Response to My Critics


On December 18, 2003 Soft Skull Press is publishing a revised and corrected edition of Michael Bellesiles's Arming America. In advance of publication the publisher released to the media a pamphlet by Bellesiles which summarizes his response to his critics. The title of the pamphlet, Weighed in an Even Balance, is drawn from a biblical passage from Job: "Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity."

The pamphlet includes six sections. Each section is prefaced by a quotation, as indicated in the excerpts below.

(Click here for an evaluation of Mr. Bellesiles's defense by critics Jerome Sternstein, James Lindgren and Clayton Cramer.)


In the sixteenth century, Oxford University had a statute that any of its students or professors “who did not follow Aristotle faithfully were liable to a fine of five shillings for every point of divergence.”—Graham Midgley

In September 2000, a book appeared challenging the popular perception that Americans have always been a heavily armed people. Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture questioned a series of assumptions about Americans’ relationship with guns by examining a wide array of evidence across three centuries. The book came under sustained assault nearly a year before its appearance. Along the way a number of accusations were made against the book’s scholarship and its author. Most of these accusations focus on the three paragraphs and one table dealing with probate records, though other charges emerged, primarily on the web. As the author of Arming America, I would rather not engage in the highly political and personal tone of these attacks which often say more about the critic than about the content of the book. As the goal of this tract is the furtherance of scholarship, I prefer to simply answer each of the charges of falsification in turn. For that reason, each accusation is quoted without attribution, so as to avoid further personalizing this debate.

Not all critiques are equal. I hope that it is evident that many accusations made against Arming America have no relation to the text but are rather based on what some people assume or imagine the book says. A great many attacks appear to have been motivated by political agendas. Unfortunately, the polemical static obscured a number of legitimate criticisms, and I did not respond adequately to each and every allegation. This document is an effort to respond to every specific criticism of the book. Many criticisms of this book have either correctly identified errors or offered an alternative reading of the source. I welcome the former, which has led to the publication of an improved second edition. While there were errors in the first edition, none of them was made intentionally or with any design to mislead the reader. The latter form of critique, alternative interpretations, are important and helpful, forming the essence of scholarly debate. Hopefully these critiques will inspire further research, for, as Arming America attempted to make clear, America’s gun heritage is a surprisingly underexplored aspect of our history. As stated in the introduction to the book, I have only scratched the surface of the documentary record, and the vast amounts of material, such as military records, demand further exploration. There is certainly room for disagreement about the significance of the evidence provided by Arming America, but my goal in writing it was to present a rigorous and accurate historical account and a reasonable, though controversial, interpretation of the historical record.

Not for a moment do I mean to suggest that Arming America is free of error; it is likely that no work of scholarship is free from error. The individual scholar thus has a responsibility to correct any mistakes in his or her work, as I have consistently endeavored to do. In his biography, Truman, David McCullough quotes a memo from General Thomas Handy of George Marshall’s staff as stating that the military expected 500,000 to one million casualties in the invasion of Japan.2 As it turned out, the memo was actually written by former President Herbert Hoover and General Handy’s covering memo dismisses the prediction as ridiculous. The Army’s highest casualty figure for the invasion was 67,000. Though McCullough acknowledged the error, it has never been corrected in Truman, which is still available in bookstores. The failure to correct that mistake in print has had major consequences, as it is often quoted to justify America’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan and was repeatedly cited in the debate over the cancelled Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian.3 Even the finest scholars, and I place McCullough in that camp, make mistakes. However, acknowledging an error is not enough, it must be corrected. From the first appearance of Arming America, I have done my best to correct any errors, as I do here and in the revised edition of the book.

Probate Records

But the whole point of this exercise [attacking the probate records] is to discredit Bellesiles’ book without expressly dealing with the arguments.—Robert Spitzer

The most significant and oft-repeated criticism of Arming America concerns the probate materials. Many critics maintain that “the entire argument of the book is based on one thousand probate records.” This statement is incorrect. It is true that I had initially been fascinated with probate records as a source, and for years I would stop at every county courthouse I was near and ask if they had any probate inventories from the antebellum period. These materials open a window on the dynamic nature of the early American economy and the structure of the household economy. However, as I presented my findings at historical conferences over the 1990s, I was persuaded that probate records are deeply flawed as a source....

The problems with my probate notes began on April 2, 2000. On that day the pipes in Emory University’s Bowden Hall (where the history department is located) burst and flooded the building, doing serious damage to nearly every office and an estimated million dollars in damage to the building.4 The ceiling of my office (222 Bowden Hall) collapsed and the resulting flood turned a dozen of the legal pads on which I had taken notes into unreadable pulp (these were not all my notes, but those with statistics which I planned to enter onto my computer in the fall when I returned from Europe). Professor James V. Melton, who was the only person in the building at the time, characterized the ensuing rush of waters, which lasted several hours, as “like being on the Titanic.” Professor Mark Ravina described the wreckage of papers on his desk as “a sodden mix of waterlogged pulp and ceiling tiles,” and stated that these documents had been rendered “undecipherable and unreadable.” Despite the fact that these events were well known and well described, many critics charged that no flood had occurred.5 More commonly, I was criticized for persisting in the use of pencil and legal pads in the last decade of the twentieth century. Many people charged that no serious scholar uses anything but computer programs for note taking, while others found it difficult to believe that I kept my notes in my office. It is true that I stuck to the anachronism of pencil and paper until I purchased a laptop computer in 2001. As the History Department’s undergraduate director for seven years, I was in my office five days a week in order to be available for students and did nearly all my work there. It is further correct that I had just assumed that my notes were safe in Bowden Hall. I had no way of knowing that when the flood came that the ceiling would collapse right on to that chair, the ceiling tiles turning into a white mud on top of my notes.

So ruined were these notes that it was not initially clear which materials had been lost, especially as I was in Europe teaching and conducting research over the summer. But upon my return I determined that my notes on these probate records had been destroyed and posted a message to that effect on several historical e-mail lists in September 2000. I do not know that there is any connection between my posting that information and the sudden attacks on me for not having my notes for the probate records, but it was almost eerie the way that several hostile web sites shifted their ground from denying the validity of probate records as a source to insisting on their centrality to Arming America and my obvious (and admitted) failings as a scholar for not having put my data on a computer.

Specific Challenges: Accurate

When you work in the archives, you’re far from home, you’re bored, you’re in a hurry, you’re scribbling like crazy. You’re bound to make mistakes. I don’t believe any scholar in the western world has impeccable footnotes. Archival research is a special case of the general messiness of life.—Lawrence Stone

Is error fraud? So much of this debate over Arming America comes down to the notion that if an error can be found in my calculations or quotations then there is solid evidence of fraud. Is that the case? Every statistician knows that there is a “margin of error” built into all calculations. Even the Census Bureau has operated with such an admission of probable error. If the 1990 census reports that there were 7,322,564 people in New York City, does that mean that this is the exact population of New York at some point in the year 1990? If it is found that the correct figure is 7,322,546, does that indicate fraud? Personally, I think not.

