037: Saul A. Cornell, 45


37: Saul A. Cornell, 12-11-06

Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Professor of History, Department of History, The Ohio State University.
Area of Research: American Revolution, the Early Republic, History and Public Policy, and Legal/Constitutional historySaul Cornell JPG
Education: University of Pennsylvania, Ph.D. (1989)
Major Publications: Cornell is the author of A Well Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America and The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828 voted a Choice Outstanding Academic Book for 2001 and winner of the triennial Society of Cincinnati prize for the best work on the Revolutionary era. He has also published Whose Right to Bear Arms Did the Second Amendment Protect? Bedford Book’s “Historians At Work” series.
He is the editor of Retrieving the American Past: Documents and Essays on American History, (Pearson, 1994-2005), and the forthcoming Guns in American Law and Society: An Interdisciplinary Reader (University of Massachusetts Press, forthcoming, 2007) He has written articles in the Journal of American History, American Studies, William and Mary Quarterly, William and Mary Law Review,Constitutional Commentary, and others. His book reviews have appeared in the Journal of the Early Republic, Reviews in American History, and many others.
Prof. Cornell is currently writing a section of a new textbook, American Visions: A History of the American Nation, (Pearson, under contract, with Ed O’Donnell, and Jennifer Keane).
Awards: Cornell is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including:
The Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and the Colonial Daughters of Pennsylvania Prize in Early American History.
Society of the Cincinnati, History Book Prize, Triennial Award for the Best Book on the American Revolutionary Era, (2001); Choice Outstanding Academic Book, (2000) all for The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828.
Joyce Foundation, Second Amendment Center Grant (2003-2006);
Department of Education, Teaching American History Grant, Historyworks (2002-2005);
Joyce Foundation Planning Grant, (2001-2002) ;
Betha Grant, Batelle Memorial Endowment, Ohio Teaching Institute (1999-2000);
NEH Fellowship, (2003-2004);
Gilder-Lehrman Fellowship (2002);
American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) (2001) ;
Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Research Fellowship (1998);
Thomas Jefferson Chair In American Studies, Fulbright Lecturing Award (1995);
Ohio State University Seed Grant (1994);
Ohio State University Special Research Assignment (1993);
Ohio State University Grant-In-Aid (1992);
NEH Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute of Early American History and Culture (1989-1991).
Additional Info:
Cornell is the Director of the Second Amendment Research Center, John Glenn Institute (2002- Present). Formerly Thomas Jefferson Chair, University of Leiden, The Netherlands (1995)
Formerly Assistant Professor, Department of History, College of William and Mary (1989-1991).
Cornell has appeared on C-Span2’s Book TV, NPR and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. He is also on the Editorial Board of “American Quarterly.” He has delivered invited lectures at Oxford University, Columbia University, Duke, NYU Law School, UCLA Law School, Stanford Law School, and Vanderbilt University Law School. He has presented papers at meetings of the American Historical Association, the American Society of Legal History, the American Studies Association, the Organization of American Historians, and many others.
He has a strong interest in teaching with technology. He has written about pedagogical tools in the AHA’s Perspectives and is on the Board of Advisers of Pearson’s website, “The History Place.”

Personal Anecdote

No matter what aspect of the gun issue you work on you inevitably run into people with pretty strong feelings. I think it is safe to say that if I had written a history of the 3rd Amendment, I would not get angry e-mails from people with names like “glockboy@gunnet.com” or have bloggers with names like, “geek with an uzi” denounce me as part of some insidious conspiracy. (Don’t these guys know I would never be part of any conspiracy that would have me as a member.)

One of the most interesting venues to try out the ideas in my new book, A Well Regulated Militia was provided by the NRA Institute for Legislative Action and the Students for the Second Amendment at George Mason Law School (now a wholly owned subsidiary of the NRA.) I was invited to talk at their first ever Firearms Symposium. (I am still waiting for my invitation from the Jews for the Preservation of Firearms symposium: From AKs to AK-47s.) As you might expect the demographic of the GMU event was sort of the opposite of the Berks. (Berkshire Conference of Women’s Historians). Indeed, I recall one person attacking toy stores that refused to stock toy guns. These guys, and it was mostly guys, were not only against gun control, they were against toy gun control.

