Slave Patrols and the Militias of the Second Amendment

The Second Amendment was ONLY ratified to preserve slavery.

Was the Second Ratified to Preserve Slavery?

Some claim the Second Amendment, like the Three-Fifths Compromise, was ratified to preserve slavery. This is only partially true. Both Amendments were “about slavery,” but neither was ONLY about slavery. We explain this stance below. [1][2][3][4]

TIP: Slaves’ patrols (armed and sometimes trained militiamen who put down uprisings and captured runaway slaves) were the militia’s of the Second Amendment in the south. In the North they were different. However, in all cases their purpose was to ensure the law and the security of a free state; unfortunately, slavery was legal at the time, so part of the job was rounding up escaped slaves and other such awkward implementations of the then law.

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 Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights (1791) which Amends the Constitution (1787).

TIP: See our page on the true meaning of the Second for the long-form overview of everything you need to know based on historical documents and modern intellectual debate.

Slave Patrols and the 2nd Amendment p1. A view on slave patrols by Thom Hartmann (a progressive left-winger), he is joined by historians (which helps keep this video somewhat centered). See an opposing view here.

TIP: Don’t go thinking all the founders you know supported slavery. Some tolerated it more than others (*cough* Deep South), but some like Hamilton and Morris fought against it tooth and nail (they were “abolitionists“), and none of the big names in American history really supported the nefarious intuition outright (including the leaders of the Anti-Federalist southern faction). Furthermore, slavery was a global phenomenon that was brought to the colonies by the British (Jefferson’s justification). One reason the U.S. has such a large black population descended from slaves is that the South had a tradition of keeping their slaves alive (unlike many other places around the globe). Comparing slave states is a bit like comparing WWI to WWII in the sense that you are comparing the “not good” with the “not good.” However, we can acknowledge that the global slave trade was complicated and is a blight on the history of many nations, not just the rural south.

Journey through Slavery ep 1 of 4 – Terrible Transformation. African slavery was not a southern phenomenon, and it was not a phenomena born in the United States. Slavery is an ongoing problem that still exists today, where “the weaker” is subjugated by “the stronger” and forced to perform free labor, stripped of rights, and treated like property. Learn about Contemporary slavery including sex slavery and the prison industrial complex. If you are upset about the 1700’s and 1800′, take a closer look at the 2000’s.

The Truth About Slave Patrols and the Second Amendment

The militia’s of the Second were called “slave patrols” in the South. This isn’t because they included slaves in their ranks, but because their main job (aside from being a sort of community police force) was to put down rebellions and uprisings and capture escaped slaves.

Many rebellions and uprisings were slave rebellions, and sometimes keeping law and order meant the patrols went after escaped slaves, but this only explains part of the militia’s purpose and militias in the south.

The real reason behind the militias of the Second Amendment is to put down uprisings like Shays’ Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion and acting as a local police force or military.

The “well-regulated militias” had to be ready to be called upon by the state or federal government to do a job similar to what the National Guard or military would do today because early America had no standing army in the “early National period.”

We know this from historical documents, including those which show Patrick Henry (and other founders and politicians at the time) discussing how slaves patrols could be used against southern slave states by the federal government. We also know the purposes of militias and the intentions of the Second because we have The Federalist: No. 29 and No. 46 which discuss militias in general. We also know this from the history books which make U.S. history, especially U.S. military history, rather clear. And, we know this from documented letters of early Americans (including the founders).[5][6]

So while the Second Amendment helped preserve slavery, just as many compromises made and broken leading up to the 1860’s, or just like those after the 1860’s affected segregation and hampered Civil Rights, the main intentions of the Second weren’t about slaves… or even self-defense, gun ownership, or other rights (or lack thereof)… they were about state and federal government having the power to keep order or “to secure a free state“. To the extent that securing a free state meant slave patrols in the south, we won’t say that any framers were unaware of the side effect, just that it wasn’t the main intention.

