The Huguenots and the Second Amendment

 

Francis1-1What I learned from yesterday’s Ask Me Anything was that overwhelmingly, Ricochet wants to know more about the history of the Huguenots and their relationship to the Second Amendment. (Or, at least, Tenacious D does.)

When Ben Carson suggested that an armed populace would have been better able to resist the Holocaust, he walked off the history cliff for two reasons. The first was his failure to appreciate what it took to defeat a modern engine of death like the Nazi war machine — one that rolled over armies comprised of millions of trained soldiers with guns, planes, tanks, and artillery in Czechoslovakia, Austria, Poland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, Yugoslavia, and Greece, and often did so in a matter of days.

He also missed a chance to explain to Wolf that in all likelihood, the Founders were thinking about the extermination of a European religious minority. But that minority wasn’t the Jews — it was the Huguenots.

What he should have said was, “Wolf, as you should know, if the Huguenots had been armed, their chances would have been a lot better. It all started with the Catholics taking away their weapons. Every American in the eighteenth century would have known that.”

And they would have.

Now, historians differ about the number of dead in the French wars of religion and even its exact dates. But they now estimate that between 1562 and 1598, the war claimed between two and four million lives, and could well be described, in modern vocabulary, as a Huguenot genocide.

We all know the background. The Reformation was spread by the invention of the printing press. For the first time, there was an inexpensive way to mass-produce and disseminate books. This fueled a wildcat spread of information — in all disciplines — across Europe’s borders. (Those familiar with this period know exactly why I wonder if we should just bomb the undersea cables before this Internet business gets out of hand.)

Francis I firmly opposed heresy, of course, given that he ruled by divine right, but he was genuinely unsure whether the early Lutheranism that arrived in France during his reign was heretical. (Catholic doctrine was as yet unclear.) Distracted, perhaps, by foreign affairs — he was building an alliance with the Ottoman Empire — he failed to see that of course this was heresy, and moreover, a revolutionary doctrine. As the schism developed, he attempted to steer a middle course. But in 1534, the Affaire des Placards woke him from his naive fantasy about “moderate Protestants.”

Overnight, posters appeared in public throughout France warning of “Genuine articles on the horrific, great and unbearable abuses of the papal mass, invented directly contrary to the Holy Supper of our Lord, sole mediator and sole savior Jesus Christ.” These directly attacked the Catholic conception of the Eucharist and supported Zwingli’s position on the Mass, denying the physical existence of Christ in the sacraments. Most terrifyingly, he awoke to find such a poster on the door of his bedchamber — an unthinkable security breach. It left him deeply shaken.

Fast-forward to 1535, when the ambassadors from the Ottoman Empire accompanied him to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris to share with him the satisfying sight of Protestant sympathizers burning at the stake.

His heir, Henry II, was in no doubt that he was dealing with a heresy. On June 27, 1551, he issued the Edict of Châteaubriand: Protestants would no longer be allowed to worship, assemble, nor even speak of religion. And the 1557 Edict of Compiègne imposed the death penalty on those who preached illegally — or even assembled to discuss it.

The repression only hastened the onset of the civil war. By 1560, violent religious extremists were destroying images and statues in Catholic churches. Huguenot rhetoric changed: At first, they had opposed the policies of the monarch. Now, they began opposing monarchy itself.

Eight wars ensued. Religion had been the basis of the European social consensus for a millennium; the entire social order rested upon the belief in a single faith. And the entire social order collapsed. France was laid to waste, the crops wiped out; citizens suffered a nightmare of destruction. Whole villages were massacred. Famine and disease killed the survivors. Details here.

Now, I confess that here my memory is failing me. I can’t remember when, exactly, the policy of disarming all but the Catholic nobility came into effect. But I do remember that it did. Does anyone on Ricochet remember? I know that it happened, but I can’t remember when.

