Connecting the dots: John Adams and ‘Founders’ View’ of gun rights
August 1, 2008

by Joseph P. Tartaro
Executive Editor

I was delighted to hear from my daughter Peggy, who keeps track of things relating to the popular culture while working on both Gun Week and Women & Guns magazine, that the HBO mini-series “John Adams” recently received the most nominations for television’s prestigious Emmy Awards, which will be announced in September.

The seven-part cable-TV series on our second president and Founding Father which aired earlier this year was nominated for 22 awards in various categories. Now I don’t know how many categories the Emmys have, but from my own enjoyment of “John Adams,” the entire show—its actors, its director, its producers, its costume people and especially its make-up artists—deserve to sweep the awards. “John Adams” was not just great TV entertainment; it was a great history lesson for Americans.

I didn’t see the original airing of the mini-series even though the US Post Office had a lot of advance posters advertising it; we don’t subscribe to HBO with our cable provider. However, I received the three-DVD boxed set of “John Adams” for Father’s Day and watched it intently over several mostly consecutive nights on our DVD player. I later discovered that you can also rent “John Adams” from Blockbuster and similar outlets as well as purchase it from many sources. If you haven’t already watched it, I recommend it highly. My copy is current on loan to another gun and history buff.

There isn’t a lot of “gun stuff” in the series although the British gun grab as blocked at Lexington and Concord and other battles are featured. There are also scenes of Abigail Adams and the children casting balls for their front loader which at one point she takes down from above the mantle, the Boston Massacre, etc. However, there is a lot about John Adams going off to Philadelphia to meet with the other Founding Fathers to promote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and otherwise formulating policies to fight the Revolution and establish this unique republican form of government.

The seventh and last segment of “John Adams” covers a period after his presidency, his unique later return to Congress, and especially focuses on the continuing discussions Adams and his pal Thomas Jefferson have about all sorts for government policy issues. It ends with the death of both men on the same day, July 4, 1826.

What is very clear throughout the mini-series is that the birth of this nation was not easy or simple, the Founding Fathers differed frequently on many issues, especially in regard to federal and state power, as well as the role of the people.

I would only hope that the talent that produced “John Adams” for public viewing on TV or DVD will undertake similarly illuminating and entertaining reenactments of American history. Certainly, the general public needs a better understanding of what is in our history books, and so do members of the various branches of federal and state government.

Seeing “John Adams” and reading books such as the latest offering from David E. Young, The Founders’ View of the Right to Bear Arms helps us to connect the dots that lead us from “then” to “now.” I was surprised that so called learned men of the law—Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter, John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—were not able to connect these dots when it came to their dissent in the Heller case. If they can’t, I immediately saw why so many Americans, including politicians like Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have a hard time connecting modern America to that of Adams, Jefferson, Washington and their ilk.

A thorough reading of “The Founders’ View” should probably be required for anyone studying law or political science, if not other students. It certainly needs to be read by journalists and teachers. It is a great compilation of the historic documents that explain a lot of what many Americans still don’t understand about our form of government and the role of the people.

Take the militia issue which gets dragged every which way during discussions of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Young’s book explains the difference between the voluntary militia and the select militia. It shows how the militia concept was treated in the 13 original colonies and it puts to rest the issue of what “well regulated” meant. It also shows the different approaches and regulations or law relating to militia defense that prevailed at a time when the Founding Fathers took private possession of arms, especially guns, for granted.

If you are one of those people who like to know the origin of famous quotes, such as Jefferson’s advice that guns are the ideal exercise for both mind and body, you’ll find it in this latest collection of historic documents by David Young. By the way, Young is also the editor of an earlier compilation of historic documents of incredible value to firearms issue scholars, The Origin of the Second Amendment, which is still available from many sources, including the Second Amendment Foundation.

Both books are frequently cited by leading scholars on constitutional law in general and especially on articles dealing with the Second Amendment or in legal briefs as in the Heller case. Both were frequently cited in Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller, which upheld the individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment.

The linkage of the John Adams mini-series and Young’s book on The Founders’ View is a very important one. Adams, as one of the signers of the Declaration and a firebrand in the American revolutionary movement is just one of the Founders cited in Young’s latest book.

In one or two issues back, Gun Week published a brief book review of another book entitled The Founders’ Second Amendment by Stephen P. Halbrook. While Halbrook’s book and Young’s book may have similar sounding titles and even site some of the same source documents, the two books represent two different approaches to study of the right to keep and bear arms. Halbrook’s approach is that of an attorney. Detailed information about Halbrook’s book was contained in the Gun Week review by Kevin Jamieson.

Young’s approach is that of historian. His book is a 270-page hard cover volume, which is divided into four main parts: the Colonial Period; The Formation of the New American Government; The Early Ratification Era and Bill of Rights Controversy, and The Formation of the United States Bill of Rights. Each of the parts is subdivided into key subject chapters. In addition, there is an Epilogue, two appendices, a document list, and an index.

The perspectives of Halbrook’s and Young’s books are different, but they come to the same conclusion. I think serious advocates of the right to keep and bear arms probably will benefit from having both books. They cost about $30 each and both are available from the Second Amendment Foundation; phone: 425-454-7012: online: saf.org.

Cited in Young’s book are Adams’ views on what happens to a constitution and a people when they ignore the important elements at their roots. Of course, they lose and never get them back. However, it seems that schools and the American public aren’t learning the lessons of history, or heeding the advice of our Founding Fathers. Too many aren’t reading important books like those by Young and Halbrook.

However, when a popular television mini-series dramatizes the disputes and the difficulties inherent in creating our form of government, maybe folks will begin to connect the dots.
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