Many scholars argue that all evidence, including statistical evidence, should be subject to suspicion and scrutiny. It is often very difficult to determine what constitutes accuracy in any subject dependent on human action. For example, several of the critics of Arming America have referred to the “meticulous” index of the Early Records of the Town of Providence and my failure to use it properly (though it’s unclear what constitutes proper use in the critic’s eyes). I doubt that any historian would judge any index as meticulous, but this one contains a number of spelling errors, omissions of names and documents, and often unusual and inconsistent subject headings. If a document with so many errors is adjudged “meticulous,” then is not a work of history with even fewer errors even more meticulous? At the very least, if we are to persist in this kind of a conversation about scholarship, we should agree upon what is an allowable margin of error and what is the line between meticulous and fraudulent. There are errors in Arming America. These mistakes have been corrected in the revised edition. It is my firm belief that authors should be given the opportunity to correct their errors.

Specific Challenges: Perceived Errors

This method [of distorting the work of others] has been used in all times and places. Men have always tried, and still try, to ridicule the doctrine and the person of their adversaries: to achieve this they invent thousands of stories.—Pierre Bayle, 1697


“[Bellesiles] is a paid agent of ZOG.”

It is instructive to discover that one is a paid agent of something one has never heard of. ZOG is the “Zionist Occupational [sic] Government.” I am not now, nor have I ever been, to my knowledge, an agent of ZOG.


“Bellesiles is funded by anti-gun groups.”

I am not now, nor have I ever been funded by an “anti-gun” group. The research for Arming America was supported by the American Antiquarian Society, the Huntington Library, the American Philosophical Association, the Stanford Humanities Center, and Emory University. I do not believe that any of these constitutes an “anti-gun group.”


“A Gun-Hating Historian.”

The headline above has appeared in several journals and on several web sites. This is an odd description that I do not understand and is made without the slightest hint of evidence. If anything, I would think that anyone who reads Arming America could not help but notice that I am fascinated with firearms.

Specific Challenges: Matters of Interpretation

Historians’ practices of citation and quotation have rarely lived up to their precepts; footnotes have never supported, and can never support, every statement of fact in a given work.—Anthony Grafton

It is of course fair to disagree with any scholar’s interpretation of a cited source or with the entire thesis of any book. For instance what I see as a limited and insufficient supply of firearms can be interpreted as a great many by another reader. Whenever we deal with numbers there is a core question of presentation. Do we say “only 20 percent,” or “as much as 20 percent”? Likewise, raising contrary evidence, as I attempt to do in my book, is a legitimate aspect of all scholarship. All good scholars hope that their research will inspire an informed discussion and learned disagreement. I trust that the following issues can be treated as part of a fair and honest exchange of opinion.


Yet I admit that here, as is so often the case, there is always reason to still be in doubt.—Leopold von Ranke

Most historians insist that evidence may be compelling without being certain. It seems that I failed to make apparent the complexity and tentativeness of my historical inquiry. Arming America came across to some people as making claims for a definitiveness that would be alien to any work of history, especially one that acknowledges that it is a preliminary exploration of a new field. Albert Camus saw the essence of human frustration in the contradiction between the desire for certainty and the irrational nature of the world. There are those who rest their very identity on the notion of a certain, unchanging past. The vision that society is unalterable is not just incorrect, it is dangerously undemocratic, and as such should be of concern to every modern historian.

Leon Goldstein sees history consisting of a superstructure, “that part of the historical enterprise which is visible to non-historian consumers of what historians produce,” and an infrastructure, “that range of intellectual activities whereby the historical past is constituted in historical research.”3 History is often perceived as little more than a chronicle, the plain recording of a sequence of facts, each total and complete unto itself. Such a perspective fosters the notion that historians devote themselves solely to acquiring facts and reporting them. In the case of Arming America, the manuscript came in at over one thousand pages, requiring the elimination of great amounts of material, entire careful accounts and considerations of the details of firearm technology and numerous other issues. As a result, many criticisms focus on exactly what has been cut, as though a failure to devote thirty pages to the distinctive styles of musketry in the eighteenth century negates the entire work. Obviously there is much more to be said on this subject and no book can hope to say it all—every writer on every subject must make hard decisions on what to include and what to cut. But that fact does not mean that every book written is an artifice for failing to cover every detail of a subject.

Most of the criticisms of Arming America seem to focus on the American Revolutionary period. Very little has been said about the seventeenth or nineteenth centuries, roughly threefourths of the book. For instance, I know of only one criticism of my handling of the War of 1812, none of the Mexican War and Civil War. There are whole areas of inquiry that have not been subject to criticism, though I know from the various e-mail lists that nearly every footnote in Arming America has been checked for accuracy. Almost nothing has been said about my portrayal of the attitudes of the political leadership, or the technological development of firearms, or government efforts to promote gun production and use, or the collapse of the militia in the nineteenth century, or the growth and nature of the hunting subculture and the revival of the militia in the mid-nineteenth century. Nor do I know of any criticisms of my examination of law and politics in the colonial period or the nineteenth century, or of the nature of crowd actions at any time. It is intriguing that most of the accusations against this book are concerned with probate records and the period immediately preceding the articulation of the Second Amendment.

Arming America rests on many pillars. It was my intention to offer as many different approaches to the subject as possible, to provide the reader with several different ways of approaching the book’s argument. Perhaps I erred in making it too complex in this regard, and some critics have suggested that it would have been far better had I abbreviated much of the first half of the book and focused just on the last fifty years of the story.5 My reasoning was that this book approached what I felt to be a previously undeveloped area of history and that it was therefore my responsibility to open up the subject for further research as much as possible. There are errors in Arming America, as in every book. Every effort has been made to correct flaws in this book, and a great deal of time has been devoted to discovering that many charges of error are incorrect. The honest scholar realizes the probability of mistake and remains open to further correction and suggestion. Ultimately history is not a science, but the product of fallible humans (and even some physicists hold that science is not a science, but also the product of subjective human actions and understandings). If we insist that all mistakes and errors of judgment are indicators of fraud, we would very soon cease publishing.


In Isaiah Berlin’s recently published notebooks the following passage occurs and seems a fitting conclusion to this discussion:

Few things have done more harm than the belief on the part of individuals or groups. . . . that he or she or they are in sole possession of the truth: Especially about how to live, what to be & do—& that those who differ from them are not merely mistaken, but wicked or mad: & need restraining or suppressing. It is a terrible and dangerous arrogance to believe that you alone are right: have a magical eye which sees the truth: & that others cannot be right if they disagree.

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Matt at Villanova - 1/24/2004

Well, I'm sure your busy, I'll just leave with saying that opinion does factor into large parts of history because we don't have all the evidence. Theres a debate over the 2nd amendment, over why Truman dropped the atomic bomb, over the role of slavery in the civil war, etc. There are historians on both sides who put together the pieces of the puzzle differently.