TIP: Almost all states have a rule about gun rights and many about militias. The English Bill of Rights of 1869 confirms gun rights as well. The English Bill of Rights allowed Protestant citizens of England to “have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law” and restricted the ability of the English Crown to have a standing army or to interfere with Protestants’ right to bear arms “when Papists were both Armed and Imployed contrary to Law” and established that Parliament, not the Crown, could regulate the right to bear arms. Gun laws in liberal states are generally about the right of self-defense, defense of property, and defense of state. In America, they were also about militias and avoiding a standing army, and in the south, they were also about controlling the slaves who were legally considered to be “property.” Thus, the Second wasn’t ONLY about slavery from a historic viewpoint. Learn more about “the Right to Keep and Bear.”[7]

TIP: Despite the above, the Second is today used to justify collective and individual rights and the military and police do the duties of the militias of the Second. Based on reading the Bill of Rights, the Federalist papers, and documented letters from America’s founders, there is little room to make the argument that The Second Amendment was ratified ONLY to preserve slavery. That is a myth.

A LOT OF THESE CONSTITUTIONAL AND CONGRESSIONAL ODDITIES ARE ALSO PARTLY ABOUT VOTES: The Three-Fifths Compromise was also, like the Second and other amendments, in part ratified due to reasons that were related to slavery… not the act of enslavement, but the voting rights of the slave. The argument was over whether, and how, slaves should be counted when determining a state’s total population for legislative representation and taxing purposes. The eventual three-fifths compromise declared that three-fifths of a person for could be counted for taxation AND voting purposes.  This led to the dominance of the Democratic Southern bloc and thus the preservation of slavery until Lincoln. Slave states had more seats in Congress and one third more electoral votes than if the compromise was not reached. It was largely the progressive Federalist/Whig/soon-to-be-Republicans of the time who opposed the compromise for political reasons, despite the fact that they were in many ways the Civil Rights party of their day. (The parties switched platforms over time, i.e., why Lincoln was a pro-north moderate-progressive).

TIP: In the time of the Constitution, through the time of the Civil War, there were accusations that Civil Rights was about “slave [voting] power.” That is a separate subject, but the term is worth researching.

Robert Ingraham on Manhattan’s Struggle for Human Freedom Against the Slave Power of Virginia. There are two sides to every story, sometimes Thom Hartmann tells his view; sometimes the LaRouche institute tells theirs. In both cases, you’ll get a biased viewpoint. If you can read through that bias and keep to the center, then you are an outlier. Outliers like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton made this country great; by opposing slavery, Hamilton and Morris are certainly more impressive.

“Much has been said of the impropriety of representing men who have no will of their own…. They are men, though degraded to the condition of slavery. They are persons known to the municipal laws of the states which they inhabit, as well as to the laws of nature. But representation and taxation go together…. Would it be just to impose a singular burden, without conferring some adequate advantage?” — Alexander Hamilton (Hamilton is of the lineage of Lincoln in regards to party politics. They are both of the line that falls out of power due to the 3/5 compromise, which favors the southern-pro-slavery Democrats, who are today’s post-64′ Republicans in terms of at the very least geographic location).

The Three-Fifths Compromise Explained: US History Review.


The Second was about race, we know this from historical documents. The militia’s of the south were even called “slave patrols”. With that said, the Second was first a foremost about ensuring the security of a free-state (i.e. the United States on a state and Federal level). Slave uprisings and slaves escaping were illegal back in the time of the Second, so the point is to uphold the law, not to “preserve slavery” (that is simply an unfortunate side-effect of the compromise over collective and individual gun rights in the late 1700’s).


