Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “United States

Wounded Knee Massacre – Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the conflict at Wounded Knee Creek; December 29th, 1890


The Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on December 29, 1890, near Wounded Knee Creek (Lakota: Čhaŋkpé Ópi Wakpála) on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the U.S. state of South Dakota. On the day before, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by Major Samuel M. Whitsideintercepted Spotted Elk’s band of Miniconjou Lakota and 38 Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them five miles westward (8 km) to Wounded Knee Creek, where they made camp.

The remainder of the 7th Cavalry Regiment arrived, led by Colonel James W. Forsyth and surrounded the encampment supported by four Hotchkiss mountain guns.

On the morning of December 29, the troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. One version of events claims that during the process of disarming the Lakota, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, claiming he had paid a lot for it.A scuffle over Black Coyote’s rifle escalated and a shot was fired which resulted in the 7th Cavalry’s opening fire indiscriminately from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own fellow soldiers. The Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the attacking soldiers, who quickly suppressed the Lakota fire. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed many who were unarmed.

By the time it was over, more than 200 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed and 51 were wounded (4 men, 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead at 300. Twenty-five soldiers also died, and 39 were wounded (6 of the wounded would later die).



Navajo medicine man, Southwest U.S.; ca. 1904

President Lyndon B. Johnson holds his dog “Her” by the ears as his other dog “Him” looks on, the White House lawns; April 27, 1964

To be fair Lyndon Johnson wasn't all that nice to humans, either.

Him and Her, the most well known of the President Johnson’s dogs, were registered beagles born on June 27, 1963. The President frequently played with the dogs and was often photographed with them. In 1964, President Johnson raised the ire of many when he lifted Him by his ears while greeting a group on the White House lawn.

Her died at the White House in November 1964, after she swallowed a stone. Him died in June 1966, when he was hit by a car while chasing a squirrel on the White House. (Source)

An injured survivor of the Hindenburg disaster calmly smokes a cigarette as he is moved to a hospital from the field at Lakehurst, New Jersey; May 6, 1937


Primary source footage that explains the event and info about the Hindenburg here:

Also live commentary of the event, “Oh, the humanity!”:

Hindenburg disaster that occurred on May 6, 1937, New Jersey, United States – (Colorized Photo)


Most of the people onboard survived the Hindenburg disaster.

Hydrogen rises, burning hydrogen rises even faster. While it made one hell of a fireball, the people actually below the gas bags were in (relatively) little danger.

Also interestingly, the most deadly airship accident was the the loss of the helium using USS Akron four years earlier.

(Which raises the question of why does everyone know about the Hindenburg, but few know about the Akron? The Hindenburg disaster is not historic because of the disaster itself, what made it historic was that it is the beginning of the rise of news media ubiquity. It’s the first major disaster that was recorded as it happened and shown in both video and live(recorded for radio) commentary to the world.

Were it not for the film and commentary, it would just be another footnote in the question of why nobody uses zeppelins.)

Failure of the Teton Dam near Rexburg, Idaho on Saturday June 5, 1976. At 350 feet, this is the tallest dam that has ever failed.


The Teton Dam was an earthen dam in Idaho, United States, built by the Bureau of Reclamation, one of eight federal agencies authorized to construct dams. Located on the Teton River in the eastern part of the state, between Fremont and Madison counties, it suffered a catastrophic failure on June 5, 1976, as it was filling for the first time. (Source)

Another view:


Even more impressive, you can watch it collapse:

(More info)


Geronimo and his warriors. One of the only known photos of Indian combatants still in the field who had not yet surrendered to the United States; ca. March 1886


A Japanese cherry tree hacked down with the words “To hell with those Japanese” carved into it three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.; December 10th, 1941.


“In 1912 Japan sent 3,020 cherry trees to the United States as a gift of friendship. First Lady Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin.”


I guess whoever felled the tree knew the symbolism.

Were Southern Generals better than Northern Generals in the US Civil War?

Right after the Civil War, there was something called the myth of the “Lost Cause.” It was pioneered by Edward A. Pollard, A Richmond journalist who wrote a history of the war in 1866, called (can you guess?) The Lost Cause. Basically, the book says that the Confederacy was a glorious agrarian state, and was defended by the best armies in American history. Pollard argues that the Armies of the Confederacy were more motivated, they fought better, they were led by better officers, and they were fighting for a noble and glorious cause (the defense of the antebellum south). Many historians, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, repeated this myth and rebuilt it into its modern, “acceptable” form. Basically, they repeated it so often, and so loudly, that the “Lost Cause” became accepted as truth. Men like Douglas Southall Freeman, and even Ken Burns, have been influenced by the “Lost Cause” mythos. More recent historians have moved away from the “Lost Cause” myth, but the myth is still incredibly powerful, especially in conservative and southern circles, where the myth is undergoing yet another reinvention.

Were the South’s generals really better? Well that depends.

Robert E. Lee was repeatedly able to produce battlefield successes; hes called the American Napoleon for good reason! But he also failed strategically, by wasting the South’s precious manpower in offensive battles that cost the Confederacy more than it gained.

And on the other hand, Ulysses Grant maximized the Union’s advantage, especially in the Overland Campaign, by using multiple armies to attack the Confederacy all along its border. This strategy prevented the Confederates from reinforcing one area after another, as they had done in 1863, and it also stretched the CSA’s manpower to its very limits. So, there, you could say that Grant better adapted his strategy to the unique strengths and weaknesses of the resources at his disposal. In addition, he waged a spectacular series of campaigns, first in Mississippi against Vicksburg, then later against Lee in Northern Virginia, which achieved remarkable battlefield success.

What held Grant back, and what held both the Confederacy and the Union back throughout the war, was the state of professionalism in the wartime armies. Many of the Generals who fought in the American Civil War, on both sides, really weren’t generals at all. Lee was a Colonel before the war, Grant was a washed up Captain, Winfield Scott Hancock was a quartermaster, Sherman was a Colonel at First Bull Run, etc. Nobody really had the command experience required to maneuver large forces either strategically, or tactically. Unlike in Europe, where generals learnt how to be generals for decades before a war put their training to the test, in America, these men had to learn on the job. What that meant was that those with natural talent, like Lee, Grant, and Sherman, floated to the top, while everyone else made a mockery of warfighting. And when a commander would be wounded, or worse promoted, their subordinates would have to come up to fill the gap, regardless of skill or training. The Armies needed officers, and it was too late to shove a new batch through West-Point to make a general staff.