The piece you use, Fischer, is 10 years old yet still top historians like Dr. Faragher, Dr. Buhle, Dr. Czitrom and Dr Armitage paint a picture more like Bellesiles claims than Fischer. Obviously, there are conflicting opinions on what exactly happened. Unless you feel that Fischer is right and the rest are frauds.

The only point you responded to was the muskets, in which you said it doensn't matter if the muskets of today are totally different because Bellesiles compared muzzle loaders in his book once. I think that makes his modern day comparison unsound, but still there is much to say on 18th century farmers muskets being cumbersome and innaccurate.

I don't see why you felt the need to jump into the post, say you disagree, and then go "I feel no responsibility to continue." But hey, whatever floats your boat.

John G. Fought - 1/24/2004

It was Bellesiles who compared bow hunters and gun hunters in modern times to make a point about the inaccuracy of muskets and to allege the superiority of archery over firearms. My argument against him on this point was to show that his original comparison was unfair, in part because of the difference in the length of the hunting seasons. His own portrayal of the eagerness of Indians to get firearms in that same period, even crudely made ones, in itself stands against his other claim that such muskets were worthless and that bows were better. Moreover, my argument doesn't depend for its validity on modern muskets being the same as those of 200+ years ago. In fact, I mention that the accuracy of both bows and muskets is probably higher now.
Your portrayal of what I wrote is inaccurate, suggesting that you didn't understand it. Your grasp of what he said doesn't seem any better. Passing it all off as a disagreement among historians seems to imply that it's all just a matter of personal opinion anyway. But history is not all just text, actually: there was a past that really happened, in a complicated way, just as the present is happening now, and the past has left behind evidence that can be found and critically compared with other evidence, yielding reasons for believing that some accounts of it are more accurate than others. Some accounts about then, like some statements about now, are more true than others. Words do not magically create a 'reality' just by being said or written. It is only the act of saying or writing that is real; what is meant is another matter, to be judged against other, nonverbal evidence. None of this has anything to do with academic credentials, but rather with taking care to understand and accurately represent what sources say, and to weigh carefully the basis for making a judgment about particular events and the motives of the actors in them. Nowhere do I say that the book consists of nothing but lies, nor even falsehoods. I do think it is both careless and biased to the point where it should not have been published, let alone awarded a prize.
This is my last message to you, by the way. I've taken you seriously, but I feel no responsibility to continue such a dialog with you. I'm currently busy with other things. At some point I'll have something to say about the second edition in relation to the first, but I haven't even read the second yet.

Matt at Villanova - 1/23/2004

I'm pointing out that you have a good case for this:
I don't think that Bellesiles's book stands up as an exceptional professional historical research.

I look at that and go "ok, but is it 300 pages of propaganda and lies?" I generally think not, but I could be wrong, I do not have a doctorate in history or am I an expert in 18th century america.

I look at that section and see, that from the material you selected, you appear to have the stronger argument. But nowhere in MB's militia account is there an outright lie, or a twisting of sources. At worst he simply bought into myth other historians had laid out. It could just be a disagreement among historians. Historians have been off before.

Maybe I'm bias, but to me it seems like he portrayed the Lexington incident basically accurate, and shows that 3,700+ troops were only able to inflict 270 wounds in hours upon hours of fighting.

He also makes a point I very much agree with, muskets require training to be accurate. You cite 1994 muzzle-loaders as somehow being the exact same thing as a farmers musket used by a militia man. I think the materials, manufactoring process, care, training etc all the advances in technology and with training it makes the 1994 figures meaningless.

The first time I fired a glock, I thought I'd be amazing because I've played video games my whole life. I was terrible. It took me weeks to get a decent precision down. I do not think there is evidence to suggest that farmers practiced shooting muskets often.

If a french army, in favorable terrain, outnumbering the british that were retreating, and completly surronding them...they would have annihilated the british. I only see several attacks that were only made when risks were low.

At most I see this instance as a situation where Bellesiles has the weaker argument but did not clearly make it a piece of lies and propaganda. I'd go on to believe much what he said about the militia. Particularly how a vastly superior american force fled from defending the capitol under advancing british forces.

Looking at "Out of Many" I see Dr. Faragher of Yale write that the miltia at concord was disorganized, and 700 british faced 4,000 americans. 6.8% of the militiamen hit their targets (despite them taking clear paths and being packed together in many instances), the british, even though being disorganized and in an almost constant retreat, and being surronded at some points from militia men in much better position...had DOUBLE the accuracy rate.

Clearly, Bellesiles has some points, even though it might not be the best historical scholarship.

John G. Fought - 1/21/2004

You can read what I wrote about the book on the guncite.com web site. In that piece, among other things, is a comparison of what Bellesiles and David Hackett Fisher wrote about the Lexington & Concord fighting. I paraphrased both sources, but if that gets you upset, you can always read the originals. This 'show me, point by point' stuff has troll written all over it, as does your faux naif question. If you want to find out more, who's stopping you?

Matt at Villanova - 1/20/2004

If you've researched it so well, I'm assuming you could easily go point by point and show me where my mistake lies.

I mean, there was really no law against making fun of militamen at their drills?

John G. Fought - 1/20/2004

I'm willing to treat your questions as if they were serious, though I doubt that they are. Just go back to the top of this tangle of threads, read your way down, and you'll find answers to many of them, and pointers to various sources, secondary and primary, on all sides of the issues you raise, and many that you don't. You'll need access to a decent academic library to follow up. It will be a fair amount of work, but you might learn a lot. For what it's worth, I have done a good deal of what I recommend to you, stretching over years before and since the book came out, and I don't agree with any of the opinions you expressed here.

Matt at Villanova - 1/20/2004

As I recall reading his first book, I realized I was tricked into believing too much that was rather on unstable ground. However, there was alot of good information which I don't think has been challenged.

Out of some 300+ pages, at most ive seen about 2-5 pages of "error" most of which I think have been fixed.

Whether he is the most evil person on the planet some try to make him out to be, I'm more interested in his total case.

His comments about the mexican war, and the war of 1812 were very amusing (we heavily outnumbered the british but the militia all fled at Washington DC), laws against people making fun of militia men during their drills, etc.

Maybe his thesis is wrong, maybe he has made some serious errors, but it seems to me that there is still a wealth of information that hasn't been challenged that I would like to know about.

His discussion of the 2nd amendment seems solid, of native america dependence on guns, on the inaccuracy of guns, on the cowardice of militia...etc

I've heard 18th century muskets were very hard to keep in service and to have a peasant take one hunting would be ludicrous considering how much money and time they take to work properly only to have them work in certain situations and even then be extremly inaccurate. As someone who goes hunting I realize that bow and arrow is much more accurate for game than any numbers ive seen with old style muskets (not modern made muskets)

Please your comments would be apprecieted

ThinkTank - 1/15/2004

Bellesiles has not "accuse his critics of bad faith, and claim that he is being persecuted. " He CORRECTED his errors, and gave a 74 page paphlet away stating what was corrected and why. My prevous post was to point out the obvious hyprocsy of some "historians" and "journalists." They jump on a bandwagon of bad journalism and irresponsible accusations and think thats enough. I want to see them actually come up with proof of what they say. Which they have been sadly lacking.