I began my talk by describing my situation as akin to that of a priest at his first Bar Mitzvah. Picking up on this theme during the question and answer session one member of the audience wanted to know why Jews were against guns (he obviously had never hung out with the aforementioned Jews for the Preservation of Firearms.) I explained that I did not think religion or ethnicity explained very much about attitudes towards guns. Indeed, I speculated that in Montana, all of the Jews, all six of them, were probably very heavily armed—they would have to be I would think.

Since the publication of my book I have done a fair number of radio interviews and what is most fascinating about these is the mirror they provide on popular perceptions of history and constitutionalism. Invariably, most callers are ardently pro-gun rights. Pro-gun control people seem to have other things to do with their time and don’t do a lot of talk radio.

I hope that my new book can help both sides in the debate understand the complex history that has led to our current impasse on this issue. Needless to say I would not urge anyone to venture into this contentious arena unless you have a very good sense of humor—it has proven almost as valuable as the special Kevlar edition of my book.

Saul Cornell’s Speech– 2005 Firearms Law & Second Amendment Symposium at George Mason University School of Law


By Saul Cornell

  • “The original understanding of the Second Amendment was neither an individual right of self-defense nor a collective right of the states, but rather a civic right that guaranteed that citizens would be able to keep and bear those arms need to meet their legal obligation to participate in a well-regulated militia. Nothing better captured this constitutional ideal than the minuteman. Citizens had a legal obligation to outfit themselves with a musket at their
    A Well-Regulated Militia JPGown expense and were expected to turn out at a minute’s notice to defend their community, state, and eventually their nation. The minuteman ideal was far less individualistic than most gun rights people assume, and far more martial in spirit than most gun control advocates realize.Although each side in the modern debate claims to be faithful to the historic Second Amendment, a restoration of its original meaning, re-creating the world of minuteman, would be a nightmare that neither side would welcome. It would certainly involve more intrusive gun regulation, not less. Proponents of gun rights would not relish the idea of mandatory gun registration, nor would they be eager to welcome government officials into their homes to inspect privately owned weapons as they did in Revolutionary days. Gun control advocates might blanch at the notion that all Americans would be required to receive firearms training and would certainly look askance at the idea of requiring all able-bodied citizens to purchase their own military-style assault weapons. Yet if the civic right to bear arms of the Founding were reintroduced, this is exactly what citizens would be obligated to do. A restoration of the original understanding of the Second Amendment would require all these measures and much more. — Saul Cornell in “A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America”

