well regulate

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Mon Mar 17 14:06:32 UTC 2003

In a message dated 3/16/2003 11:46:55 PM Eastern Standard Time, write at SCN.ORG

> An article I read asserts that in the 1700s and 1800s in
> America "well regulated" meant running smoothly or adjusted properly, not
> controlled by law.  (This was in reference to a well regulated militia in
> the second amendment.)

"Regulated" is a term from clockmaking which long antedates the Second
Amendment.  There was for example in the 1700s a type of highly accurate
clock that was known as a "regulator".

I can come up with a connection between this clockmaking term and militia,
but it's far-fetched:  During the French and Indian War, there were militia
companies that were supposed to be able to assemble on an hour's notice, or
maybe it was half an hour's notice.  During the build-up to the Revolutionary
War, companies were formed that claimed, with considerable exaggeration, to
be ready for action on a minute's notice.  Hence the term "Minuteman".

Perhaps the idea was that in order to have militia that could be ready for
action on extremely short notice, citizens who might join such militia need
to be allowed to keep muskets in their homes.  A company that could assemble
quickly therefore would be said to to "well-regulated." Believe this
explanation at your own risk.

More seriously, I have never been able to see the connection between the
phrases "well-regulated militia" and "bearing of arms".  (cf the bumper
sticker "support your right to arm bears" which I find makes about as much
linguistic sense).  I suggest you look into the Congressional Record for the
debates over the future Second Amendment and see if those shed any light.

By the way, the Minuteman ICBM, if fired either in anger or on a test range,
has a flight time of around half an hour.

              - Jim Landau

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