Charles V. Mutschler - 1/9/2004

What does this have to do with Mr. Bellesiles and _Arming America_? This looks like a classic case of trying to change the subject instead of addressing the questions others have raised. In other words, Mr. Lindgren, Mr. Cramer, and other critics have put together long, detailed lists of emperically verifiable problems with Arming America_. Think Tank, you offer no comparable evidence to support your thesis. Stick to the point please. Or is this a tacit admission that _Arming America_ is, as Mr. Lindgren states, beyond repair?

The latest _Chronicle of Higher Education_ has a blurb on the latest revision of _Arming America_, and Professor Lindgren's statements come across much more convincingly than Mr. Bellesiles, who seems to be repeating the method he used when the first critical comments appeared - accuse his critics of bad faith, and claim that he is being persecuted.

Charles V. Mutschler

Bryan Haskins - 1/9/2004

I’m disappointed that you would not choose to discuss the 2nd. Amendment with me. Why not show me the error of my ways? If, as you say, case law and history are on your side, then it would certainly bring you no harm to provide me with proof of your claim. Indeed, since you have argued it many times before it should be easy for you to readily provide me with your review of the case law and history which support your view. I would dearly like to see it….

Turning to Bellesiles and AA, I do not believe that Bellesiles has answered every critic, but I acknowledge that he may have provided answers that I am not privy to. Therefore, let me ask if you have heard any answer to the following criticisms:

#1: San Francisco probate records. I assume you are aware of the facts behind the inclusion of probate records from San Fran which had been destroyed in the great quake. The Boston Globe brandished this problem as if it were a smoking gun for fraud. Bellesiles took this to be a particularly serious accusation, and he attempted to replicate his San Fran research. That ultimately led him to the Contra Costa History Center, where he found probate record with the words “San Francisco” in them. He made copies of these records, and in defense of the Globe’s assertion of fraud he published them with the suggestion that he had found these records during his original research in 1993. This defense was evaluated by the Emory Committee, and it concluded that “the strained character of Professor Bellesiles’ explanation raises questions about his veracity.”

What answer has Bellesiles provided for the CCHC’s assertion that it’s employees had no recollection of him ever having visited the Center before his recent trip to copy his newly released records, and that the Center had no record of Bellesiles having paid fees for copying anything from their archives before?

What answer has Bellesiles provided to the Emory Committee’s discovery that the records Bellesiles claimed to have copied from the CCHC in 1993 were in fact not added to the Center’s collection until 1998?

#2: Inability to replicate his research. One central claim of AA is that gun ownership increased in the 19th. Century. The Emory Committee found that it was impossible to corroborate this claim. In particular, the Committee concluded that critical records from Massachusetts which Bellesiles claimed to have relied upon did not exist.

Has Bellesiles provided an answer for this criticism?

#3: Militia research: The Committee found that there was no “evidence of outright deception” here. However, it did state: “but we do see abundant evidence of superficial and thesis-driven research.”

Has Bellesiles sufficiently addressed this allegation?

#4: “Mathematically impossible” probate results. Mr.Lindgren and Mr. Roth have addressed Bellesiles probate data at length, and they (along with the Committee) found that his statistics were “mathematically impossible or improbable.”

Has Bellesiles explained what errors, if any, he committed that led to these mathematically impossible or improbable results?

#5: Denial of the Lindgren e-mails. Bellesiles sent Mr. Lindgen e-mails in August and September of 2000 which provided a source for some of his probate data. Then, in a subsequent explanation to someone else he claimed to have found the probate data from a different source. When it was disclosed that Mr. Lindgren possessed the contradictory e-mails, Bellesiles denied authorship of them and hinted that they were forged. In response, Mr. Lindgren cited an earlier radio interview in which he and Bellesiles had participated. In that interview Bellesiles clearly acknowledged sending the e-mails which he denies authoring. In noting the “implausibility of some of his defenses,” the Committee specifically cited this as one example of Bellesiles’ “failure to be fully forthcoming.”

Has Bellesiles answered this criticism?

It is indeed possible that Bellesiles has provided answers for these examples, but if so then I am unaware of it. Please let me know if you have any information that he has done so. I also invite you to express your opinion on these examples. They carry considerable weight in forming my opinion of Bellesiles’ credibility, and I would like to hear how you view them. Mr. Smith, for all his defensive posting for Bellesiles here, continues to ignore these examples. It is apparently his Orwellian belief that certain facts do not exist so long as he refuses to acknowledge them, and in consequence I have been unable to draw him out into a real discussion. I hope that you will avoid his example and agree to talk with me about some of these issues, and I await your reply.

ThinkTank - 1/8/2004


his is why Jefferson's critics referred to him as the "Negro President"--because, they said, he had ridden into the White House on the backs of otherwise voiceless slaves whose sole raison d'être was to multiply their owners' political and economic clout. As one newspaper declared at the time, it was as if "New England horses, cows, and oxen" had been used to expand Adams's tally. Federalists were stunned, yet generations of historians, both liberal and conservative, have mobilized to cover up on Jefferson's behalf. Wills notes that two book-length accounts of the Revolution of 1800 by respected academic historians, one published by Knopf in 1974 and the other by Morrow in 2000, ignored the three-fifths clause altogether, as did Page Smith's two-volume 1962 biography of Adams and Dumas Malone's whopping six-volume biography of Jefferson, published between 1948 and 1981. David McCullough's discussion of the clause's role in his 2001 Adams biography is so fleeting that some readers may have missed it. "What was surprising" about the election of 1800, he writes, "was how well Adams had done.... he had, in fact, come very close to winning in the electoral count.... Also, were it not for the fact that in the South three-fifths of the slaves were counted in apportioning the electoral votes, Adams would have been reelected." His man was robbed, yet all McCullough can muster is a single sentence.

No of course not, because you're only taking marching orders from the NRA.

ThinkTank - 1/7/2004



ThinkTank - 1/7/2004

none of which hurt his thesis. I've had the argument abotu the 2nd Amendment too many times, and I'm not going to pick it up again for awhile. Suffice it to say, case law, and history are on my side. A corrupt industry and some psuedo-journalists are on your side.

ThinkTank - 1/7/2004

so Cramer, are you ever going to give a straight answer. The biggest problem with your argument is that Arming America, HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH GUN CONTROL.

Don Williams - 1/3/2004

(Note: Following is copy of comment I posted to Benny Smith over on the old Bellesiles thread)
One of Bellesiles most steadfast defenders on H-OIEAHC , HNN, and the Chronicle of Higher Education has been Richard B Bernstein of New York. Until recently, the Amazon advert for Version2 of Arming America promised a Preface to Version 2 written by noted historian Richard B Bernstein.

