inc.'s, silly theory that the Second Amendment guarantees only a right of state governments and not a right of "the people."

Besides the full history of the creation of the Second Amendment, The Origin also includes the full text of the state Bills of Rights from the early American republic.

The Origin of the Second Amendment contains over 480 original selections totalling 744 pages of text.

--Gun World, Kopel's Komment (by David Kopel), January 1996 at pp. 24-25.

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This page last updated: March 26, 2021

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