  1. The Second Amendment Was Ratified to Preserve Slavery
  2. slaves patrols
  3. Whitewashing the Second Amendment
  4. the Three-Fifths Compromise
  5. Slavery and the Second Amendment: Slave Patrol Militias
  6. American Resistance to a Standing Army
  7. Right to keep and bear arms

"The Second Amendment Was Ratified to Preserve Slavery" is tagged with: American Politics, Bias, Equality, Gun Control and Gun Rights, Human Rights, Left–right Politics, Philosophy of Law, Politically Correct, United States Armed Forces, United States of America

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David Lukens on

Slavery would have continued without the 2nd amendment, and probably the 2nd amendment would have been passed if we did not have slavery. But its passage made possible the continuation of “slave patrols,” regulated by the slave states.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

That is probably a fair statement. Like a number of other compromises, court cases, or general legal rules in our history, it wasn’t “just about slavery and/or segregation”… but it didn’t exactly help.

Joel Rollins on
Supports this as a Fact.

Madison’s writing clearly indicate he knew of the collateral benefits to the preservation of slavery. It may not have been the ONLY reason, but is was a reason.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Interesting, I know Madison spoke of slavery in more than one instance, I wouldn’t be surprised if he spoke on this issue. I can’t however recall what document you are referring to though. If you see this, please cite the document. Thanks!

Estuchio Firenza on
Supports this as a Fact.

Check out this article,


This is a solid refutation of the author’s contention that the purpose of the 2nd amendment was NOT to legitimize the use of slave patrols to defend the institution of slavery. Just like the 3/5ths clause in the article 1 of the constitution, it was included as an appeasement to southern slave-owners who might otherwise have opposed ratification, or even moved to secede right then and there. Note that this clause was proposed by 2 northern delegates, James Wilson (PA) and Roger Sherman (MA) — . It is written in coded language that implies the acknowledgement of the of slavery without actually mentioning it, so as not to enshrine it (appeasing the sensibilities of northern abolitionists no doubt) excluding “Indians not taxed” but including indentured servants (who were effectively temporary slaves) and “three fifths of all other Persons”. The ratio of slaves to whites in the south at the time was c. 2:1, giving the slaves states an extra 13 seats, 45 out of 105 in the House and the electoral college. But southern delegates rejected the proposal that that 3/5th of a person be included in the population for the purposes of federal excise. Appeasement.

By the same token, the 2nd amendment is similarly coded, and contrary to this author’s assertion in the article, slave patrols were routinely referred to as “militias”. Madison(VA) insisted that the word “country” be changed to “state” in proposed amendment, to clarify that the mustering of a militia was a state’s right and not a Federal power.


Patrick Henry (VA) Speaks directly to this issue:

“If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress [slave] insurrections [under this new Constitution]. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress . . . . Congress, and Congress only [under this new Constitution], can call forth the militia.”

This specious argument that the 2nd amendment is not about slavery is similar to the ongoing denial of many southerners that the cause of the Civil War was not about protecting slavery and its expansion into the new territories, but merely a matter of “states rights” (a vague term never defined), a ridiculous claim, given that the The Confederate Constitution specifically legitimizes “the institution of negro slavery”, and the second line of Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession emphatically states: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.”

Most 2nd amendment fundamentalists are in total denial about their ardent love of this misbegotten, tragic constitutional compromise, which has little or nothing to do with patriotism, freedom and the sanctity of constitutional democracy, or the need to defend ones home from violent incursion, but is rather mostly an expression of their love of the “honor” violence traditions of the antebellum South, and the fantasy of killing people who insult, offend or threaten them.


Witness that gun violence in the US is almost entirely thru use of handguns (not a particularly useful military or hunting weapon, but one optimized for killing people at close range). Statistical evidence shows handguns are seldom effective at deterring home-invasion, but are primarily used to kill people known to the shooter, often a wife or family member (c. 50% of women murdered in the US since 2000 were killed by an intimate partner, and about 50% of those were by handgun). According to the CDC, homicide was the fourth leading cause of death for women aged 15-25, about 14% of total deaths of females in 2014; it was the 3rd leading cause for men age 15-34, at 46%. Black men are 13 times more likely to die by gunshot than White men. (and don’t pretend that its just a result of black-on-black violence — there is absolutely no evidence to justify that claim, only bullshit racist anecdotes)

Relatedly few murders are a result of mass shootings. Washington Post compiled a list: Of the 12,000 gun-related deaths in 2015, 39 where from mass-shooting. 149 mass shootings since 1962 have resulted in 1048 deaths (and countless injuries) the vast majority by white men aged 20-35. Though gun advocates summarily dismiss a shooter’s motives as nothing more than mental derangement, mass-shootings are frequently motivated by grudges, rage, hatred or perceived slights, in keeping with that honor-violence tradition. There’s suicide by cop, but also by mass-murder.

