David E. Vandercoy, The History of the Second Amendment, 28 Val. U. L. Rev. 1007 (1994).
The Federalists, those supporting the Constitution as drafted, did not dispute the premise that governmental tyranny was the primary evil that people
had to guard against. Nor did the Federalists dispute the nexus between arms and freedom.” In one of the first Federalist pamphlets, Noah Webster
argued that the proposed Constitution provided adequate guarantees to check the dangers of any standing army. His reasoning acknowledged checks and balances, but did not rely on the same. Rather, Webster argued:
Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every Kingdom of Europe. The Supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops than can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.
Similarly, James Madison made clear that, although the proposed Constitution offered sufficient guarantees against despotism by its checks and
balances, the real deterrent to governmental abuse was the armed population. To the Antifederalist criticism of the standing army as a threat
to liberty, Madison replied:
To these [the standing army] would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from amongst themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by government possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops . … Besides the advantage of being armed, which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.
Another leading Federalist, Alexander Hamilton, voiced a similar view. Hamilton suggested that if the representations of the people, elected under the
proposed Constitution, betrayed their constituents, the people retained the right to defend their political rights and possessed the means to do so.
In summary, both Federalists and Antifederalists believed that the main danger to the republic was tyrannical government and the ultimate check on
tyrannical government was an armed population. Federalists and Antifederalists disagreed, however, on several issues. First, they disagreed as to
whether sufficient checks and balances had been placed on the proposed national government to control the danger of oppression. Second, the Antifederalists believed a bill of rights should be incorporated into the Constitution to guarantee certain rights. The Federalists argued that such a bill of rights was unnecessary because the power of the federal government was restricted to the grant of authority provided by the Constitution.