Thats why we often look at the Union Army, especially the Army of the Potomac under Hooker and Burnside, and snicker. They look so dumb, and these men were give command of an army. But really, I think if you look at what was going on in the Western theatre, and if you look at the Corps commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia, Grant and Lee were the exceptions, not the rule. They were the cream that rose to the top. Even men like Longstreet and “Stonewall” Jackson had major problems with commanding their forces in the field, Longstreet did poorly without Lee’s supervision, and Jackson did so with it.

So I think thats the real issue with Generalship in the Civil War. The South was fortunate to have found Lee so early on, while Grant was a gem that had to be dug out of the rough.

The debate about gun control in 1791, (when the 2nd amendment was truly about militias and muskets)

The purpose and intent of the 2nd was to provide for the overthrow of government in the case of tyranny.

For the early founding fathers, that specifically meant having weaponry accessible to citizens. Here’s Hamilton in Federalist 29:

This desirable uniformity can only be accomplished by confiding the regulation of the militia to the direction of the national authority. It is, therefore, with the most evident propriety, that the plan of the convention proposes to empower the Union “to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by congress.

Notice the word “arming” in there. But Hamilton also viewed the 2nd amendment as a collective right. Some early laws were also based on the idea of arming the populace as part of a collective right. The 1792 Act of Militia is a good example of what I’m talking about.

That every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball: or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear, so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise, or into service,

So, the founders viewed armament a lot more similarly to how the Swiss view it today: an individual responsibility as part of a collective right.

So what changed? In a lot of ways, the Civil War changed things. The NRA was actually formed after the Civil War. The Civil War, and the 14th Amendment, was actually what sort of gave rise to the view of the Bill of Rights as being individual rights rather than collective ones. As Akhil Reed Amar, a con law professor at Yale, explains here:

The NRA is founded after the Civil War by a group of ex-Union Army officers. Now the motto goes, when guns are outlawed, only klansmen will have guns. Individual black men had to have guns in their homes because they couldn’t count on the local constabulary. It’s in the text of the Freedman’s Bureau Act of 1866 that we actually see the reinterpretation of the original Second Amendment. It becomes about original rights.

So, to take things back a ways. Originally, the Second Amendment was viewed much more as a collective right. The important thing was that individuals be armed as part of a group responsibility. In other words, you needed to have a gun in case you were needed to help overthrow a tyrannical government.

After the Civil War, the whole discussion about collective versus individual rights changed, and having a gun became much more about self defense. This was in direct response to the newly Reconstructed South.

Your individual state could regulate your guns, but the feds couldn’t. Projecting the phrase “gun rights” back in time is really problematic, pretty much for this reason. It was somewhat common in the south for it to be illegal for Black men to own guns–even free Blacks. To a much lesser extent, the same was true for women. It wasn’t so much that you had “gun rights” so much at all, since there was no thought that taking guns away from Blacks was in any way threatening the gun ownership of Whites.


 Here’s a list of laws/proposals relating to guns, militias and armies from the English Bill of Rights to the 2nd Amendment. I thought the progression in the wording was interesting.

English Bill of Rights (1689)

  • That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law
  • That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law

Virginia Declaration of Rights (May 1776)

  • Section 13. That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.

Massachusetts Constitution (1780)

  • XVII. The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence. And as, in time of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature; and the military power shall always be held in an exact subordination to the civil authority, and be governed by it.

Gun related requests from States to Congress for Original Amendments:


  • No request

New York

  • That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, including the body of the people capable of bearing arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state.
  • That the militia should not be subject to martial law, except in time of war, rebellion, or insurrection.
  • That standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and ought not to be kept up, except in cases of necessity; and that at all times the military should be under strict subordination to the civil power.


  • 17th. That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated militia composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free state. That standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power.

James Madison’s original version of the 2nd Amendment

  • The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.

Final version of the 2nd 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.

I found the progression interesting. My favorite parts were:

  • The founders started from a position before the revolution of statements like ‘armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature’ but by the late 1780s that language is missing.
  • The 2nd amendment originally had the clause ‘but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person’ but it was removed.
  • The original wording of the 2nd amendment started ‘The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country’ – They reversed it but I have no idea why. It seems the original was stronger though it is impossible to know their intent unless their discussions were written down.

Bedlam, 1946.

On May 6, 1946, Life magazine published “Bedlam 1946,” an exposé of two state hospitals: Pennsylvania’s Byberry and Ohio’s Cleveland State. To a country shaken by recent revelations of Nazi atrocities, the pictures were deeply affecting. The crisis in state mental hospitals motivated Dr. Walter Freeman to devise a simple version of the lobotomy procedure, one that could be used on a mass scale.

“All of a sudden America sees these photos that look like concentration camp photos. You see people huddled naked along walls, strapped to benches — and it really is this descent into this shameful moment. And the country did say, we have to do something about this.” – Robert Whitaker, writer

Read the 1946 Life article in its entirety, and see some of the pictures that horrified Americans:

by Albert Q. Maisel

The author of this article, through his previous writing and his testimony before a congressional committee, helped instigate important improvements in the Veterans Administration’s mental hospitals. The Ohio photographs were taken by Jerry Cooke with the permission of Frazier Reams, Ohio State Commissioner of Public Welfare, and the cooperation of the Ohio Mental Hygiene Association, an affiliate of The National Committee for Mental Hygiene.

A patient lies unattended at Cleveland State Mental Hospital

A patient lies unattended at Cleveland State Mental Hospital

In Philadelphia the sovereign Commonwealth of Pennsylvania maintains a dilapidated, overcrowded, undermanned mental “hospital” known as the “Dungeon,” one can still read, after nine years, the five-word legend, “George was killed here, 1937.”

