Michael A. Bellesiles
THERE is a story from World War I that the last words of a French mutineer placed before a firing squad were: "I am honored by all thisattention." Similarly, I am naturally honored that the William and Mary Quarterly has deemed a book I have written worthy of such extended discussion. That discussion will, I hope, lead to areconsideration of a number of larger historical issues. 1
Since Arming America is often misrepresented, it may be appropriate to state briefly what I think the book is about. This study examines thedevelopment of America's gun culture from the first European settlements until 1877. The general thesis is that the gun culture now so ubiquitous in the United States has not always been a fixture of thenation's life but grew in response to increased production of firearms under federal supervision in the mid-nineteenth century and a dramatic rise in demand generated by the Civil War. Arming Americaseeks to explore a broad diversity of experience over time and to avoid sweeping statements about what Americans believed as a collective. 2
Arming America begins with the earliest use of firearmsin Europe, with particular attention to political and cultural developments in England. The book then follows firearms to North America, investigating their use and impact on that continent as theEuropean powers conquered the natives and imposed political control. I am interested here in showing the gun's range of uses and limitations in the daily life of colonial America and the often-franticeffort of colonial governments to acquire and preserve sufficient firearms for their defense. In the fourth chapter, I present the case for seeing the Eastern Woodlands Indians as the first gun culturein America. After looking at how North America's natives used and were affected by firearms, Arming America examines wilderness warfare and the myth and reality of the militia in the eighteenth...