When the Founders started up the USA, they didn’t have a lot of chattel slaves. The slaves they had were not trusted with crucial military duties, so far as I can tell. I have found no record of Thomas Jefferson arming his slaves, although I would not be surprised if I were to read that some slaves were so loyal, they could be trusted with arms.
But when Tench Coxe talked about the militia, I think he meant a militia of white men.
Congress has no power to disarm the militia. Their swords and every terrible implement of the soldier are the birthright of Americans.
Tench Coxe – Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
The 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 always remain, in the hands of the people.
Tench Coxe -Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
“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.”
– Tench Coxe, Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789
But perhaps the most explicit exponent of personal weaponry was Patrick Henry:
“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined…. The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able might have a gun.”
– Patrick Henry, Speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 5, 1778
More quotes can be found at:
and I have not yet found any misattributions among them.
But can we truly live in a society where every free man is armed?
There are two interpretations of that phrase.
On the one hand, perhaps an ideal society should allow some men to enslave themselves by giving up access to weapons. This would allow us to tolerate the existence of violent anti-blondist madmen such as Elliot Rodger. No one would get killed by Elliot Rodger if he was unarmed because he was not a free man. (But what young man would be humble enough to enslave himself thus?)
On the other hand, perhaps an ideal society should allow some men to be killed summarily because they have been found unfit to bear arms. In that scenario, Elliot Rodger would have been armed as a boy, but when he first showed signs of churlishness, his life would have been forfeit. This probably would have ended in a shootout, but perhaps only Elliot Rodger’s life would have been lost. But would such a bloody point of pride tend to tear apart society with blood-feuds? Would the boy’s family refuse to listen to reason, and seek out his killers, to exact lethal revenge?
I don’t have a practical political proposal to make here. I am pointing out one of the many difficulties for any society that hopes to be free, egalitarian, and armed.