Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas
Their sloppy history might not be a matter of particular concern if the consequences weren't so severe, such as how it has frustrated common-sense gun control by promoting a false interpretation of the Second Amendment -- that the Framers wrote it because they wanted individual Americans to be heavily armed so they could kill representatives of the U.S. government.
It doesn't seem to matter that George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and other key Framers considered the creation of a Republic led by elected leaders to be the best protection against "tyranny" -- and that the Constitution's intricate system of checks and balances would further shield the country from the possibility of tyrannical leadership.
To the Framers, American liberty was not dependent on having a discontented minority of citizens shooting the representatives of a majority of the people, which has become today's twisted view of the American Right. Liberty was dependent on the rule of law and the wisdom of the electorate, though the Framers' idea of liberty was selective, excluding African-American slaves, Native Americans, women and other groups.
These Framers and the first Congresses enacted laws for arming white military-aged men in "well-regulated" militias not so they could fight the government but so they could defend the young nation's security, including putting down armed insurrections. Yet, whenever anyone tries to explain this obvious history, there comes a flood of e-mails and comments citing some inflammatory remarks by Thomas Jefferson or some other cherry-picked quotes.
These constitutional "scholars" don't seem to know that Jefferson did not write the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. He was the U.S. representative in Paris from August 1784 to September 1789. By the time Jefferson returned from Paris, the Constitution had been written and ratified and the Bill of Rights was moving through the first Congress.
While Jefferson was in Paris, the actual Framers of the Constitution, especially Washington and Madison, led the national effort to confront the failure of the Articles of Confederation, which governed the nation from 1777-1787. The Articles had made the 13 original states "sovereign" and "independent" and had marginalized the central government as not even a government but a "league of friendship."
Washington and Madison were what you might call "pragmatic nationalists." They were profoundly afraid that the hard-won independence of the United States and the dreams of having a free country governed by the people, not a king, were threatened by the nation's fragmentation under the Articles of Confederation.
Those fears were both economic and military. Washington and Madison believed that a strong central government was necessary to build the young country that needed roads and canals to connect the states and permit the development of the interior. With Washington's support, Madison had proposed an amendment to the Articles of Confederation that would have put national commerce under the control of federal authorities, but his amendment was blocked in the Virginia legislature. [See Robert Parry's America's Stolen Narrative.]
Washington and Madison also worried about violent disorders, such as the Shays Rebellion that rocked western Massachusetts in 1786 and early 1787. The weak central government was incapable of putting down the revolt or defending the nation's security. Washington fretted that the British might be behind the uprising.
So, with Washington as the presiding officer and Madison serving as the chief architect, a new Constitution was drafted in Philadelphia in 1787 transferring sovereignty from the 13 original states to "We the People of the United States." Among other expanded powers, the central government was given the authority to regulate national commerce and federal authorities took on the responsibility to protect the security of the country and the states. Federal law was made supreme.
The Framers also made clear what they thought should happen to people who took up arms against the Republic. Article IV, Section 4 committed the federal government to protect each state from not only invasion but "domestic violence," and treason is defined in the Constitution as "levying war against" the United States as well as giving "Aid and Comfort" to the enemy (Article III, Section 3).
However, the Constitution wasn't embraced with enthusiasm by some prominent Americans, including important Revolutionary War leaders such as Virginia's former Gov. Patrick Henry. These Anti-Federalists objected to the surrender of so much authority by the states. Others, such as northern Virginia's George Mason, insisted on the inclusion of protections of individual rights.
So, as part of a compromise to win ratification of the Constitution, Madison promised to incorporate a Bill of Rights, which included specific protections for the states and for individual citizens. The Second Amendment was added primarily as a concession to the states, explaining its preamble. The amendment read: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
The reason for the right to "bear arms" was to have citizens who could fill the ranks of "a well-regulated Militia" for the purpose of maintaining "the security" of the states and country. Indeed, the key words for understanding the Framers' intent are "militia" and "security." This was never intended as a "libertarian" right to wield whatever weapon someone might wish to own for the purpose of insurrection. Instead, it was meant to support "a well-regulated Militia" responsible for ensuring the "security of a free State."
Yet, the words of the preamble routinely disappear whenever Tea Partiers or Libertarians spout off about the Second Amendment. For instance, when Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz lectured Sen. Dianne Feinstein about the Second Amendment, he distorted the 26-word amendment by cutting off the first 12 words, all the better to confuse the true-believers in the Right's faux history of the United States. The Texas Republican apparently couldn't bring himself to say the words, "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..."