In any event, Catherine de Medici — the king’s mother, an Italian, a Catholic, and a member of the family for whom Machiavelli wrote The Prince — is widely believed to have instigated the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. (I believe some historians contest her role.) The king’s sister was to be married in Paris to a Protestant, Henry III. The wedding attracted France’s wealthiest and most prominent Huguenots. The king gave the orders that they be assassinated.

The extermination began suddenly, with the ringing of church bells. Admiral Coligny — the leader of the Huguenots — was stabbed and his body thrown out a window. There’s no evidence (as far as I know) that Charles IX and his mother intended the bloodshed to go beyond the assassination of the their leaders, but the murders inspired the mob to a frenzied massacre of Protestants that rocked the Continent. Catholic clergy were said to have fallen upon unarmed men, women, and children. Commoners began hunting Protestants throughout Paris, barricading the streets so they couldn’t escape. The bodies of the dead were collected in carts and thrown in the Seine. The fish were said to have been poisoned. The slaughter spread to other cities and the countryside. In the end, according to contemporary historical estimates, as many as 30,000 were killed.

The Huguenot movement was crippled by the loss of its leadership. Those who remained were radicalized; those who could, fled — to Germany, Switzerland, England, Ireland, and, of course, what was to become the United States.

Their descendents included George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Paul Revere.

The history of the Second Amendment is of course complicated, and this was certainly not the only event on the Founders’ minds. But if Wolf Blitzer had interviewed them at the time, very likely this is how it would have gone:

Wolf: But to make the comparison, Mr. Washington, to Catholic France, the slaughter of millions of Huguenots by the Catholics, the devastation that erupted in Europe and around the world, to the United States of America, I want you to reflect on what that potentially means.

George Washington: I think the likelihood of the Catholics being able to accomplish their goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed. There’s a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first.

And about that, he would have been right.

Whether this has any relevance to America now, I don’t know. But if you’re going to argue this point from history, that’s the example you want.

Published in General, Guns, History
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  1. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Mike LaRoche:“Good? Bad? I’m the guy with the gun.” – Ash Williams

    • #61
  2. muckfire Inactive
    muckfire
    @muckfire

    Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner. I guess in the end free men will choose whether God given rights are subject to its whims. Hopefully that won’t be any time soon.

    • #62
  3. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    Matthew Gilley:I guess now is a bad time to tell Tommy I’m Baptist….

    Yes I admit my comment was written with as much tact as Claire accusing my religion of genocide.

    Like the Huguenots, she started it…

    • #63
  4. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Well I did a little population research and according to some demographic researchers the population of France was 15.5 million in 1550 and by 1580 it was about 20 million. If 4 to 5 million were lost in the Huguenot wars that means the people in France were very busy and if they increased the population from 10 million to 20 million in 30 years they were very busy indeed.

    • #64
  5. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    Tommy De Seno:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Now, historians differ about the number of dead in the French wars of religion and even its exact dates. But they now estimate that between 1562 and 1598, the war claimed between two and four million lives, and could well be described, in modern vocabulary, as a Huguenot genocide.

    I am, and will remain, skeptical of assessments of mass killings in an age without transportation and the best available weapon, assuming many even had them, was a clumsy old flintlock rifle. Put me in a duel with a guy with one of those and I’ll beat him with a knife. I don’t have to stop and hold my weapon between my legs to reload it.

    Millions of dead? You know how long and hard you’d have to work to kill even 10 guys without modern weapons?

    5 minutes.  And since they operated in formations of up to 5000, they could kill 10,000 people a minute at 50 yards.  Later improvements in the weapons increased that number to 15, and then 20,000 by the mid-18th century.  (The famous 3-rounds a minute applied to rifles, which were harder to load, and also included aiming -early smoothbores were simply pointed in the general direction of the enemy and discharge).  Now, they usually fired one shot and then closed to use pikes and swords, which could take an hour or more, but when you’re fielding armies of 30,000 people, you can kill a lot…

    Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot.  I assumed this was a serious question, and not someone being a smart[coc].  I’ll stop wasting my time.