As I noted to Richard Morgan above, I was highly interested in seeing what defense of Bellesiles Mr Bernstein would produce. I had discussed several shortcomings of Arming America Version 1 with Mr Bernstein on H-OIEAHC. At the time, Mr Bernstein's had limited his defense of Bellesiles largely to Bellesiles as a person while , in my opinion, largely ignoring the factual problems in Arming AMerica . Nevertheless, I respect Mr Bernstein as a scholar and looked forward to his Preface.

Yet the promised Bernstein Preface does not appear in the Soft Skull edition -- and Amazon appears to have dropped the Bernstein reference from their advert.

What happened, Benny? Did Mr Bernstein have second thoughts about supporting Bellesiles after seeing the Second version of Arming America?? I noticed that the
Second Version has many of the same major errors contained in Version 1 -- including what I consider to be false and misleading descriptions of militia performance in Revolutionary War battles.

For example, Bellesiles still describes the militia's role in the Battle of Cowpens as (a) militia firing one volley (b) militia trying to flee but being stopped by Daniel Morgan and Andrew Pickens "waving their sword threateningly" (nice way to stop several hundred armed but panic-stricken men, no?) and c) militia blundering around the battle field while "John Howard's Continentals" performed "a perfect change of direction, fire a withering musket volley at ten yards, and then charge the British with fixed bayonets" while "the militia, which had to fire only that single volley, managed to hold on to their guns this time"

In his book "The Life of George Washington" , John Marshall (Continental soldier and first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) noted the following about the Battle of Cowpens:

a) After the militia line was forced to retreat by the British line, it retreated behind the Continental Line --
some fled to their horses but some reformed on the right hand of the Continental Line and renewed the attack

b) A major part of Howard's "Continental Line" was made up of Virginia militia under Captains Triplet and Taite-- although many of this militia included men with previous service in the Continental Army

c) Howard's "perfect change of direction" was a halt to an unplanned retreat by the Continental Line --in which the Line reformed about 100 yards to the rear of it's initial position, faced about, and fired a volley at oncoming British line which had been chasing the Continentals during their retreat.
(It appears to me that this tactic worked largely because Morgan/Howard's men were well rested and could run faster than the British Line --which been on the fast march chasing Morgan for almost 40 hours , without sleep. The slow staggering pace of the British line gave the Americans time to reload their muskets on the run and reform a new line. The surprise of the volley may have been due to the new Continental position being on the other side of a slight rise -- in which their new line was concealed from the British until the British were almost upon it. Plus the British line appeared to have become dispersed and spread out -- the British soldiers panicking when charged by the bayonet because they were separated from their fellows with no one to guard their left/right flanks)

John Marshall was not at Cowpens but his bio of Washington notes that Marshall "received statements of this action from General Morgan and from Colonels Howard and Washington(calvary leader at Cowpens)"

Note also that John Marshall's bio of George Washington was based upon George Washington's volumious collection of private papers --given to Marshall by George Washington's heir, Bushrod Washington.

Marshall's account tallies with the account of Cowpens given by calvary leader "Light Horse" Harry Lee in his "Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States". Harry Lee was not at Cowpens but his calvary detachment served with Andrews Pickens' mounted militia (which was at Cowpens) in the weeks following Cowpens. Harry Lee would likely have heard much of the truth from Andrew Pickens, Morgan's soldiers, and General Nathanael Greene.

Chuck Jackson - 12/30/2003

The similarity I identifed can be stated as:
Any reasonably well informed person who reads the work will immediately sense that something is profoundly wrong with the text.

Arming America explicitly quotes Thomas Jefferson as saying "every soldier in our army having been intimate with his gun from infancy.”

That sure sounds to me like Jefferson reported a pre-1800 gun culture. But, that conflicts with the book's thesis. Any reasonable reader should start wondering at that point if the book is for real. (If not a lot earlier!).

Understanding and explaining Bellesiles's behavior is not history. But, it's interesting. Why did he write AA? What on earth was on his mind?

Equally interesting behavior is that some people cling to AA as being some thing other than a work in one of the categories---jokes, pack of lies, profoundly flawed works.

Chuck Jackson

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/30/2003

I agree with Ralph that this was not similar to Sokal's wonderful satire of post-modernism applied to physics. The costs to Bellesiles personally have been high, and even more importantly, to his beloved gun control movement. They have made themselves, and professional historians who were taken in by Arming America, look ridiculous, at best.

If Bellesiles had simply hoped no one would have checked his sources, the smart thing to have done when the trouble started would have been to say, "Whoops! I'm glad everyone is checking my work so carefully. I do seem to have made some serious errors along the way."
He could have then revised AA with most of the gross falsehoods removed. It would have been a far less persuasive book (and about half the length), but at least no one could have said that it was fabrication. They would have had to settle for, "unpersuasive" or "better argued than the facts support."

Ralph E. Luker - 12/29/2003

Of course, Josh, I agree with you. I suppose my point would be that no rational human being would risk the whole ordeal that Bellesiles has faced -- from the earliest challenges through the recent 2nd edition, including the loss of his position and his book's award -- to vindicate an intentional sham.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/29/2003

Richard, Thanks for the proper citation. The date of the article does place it earlier in Bellesiles's career than I had recalled.

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/29/2003

Actually, Bellesiles' article was entitled "Does Evidence Matter? Puritanism Revised, Reviled, and Deconstructed," found in Canadian Review of American Studies (1988). But your memory is better than my memory on most occasions.

I particularly loved the way Bellesiles (at the Brady Symposium) had fun with Akhil Amar, who holds an endowed chair at Yale Law School. Providing no source, he had Amar proclaiming the historical context irrelevant to an understanding of the Second Amendment. Bellesiles has him out as a postmodernist, with Bellesiles portraying himself as a defender of traditional historians' values. Amar, though, has a point. The meaning of the Second Amendment, legally, is more determined both by text and by precedent, than by the historical context ("the historical context" turning out, invariably, to be just that portion of the context needed to support the writer's view).

Josh Greenland - 12/29/2003

I think the most telling evidence against Mr. Jackson's thesis is that MB didn't reveal the hoax before he was forced out of his professorship at Emory.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/29/2003

Mr. Jackson's speculative essay is an interesting piece of work.
As I read it, I recalled someone's citation of an article by Bellesiles and published shortly prior to his beginning to write _AA_. As I recall, the article was entitled "Is Evidence Important?" It is the sort of eye-catching title, asking a cheeky question, which might come back to haunt an author whose use of evidence would later be seriously challenged. Or, it is the sort of question which, lodged in the mind of its author, might precede a grand hoax.
It seems to me that the most telling piece of evidence against Jackson's thesis is that Bellesiles has published a revised 2nd edition of his book. Had he intended the original manuscript to be a hoax, revealing the near bankrupt credulity of contemporary historians and the publishing establishment, I cannot imagine that he would make the effort to revise the text.