This pitiful memorial might apply quite as well to hundreds of other Georges in mental institutions in almost every state in the Union, for Pennsylvania is not unique. Through public neglect ad legislative penny-pinching, state after state has allowed its institutions for the care and cure of the mentally sick to degenerate into little more than concentration camps on the Belsen pattern.

Court and grand-jury records document scores of deaths of patients following beatings by attendants. Hundreds of instances of abuse, falling just short of manslaughter, are similarly documented. And reliable evidence, from hospital after hospital, indicates that these are but a tiny fraction of the beatings that occur, day after day, only to be covered up by a tacit conspiracy of mutually protective silence and a code that ostracizes employees who sing too loud.”

Yet beatings and murders are hardly the most significant of the indignities we have heaped upon most of the 400,000 guiltless patient-prisoners of over 180 state metal institutions.

We feed thousands a starvation diet, often dragged further below the low-budget standard by the withdrawal of the best food for the staff dining rooms. We jam-pack men, women and sometimes even children into hundred-year-old firetraps in wards so crowded that the floors cannot be seen between the rickety cots, while thousands more sleep on ticks, on blankets, or on the bare floors. We give them little and shoddy clothing at best. Hundreds — of my own knowledge and sight — spend twenty-four hours a day in stark and filthy nakedness. Those who are well enough to work slave away in many institutions for 12 hours a day, often without a day’s rest for years on end. One man at Cleveland, Ohio — and he is no isolated exception — worked in this fashion for 19 solid years on a diet the poorest sharecropper would spurn.

Thousands spend their days — often for weeks at a stretch — locked in devices euphemistically called “restraints”: thick leather handcuffs, great canvas camisoles, “muffs,” “mitts,” wristlets, locks and straps and restraining sheets. Hundreds are confined in “lodges” — bare bedless, rooms reeking with filth and feces — by day lit only through half-inch holes though steel-plated windows, by night merely black tombs in which the cries of the insane echo unheard from the peeling plaster of the walls.

Worst of all, for these wards of society we provide physicians, nurses and attendants in numbers far below even the minimum standards set by state rules. Institutions that would be seriously unmanned even if not overcrowded find themselves swamped with 30%, 50% and even 100% more patients than they were built to hold. These are not wartime conditions but have existed for decades. Restraints, seclusion and constant drugging of patients become essential in wards where one attendant must herd as many as 400 mentally deranged charges.

Paid wages insufficient to attract able personnel, even by prewar standards, and often working 10- and 12- hour days, these medical staffs have almost ceased (with some significant exceptions) to strive for cures. Many have resigned themselves, instead, to mere custodial care on a level that led one governor to admit that “our cows in the hospital barns get better care then the men and women in the wards.”

Thus thousands who might be restored to society linger in man-made hells for a release that comes more quickly only because death comes faster to he abused, the beaten, the drugged, the starved, and the neglected. In some mental hospitals, for example, tuberculosis is 13 times as common as in the population at large.

Such conditions cannot be explained away as a result of wartime personnel shortages; the war merely accentuates long-existing failings. Most hospitals have never had enough personnel, even by their own low schedules. Wages have always been desperately low. Even a year before Pearl Harbor we had already crowded 404,293 patients into buildings built to hold 365,192.

Nor can any of these horrors be excused on the grounds of “common practice” or as “the best that can be done for the insane.” For some states have managed to eliminate overcrowding. Some states discharge, as cured or improved, three and four times as high a proportion of patients as others. A few, notably tiny Delaware, have managed to secure an adequate number of doctors, nurses and attendants.

Even within individual states some outstanding superintendents have managed to raise their institutions to a decent level despite low pay scales and heavy overloads. By ingenuity, leadership and hard work some have succeeded not merely in discountenancing beatings and restricting the use of restraints and solitary confinement but in elimination these relics of the dark ages entirely.

The sad and shocking fact, however, is that these exceptions are few and far between. The vast majority of our state institutions are dreary, dilapidated excuses for hospitals, costly monuments to the states’ betrayal of the duty they have assumed to their most helpless wards.

Patients in a hospital for the mentally ill, c. 1946

Patients in a hospital for the mentally ill, c. 1946

 Charges such as these are far too serious to be based solely upon observations of any single investigator. But there is no need to do so. In addition to my own observations on a dozen hospitals, in addition to court records and the reports of occasional investigating commissions, there is now available for the first time a reliable body of data covering nearly one third of all the state hospitals in 20 states from Washington to Virginia, from Maine to Utah. A by-product of the war’s aggravation of the long-existing personnel shortage, this data represents the collated reports of more than 3,000 conscientious objectors who, under Selective Service, volunteered for assignment as mental hospital attendants. The majority are still in service and, with Selective Service approval, these serious young Methodists, Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren have been filling out questionnaires and writing “narratives” for use in the preparation of instructional material for mental-hospital workers.

One may differ, as I do, with the views that led these young men to take up a difficult and unpopular position against service in the armed forces. But one cannot help but recognize their honesty and sincerity in reporting upon the conditions they found in the hospitals to which they were assigned. Supported as they are by other official data, their reports leave no shadow of doubt as to the need for major reforms in the mental-hospital systems of almost every state.

Consider, for instance, the shocking data on brutality and physical abuse of the patients. One report form a New York State hospital reads as follows:

“… The testimony revealed that these four attendants slapped patients in the face as hard as they could, pummeling in their ribs with fists, some being knocked to the floor and kicked. One 230-pound bully had the habit of bumping patients on the back of the head with the heel of his hand — and on one occasion had the patient put his hand on a chair, the striking his fingers with a heavy passkey…”

From a state hospital in Iowa comes the following report:

“Then the ‘charge’ (attendant) and the patient who had done the choking began to kick the offender, principally along the back, but there were several kicks a the back of the neck and one very painful one in the genitals which caused the victim to scream and roll in agony. … Sometimes more than 20 kicks must have been administered. Finally e was dragged down the floor and locked in a side room. When I asked the ‘charge’ how it started, he said ‘Oh, nothing. That ——- ought to be killed.’ The victim was in handcuffs all the time; had been in handcuffs continuously for several days.”