    • #65
  6. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    I read somewhere that it took about a month & lots of machetes to murder a million people in Rwanda within living memory-

    • #66
  7. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    Sabrdance:

    Tommy De Seno:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Now, historians differ about the number of dead in the French wars of religion and even its exact dates. But they now estimate that between 1562 and 1598, the war claimed between two and four million lives, and could well be described, in modern vocabulary, as a Huguenot genocide.

    I am, and will remain, skeptical of assessments of mass killings in an age without transportation and the best available weapon, assuming many even had them, was a clumsy old flintlock rifle. Put me in a duel with a guy with one of those and I’ll beat him with a knife. I don’t have to stop and hold my weapon between my legs to reload it.

    Millions of dead? You know how long and hard you’d have to work to kill even 10 guys without modern weapons?

    5 minutes. And since they operated in formations of up to 5000, they could kill 10,000 people a minute at 50 yards. Later improvements in the weapons increased that number to 15, and then 20,000 by the mid-18th century. (The famous 3-rounds a minute applied to rifles, which were harder to load, and also included aiming -early smoothbores were simply pointed in the general direction of the enemy and discharge). Now, they usually fired one shot and then closed to use pikes and swords, which could take an hour or more, but when you’re fielding armies of 30,000 people, you can kill a lot…

    Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot. I assumed this was a serious question, and not someone being a smart[coc]. I’ll stop wasting my time.

    You can’t find a modern army killing that many that fast.

    Call me all the names you want, from a distance.

    • #67
  8. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Sabrdance:Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot. I assumed this was a serious question, and not someone being a smart[coc]. I’ll stop wasting my time.

    I think around 8,000 Americans died in the 8 years of the Revolutionary War.

    • #68
  9. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    Randy Webster:

    Sabrdance:Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot. I assumed this was a serious question, and not someone being a smart[coc]. I’ll stop wasting my time.

    I think around 8,000 Americans died in the 8 years of the Revolutionary War.

    You can research modern battles all over the globe.  They don’t come near to the numbers Sabrdance is talking about.

    It seems the more years you put between the present and an event, the more zeros you are allowed to add to fatality statics.

    What’s a few million souls, when we are taking the opportunity to make Catholics look bad?

    Good grief.

    • #69
  10. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Tommy De Seno:

    Randy Webster:

    Sabrdance:Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot. I assumed this was a serious question, and not someone being a smart[coc]. I’ll stop wasting my time.

    I think around 8,000 Americans died in the 8 years of the Revolutionary War.  It takes a government working on a compliant population to rack up the kinds of deaths Sabrdance is talking of.

    You can research modern battles all over the globe. They don’t come near to the numbers Sabrdance is talking about.

    It seems the more years you put between the present and an event, the more zeros you are allowed to add to fatality statics.

    What’s a few million souls, when we are taking the opportunity to make Catholics look bad?

    Good grief.

    Even in WWII, more soldiers died of disease than in combat.

    • #70
  11. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    To the point of the article, where is the research on Catholics first disarming the protestants?  I know Claire asks if anyone can find it.  Has anyone found it?

    Anything I’m reading about the wars has both sides with weapons.   I found one source that says some of the protestants didn’t like guns and gave them up.   A couple of websites with protestant leanings talk of Catholics killing “unarmed” people with no source cited.

    I can’t find any reference to Catholic first disarming them.

    I’m not saying it isn’t out there, but it’s not in this OP and I can’t find it.

    • #71
  12. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Man With the Axe:I disagree with the notion that if the Jews had been armed it would have made no difference. It would have made a great difference.

    It would have substantially raised the cost of sending troops into Jewish neighborhoods to round up the population. And not just the cost in German lives. It would not have happened so quietly so that the world didn’t even really know about most of it until the war was over. Armed resistance makes the news.

    I honestly don’t understand why Jews would be offended by Carson’s remarks. They themselves make it a point, today, to face hostility with force of arms. What Jew who lost relatives in the Holocaust doesn’t wonder what might have happened if they had resisted instead of going to their deaths so passively, so that a handful of German soldiers could murder so many of them?