Josh Greenland - 12/28/2003

I'm not convinced that Bellesiles intended Arming America as a hoax, but I think his psychology is similar to that of a hoaxer: he thinks he's smarter than most people and is willing to put one over on the masses to prove it.

I'm glad you focused on his claim that elite stupidity and machismo were the reasons for the pre-19th century adoption of firearms for military purposes, which I hadn't seen discussed much by other AA critics. This is one of the most ludicrous sub-theses in Arming America, one Bellesiles lays on his readers within the first hundred pages. I enjoyed your detailed comparison of the capabilities of black powder rifles versus long bows. But there is one other broader factor that makes Bellesiles "inferior weapons technology adopted for stupid reasons" sub-thesis unbelievable: generally, nations with superior weapons beat those with inferior weapons. "Survival of the fittest" applies to military technology. If you made this point, my apologies in advance for not spotting it.

Chuck Jackson - 12/28/2003

My alternative view---that Arming America should not be viewed as filled with errors---is posted at

I welcome comments.

Chuck Jackson

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/26/2003

"please tell me thats what you're saying. Also how about a scan of the pages Bellesiles DOES cite, and with the page numbers clearly visible. As the first one is not."

What, exactly, are you trying to say here?

Josh Greenland - 12/24/2003

"seeing as how pro gun people have a habit of threatening, or trying to intimidate others"....

What proof do you have for that statement?

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/23/2003

Silveira v. Lockyer is a classic case of of what Felix Frankfurter would have called activist overreaching. The SCOTUS has never held that the 14th incorporated the Second as a part of fundamental liberty. That is all that needed to be said, but Rheinhardt, the most reversed judge on the most reversed circuit, decided otherwise.

Josh Greenland - 12/23/2003

"Michael Moore had to fight the sae fight against them. They criculated a list of "errors" or "lies" in BFC on the internet. Everyone of them has been disproven."

By whom? Do you have an article reference or website URL for us?

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/23/2003

I wasn't aware that the Olin Foundation subsidized publication. I'd be interested in seeing a source for that claim.

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/23/2003

True, the Committee only used the expression 'guilty of professional and misleading work' in connection with Table 1, but they also said (on the very same page from which you drew the expression), that Bellesiles had "contravened" three "professional norms". Different people find different claims plausible. The Committee did submit three volumes of evidence, including the Emory internal report (and presumably Emory had access to the evidence that would settle the claims of hacking and forges e-mails). Unfortunately, Emory has chosen not to release the volumes, so these questions will never be settled to everyone's satisfaction.

Bryan Haskins - 12/23/2003

Welcome aboard! It’s nice to see someone other than our elusive Benny Smith come forward to defend Bellesiles.

For Think Tank—I disagree with your assessment that the Second Amendment is a collective right of the state to organize and equip its militia. I would like to offer you some specific reasons why I believe this, and I would like to hear your reasons for your position. However, this is a site devoted to Arming America, and as such it would not be fair to the others here to use it as a forum to discuss the Second Amendment generally. Would you be willing to talk about this issue offline via e-mail? If so, then let me know and I’ll give you my address here. Barbara, you are certainly invited to do the same if you wish to. If you have an opinion on either the individual or collective rights theory, then I would be willing to hear your reasoning as well.

For Think Tank and Barbara Cornett-- In my opinion Bellesiles continues to generalize his defense of his work without discussing the specific problems his critics claim to have found. This has naturally given rise to an impression that he avoids discussion of the specifics because he knows he cannot dispute their veracity. If there are specific charges made by his critics which either of you feel are fraudulent or otherwise without merit, then would you please share them with me? To put it another way, would either of you be willing to discuss the specific allegations of misconduct that have been lodged against Bellesiles?

I say this because I have spent the better part of a year attempting to get Mr. Benny Smith to engage in an actual discussion of the merits of AA. He has refused all my offers, and he merely wishes to forge ahead with his “liar gun hugging liar pants on fire” defense of AA and its author. All I want to do is engage in an amicable discussion with someone who can intelligently argue a position contrary to mine. If either of you would be willing to do so, then please let me know here. Additionally, if you would prefer to do this offline, then let me know and I will provide my e-mail address to you here. I have already done this before, so it is not a risk to me now. If you prefer, I will honor any request to maintain the privacy of any e-mail address you give me to prevent others from learning of it.

ThinkTank - 12/23/2003

Frankly I don't trust anyone who is pro gun with that information.

ThinkTank - 12/23/2003

please tell me thats what you're saying. Also how about a scan of the pages Bellesiles DOES cite, and with the page numbers clearly visible. As the first one is not.

John G. Fought - 12/22/2003

Golly, ThinkTank, you must be a big, rough, dangerous man. But what's your real name?

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/22/2003

"But there are other facets of Bellesiles's book and the criticism surrounding it where we do not know and probably never will know the full truth."

Please list them. I do not doubt that there are unknowable components to the history of firearms ownership in America. There are, however, quite a number of claims in Arming America other than his statistics that are knowable--and where Bellesiles's claims are demonstrably false.

Bellesiles's claim about colonial gun laws: completely false, and provably so. His claim that all colonial governments distrusted their freemen, and kept nearly all guns stored in central storehouses, is directly contradicted by most of his sources for that claim. NONE of the sources he cites support that position, that the governments kept guns away from freemen, except as punishment for crimes, or to disarm members of mistrusted heretic groups (Antinomians in Massachusetts, and Catholics in Maryland) at particular times.

Most of Bellesiles's source demonstrate that the only mistrust the colonial governments had was that the freemen would not have enough guns--hence, laws requiring gun ownership, and in many colonies, requiring freemen to carry guns to public meetings, to church, and when traveling.

Concerning gunsmiths: Bellesiles's claims that there were few gunsmiths in America, and no gun manufacturing in the colonial period, is easily refuted. Bellesiles misrepresented a number of sources to prove that point.

Concerning hunting: Bellesiles claimed that hunting was uncommon, and only developed as a sporting activity when American upper classes decided to ape their British counterparts in the 1830s. This is demonstrably false from Bellesiles's own sources. Bellesiles gives a list of 80 different travel accounts that he uses to prove this point--and so far, of 15 that I have checked, all 15 demonstrate that hunting and gun use was common, and recognized as common (sometimes nearly universal) by the writers that Bellesiles cites.

There are two important claims that Bellesiles makes that have some truth to them:

1. American militias were often ineffective--but even here, Bellesiles exaggerates the extent of their incapacity.

2. The colonists were more likely to obtain game from the Indians by trade or purchase than to hunt game themselves. This is certainly true in some regions at some times, and less true in other regions at other times.

The claim that few Americans, other than market hunters, hunted in the colonial period, however, is demonstrably false. There are simply too many travel accounts of the time that repeatedly emphasize that hunting, for both sport and subsistence, is the norm among the colonists. Many of these travel accounts Bellesiles cites, and must therefore have read.

Bellesiles is a liar. He didn't make mistakes. He didn't fail to read enough sources. He lied.