From an Ohio state hospital:

“An attendant and I were sitting on the porch watching the patients. Somebody came along sweeping and the attendant yelled at a patient to get up off the bench so that the worker-patient could sweep. But the patient did not move. The attendant jumped up with an inch-wide restraining strap and began to beat the patient in the face and on top of the head. ‘Get the hell up…!’ It was a few minutes — a few horrible ones for the patient — before the attendant discovered that he was strapped around the middle to the bench and could not get up.”

These are but examples among score upon score of cases described and corroborated in the records of the National Mental Health Foundation. The ultraskeptical may feel that they represent the exaggerated views of impressionable conchies with a moral ax to grind. But this idea is fully refuted by the facts concerning other cases which have broken into the newspapers and reached the courts.

The state hospital at Nevada, Mo. Was investigated as a result of a death of a patient, Cordell Humphrey, last July 6. An autopsy performed by Dr. Van Urk of Carthage, Mo. Showed that Humphrey had been beaten severely a short time before his death. “There were marks on the arms, legs, chest, abdomen and head, and injuries to the brain that could have caused the death,” Dr. Van Urk reported. As a result of this incident Attendant Massey Cloninger was sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary and another attendant is awaiting trial on charges of assault.

At Hastings, Neb., in February of this year, former State Hospital Attendant William L. Skelton was convicted of assault in connection with the death of Alfred T. Anderson, a patient. Skelton helped hold Anderson down while another attendant hit him with a blackjack.

A patient at the Cleveland State Mental Hospital

A patient at the Cleveland State Mental Hospital

In 1941 five attendants at Connecticut’s Fairfield State Hospital were charged with complicity in two separate beatings of patients, one of whom died. Two of these attendants were convicted of manslaughter and one of assault. Early in 1942 two attendants were arrested for abusing five patients at the Middletown State Hospital and one of the attendants received a jail sentence. As a result the Public Welfare Council and the U.S Public Health Service made a thorough investigation of all the Connecticut mental institutions. Yet only last November serious charges of maladministration at the Fairfield State Hospital brought about another inquiry which ended with the resignation of the hospital superintendent.

Hospital administrators do not, of course, countenance beatings in Connecticut or elsewhere. Yet in case after case, instead of bringing criminal charges, they have been satisfied merely to admonish or, at most, discharge the guilty attendant — leaving him free to move on to other states or even to other hospitals within the same state. A typical instance of this sort came to light in Cleveland last year when Attendant Aaron Copley was tried and convicted in Municipal Court on a charge of assault and battery upon a patient. Copley contended that he was “being made the goat” and that brutality was commonly practiced in the Cleveland hospital. He submitted charges involving seven separate beatings by three other attendants. When the court probation officer investigated these charges he found that Attendant Hunter, one of those accused by Copley, had a record of previous conviction for arson and had been an inmate of the Veterans Administration mental hospital and Perry Point, Md. Yet despite this record, elicited in a single week by a few letters from the probation officer, Attendant Hunter had had no difficulty in securing and retaining employment at the Cleveland hospital. Even after suspicious “accidents” had occurred in his ward while he was on duty. The hospital had never bothered to make even a cursory check of Hunter’s character and background.

The fact is that beatings are merely the extreme end product which thrusts upon overworked, poorly trained and shamefully underpaid employees the burden of controlling hundreds of patients whom they fear and despise. Far more frequent than beatings are the endless cruelties involved in the use of constraints. Although some hospitals have managed to dispense with physical restraints entirely and others permit their use only on written order from doctors, the all-too-widespread practice is to leave the decision to tie down a patient or throw him into solitary up to the harassed and fearful attendant.

The investigators of the Connecticut hospitals in 1942 cited the presence of 16 patients in restraint and 32 in seclusion at Norwich State Hospital in February of the year. Deploring this, they expressed the pious hope that “the use of such measures be materially decreased”. Yet in a single month in 1945, according to records cited by two “conchie” attendants, 26 patients in this same hospital spent 6,552 hours in canvas lacings, mittens and sheets. Eighty others spent 13,900 hours in solitary seclusion!

One contentious-objector attendant, reporting from a state hospital in New York, gave the following account of the way in which restraints are abused. He wrote:

“We have one patient, E.E., who has been in restraint sheets for a period of several months; often he is not even toileted once during the day … Another patient, A.H., has been in a camisole for over a month and the only time it is taken off is once a week for bathing.”

In Pennsylvania, the state Bureau of Mental Health has issued repeated detailed orders, ever since 1925, limiting the use of restraints. In theory, under these orders, restraints “should be applied only on written order of a physician and for a specified period.” In theory a complete and detailed record on the use of restraint is supposed to be kept.

Yet the notes of a conference of about 300 members of the conchie unit at a Pennsylvania hospital in August 1944 read:

Sheet restraints are used considerably but never reported; the usual practice for the first half-day in hydrotherapy (female) is to put patients tautly in restraints with hands above heads, often causing immobility of arms when restraints are removed. … Towels are frequently used on both male and female sides for temporary restraint. … Cuffs and straps are in general use, in all combinations, partial and complete; sheets are used to tie ankles, necks and chests to beds, benches and chairs. Hands and feet are often observed in swollen condition because of insufficient supervision in such cases.”

“Records show an average of 38 or more in restraint; there are some cases when actual number in restraint is greater than the recorded number. Some have been in restraint in B [building] for the seven months that one attendant has worked there; some are in [restraint] on the female side for weeks and months without the doctors seeing them ‘because the doctors don’t like to go upstairs.'”