    Ask yourself this: Suppose you and your grown sons were in an Anne Frank style attic, armed to the teeth, when the Germans arrived to take you away. Would you have surrendered quietly or gone down shooting?

    From someone who lived it

    “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”

    ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    • #72
  13. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I’m shooting whoever comes for my gun. Sorry about the widow.

    • #73
  14. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Tommy De Seno:

    Matthew Gilley:I guess now is a bad time to tell Tommy I’m Baptist….

    Yes I admit my comment was written with as much tact as Claire accusing my religion of genocide.

    Like the Huguenots, she started it…

    Now do we see why, in order to nuke North Korea, we’d have to become a lot like North Korea in order to put down the dissent?

    • #74
  15. Pilgrim Coolidge
    Pilgrim
    @Pilgrim

    Randy Webster:I’m shooting whoever comes for my gun. Sorry about the widow.

    By widow you mean Mrs Webster?

    • #75
  16. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Pilgrim:

    Randy Webster:I’m shooting whoever comes for my gun. Sorry about the widow.

    By widow you mean Mrs Webster?

    Maybe, probably.  But I hope there’ll be at least one government worker widow, too.  I won’t use a handgun.  Sixty-five million doors are a lot to break down.

    • #76
  17. SParker Member
    SParker
    @SParker

    Pilgrim: Millions of dead? You know how long and hard you’d have to work to kill even 10 guys without modern weapons?

    37 years in France.  30 years in Germany (ever the more efficient and populated).  Disease and starvation do a lot of the heavy lifting.  Estimates may be way off, but you gotta figure the idea of tolerance probably only comes out of a major-league exhaustion with death and dearth.  Something to remember now that it’s on its heels.

    edit:  That we refer to French Religious Wars suggests that the confiscation, whenever it was, wasn’t real effective.  Like most government actions since the beginning of the whole protection racket.  Calls into question the premise of the OP but from a different direction.

    • #77
  18. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Bryan G. Stephens:If guns in the hands on the people is not a threat to the regime, why did Japan disarm its population of all guns it could during the Tokugawa period?

    Nice object lesson in the concentration of power as well.  The Tokugawa Shogunate disarmed the citizenry, and then the restored Emperor disarmed the Shoguns.

    Advocates of centralizing power are frequently the useful idiots of consolidating power.

    • #78
  19. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    SParker:

    Pilgrim: Millions of dead? You know how long and hard you’d have to work to kill even 10 guys without modern weapons?

    37 years in France.

    If you click through the Wikipedia site you posted to find the source, it’s a guy named Matthew White who runs a website.  When you get to these French Religious Wars and the stated 3 million dead, White asks for a citation.  Meaning he doesn’t have one.  But his number is being cited by Wikipedia, and now on Ricochet, so I guess it’s true.

    Below that he cites the work of a history professor from year 2000 (using the 2-4 million number that Claire uses) but I don’t know his source.

    Interestingly, that would be the number for deaths for the entire 37 years of war.  According to Claire, they were all Huguenot deaths, thus her basis for calling it a Huguenot genocide.

    So in 37 years of war the score was Catholics 3,000,000 Huguenots 0?  As a Catholic I think I have something to brag about there.

    Good grief.

    Funny also how it took until 16 years ago to accurately count the dead from 500 years ago.

    As I said in an earlier comment, I remain skeptical of fatality stats.

    • #79
  20. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    Randy Webster:

    Sabrdance:Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot. I assumed this was a serious question, and not someone being a smart[coc]. I’ll stop wasting my time.

    I think around 8,000 Americans died in the 8 years of the Revolutionary War.

    A small war in a depopulated colonial backwater on the other side of the world that lasted less than a decade.

    Compared to the massive mobilization of multiple armies marauding over the breadbasket of Europe, multiple times a year, every year, for nearly 40 years.  Yes, disease and famine did most of the heavy lifting -much of it deliberate because it always was in that time period.  But this is the beginning of mass mobilization warfare and there was no modern infrastructure to support the armies or the civilian populations.  Armies spread across the world like locusts, eating and burning everything.