Some of the gun-fetishists who read this will no doubt flame out about my citations, sources and statistics, but doubtless they haven’t bothered to do any research, and of course the NRA has successfully squashed any government effort to collect gun-violence data anyway, (of course) because that data would clearly show their propaganda to be bullshit — why else would they oppose it? It because the data would prove that guns don’t kill people, people WITH GUNS kill people, rarely for any good reason, often killing themselves, friends or family, intentionally or by accident, and often second-hand, by failing keep their guns out of the hands of small children at play — or in a moment of impulsive anger, because its so easy to do with a gun, much easier than stabbing, bludgeoning or strangling, quick, effective and at a distance. No risk for blood-splatter, broken knuckles, injury or death by retaliation. Not much risk of return fire, because they seldom announce their murderous intentions, and their victims are seldom armed.

So LaPierre and his disciples have made a cult out of gun ownership:

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.

what part of “well regulated militia” don’t they understand? How can “the security of a free State” possibly be conflated with an individual citizen (presumably) protecting his home? (that home might be a castle, but its definitely not a country) The government has aways regulated the private ownership of fire-arms, but not so well of late. At least we still restrict machine guns, RPGs and rocket launchers, sawed off shotguns and silencers, bayonets, armor piercing or incendiary ammo, tracer bullets, packing guns in schools, churches and government buildings — but that all clearly appears to be changing. So if I can go deer hunting with an 50 cal assault rifle using a 15-round clip and laser sites, why can’t I go all the way and I kill them with a bazooka?

Thus endeth the rant…

Shabba Banks on

From Us News and World Report-citing FBI statistics

Black-on-Black and White-on-White Killings

The vast majority of homicide victims are killed by people of their own race. People tend to kill who they know.
A San Bernardino police officer stands near the crime scene around Inland Regional Center on Dec. 3, 2015, where 14 people were killed in San Bernardino, Calif.
Crime Rises Slightly, but Remains Near Record Low

“You hurt people who are a lot like you. That’s how it works,” says David Kennedy, a professor and director of the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

Among the roughly 6,000 cases in which the race of the victim and the offender were known, the number of blacks killed by blacks rose to 2,380 last year, an increase of about 8 percent from 2014.

However, the share of black-on-black homicides as a proportion of black people killed actually fell by just under 1 percentage point, to 89.3 percent. This undoubtedly fractional decrease – which marked the third straight year of incremental reductions – still meant that for the first time since the start of the 21st century, the percentage of black victims killed by another black person stood below 90 percent of the total of black people killed.

Often less discussed – to the consternation of experts and columnists – is the phenomenon of white-on-white homicides. The number of white people killed by other whites rose 3.5 percent to 2,574 victims in 2015.

White-on-white killings as a percentage of all homicides involving a white victim also fell, to 81.3 percent, marking the lowest share of such killings since 2001.

The margins are small, fluctuating by less than 3 percentage points in the last 15 years: Since 2001, the share of black-on-black and white-on-white homicides as a proportion of those killed of each race peaked at 91.9 and 84.2 percent, respectively.

Tsvi on

Excellent work!