In the more “enlightened” hospitals chemical restraints (i.e., drugs) are used to keep the patients under control so that they will be less trouble to the attendant. In theory these drugs can be prescribed only be physicians or registered nurses. In practice they are often sent up to the wards in batches and administered at the discretion of untrained attendants. A case cited by one conchie at another Pennsylvania state hospital (and corroborated by another from the same unit) illustrates the end result of such “free hand” administration of drugs:

“L. was a young man about 25 … so quick and strong that they had a great deal of trouble trying to overpower him. He was given sedation — sodium phenobarbital — every three hours … After a while, after I had objected to the doctor, sedation was stopped and he made a serious attempt to save the boy. I made a copy of his sedation record. In 108 hours he received at least 90 grains [sic] of sodium phenobarbital -making no allowances for probable overdoses and a good bit of Hyoscine. The last few shots were given when he had a fever. He had had so many sedatives, however, that it was hopeless and he died.”


When one studies the almost endless parade of cases such as these, the correlation between mistreatment and brutality on the one hand and low pay, long hours and overcrowding on the other hand is immediately apparent.

Male patients at an institution for mental illness in Ohio

Male patients at an institution for mental illness in Ohio

At Warren, Pa., for instance, the hospital is supposed to have a capacity for 2,074. Actually its average daily resident-patient population is 2.560; a 23% overload. The scheduled number of employees is 500 … the actual number in recent months has averaged 371. There have been four physicians — one to every 640 patients — when the official schedule calls for 12 and any decent standard would require from 18 to 25. The “secret” of these personnel shortages — which have existed since long before the war — is readily apparent when one examines the wage scales. Attendants at Pennsylvania state hospitals start at the magnificent base pay of less than $900 a year plus maintenance. By contrast the same state starts prison guards off at $1,950 a year plus maintenance, although the psychiatric attendant’s job is more dangerous and certainly far less pleasant than that of the prison guard.

Nor is Pennsylvania by any means the worst among the states. At the state hospital at Howard, R.I., there were approximately 200 vacancies among attendants on Dec. 13, 1945. The starting wage for attendants was $55 a month and maintenance.

The rated capacity of Cherokee State Hospital, Iowa is 1,200 patients. On Dec. 20, 1945 it had 1,725 on its rolls. Yet of 20 “budgeted” nurses only two were on the rolls; of 130 budgeted attendants only 62 were actually employed. Attendants’ wages start at $65 a month.

Penny-pinching is not limited to wages. Between skimped budgets and a lack of help scores of hospitals have not been able to maintain even a minimum standard of building maintenance. From one of the Virginia state hospitals comes the following report:

“There is no shower in the infirmary and senile ward … only two bathtubs for approximately 65 patients … In one bathroom dirty water from pipes in a bathroom overhead drips into our bathtub and on the patient being bathed, as well as on the attendant doing the bathing.”

From a New York state institution:

“On Ward 41 we keep the more disturbed and untidy patients … who frequently break the windowpanes. During the summer no attempt was made to replace broken panes. When cold weather came there were still no windowpanes put in. For two weeks we attendants called the attention of the supervisor to this condition but [he] merely passed it off as unnecessary, not bothering to even go out to the day room to investigate.”

Even the food is skimped. In 1940 the average value of the food consumed by patients in mental hospitals throughout the U.S. was 23.3c per day. Some states were trying to feed patients on as little as 17c a day and even in such high-cost areas as New York the daily food consumption was only 26.8c. In most cases these figures include the food raised by patient labor on hospital farms.

Investigators are often fooled by elaborate menus prepared by dieticians and carefully filed in the hospital records. How deceptive these menus can be is demonstrated by the records kept by one objector-attendant at a Connecticut state hospital.

One morning in August 1944, when the patients’ breakfast menu called for Maltex and soft-cooked eggs, the patients got merely Maltex. That night instead of a menu-listed ration of “macaroni, tomatoes and cheese” their supper consisted of nothing but lima-bean soup. A few days later breakfast was supposed to have consisted of “orange halves, corn meal and scrambled eggs.” The patients got only corn meal. For dinner that day they were supposed to have “beef stew and steamed rice with raisins.” They actually ate frankfurters, squash and potatoes. For supper they were scheduled to get naked beans and coleslaw. They actually got bean soup and nothing else.

From a New Jersey state hospital, an attendant writes:

“At its worst, which we see daily, the plate takes on the appearance of what usually is found in most garbage cans … I have seen coleslaw salad thrown loose on the table, the patients expected to grab it as animals would … Tables, chairs and floors are … many times covered with the refuse of the previous meal.”

The inadequacy of the patients’ food is often aggravated by the assignment of the finest food to the hospital staffs. The dinner menu for the doctors at a Pennsylvania state hospital on a Tuesday in August 1945 consisted of a “prime rib roast beef with gravy, broiled potatoes, roast corn on the cob, bread (white, whole wheat, rye or raisin) with butter, salad of cucumber, lettuce and celery, apple-apricot pie and coffee, tea, iced coffee, iced tea, or milk.” On the same day patients in several buildings got “hard boiled eggs, lima beans, beets, white bread without butter and milk or black coffee.”

Pennsylvania state law requires that all milk except Grade A be pasteurized. Grade A milk is required to have a bacteria count of fewer than 50,000 per cubic centimeter. On 22 separate occasions from January 1943 to December 1944 tests were made of the milk served in the patients’ dining room at Warren State Hospital. On only six occasions did it comply with the law. The average bacteria count of this unpasteurized raw milk was 398,100. On three occasions it exceeded 1,250,000 and on one occasion it exceeded 3,200,000!


Abuse and the punitive use of restraints, overcrowding, underfeeding and dilapidation might all be condoned if only these hospitals achieved a reasonable standard of treatment and cure. But the fact is that the vast majority of them fall far below the achievements of the far better hospitals and far, far below what could be achieved if cure rather than mere custody were the primary objective.

Pilgrim State Hospital inmates, 1936

Pilgrim State Hospital inmates, 1936

Annually, in the U.S. as a whole, for every 100 mental patients fewer than 12 are discharged as improved. Even of these, more than 40% have to be readmitted and reconfined, usually within a few months.

The discharge rate tends to fall as overcrowding rises. Again using pre-Pearl Harbor figures, New Mexico, overcrowded by 107.5%, achieves a discharge rate of only 4.1%. Illinois, on the other hand, has only a few hundred more patients than its buildings were deigned to hold. Its discharge rate is 15.9%, nearly four times as high as that of New Mexico.

