The Federalist Papers
Alexander Hamilton in Federalist, No. 29
, did not view the right to keep arms as being confined to active militia members:
What plan for the regulation of the militia may be pursued by the national government is impossible to be foreseen...The project of disciplining all the militia of the United States is as futile as it would be injurious if it were capable of being carried into execution... Little more can reasonably be aimed at with the respect to the people at large than to have them properly armed and equipped ; and in order to see that this be not neglected, it will be necessary to assemble them once or twice in the course of a year.
James Madison in Federalist No. 46 wrote:
Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments,to which the people are attached, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it.
Here, like Story, Madison is expressing the idea that additional advantages accrue to the people when the citizens' right to arms is enhanced by having an organized and properly directed militia.
The Federalist Papers Continued – "The Original Right of Self-Defense"
The Founders realized insurrections may occur from time to time and it is the militia's duty to suppress them. They also realized that however remote the possibility of usurpation was, the people with their arms, had the right to restore their republican form of government by force, if necessary, as an extreme last resort.
"The original right of self-defense" is not a modern-day concoction. We now examine Hamilton's Federalist No. 28
. Hamilton begins:
That there may happen cases in which the national government may be necessitated to resort to force cannot be denied. Our own experience has corroborated the lessons taught by the examples of other nations; that emergencies of this sort will sometimes exist in all societies, however constituted; that seditions and insurrections are, unhappily, maladies as inseparable from the body politic as tumors and eruptions from the natural body; that the idea of governing at all times by the simple force of law (which we have been told is the only admissible principle of republican government) has no place but in the reveries of these political doctors whose sagacity disdains the admonitions of experimental instruction.
Hamilton explains that the national government may occasionally need to quell insurrections and it is certainly justified in doing so.
If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual State. In a single State, if the persons intrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair.
Hamilton clearly states there exists a right of self-defense against a tyrannical government, and it includes the people with their own arms and adds:
[T]he people, without exaggeration, may be said to be entirely the masters of their own fate. Power being almost always the rival of power, the general government will at all times stand ready to check the usurpations of the state governments, and these will have the same disposition towards the general government. The people by throwing themselves into either scale, will infallibly make it preponderate. If their rights are invaded by either, they can make use of the other as the instrument of redress. How wise will it be in them by cherishing the union to preserve to themselves an advantage which can never be too highly prized!
Thus the militia is the ultimate check against a state or the national government. That is why the founders guaranteed the right to the people as opposed to only active militia members or a state's militia. But of course, via the militia clause, the Second Amendment acknowledges, as well, the right of a state to maintain a militia. (For more on militia see: Meaning of the words in the Second Amendment
Hamilton concludes, telling us the above scenario is extremely unlikely to occur:
When will the time arrive that the federal government can raise and maintain an army capable of erecting a despotism over the great body of the people of an immense empire, who are in a situation, through the medium of their State governments, to take measures for their own defense, with all the celerity, regularity, and system of independent nations? The apprehension may be considered as a disease, for which there can be found no cure in the resources of argument and reasoning.
Again, it is the recurring theme of the people's right to keep and bear arms as individuals, enhanced by a militia system, that (in part) provides for the "security of a free state."
Connecting the Dots...
"The opinion of the Federalist has always been considered as of great authority. It is a complete commentary on our Constitution, and is appealed to by all parties in the questions to which that instrument has given birth. . . . "
--- The U.S. Supreme Court in Cohens v. Virginia (1821)
Although the Federalist Papers were written prior to the drafting of the Bill of Rights (but after the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification), the passages quoted, above, help explain the relationships that were understood between a well-regulated militia, the people, their governments, and the right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment did not declare or establish any new rights or novel principles.
The Purpose of the Militia Clause
"Collective rights theorists argue that addition of the subordinate clause qualifies the rest of the amendment by placing a limitation on the people's right to bear arms. However, if the amendment truly meant what collective rights advocates propose, then the text would read "[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the States to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." However, that is not what the framers of the amendment drafted. The plain language of the amendment, without attenuate inferences therefrom, shows that the function of the subordinate clause was not to qualify the right, but instead to show why it must be protected. The right exists independent of the existence of the militia. If this right were not protected, the existence of the militia, and consequently the security of the state, would be jeopardized." (U.S. v. Emerson, 46 F.Supp.2d 598 (N.D.Tex. 1999))
For more information about justification clauses see: Volokh, Eugene, The Commonplace Second Amendment, (73 NYU L. Rev. 793 (1998)). (See also, Kopel, David, Words of Freedom, National Review Online, May 16, 2001.)