About Saul Cornell

  • “Crisply written and vigorously argued, A Well-Regulated Militia advances an often-hackneyed debate by looking beyond the original concerns of the Revolutionary era. Cornell concisely demonstrates why so many of the contemporary fictions swirling around the meaning of this vexed clause depart from its real history.” — Jack Rakove, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Original Meanings,” Coe Professor of History Stanford University reviewing “A Well Regulated Militia”
  • “Anyone interested in how the right to bear arms was thought about in the early republic will need to take this book into account.” — Keith E. Whittington, author of “Constitutional Interpretation,” Professor of Politics, Princeton reviewing “A Well Regulated Militia”
  • “Saul Cornell’s new book is a breath of fresh air in Second Amendment scholarship. Jettisoning the rancorous partisanship and historical distortions of both advocates and opponents of gun control, Cornell recovers the lost civic dimension of the constitutional right to bear arms. The point of departure for any future, historically-informed discussion of this most controversial amendment, A Well-Regulated Militia clears the way for fresh and constructive thinking about the rights and responsibilities of gun ownership in America today.” — Peter S. Onuf, author of “Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood,” Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History, University of Virginia reviewing “A Well Regulated Militia”
  • “Based on a meticulous review of American history, Saul Cornell shows that both sides of the debate over the Second Amendment are mistaken. The book is a must- read for all interested in the Second Amendment.” — Erwin Chemerinsky, Alston & Bird Professor of Law, Duke University reviewing “A Well Regulated Militia”
  • “Saul Cornell has been, for many years, one of our most thoughtful and provocative commentators on constitutional history in general and the Second Amendment in particular. With this book he establishes himself as one of, if not the leading interpreter of that Amendment, and teaches us valuable lessons not only about gun control and the militia, but about the nature of American Republican government itself.” — Stephen Presser, Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History, Northwestern University reviewing “A Well Regulated Militia”
  • “The work [Cornell] has done . . . is extraordinary and exhausting. All historians of the early republic are in his debt, and they will henceforth turn to The Other Founders as the essential starting point for work on the specific ideas of those who opposed the federal Constitution.” — “Journal of Southern History” reviewing “The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828”
  • “This book is profound, persuasive, and a much-needed taxonomy of Anti-Federalism. . . . The Other Founders notably succeeds in clarifying the importance of dissenting texts in American political culture. This highly readable, comprehensive, and original work deserves to be placed alongside The Federalist Papers on Americans’ bookshelves.” — “Historian” reviewing “The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828”
  • “Perhaps most impressive is Cornell’s ability to bring to bear on the topic a broad range of secondary sources, both historical and theoretical, and he is particularly able at applying perspectives from contemporary political thought, including recent work on liberalism and republicanism as well as critical theory, reader response theory, and post-structuralist ideas of intertextuality. The result is rewarding: a book that is both good history and good theory, and a treatment of Anti-Federalist thought that is more historically nuanced and more theoretically sophisticated than any we have had before.” — “William and Mary Quarterly” reviewing “The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828”
  • Saul Cornell does a terrific job of teasing out the various strands of Constitutional thinking about the right to bear arms. He begins with a plea for Constitutional history, and his essay is rather traditional in its methods, a combination of intellectual and Constitutional history that places the emphasis on contestation rather than consensus. Rather than a new or a new-new political historian, Cornell calls himself a “new constitutional historicist,” a member of a school that believes the search for a single, original meaning of the Constitution or one of its amendments is a fool’s errand. Focusing on the debates in Pennsylvania, Cornell identifies three groups with distinctive views on the right to bear arms. Pennsylvania Federalists considered bearing arms an obligation of citizenship, much like taxation, something a man had to do “in exchange for protection provided by the rule of law” (p. 255). Hence, in form, the right to bear arms was unlike “genuinely individual rights” such as freedom of speech (p. 256). First, the government could not compel a man to speak, but it could compel him to take up arms or serve on a jury….Cornell concludes with a warning about the “dangers of ceding the study of the constitution to lawyers and activists” (p. 267). This is the kind of essay that makes you feel good to be a historian. Jan Lewis reviewing Cornell’s essay in Beyond the Founders, a collection of essays by leading proponents of the newest version of the new political history
  • “Cornell is, with Jack Rakove, one of the two leading interpreters of the Second Amendment. Historian Saul Cornell, who declares that the originalist argument for the individual rights approach is based on a false reading of the legislative history and legal context. Cornell therefore might simply accept Rakove’s modest view of the positive role of the Amendment. However, Cornell also temptingly suggests that some “new paradigm” of Second Amendment scholarship may emerge, one that views the right to bear arms as neither collective nor individual but rather as a “civic right,” in the nature of a civic republican right to be exercised by those “capable of exercising it in a virtuous manner.” There is something ironic about a key part of Cornell’s thesis. In his deft and lawyerly arguments for the originalist collective rights view, Cornell underscores the later eruption of individual rights rhetoric in nineteenth-century state constitutions in order to stress the absence of any such view in 1791 — Stanford Law Professor Robert Weissberg, Edwin Huddleston Professor of Law in a recent review of the state of the scholarly debate on the Second Amendment
  • “Good prof, really knows his stuff and explains it well. Nice and funny guy.” — Anonymous Student

Posted on Sunday, December 10, 2006 at 7:29 PM

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