There are eight so-called “special therapies” which provide a good index of the degree to which any hospital attempts to achieve cur or improvement for the large proportion of cases where modern medicine offers hope. In most of the northern and central states in all eight of these types of treatment are, at least theoretically, available to the patients. But the figures of 1939, before war emergencies rose, indicate the North Carolina offers only two of the eight; South Dakota, Vermont, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada offer only three; Alabama, Utah and North Dakota offer only four.

In some hospitals the shortage of personnel and the patient overload have progressed to the point where physicians make little pretense of treating any large proportion of the patients. The vast majority of patients get whatever treatment they do receive from unskilled and untrained attendants. A Mental Health Foundation report from an Iowa state hospital reads:

“Attendants give medications constantly and without doctor’s signature, on oral orders only. They decide restraint problems and no reports arte made. They receive no training. There are no nurses in this hospital.”

A similar report from another Iowa hospital says:

“There is no systematic review of classification and parole-eligibility by the staff. Such review was begun a year ago but given up as hopeless within a few weeks … Many patients are good parole prospects but are not considered except upon request of relatives … no longer any special diets for diabetics. Such diets used to be prepared some time ago but have been discontinued. Diabetics eat the same meals as other patients now.”

Despite work loads that would break the strongest men, many state hospital physicians labor to the point of exhaustion in a sincere effort to do their best under discouraging circumstances. In the many hospitals I have visited I have seen many men and women physicians doing jobs of truly heroic proportions. At Dayton, Ohio, a 73-year old woman physician has come out of retirement to work long hours, often visiting her patients in a wheelchair.


Others, however, are incompetents, alcoholics and psychotics who could hold no position in well-run institutions where cure is the objective. All too often the end result can be described in the terms used in a report form an Indiana state hospital:

“During my three months there I never saw the ward doctor give any but a cursory physical examination. He usually would stop but for a moment at the bedside of new patients. He was nicknamed ‘The Butcher’ by the nurses, after his manner of lancing boils. He seldom came to the ward to declare and expired patient dead. He would be called on the phone by the nurse when a patient was thought to have expired. Usually he would say ‘Oke’ and that would be the end of it. On outwards, patients are prepared for and set to the morgue without ever a doctor appearing on the ward.”

From a Pennsylvania state hospital a report reads:

“On one occasion a young patent with a fractured hip was sent to us (2-West, male infirmary) and we got him up into a wheelchair for several days, not knowing what was wrong with him. No doctor corrected our mistake until five weeks later.”

From Utah comes the report:

“A patient became ill and his rectal temperature was fond to be 105.4. The doctor who was called replied “He gets a high temperature every once in a while, so don’t worry about it.'”

Such instances of callousness and incompetence — and the records are replete with hundreds more — cannot, of course, be excused in men licensed ad physicians and pledged to the Hippocratic oath. Yet the major burden of blame must be placed elsewhere than upon physicians’ shoulders when reports such as this one from a Rhode Island state hospital are considered:

“After much persuasion our ward doctor finally examined a patient suspected of having tuberculosis and sent him eventually to the sanitarium. The patient died two days later of active tuberculosis. The doctor had far too many patients to handle. He was responsible for 550 at the hospital plus some 200 men at the state prison.”

As evidence mounts up one s led, inevitable, to the question, “Can things like this ever be corrected?” Fortunately, the answer is “Yes,” or rather, “Yes, but it takes hard work.” For the state of Ohio, where conditions were as bad as anywhere in the U.S., a major reform movement is now under way.

It started in 1943 when a group of conscientious objectors stationed at Cleveland State Hospital interested in two leading Cleveland citizens, the Rev. Dr. Dores R. Sharpe, executive secretary of the Cleveland Baptist Association, and Walter Lerch of the Cleveland Press. Before these men the conchies laid a stack of affidavits a foot high, affidavits covering conditions such as those I have describes and other horrors even worse.

After confirming the accuracy of the affidavits by his own investigations, Lerch broke the story on the front page of the Cleveland Press in October 1943. Day after day he brought forth more evidence — proving the beating and shackling of patients, proving the inadequacy and revolting nature of the food, the overcrowding, the low salaries, the neglect of treatment.

At first the stories were met by officials with shocked cries of “it ain’t so.” But when Haden Blake, an attendant, was ordered arrested for beating a patient and when Blake was permitted to walk out the back door and escape when the arresting officer cam for him, the governor was forced to authorize an investigation. Even so, for a period an attempt was made to cover-up and white-wash. The “investigation,” conducted by the state welfare director — himself under criticism as the man ultimately responsible for the operation of Ohio mental hospitals — brought forth a report reporting gross exaggerations.

In a patient's room at Cleveland State Mental Hospital

In a patient’s room at Cleveland State Mental Hospital


The entire matter might have died at this point, as have so many other newspaper exposes, had not the Cleveland hospital superintendent, a Dr. Hans Lee, made the mistake of seeking to oust the complaining conscientious-objector attendants instead of those charged with beatings. Lerch sailed in once again, showing that one objector, who had confessed to beating a patient, was being detained while the complaining witnesses were being dismissed. Within a few days another attendant was under arrest. A day or two later a patient walked off the grounds and to the great embarrassment of the authorities committed suicide in public. Church groups and civic bodies rallied around Lerch and Sharpe, calling for a real probe and, after eight weeks of charges and countercharges, Governor Bricker finally named a representative committee to conduct a real investigation.

For months Lerch kept the fires of criticism hot with further charges. It was shown that four female patients had arrived at the hospital only to be thrust into strong rooms and left there unattended until all four came down with pneumonia. Their unconscious bodies and high temperatures were discovered only on the day of their death.

It was shown that rats, in a makeshift basement morgue, ate away the face of an aged patient while his body awaited burial.

It was proved that only 13 beds were provided for tubercular cases in interior rooms having neither sunlight nor ventilation. It was demonstrated that during at least one two-week period no medical officer, except the superintendent on a routine tour, had seen the desperately ill people.