    And they started using modern equipment, like flintlocks (which are not unsophisticated weapons) which allowed them to do it long past the point muscles would be useless.

    But sure, charge a trained musketeer with a knife.  If he doesn’t shoot you, he’ll kill you with his sword or break your skull with the musket butt.

    I don’t know what the total carnage was -but I do know better than to listen to the rantings of the historically illiterate with delusions of awesomeness.  Which was the true point of the comment.

    And I’m gone -anytime Tommy Shows up the conversation invariably becomes all about him.

    • #80
  21. Topher Inactive
    Topher
    @Topher

    Once news of the Holocaust did get around, the Jews resisted with whatever arms they could get, a notable example being the Bielski partisans who save 1,236 Jews. There were many others. Yad Vashem tells the story: http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%205822.pdf

    Arms would have made a difference.

    • #81
  22. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Sabrdance: But sure, charge a trained musketeer with a knife. If he doesn’t shoot you, he’ll kill you with his sword or break your skull with the musket butt. I don’t know what the total carnage was -but I do know better than to listen to the rantings of the historically illiterate with delusions of awesomeness. Which was the true point of the comment. And I’m gone -anytime Tommy Shows up the conversation invariably becomes all about him.

    We lost about 450,000 in 4 years of war in WWII.  Where are all these millions of dead?  Governments can do it to their own people.  Others can’t.

    • #82
  23. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    There’s a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first.

    This is what people need to get into their heads.

    • #83
  24. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D
    @TenaciousD

    This post and discussion was everything I dreamed it would be :)

    Where else but Ricochet would a single discussion range from sixteenth century French history, to WW2 resistance, to exotic Asian weapons?

    I’d heard that Paul Revere had Huguenot ancestry, but didn’t know that about Washington and Hamilton. Another great example of how America prospered by welcoming people willing to take risks for freedom and opportunity.

    • #84
  25. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D
    @TenaciousD

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: The king’s sister was to be married in Paris to a Protestant, Henry III. The wedding attracted France’s wealthiest and most prominent Huguenots. The king gave the orders that they be assassinated. The extermination began suddenly, with the ringing of church bells. Admiral Coligny — the leader of the Huguenots — was stabbed and his body thrown out a window.

    Nice day for a red wedding.

    • #85
  26. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    Not sure where the animosity comes from Sabr.

    • #86
  27. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    We almost gave my daughter the middle name of Duval, after her great-grandmother’s family who were Huguenots that came to South Carolina to escape the Edict of Nantes. But I didn’t even know half the information Claire gave us here. And the liberals call themselves the intellectuals. Hah!

    • #87
  28. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D
    @TenaciousD

    Many Huguenots played prominent roles in early French colonization efforts in North America. Admiral Coligny organized expeditions to Florida (see Fort Caroline) and Roberval and Dugua were given Lieutenant Generalships in what is now Canada.

    And later on (as noted by other commenters), many Huguenot families settled in North America–they just weren’t doing it for le Roi anymore.

    • #88
  29. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Topher:Once news of the Holocaust did get around, the Jews resisted with whatever arms they could get, a notable example being the Bielski partisans who save 1,236 Jews. There were many others. Yad Vashem tells the story: http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%205822.pdf

    Arms would have made a difference.

    Topher,

    Hollywood agrees with you.

    The youngest Bielski brother, Aron, was my landlord for six years. Aron confirmed the truth of the material. Of course, when I would ask him about the movie he would just roll his eyes and say “Hollywood” and laugh.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #89
  30. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Now, historians differ about the number of dead in the French wars of religion and even its exact dates. But they now estimate that between 1562 and 1598, the war claimed between two and four million lives, and could well be described, in modern vocabulary, as a Huguenot genocide.

    “Looks like another marijuana-related death!”

    • #90
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