By: Gary North
I begin with an insight offered by Professor Carroll Quigley (1910—1977), who taught history to Bill Clinton at Georgetown University. He had such a profound impact on Clinton that Clinton referred to him in his 1992 nomination acceptance speech. Quigley is famous among conservatives for his book, Tragedy and Hope (1966), in which he devoted 20 pages to the connections between Wall Street banking firms and American foreign policy, which has been dominated by the liberal left (pp. 950ff). But Quigley was also an expert in the history of weaponry. One of his books, Weapons Systems and Political Stability: A History, was printed directly from a typewritten manuscript and is known only to a handful of specialists, was a 1,000-page history of weaponry that ended with the Middle Ages. In Tragedy and Hope, he wrote about the relationship between amateur weapons and liberty. By amateur, he meant low cost. He meant, in the pejorative phrase of political statists, Saturday-night specials.
In a period of specialist weapons the minority who have such weapons can usually force the majority who lack them to obey; thus a period of specialist weapons tends to give rise to a period of minority rule and authoritarian government. But a period of amateur weapons is a period in which all men are roughly equal in military power, a majority can compel a minority to yield, and majority rule or even democratic government tends to rise. . . .
But after 1800, guns became cheaper to obtain and easier to use. By 1840 a Colt revolver sold for $27 and a Springfield musket for not much more, and these were about as good weapons as anyone could get at that time. Thus, mass armies of citizens, equipped with these cheap and easily used weapons, began to replace armies of professional soldiers, beginning about 1800 in Europe and even earlier in America. At the same time, democratic government began to replace authoritarian governments (but chiefly in those areas where the cheap new weapons were available and local standards of living were high enough to allow people to obtain them).
According to Quigley, the eighteenth-century’s commitment to popular government was reinforced — indeed, made possible — by price-competitive guns that made the average colonial farmer a threat to a British regular. Paul Revere’s midnight warning, “The regulars are out!” would have had no purpose or effect had it not been that the “minute men” were armed and dangerous.
With this in mind, let me present my thesis.
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