Lerch kept hammering away with more and more evidence until. In May of 1944, seven months after the first expose, the soon-to-retire governor appointed Dr. Frank F. Tallman to the long-vacant post of State Commissioner for Mental Hygiene. Then things really began to happen.

Within a few weeks, the superintendent at Cleveland “came to the conclusion” that he might best resign. The governor’s Griswold Commission came in with a scathing report, confirming the previously denied charges and recommending a $36,700,000 program for additions and new hospitals.

Yet Sharpe and Lerch and Tallman were hardly satisfied, for recommendations are not appropriations and the proposed “brick and mortar” building program, while desperately needed, did nothing to raise employee standards or solve personnel shortages. They kept on campaigning and in January 1945 got another break when Sharpe was appointed foreman of the Cayuga County Grand Jury.

Under the dynamic teacher that runaway jury took the old common law literally and proceeded to investigate the Cleveland hospital from dank cellars to dark attics. It finally issued a special presentment which concluded that an unprecedented indictment of the state itself as “the uncivilized social system which enabled such an intolerable and barbaric practice to fasten itself upon the people.”

With Lerch, now joined by other newspapers, making the most of Sharpe’s presentment, a reluctant legislature voted $17,000,000 for new hospitals. Under Tallman many of the worst abuses are being eliminated and the long, hard climb toward a decent standard begun.

A prime point in the new program calls for a chain of receiving hospitals, special institutions to which new cases are sent for diagnosis and three months or less of intensive therapy without the stigma of court commitment and incarceration in an “insane asylum.” The first of these was opened last November at Youngstown with a capacity of 80 patients and a staff of 60, including two physicians, a psychologist, two social workers and 14 graduate nurses.

Intensive treatment of this sort is expensive. It cost $6 a day as opposed to $1.20 a day in Ohio’s large and essentially custodial mental institutions. But it produces dramatically effective results. In the first three months of the Youngstown Hospital’s operation 89 patients were discharged after an average stay of only six weeks. Of these 71 were discharged back to their homes as “improved” and capable of at least a trial at adjustment to life in the outside world. Only 18 were sent to other institutions.

The gain to the state is obvious. For something less than $300 — spent on six weeks of intensive treatment — the state receives a high proportion of useful, economically productive citizens, while the custodial institutions, harboring identical cases, send as much or more per patient at their deceptively cheap rate of and, in the end, fail to restore the majority of these citizens to society.

In addition to these small intensive-treatment hospitals, Ohio has acquired hundreds of new beds since the reform movement started and had thousands more under, or awaiting, construction. A strong drive is under way to acquire new personnel and — even more important — to train new help so that they can function as medical personnel rather than as keepers. Many of the outstanding sadists and incompetents of the old regime have been dismissed; abuse and mistreatment of patients is no longer tolerated complacently.

Yet the leaders of Ohio’s mental-hospital reform movement — both within and outside of the administration — are by no means satisfied with the progress that has been made. Their principal difficulty centers around the pitifully low payments of attendants, nurses and physicians and the impossibility of securing adequate personnel to work 12-hour days for such small wages. Here, up to now, they have been stymied for the lack of appropriations.

But they are carrying on the fight. Under the leadership of Dr. Sharpe the newly formed Ohio Mental Hygiene Association has become a rallying point for everyone interested in hospital improvement. Governor Lausche has promised to press for funds for additional personnel and for the change-over to the eight-hour day. If these gains — plus substantial salary increases all the way down the line — can be wrung out of what has been a reluctant and penny-pinching legislature, Ohio will be well on the way to the leading position in the care of the mentally sick which the state once occupied 50 years ago.

For the rest of the country the Ohio experience demonstrates an effective technique through which reform can be achieved. It is no easy formula to follow. It requires years of hard work ad the intense interest of at least a few leading members of the community. But spark-plugged by understanding and dynamic leaders and properly presented to the people, a hospital reform can sweep any state — just as it has in Ohio. For what happens to the mentally-sick in our present hellhole hospitals is not the sad experience of some other fellow. Ever minister, every doctor and every leader of any community organization knows that mental illness can strike down members of his immediate circle. Given the facts and given leaders of the caliber of Sharpe or Lerch, the people of any state will rally, as have the common people of Ohio, to put an end to concentration camps that masquerade as hospitals and to make cure rather than incarceration the goal of their mental institutions.

[Originally from an exposé in published in LIFE Magazine on May 6th, 1946 titled “Bedlam 1946.” The original article is viewable via Google Books here. Lots more pictures. A transcribed (much more readable, lacking pictures) version of the article is here.]

NOTES ON: The 2nd Amendment- The Right to Bear Arms

It’s important to understand the the Founding Fathers were a bunch of different people with different opinions (see James Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention for lots of fun debates with the Founding Fathers)

  • In an 18th-century context, it was about having citizen militias as opposed to standing armies.
    • It’s really important to recognize that the notion of a standing army was a massive bugbear for 18th-century liberalist positions, and as many of the colonists had migrated to the new world to escape such European conditions as the New Model Army in the middle decades of the 17th century, or James II’s standing army in the 1680s, the idea was to not let that kind of shit happen anymore.
    • It’s the same idea that drives the amendment about having to quarter troops: that a standing army is a threat to a democratic government and the freedoms of the people who comprise it.

[All common law countries with written constitutions have two primary sources of constitutional law: the text itself and judicial interpretation of the text (jurisprudence). And since the text itself is very hard to change (in the US it requires agreement from 75% of the states), most changes in constitutional law come from evolution of the jurisprudence.

In the US, the 2nd amendment is old and poorly worded and the states are in disagreement, so it falls to the courts to interpret (set?) the law.

Now there are lots of philosophies on constitutional interpretation, but some key members of the Supreme court are enamored with original-ism (cough Scalia cough), which is the thought that the constitution should be interpreted according to the intent of the drafters.

Now lots of people think this is ridiculous because the drafters had no concept of iron birds or assault rifles or countless other factors that are extremely relevant to the discussion. I tend to agree but original-ism has its philosophical benefits: it puts the onus of constitutional developments on elected bodies and it has a certain rigidity to it that some people like (flexible law is no law at all as they say).

