In the middle of the eighteenth century, the American English colonies were attacked—not by a foreign power, but by their own government. America’s Founding Fathers came to believe that individual citizens should possess the right to defend themselves, whether from foreign or domestic adversaries. One historical event was influential in forming the conviction of the Founding Fathers concerning citizens’ right to bear arms—that event was the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre of August 23-24, 1572. American Right to Bear Arms
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Article ContentsAmerican Right to Bear Arms
The Renaissance—which extended from about the middle of the fourteenth to the middle of the seventeenth centuries—was a revival of classical art and literature. South of the Alps the Renaissance was modeled after the cultural influence of the pagan Greeks and Romans, but north of the Alps, Protestant Reformers modeled their thought after the Christian Church Fathers and biblical literature. These influences produced two different sources of authority and two variant forms of government. South of the Alps, the pagan influences tended to sanction centralized government in a small group of individuals—such as the Pope and Cardinals. North of the Alps, biblical studies produced an understanding of republicanism in which the general populace was the controlling force of government. One of the greatest struggles between these two poles of thought occurred in the tragic St. Bartholomew Day Massacre of 1572.
By 1559, nearly 400,000 Protestants lived in Catholic France. After 1560, the French Protestants became known as Huguenots and formed a powerful kingdom within a kingdom. While Protestants advocated a biblical form of republicanism of the people (Exodus 18:21; Acts 6:3), Roman Catholics advocated centralized government, which manifested itself in state government in the form of a monarch and in church government in the person of the pope.
From 1538 to 1562, French Protestants Huguenots experienced fierce Catholic persecution. And, from 1562 to 1598, Huguenots endured eight savage wars and massacres, the worst of which occurred the night of August 23-24, 1572 and is remembered as the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre. Under orders from King Charles IX, Catholics began by assassinating a group of Huguenot leaders and then expanded their slaughter throughout Paris and into the countryside and other urban centers, killing as many as 30,000 Huguenots in the ensuing weeks. On the twenty-fourth,Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, early French Protestant leader, lost his life at the hands of Catholic assassins.
The massacre was the impetus for the emergence of monarchomachism–the belief that the people of a nation possessed the right to resist tyrannical monarchs by severely restricting their rights or throwing off their rule completely. This position was advanced by Protestants and emerged again in the American descendants of French Huguenots.
Under such severe extended persecution, many Huguenots left their homes in France for other countries. Author Esther Forbes, in her biography of Paul Revere, noted the migration of Huguenots and their influence upon their new homelands:
The Huguenots went to the Lowlands, to England, Switzerland, America. France had opened her own veins and spilt her best blood when she drained herself of her Huguenots, and everywhere, in every country that would receive them, this amazing strain acted as yeast. . .
As demonstrated by the status of Admiral Coligny, Huguenots often obtained considerable standing in their homeland, and their flight would create a cultural vacuum from which France would never recover. More than 400,000 Huguenots migrated from France to other nations, and the loss of France was the gain of those nations to which they fled. In America, Huguenots settled almost along the entire eastern coast, but congregated especially in the states of South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. They supplied the American colonies with ministers, farmers, soldiers, sailors, craftsmen, expert artisans, physicians, and individuals who engaged in government. Irénée du Pont brought his expertise for making gunpowder; goldsmith Apollo Rivoire—father of well-known Paul Revere—brought his craftsmanship to the colonies; Rev. Jacob Duche—the first chaplain of Congress—was a descendant of Huguenots who immigrated to America with William Penn; and to these few names could be added many, many Huguenots who helped to form the character of America. In fact, the Father of America, George Washington, was the grandson of a Huguenot on his mother’s side, and America’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay—himself a Huguenot descendant —was the first president of The Huguenot Society of America (1883-1894). To this brief list, the name of Elias Boudinot—president of the Continental Congress and distinguished patriot—may also be added.
In their minutes of the First Continental Congress for October 20, 1774, American patriots charged King George III with having established “a ruinous system of colony administration…about the year 1763. ” Though President John Adams suggested that the tyranny exercised by the English overlords against the American colonies began slightly earlier than 1763, the fact remains that for nearly a dozen years Americans chaffed under the despotic rule of King George and the English Parliament. Contrary to the myths of Marxist historians, America’s Founding Fathers were not radical Enlightenment reactionaries who were willing to shed blood at the drop of a hat. Only after attempts to reconcile were rejected by the King and Parliament and military force was used against the colonies did American leaders resort to force of arms to defend themselves against their own government—a right they drew upon from their European heritage.
Like the Huguenots, America’s Founding Fathers were mindful of the tyranny visited upon them by their own government. For this reason, the Founding Fathers placed responsibility for primary personal protection upon the shoulders of individuals—as was true of government in general.