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/22/2003

"you appear to take quite a lot of liberty with those texts as well"


ThinkTank - 12/22/2003

only you're trying to skew them in an opposite direction

ThinkTank - 12/22/2003

The well-regulated militia is the organized militia as per the constitution and they are the state/national guards as per 2 SCOTUS rulings in 1965 and 1990, "keep and bear arms," is only a military termed used with militia formation. So when the federal government comes to disarm your national guard, come get me. But you cheapen the rest of the Bill of Rights every time you lie about the 2nd Amendment.

ThinkTank - 12/22/2003

or you could try any one of the GOP owned networks, or hey, the NRA is going to buy a tv station, you could spread your gun industry propaganda there.

ThinkTank - 12/22/2003

Michael Moore had to fight the sae fight against them. They criculated a list of "errors" or "lies" in BFC on the internet. Everyone of them has been disproven. Just like now we have the same gun industry psuedo journalists proclaiming someons guilt without much substnace to their attacks.

ThinkTank - 12/22/2003

is "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work,"

only on the charge of table 1, because he didn't label the years he ommitted.

The committee specifically noted that Bellesiles's disavowal of emails he had sent to James Lindgren was implausible.

it is entirely plausible

The gun industry in this country is headed for destruction. They put so much time, money, and effort into pseudo-science and smear campagns that they are running out of cash. Look for some changes in the future, this kinda bullshit is going to stop.

ThinkTank - 12/22/2003

but what can you expect from a contributer to American Rifleman, the magazine that sold the rifle that killed JFK?

ThinkTank - 12/22/2003

Arming America has tackled a subect in American history that was sadly lacking. It has been a given so long that the first american's were "a people armed and numerous," that any evidence to the contrary would be shouted down. Especially from psuedo-journalists working for gun industry paid lobbyists. Bellesiles thesis stands, and stands better than most pro-gun assertions(ex. "more guns, less crime," "guns don't kill people,").

Ralph E. Luker - 12/21/2003

You read sniping into what I said. To be blunt, Josh, I think you are wrong about how much I know about AA criticism.

Michael B. Young - 12/21/2003

You asked for examples of obfuscation on the part of Bellesiles's critics. I'll give two. (1) I used the word "obfuscation" in my original email because I had a copy of the Emory Report in front of me at the time. See especially the vacillating treatment of "intentional fabrication" and the shifting definition of the charge against Bellesiles in question #4. (2) Obfuscation is also evident in the letter of the NEH to the Newberry Library. It presents a highly qustionable "history" of the controversy and, rightly or wrongly, reinforces the impression that some of the criticism was politically motivated. Thanks to his critics we now know the truth about Bellesiles's statistics: they are worthless. But there are other facets of Bellesiles's book and the criticism surrounding it where we do not know and probably never will know the full truth. No one familiar with the process of writing history should be surprised or offended by that observation.

Josh Greenland - 12/21/2003

Then could you be a little more specific about the "obfuscation" you've spotted in criticisms of Arming America?

Josh Greenland - 12/21/2003

"Allow for such possibility of imperfection in the critique and you lose much of the platform for judging the text. If you wish to hold a text to exacting standards, you must hold the critique to standards _at least_ as exacting."

That Clayton Cramer is trying to hold AA to "exacting standards" is a straw man of your creation, Ralph. I'd like to see you post a quote from him or any other substantial critic supporting your (mis)representation of their positions.

What Clayton and the other major critics have established is that, in their areas of study, Arming America goes far being the occasional random error. Critics have established 1) that AA is error ridden, and 2) that the errors are not random.

"If I may say so, that is what has distinguished the quality of some criticism of Michael's work from the quality of other criticism of Michael's work."

Still sniping at Clayton, huh? To be blunt, Ralph, I don't think you know enough about the various criticisms of AA to be able to compare them.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/20/2003

Clayton, I am astonished that you would say this: "Why does it matter whether every criticism is perfect?" Allow for such possibility of imperfection in the critique and you lose much of the platform for judging the text. If you wish to hold a text to exacting standards, you must hold the critique to standards _at least_ as exacting. If I may say so, that is what has distinguished the quality of some criticism of Michael's work from the quality of other criticism of Michael's work.

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/20/2003

It is very discouraging: I can't get a publisher for my book on the subject. I guess I need to get publicly exposed as a liar and a fraud--perhaps then I can find a publisher. Or maybe I just write a book asserting that slavery in America was greatly exaggerated--that it was actually a benevolent institution, and there were never more than fifteen slaves in the United States at any given time. Maybe then I could get a publisher.

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/20/2003

Now you admit that it is was "terribly flawed work...."

So why did you start the conversation with, "I have taught the Bellesiles controversy to my classes, and the obfuscation on both sides is enough to convert even a die-hard empiricist into a postmodernist."

His work was "terribly flawed." Why does it matter whether every criticism is perfect? If you demonstrate that Bellesiles engaged in intentional deception (as he clearly did), then revoking his Bancroft Prize, and encouraging him to resign seems an entirely appropriate action.

Once someone has shown a consistent pattern of publishing deception, why should you trust them again?

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/20/2003

Exactly correct. You can't make any assumptions about gun ownership based on what SHOULD be.

But we know that at least half of the men on Mayflower had guns. There was a party of 20 that went on shore, all armed with muskets. When they returned, they found that one of the kids had been playing with a musket aboard ship, and a great disaster was narrowly avoided. There were at least 21 firearms, for a total of 41 men.

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/20/2003

Actually, they didn't remove the facts from Bellesiles's work; they removed the reference to it, replacing it with Bellesiles's footnote.

The problem was that when you actually look up the "new" source, it is, at best, an ambiguous statement that Bellesiles was asserting to be clear-cut.

Michael B. Young - 12/20/2003

Yes, of course, I did have my classes read the relevant articles from the William and Mary Quarterly, the critiques by Lindgren and Heather, and other documents produced by the controversy. (One of my students actually exchanged emails with Lindgren.) I routinely teach controversies of this sort to my classes. Years ago I taught the David Abraham case, more recently the furor over the Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian. I find that controversies of this sort are very illuminating about the way the historical profession operates in reality. Finally, I certainly do not defend Bellesiles or his terribly flawed work. But neither do I treat the "texts" of his critics as indisputable gospel.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/20/2003

Josh, I suspect that your reference to the position of gun control advocates or of anti-gay pols as "moralistic" is inaccurate -- in the sense that you believe that your opposite positions are even more moral than theirs. Else, why would you advocate those positions? Gun control advocates may break gun control laws (when did legislation against murder end all murder?), but they are as subject to punishment for their violation of the law as opponents of gun control are. I suspect anti-gay pols caught in bed with a guy would be willing to trade discrimination against themselves as gay for all the public humiliation of their hypocrisy.

Josh Greenland - 12/19/2003

"Dave, It's good to have your assurance that all hypocrisy is on the one side of the current debate. Odd, isn't it, that the only hypocrits happen to be people you don't agree with?"