John Yarbrough on

Pretty good attempt to cover a conplex issue. Too often we discuss the Consritution and the Bill of Rights as if they were divinely preordained.
We hear from the south liking slave patrols, not so much from the north needing the State to be secure.
Not sure The Federalist, urging ratification in New York, is closely connected with drafting the 2nd, getting it through Congress, and its state legislative ratification.
In constitutional ratification conventions, did low slave population states worry about state militia control as much as Patrick Henry did?
What was Congressional discussion on the 2nd when the Bill of Rights amendment package was put forward?
Did low slave population and high slave population state legislatures discuss the 2nd differently in ratifying the 2nd?
Yeah, I know, I’m asking for a book. Maybe two.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Interesting questions. All things I would have to research.

I know how I would research it though, literally by going through the minutes from those meetings to the extent it is possible (an overview // and then by trying to find writings pertaining to this from around that time.

So I don’t know the answer, but I know how to research it. And that is what this site is, it’s about going into something knowing how to research the subject, and then doing the research. It isn’t about knowing everything right off the bat.

All that said, I think Madison’s notes from Wednesday, August 8 1787 are particularly enlightening on the subject of slavery, although I don’t know if the answer your questions.


Check out the comments of “Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS,” he was an early progressive (albeit a rather elite one). His views are harsh and according to Madison’s notes he hardly minced words here. Check out this passage (this is Madison’s version of what he said):

” Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to insert “free” before the word “inhabitants.” Much, he said, would depend on this point. He never would concur in upholding domestic slavery. It was a nefarious institution. It was the curse of Heaven on the States where it prevailed. Compare the free regions of the Middle States, where a rich and noble cultivation marks the prosperity and happiness of the people, with the misery and poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Virginia, Maryland, and the other States having slaves. Travel through the whole continent, and you behold the prospect continually varying with the appearance and disappearance of slavery. The moment you leave the Eastern States, and enter New York, the effects of the institution become visible. Passing through the Jerseys and entering Pennsylvania, every criterion of superior improvement witnesses the change. Proceed southwardly, and every step you take, through the great regions of slaves, presents a desert increasing with the increasing proportion of these wretched beings. Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included? The houses in this city (Philadelphia) are worth more than all the wretched slaves who cover the rice swamps of South Carolina. The admission of slaves into the representation, when fairly explained, comes to this, — that the inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina who goes to the coast of Africa, and, in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity, tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connexions, and damns them to the most cruel bondage, shall have more votes in a government instituted for protection of the rights of mankind, than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey, who views with a laudable horror so nefarious a practice. He would add, that domestic slavery is the most prominent feature in the aristocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution. The vassalage of the poor has ever been the favorite offspring of aristocracy. And what is the proposed compensation to the Northern States, for a sacrifice of every principle of right, of every impulse of humanity? They are to bind themselves to march their militia for the defence of the Southern States, for their defence against those very slaves of whom they complain. They must supply vessels and seamen, in case of foreign attack. The Legislature will have indefinite power to tax them by excises, and duties on imports; both of which will fall heavier on them than on the Southern inhabitants; for the Bohea tea used by a Northern freeman will pay more tax than the whole consumption of the miserable slave, which consists of nothing more than his physical subsistence and the rag that covers his nakedness. On the other side, the Southern States are not to be restrained from importing fresh supplies of wretched Africans, at once to increase the danger of attack, and the difficulty of defence; nay, they are to be encouraged to it, by an assurance of having their votes in the National Government increased in proportion: and are, at the same time, to have their exports and their slaves exempt from all contributions for the public service. Let it not be said, that direct taxation is to be proportioned to representation. It is idle to suppose that the General Government can stretch its hand directly into the pockets of the people, scattered over so vast a country. They can only do it through the medium of exports, imports, and excises. For what, then, are all the sacrifices to be made? He would sooner submit himself to a tax for paying for all the negroes in the United States, than saddle posterity with such a Constitution.”

TIP: You can check out the sections on militias and militaries as well by using command find to search the overview. 🙂

Robert Wortham on
Doesn't beleive this myth.