The best example of this idea was given by George Mason—“Father of the United States Bill of Rights”—while addressing the delegates at the Constitutional Convention. On Monday, June 4, 1787, Mr. Mason, rose to address his fellow delegates to the Convention saying…
Every husbandman [farmer] will be quickly converted into a soldier when he knows and feels that he is to fight not in defense of the rights of a particular family, or a prince, but for his own pro aris etfocis [for God and family] which has, in all ages, performed such wonders. It was this which in ancient times enabled the little cluster of Grecian republics to resist, and almost constantly to defeat, the Persian monarch. It was this which supported the States of Holland against a body of veteran troops through a thirty years’ war with Spain, then the greatest monarchy in Europe, and finally rendered them victorious. It is this which preserves the freedom and independence of the Swiss Cantons in the midst of the most powerful nations.
While the Latin expression pro aris etfocis may be interpreted, “for God and country,” Mr. Mason makes it clear that citizens have a right to defend faith and family. Recent experience told Mason and his fellow patriots the right to bear arms must begin with citizens, not with the militia or government.
Believing the proposed Constitution did not go far enough to protect individual liberty, Mr. Mason refused to sign the document created at the Constitutional Convention, and when debate began in Virginia to ratify the Constitution (June 2-27, 1788), he further addressed the matter of the citizen’s right to bear arms:
Forty years ago, when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man, who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually. . .
When eleven of the thirteen states convened (March 4, 1789) the first Congress under the United States, it was the House of Representatives that developed the first draft of what was destined to become the Bill of Rights. Having witnessed first-hand how King George III and Parliament had become tyrannical, the Founding Fathers wished to ensure that Americans possessed the ability to maintain their God-given rights. For this reason, the first Congress sent twelve amendments to the states for ratification.
By December 15, 1791, article three through twelve had been ratified and became amendments one through ten—known as the Bill of Right. Among them was an assurance of the right of citizens to bear arms; this amendment became codified as the Second Amendment:
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.
In American political thought, Protestant Renaissance studies of Scripture was the major influence the idea that citizens are the primary source of government. Founding Fathers, such as Dr. Benjamin Rush, understood that the principles of republican government and personal liberties were derived from Scripture (and the right of self-defense was among those liberties):
We profess to be republicans, and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government, that is the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity, by means of the Bible; for this divine book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and all those sober and frugal virtues, which constitute the soul of republicanism.
Under the ruse of a “special military operation,” Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. But rather than capitulate to the alleged superior Russian military, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy enacted martial law and mobilized his nation for war. Banning all male Ukrainians between 18 and 60 from leaving the country, Zelenskyy appealed to the world for weapons to arm his people and defend their nation.
America’s Founding Fathers were able to throw off the yoke of tyranny only because they and their fellow citizens were armed. Around the world, Marxists, socialists, communists, and tyrannical governments of every stripe seek to diminish the power of the people to assert their inalienable God-given rights. Founding Father, Noah Webster, understood there was a great difference between Americans and Europeans:
Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in 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 band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.
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 Dates for the Renaissance vary widely. The dates provided here reflect the “long Renaissance. ”
 Alister E. McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction to the Thought of the Reformation (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988), 228-30.
 Esther Forbes, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1942), 4-5.
 ” Huguenot: French Protestant,” Britannica, June 3, 2022; https://www. britannica. com/topic/Huguenot.
 ” Huguenot History,” The Huguenot Society of America, June 3, 2022; https://www. huguenotsocietyofamerica. org/history/huguenot-history/.
 John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Henry P. Johnston, 4 vols. (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890), 1:1, see footnote.
 ” Library,” The Huguenot Society of America, July 6, 2022; https://www. huguenotsocietyofamerica. org/programs/library/.
 Elias’s paternal great-grandparents, Jean Boudinot and Marie Suire of Marans, Aunis, France, were Huguenots (French Calvinistic Protestants) who fled to New York about 1687 to avoid the persecution many Protestants experienced at the hands of King Louis XIV. Elias Boudinot, The Life, Public Services, Addresses, and Letters of Elias Boudinot, Lld, President of the Continental Congress, ed. Jane J. Boudinot, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1896), 1:25-26.
 Thursday, October 20, 1774, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, 34 vols. (Washington, D. C. : Government Printing Office, 1904-1937), 1:75-76.
 John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations by His Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, 10 vols. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1851-1856), 10:284-85; to Hezekiah Niles, February 13, 1818.
James Madison, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, 3 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911), 1:112.
 Sir William Keith
Jonathan Elliot, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution: As Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1941), 3:380.
 Rhode Island and North Carolina had not yet ratified the United States Constitution in their respective state legislatures.
Benjamin Rush, ” A Defense of the Use of the Bible as a Schoolbook, Addressed to the Rev. Jeremy Belknap, of Boston,” in Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical by Benjamin Rush, M. D. And Professor of the Institutes of Medicine and Clinical Practice in the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Thomas and Samuel Bradford, 1798), 112-13.
Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia: Prichard and Hall, 1787), 32.