Stevenson on William Rotch and Second Amendment History @STCL_Houston

Drury D. Stevenson, South Texas College of Law Houston, has published William Rotch and Second Amendment History. Here is the abstract.

ABSTRACT: The Supreme Court held in NYSPRA v. Bruen that courts must decide Second Amendment cases based on the text of the Amendment and the history surrounding it. The Congressional debates about what became the Second Amendment revolved around the Quakers and a clause in the original version that exempted Quakers and other religious pacifists from military service.

In the Founding Era, William Rotch was one of the most prominent American Quakers, as his family enterprise had a virtual monopoly over the country’s whale oil industry. Rotch was well-known to many of the Founders, and at various points throughout his career had feuds with John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. Rotch and his brother owned the ships that were stormed in the Boston Tea Party; Rotch was summoned before a revolutionary tribunal because he sank a boatload of desperately needed bayonets at sea to prevent their use in the war; and he faced treason charges over his attempt to declare his home island of Nantucket neutral or independent during the war. He was in France during the French Revolution, and he spent his last years building the town of New Bedford and advocating for the abolition of slavery. William Rotch exemplifies the plight of the Quakers in the early republic, as well as the fears, concerns, and resentments many members of Congress harbored about the Quakers as they debated the clause in the Second Amendment that related to the sect. Rotch’s story is important for enriching our understanding of the historical context and public meaning of many important legal texts from the Founding era.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.