The Federalist Papers has posted a PDF copy of an Elementary Catechism on the Constitution from 1828 written by Arthur J. Stansbury. I’m publishing it on Mondays in a series of posts. Because the date of publication was 1828, some content has been changed by later Constitutional amendments. There are no sections in the book, so I’m dividing it into any natural breaks of topics and the posts will vary in length. Any emphases within the text are Stansbury’s.
Remember this was published in 1828, and the context in which it was written was far different from today’s debate on the Second Amendment. In To Keep And Bear Arms, an essay on the Second Amendment that is part of The Heritage Guide to the Constitution,Nelson Lund writes:
Modern debates about the meaning of the Second Amendment have focused on whether it protects a right of individuals to keep and bear arms or, instead, a right of the states to maintain militia organizations like the National Guard. This question, however, was apparently never even discussed for a long time after the Bill of Rights was framed….
Implicit in the debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists were two shared assumptions: first, that the proposed new constitution gave the federal government almost total legal authority over the army and the militia; and second, that the federal government should not have any authority at all to disarm the citizenry….
A NRA site, the James Madison Research Library and Information Center, has primary documents on the Second Amendment. You can also find more information in links in the sidebar under Books & Primary Documents and Resources.
XVI. State Militia
Q. Has the Country no other defence to depend upon but hired soldiers?
A. Yes, the people themselves, who are of a proper age to bear the fatigues and hardships of War, are obliged to bear arms and defend their Country when need requires; they are called the Militia.
Q. When may they be called out, to do this?
A. When they are wanted, to enforce the laws; to overcome any of their fellow citizens, who are so foolish and wicked as to rebel against our free and excellent form of government; or to meet and drive out an enemy who invades; that is, forcibly enters any part of our Country.
Q. But as the great mass of the people are ignorant of the art of War, how is this to be done?
A. Congress has power to provide for their being taught, by collecting and arranging them in companies, and regiments, under their own officers; supplying them with arms, and causing them to be properly exercised in their use.
Q. May Congress command them, or are they to be commanded by their own State Governments?
A. The President may command so many of them as are employed in the service of the United States, the rest are commanded by the States.
Q. Who appoints the Officers of the Militia?
A. The State Governments; they also train, that is, exercise and instruct the men ; but this must be done according to Rules fixed by Congress.
Elementary Catechism on the Constitution posts:
Elementary Catechism on the Constitution (Preface)
I. The Necessity of Government and Its Forms
II. The American Revolution
III. The Occasion and Purpose of the Constitution
IV. State and National Laws
V. The House of Representatives
VI. The Senate
VIII. Impeachment of the President & The Rule of Law
IX. Meetings of Congress
X. Members of Congress
XI. The Making of Federal Laws
XII. Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises
XIII. Finance and Commerce
XIV. Courts & International Offences
XV. Declaration of War
Book image from The Federalist Papers. Other reading formats of the Elementary Catechism on the Constitution can be found here.