Thanks people need to ve reminded of this……

Tsvi on

Surely you realize that you are ill-educated in certain domains of
the English language, no? This defect vitiates much of your reasoning. You may, perhaps, wish to repeat the third grade of primary school. It could be helpful to you as a historian and political scientist.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

I strongly disagree. My teacher gave me a solid “check +” on almost half my homework, so that is like 500% increase of smart. If anything I believe this makes me over qualified to present arguments online.

Seriously though, I have no problem with the Ad hominem attacks, just don’t insult my central thesis or the content of my argument, as you might hurt my feelings. 🙂

Just kidding. All comments welcome.

Anna Rich on
Supports this as a Fact.

Slave uprisings and slaves escaping were illegal back in the time of the Second, so the point is to uphold the law, not to “preserve slavery” (that is simply an unfortunate side-effect of the compromise over collective and individual gun rights in the late 1700’s).

Here lies a distinction without a difference.

Slavery had to be preserved or else the economy of the slaveholding states and (more importantly) the livelihood of slaveholders was jeopardized. Slavery was first and foremost about money. The degradation of and discrimination against black Africans and their descendants followed to justify the crimes committed against them and ensure those could continue… to ensure peace and tranquility.

To all that mitigation — ‘it was worse elsewhere’, ‘it wasn’t ONLY about that’— is transparent.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

So if you take another look at the page, I think we pretty clearly make the argument that “it wasn’t only about slavery” and instead it was also about economic issues and other such issues (such as an issue of the letter of the law at the time) as a general statement… and specifically we say:

“Slaves’ patrols (armed and sometimes trained militiamen who put down uprisings and captured runaway slaves) were the militia’s of the Second Amendment in the south. In the North they were different. However, in all cases their purpose was to ensure the law and the security of a free state; unfortunately slavery was legal at the time, so part of the job was rounding up escaped slaves and other such awkward implementations of the then law.”

One aspect of that is what you say. If a man is property, then an escaped slave is like your tractor running away, and we can see how from this detached and perverted view rounding up your property (with the held of the police force of the day; the militia AKA the slave patrol at times) was largely just an issue of upholding the law (not so different from upholding a law that puts a person to death for being gay; something many of us find wicked now, but was common in history).

From a modern frame we can see the devil all of this, but from their frame we can see it as they may have saw it (where the northern and southern abolitionists saw it as evil, while others saw it as individual and states’ rights).

From any frame, today it is hard not to think…. if only they had conceded that the law should extend to all humans and not just white males we would have skipped over so many centuries of contention and wickedness in our political system. Think of all our current problems born out of the plantations of the south. Had they only agreed to pay them and make them citizens and offered them a full and free vote.

My point being, it is a mistake to judge history from a purely modern frame and not judge it in context… but from either perspective, it is hard to come to grips with the reality of that day (not just for us, but for many in those times). Still, it wasn’t only about slavery, it was about countless issues surrounding this. That is the right frame to look at history through in my opinion.

Randy Long on

In the middle. The second amendment had the affect of supporting slavery. Some, like Patrick Henry were concerned might prohibit the local citizens from bearing arms. This was generally concidered paranoid, but would kill local control. Without the slave patrols, slavery could not be maintained in areas where the slave population outnumbered the white population.

Mike McDonough on
Supports this as a Fact.

As with the electoral college and the 3/5ths vote, the second amendment allowed southern slave states to perpetuate the “peculiar institution “ through slave patrols set up to enforce property rights ( Slavery.)

While other states ( Pennsylvania and Massachusetts) utilized militias to Suppress local uprisings, the primary purpose of a “militia in the South was to preserve and defend slavery.

One cannot ignore the interests of those objections raised against Madison’s draft. It was from the southern representatives to the Convention seeking to protect their own interests.

sunny shulkin on
Supports this as a Fact.

Finally! You got it right!

Lanny on
Supports this as a Fact.

Even though slavery was legal at the time, this does not justify saying that the amendment was not made to preserve slavery. Preserving the status quo, at least in the south, meant preserving bondage. The ratification of the amendment was possible because the “militias” clause brought in the southern states to sign it.