Carl T. Bogus is Professor of Law Emeritus at Roger Williams University. This interview is based on his new book, Madison’s Militia: The Hidden History of the Second Amendment (Oxford University Press, 2023).
JF: What led you to write Madison’s Militia?
CB: In 1998, I wrote a 99-page law review article titled “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment.” It presented a controversial – even radical – thesis. Some people found it persuasive. Others attacked it. Over the past two decades, I gave the matter more thought and investigation, becoming ever more convinced the thesis is correct. So, I wanted to provide a far richer – as well as a more colorful and accessible – version of my thesis.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Madison’s Militia?
CB: James Madison wrote the Second Amendment to assure his constituents that Congress could not undermine the slave system by disarming the militia, on which the South relied for slave control. Madison felt compelled to do that because Patrick Henry and George Mason accused him of helping to write a Constitution that gave Congress – soon to be controlled by a faster-growing North – the power to “disarm” the militia.
JF: Why do we need to read Madison’s Militia?
CB: First, Madison’s motives are intrinsically interesting. Second, our collective understanding of his motives has a profound impact on the politics and policies of gun regulation in America. The debate over the “original intent” of the Second Amendment is not merely academic. The Supreme Court has made history the touchstone of its interpretation of the Amendment. Even more important, our collective understanding of what our most revered Founders bequeathed to shape our national culture – and culture drives, politics, policy, and law. As the Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher said, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” Third, I happen to believe that Madison’s Militia is a good read.
JF: Why and when did you become an American historian?
CB: I am often referred to as a legal historian because many of my writings, on this and other topics, approach things from a historical perspective. But I’m a lawyer, not an historian. I believe I have a sufficient appreciation of history to avoid “law office history” – that is, I don’t pluck quotes or facts from history and present them devoid of context. I aspire to be a lawyer whom historians can respect, and make no greater claim than that.
JF: What is your next project?
CB: I’m working on an antitrust project titled “Why We Need a Merger Cap: Lessons from General Electric.” It will examine what (falsely) appeared at the time (1981-2001) to be the enormously successful tenure of CEO Jack Welch – during which GE acquired nearly 1,000 other companies – to argue that once a corporation reaches a certain size, it should be prohibited from growing still larger through mergers and acquisitions. It’s a bit of a change from the eighteenth century.
JF: Thanks, Carl!
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