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The Price of Revolutionary Illusions

By       Message Robert Parry       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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Cross-posted from Consortium News

Jack Pinto, 6, one of the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting rampage.

The 20 school kids slaughtered in their classrooms in Connecticut -- and many other children who die of gun violence every day -- are a sacrifice that some Americans feel is "worth it" for their personal dreams of waging some violent revolution sometime in the future, whether from the Right or the Left.

Some of these revolutionary dreamers may have watched movies like "Red Dawn" too many times and are obsessed with absurd plots about North Korea, Cuba or maybe the United Nations invading and conquering the United States. Others look forward to the collapse of the world economy, followed by some armed uprising of the dispossessed.

Thus, whenever anyone suggests that perhaps some common-sense gun control might at least begin ratcheting down the numbers of victims, there is an angry reaction from believers in this romanticized idea of armed revolution. You're accused of wanting to disarm the American people and put them under the boot of totalitarianism. So, to stay armed in anticipation of such eventualities, elements of the Right and the Left are saying, in effect, that the ongoing butchery of American children and thousands of other innocents each year is just part of the price for "liberty" or "justice" or whatever.

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Especially on the Right, there also has been a cottage industry of concocting a false or misleading history about the Second Amendment, with quotes from Framers cherry-picked or simply fabricated to suggest that the men who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights wanted an armed population to do battle with the U.S. government.

The actual history indicates nearly the opposite, that the Framers were deeply concerned about the violent disorder that surfaced in Shays' Rebellion when poor veterans and farmers rose up in western Massachusetts. The revolt was subdued by an ad hoc army assembled by wealthy Bostonians in early 1787, just weeks before the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia.

George Washington, who followed Shays' Rebellion closely, was alarmed by the spreading unrest, thinking it might validate the predictions of the European powers that the new United States would collapse amid internal strife, pitting the rich against the poor and regions against one another.

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Any review of Washington's writings in the years after the Revolution show him fretting about civil and economic chaos and the dangers they posed to the country's hard-won independence. [See's "The Right's Second Amendment Lies" and Robert Parry's America's Stolen Narrative.]

Avoiding Disorder

It is within the context of these concerns that the writing of the U.S. Constitution must be understood. The new governing document marked a thorough rejection of the states'-rights-oriented Articles of Confederation in favor a strong central government that could hold the nation together and address its economic needs.

With Washington presiding at the convention, his fellow Virginian James Madison provided the architecture for the new system, which so radically altered the relationship between the central government and the states that a powerful opposition arose, called the Anti-Federalists, to block ratification of the Constitution.

To save his masterwork, Madison joined a sales campaign known as the Federalist Papers in which he not only extolled the economic advantages of the new system but sought to finesse the ardent opposition by downplaying how much power he had bestowed on the central government.

Though Madison did not believe a Bill of Rights was necessary, he agreed to add one to win over other skeptics. In effect, the first ten amendments represented concessions to both individual citizens and the states.

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Some additions were mostly cosmetic like the Tenth Amendment which simply stated that powers not granted to the central government in the Constitution remained with the people and the states, a rather meaningless point since the Constitution included very expansive powers for federal authorities.

The Second Amendment could be viewed as mostly a concession to the states, ensuring the right of a "free State" to arm its citizens for the purpose of maintaining "security" through "a well-regulated Militia." Until 2008, U.S. Supreme Courts interpreted the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms" as a collective, not an individual, right.

After all, if the Framers had intended the Second Amendment to be what some Americans now wish it to be -- an invitation for citizens to take up arms against the U.S. government -- you would think that the preamble would be written quite differently.

Instead of "A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State," the authors would have written something like, "An armed population necessary to wage war against an oppressive federal government or an unjust social order, the right to the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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