Defending the Judeo-Christian Ethic, Limited Government, & the American Constitution
Sunday December 14th 2014

The Palladium of the Liberties of the Republic—Justice Joseph Story

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Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story

LIBERTY LETTERS, JOSEPH STORY, 1833

The next amendment [Second Amendment] is: “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 importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defense of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them. And yet, though this truth would seem so clear, and the importance of a well regulated militia would seem so undeniable, it cannot be disguised, that among the American people there is a growing indifference to any system of militia discipline, and a strong disposition, from a sense of its burthens, to be rid of all regulations. How it is practicable to keep the people duly armed without some organization, it is difficult to see. There is certainly no small danger, that indifference may lead to disgust, and disgust to contempt; and thus gradually undermine all the protection intended by this clause of our national bill of rights.

A similar provision in favor of protestants (for to them it is confined) is to be found in the bill of rights of 1688 [The English Bill of Rights], it being declared, “that the subjects, which are protestants, may have arms for their defense suitable to their condition, and as allowed by law.” But under various pretenses the effect of this provision has been greatly narrowed; and it is at present in England more nominal than real, as a defensive privilege.


Source: Justice Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States; With a Preliminary Review of the Constitutional History of the Colonies and States, Before the Adoption of the Constitution.  In Three Volumes, Boston, 1833. Volume III, Chapter 44, Amendments to the Constitution, p. 746-747. “Joseph Story (1779 – 1845) was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1811 to 1845. He is most remembered for his opinions in Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee and The Amistad, and especially for his magisterial Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, first published in 1833. Dominating the field in the 19th century, this work is a cornerstone of early American jurisprudence. It is the first comprehensive treatise on the provisions of the U.S. Constitution and remains a critical source of historical information about the forming of the American republic and the early struggles to define its law.” Justice Story was also serving as the first Dane Professor of Law at Harvard University at the time he published this work. He experienced remarkable success as a teacher and was beloved of his students. To this day, Story remains the youngest Supreme Court Justice at appointment (age 32). He was nominated by President James Madison.

 Note: Explanatory comments have been added in brackets and spelling has been modernized by the Editor, Steve Farrell.


Liberty Letters is a project of The Moral Liberal’s, Editor in Chief, Steve Farrell. As presented here with explanatory notes, spelling modernizations, and formatting, Copyright © 2013 Steve Farrell.