Tench Coxe and the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, 1787-1823

54 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2008 Last revised: 26 Sep 2021

See all articles by David B. Kopel

David B. Kopel

Independence Institute; Denver University - Sturm College of Law; Cato Institute

Stephen P. Halbrook

Independent Institute

Date Written: February 23, 1999


Tench Coxe, a member of the second rank of this nation's Founders and a leading proponent of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, wrote prolifically about the right to keep and bear arms. In this Article, the authors trace Coxe's story, from his early writings in support of the Constitution, through his years of public service, to his political writings in opposition to the presidential campaigns of John Adams and John Quincy Adams. The authors note that Coxe described the Second Amendment as guaranteeing an individual right, and believed that an individual right to bear arms was necessary for self-defense and hunting, as well as for militia purposes and protection against oppression by large standing armies.

The views of this important Founding Era political commentator and public servant inform the ongoing Second Amendment debate. The authors argue that Coxe's depiction of an individual right to bear arms encompassing hunting, self-defense, and the public militia power supports the "Standard Model" of the Second Amendment prevalent in the legal literature.

This Article also discusses Coxe's important role as an economic scholar in early America, and in the creation of the protectionist system of the early Republic, as both an journalistic advocate and as an executive branch official. One of his executive branch positions involved heading the federal government program to give guns to militiamen who could not afford their own.

Keywords: Tench Coxe, Second Amendment, Right to Keep and Bear Arms, John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington

JEL Classification: B15, B31, D73, F10, H42, H56, N41, O20, O51, Z10

Suggested Citation

Kopel, David B. and Kopel, David B. and Halbrook, Stephen P., Tench Coxe and the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, 1787-1823 (February 23, 1999). William & Mary Bill of Rights, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1999, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1272675

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Stephen P. Halbrook

Independent Institute ( email )

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