But as long the states cannot agree on a redraft or the USSC still clings to original-ism, then the intent of the founders will continue to matter.]

  • Originally, the Second Amendment was viewed much more as a collective right. The important thing was that individuals be armed as part of a group responsibility. IOW, you needed to have a gun in case you were needed to help overthrow a tyrannical government.

  • After the Civil War, the whole discussion about collective versus individual rights changed, and having a gun became much more about self defense. This was in direct response to the newly Reconstructed South.

  • For those men who were allowed to own guns, the Founders had their own version of the “individual mandate” that has proved so controversial in President Obama’s health-care-reform law: they required the purchase of guns. A 1792 federal law mandated every eligible man to purchase a military-style gun and ammunition for his service in the citizen militia. Such men had to report for frequent musters—where their guns would be inspected and, yes, registered on public rolls.

[As a note, even if one takes the position that it is the collective right for the militia rather than the individual right, Section 313 Title 32 states that every man 17-64 is a part of the unorganized militia.]

  • Now, gun-rights activists seem to be arguing that restrictive gun laws passed by Hitler were the impetus to his rise. That’s completely baseless as the Weapons Act was passed five years after Hitler’s ascension to power. Moreover, Hitler’s repressive tactics decimated the liberal ranks of Germany’s political system before the Weapons Act.

  • In the US, a lot of the first gun restrictions got passed in the post-reconstruction south explicitly to disarm blacks as part of the establishment of Jim Crow.

  • Loaded open carry was specifically banned in California after the Black Panthers marched on the state capitol building in 1968. They couldn’t charge them with anything so it was made illegal the next day.

  • There weren’t really gun control laws as we know them during the 18th century, and especially in New England, lots of folks served in the colonial militias. I imagine gun ownership became more common the further away from the big cities you went, both for making a living and because American settlers were terrified of Native American raids.

  • As for JFK, his assassination was added to assassinations of MLK, Malcom X, and RFK and was part of the impetus for the Gun Control Act of 1968, which, among other things, effectively banned direct mail order of firearms to non-licensed persons, which is how Oswald got his rifle.

Mr. Conservative

The modern conservative movement isn’t about being conservative at all, its about pandering to religious groups, saying you oppose anything the Democrats do while spending just as much money. There are no conservatives in Washington. A true conservative believes in the constitution. They would support the separation of church and state, the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms. They would support equal legal protections for all, meaning they would support a woman’s right to choose, and gay marriage. But again, there are no true conservatives in Washington, only partisan hacks using abortion and gay marriage as wedge issues to stay in office and keep raking in that sweet sweet lobbyist cash.

Barry Goldwater in a contemplative pose.

Here are three things Barry “Mr. Conservative” Goldwater said during his life as a politician:

“On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.”

“I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.'”

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

The added comma in the 2nd amendment:

What is it with 18th century punctuation and grammar?

Punctuation and spelling were a little looser then, and more importantly, some words in the 18th century do NOT mean what we think they mean today. People who posit that any historical document (whether something as well known as the Constitution to a simple piece of correspondence) is absolutely transparent to the modern reader needs to check their ego at the door. During my career as a historian I have made numerous errors of interpretation — and I am sure I am not done making them — because I misconstrued the use of a phrase or was unaware of how a phrase at a particular time was loaded with specific political, religious, or social meaning. Consider the history of words like terrific orenthusiast, or how certain terms like “gold” and “silver” came to take on special political meanings in the 19th century the same way that “life” and “choice” are — pardon the pun — pregnant with meaning today.

The truth is there may not have been universal agreement on the punctuation (or even the actual meaning) of all of the Constitution, much less its later amendments. Consider how both the Federalists and Antifederalists made counter charges as to what the Constitution would actually mean for a new America. Even the Federalist papers themselves are an interesting case in point — these documents, which have been cited over three hundred time sin court cases to explain what the constitution “actually meant,” were at their heart propaganda pieces to sell the Constitution on ratification. This does not mean that the Federalist papers are flim-flam, but some caution must be used: Sometimes the Federalist paper argue a very populist notion of the rights of the people (and mind you, this is before a bill of rights is on the table, at first), even though the top three types of positions in the new government (President, Senators, and Supreme Court Justices) would not be directly elected by the people.

A Hamiltonian view of what the Constitution meant, what it SHOULD have contained, and what it allowed is vastly different form what others such as Jefferson interpreted, and indeed formed a crux of the political discussion of the early republic.

So — and this is a roundabout way of getting back to the grammar discussion — yes, there is more than one way to legitimately parse the Second Amendment. But the best answer for what does it mean to have a “militia” or what kinds of rights does the second amendment refer to in reference to “arms”, grammar is probably not our most utilitarian friend. I discussed in the most recent second amendment thread the problem with the definition of militia. The majority opinion written by the conservative wing of the modern court in Heller, relied upon a definition of militia that chooses to both very broadly accept certain historical evidence (who are the people who make up the militia) but very narrowly construe the historical existence of the militia as being under control of the state governments. (One historical counterargument to Heller’s interpretation is that the militia as defined in Section I does indeed already exist, but were well-regulated meaning STATE CONTROLLED by the governor, which had been the case during the entire colonial period.)

The point is that grammar alone does not get us to “what does the second amendment really mean?” Heller is simply the most modern example of the court looking at historical and legal evidence and choosing to accept some types of evidence and discard others, which ultimately all rational people have to do when weighing teh evidence of what “the founders” meant. the problem is there is no one universal founder who agreed upon all things or set a specific set of definitions.

One last side note on historical grammar and punctuation and amendments: This problem with Amendments having various punctuation (or spellings) is not confined to this time period. There is a small bevvy of lunatic right-wing antitax zealots who have argued that the 16th Amendment was never properly ratified. Their argument boils down to that when the states sent back their ratification notices, some states had different capitalization, or a punctuation mark, or in one case a word that was plural was written in the singular, and that therefore they never really “ratified” the amendment. To no one’s surprise, these arguments have been dismissed by the courts, and now with some prejudice, as the claims have been labeled not only false but fraudulent by courts.