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Cam’s Corner: Learning History Through Letters

Cam’s Corner: Learning History Through Letters

This feature appears in the August ’16 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.   

Not long ago, I wrote about a fun way to learn about history by reading old magazines. Unfortunately, back issues of Life magazine or American Rifleman won’t tell you everything you need to know about American history, even if it’s an easy way to start. But there are plenty of other ways to learn about our past without cracking open a dry and dusty history book. Firsthand accounts of historical events can be found in old letters, newspapers, diaries and more, and what they reveal can be fascinating.   

I recently ran across a letter by a guy named Samuel Nasson, who served in the Continental Army for the duration of the War of Independence. He then served as a delegate to the Massachusetts state convention held to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Nasson wasn’t a fan—at least not without some specific protections for individual Americans attached—and in the buildup to the convention, he wrote a letter to a friend and member of the Continental Congress describing his wishes.With a Bill of Rights, he explained, there would be no disputes between “people and rulers” when it came to things like “the right to keep and bear arms for Common and Extraordinary Occasions.”

With a Bill of Rights, he explained, there would be no disputes between “people and rulers” when it came to things like “the right to keep and bear arms for Common and Extraordinary Occasions.” Those “common occasions,” he went on, included bearing arms for self-defense, or for hunting. The “extraordinary occasions” he described included a defense against a “common enemy.” He went on to say that “to learn the use of arms is all that can save us from a foreign foe that may attempt to subdue us.”   

Nasson knew a lot about serving in a militia, but he also knew that his right to bear arms wasn’t predicated on that service. As anti-gun activists are again pushing the idea that the Second Amendment doesn’t protect an individual right to keep and bear arms, voices like Nasson’s still have a role to play in educating Americans about their unalienable and individual rights protected, not created, by our Bill of Rights.