No, it's not it. When one side of a debate is pushing a moralistic proposition, as anti-gunners basically do, they are much able than their opponents to be hypocrites. Anti-gunners can break guns laws that they support, or own guns that they think most people shouldn't. But what type of equivalent hypocrisy do pro-gunners have open to them?

A good analogy is the debate around gay rights. An anti-gay politico can be caught messing with a person of the same sex, but there is no equivalent opportunity for hypocrisy among gay rights supporters.

Josh Greenland - 12/19/2003

"Moreover, the book was quoted by the 9th Circuit Court as offering support for an anti-gun ruling the court made earlier this year."

Silveira V. Lockyer, a challenge to at least one of California's anti-"assault weapon" laws.

Shortly after some bad news for the credibility of Arming America came out, the 9th Circuit issued an amended version of its Silveira decision, from which any mention of Michael Bellesiles' "facts" were deleted. I'm told amended decisions are rather unusual.

"Probably, the 9th Circuit's ruling will be overturne--thanks to Bellesisles' deceit & dishonesty."

I think the Supremes upheld the 9th's (IMO bad) decision by refusing to grant cert on it (refused to hear it).

Ralph Luker - 12/19/2003

Try this: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1932360077/qid=1071870396/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-1689358-9320745?v=glance&s=books

Ronald Best - 12/19/2003

The new Scull Press edition of Arming America has disappeared from Amazon.com. Does anyone know why?

John Brown - 12/19/2003

Mr. Livingston,

Is it really necessary to point out that your Kansas upbringing or the existence of many 19th-century weapons has nothing at all to do with whether guns have been common since "Plymouth Rock"?

Dave Livingston - 12/19/2003


:) That gal seems one with whom to ride the river, to have on one's side in a fight. I like her sight unseen.

Dave Livingston - 12/19/2003

Once again Josh is right on the money.

The last I read (or heard from an historian friend of his), Bellesiles has a job offer from a university in Scotland. Despite all the fuss, he apparently may continue to work in the field, but hopefully he may learn to like haggis. But there perhaps is some compensation in foggy Scotland, if he goes there, rumor is the Scots don't export the very best of their Whiskey.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/19/2003

Dave, You remind me of a time when I was teaching in a private school for African American students in rural Burke County, GA. I lived in the boys dorm and developed a good friendship with the dorm mother, a large African American woman who was also a great cook. She told me that if I would buy them she would fix me some turkey tails. So, we were sitting downstairs in the kitchen, stuffing ourselves with turkey tails, when one of us noticed that there was a little rattlesnake under my chair. He surely wouldn't have been two feet long at the most. I'm never _any_ good in emergency, but she grabbed a broom and just beat the living daylights out of that poor snake. His rattles are in a men's jewelry box on my dresser to this day. Every once in a while, I take them out and rattle them at myself.

Dave Livingston - 12/18/2003


Thanks. Point understood and appreciated. It even makes sense. :)

Dave Livingston - 12/18/2003


:-))) And as you know, another's intelligence is measured by the extent he or she agrees with one. Human nature doesn't change, eh?

Speaking of guns, I even twice had occasion to use them when a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia. The first time scared the pee-wadden out of me. Our hostess came to me (rather than my fellow PCV, a lad from Boston) to ask I use her husband's single-shot shotgun to kill a cobra that was in her chicken coop & was killing chickens. Her coop was raised off the frequently flooded ground at roughly eye level. Entrance to the coop was via a little, perhaps 2'x2', door. I opened the door & there was a danged cobra coiled & looking me dead in the eye & ready to strike. I swung that ole shotgun up in record time & blew him away. But of course, I took out a wide chunk of the back of the coop as well. But what else was I to do?

The second time as a Peace Corps Volunteer I used a firearm was again my host's at a cobra, but then a rifle. That time I missed. But that was O.K., because the snake was racing away from me into the jungle. Oh golly, that first one scared me more, far more, than half the times Little Brown Brother (Robert Heinlien's phrase in "Glory Road")took pot shots at me in exotic Indochina.

No, I've no phobia of snakes. Indeed, a family of garden snakes lives in my attached garage--& a good thing too, they keep the mice under control. Even so, the memory of that cobra still rattles me on occasion. :-)))

Dave Livingston - 12/18/2003

Josh is correct. Once the matter was pushed out of the kid-glove covered hands of his "Let's don't be judgemental" peers, which it was by the news of his quickly proven false, a lie, claim to have examined San Francisco County probate records. Then the pressure mounted bigtime & he was doomed.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/18/2003

Dave, It's good to have your assurance that all hypocrisy is on the one side of the current debate. Odd, isn't it, that the only hypocrits happen to be people you don't agree with?

Don Williams - 12/18/2003

An interesting article here on Soft Skull Press:
see http://www.sanderhicks.com/washpostfeat.html

I guess Soft Skull was awed by the moral stature of

Ralph E. Luker - 12/18/2003

Dave, Sorry, but the main point of your post is simply wrong. It is a point you make repeatedly and it ain't so. Thorough research should correct whatever impression a historian may have from experience. My having grown up in a city or in the countryside should not determine my thesis about gun ownership in 18th century America and I should not project my experience back onto the 18th century. If the relationship of the historian and his data is not more sophisticated than that, we are certain to produce history which is deeply flawed.

Dave Livingston - 12/18/2003

S.G. Overton,

Pointing out BeBellesisles' so-called research, manufacturing so-called historical facts, "is a little irrelevant?" You are correct that because his book has hurt the gun control movement is a tad beside the point of whether or no his scholarship was dishonest. But it is the honesty of his scholarship that is the point under discussion here in response to his own return to the subject. Manufacturing false data is not mere advocacy, as you seem to suggest. For all it is fashionable in some circles to claim that objective truth does not exist, it does indeed existin many circumstances--no amount of mind games will lead most rational people to think that the only difference between a boulder & a bush is one's subjective opinion.

Dave Livingston

Dave Livingston - 12/18/2003

Andrew Ward is absolutely correct that a) whatever the motivation behind Bellesisle's work, it should have been strong enough to withstand scrutiny from his fellow scholars, but it did not. The book is a joke. there are two copies of it on my bookshelves. They bring an occasional chuckle. b) that proven falisified scholarship of the book has done more, far more, to offer support for the Standard Model understanding of the intent of the Second Amendment than most essays written by supporters of the SAtandard Model. Moreover, the book was quoted by the 9th Circuit Court as offering support for an anti-gun ruling the court made earlier this year. Surely, when the case is appealed the weakness of the ruling, relying upon dishonest scholarship, will be made manifest. Probably, the 9th Circuit's ruling will be overturne--thanks to Bellesisles' deceit & dishonesty. In short, this book, proven false as to its general thesis and in various particulars, is one of the worst things that could possibily have happened to the gun control movement. And c) Bellesisles is waving his dirty laundry for all to see once again.

For one thing, Bellesisles is keeping attention trained upon the frequent hypocrisy of gun control types, Rosie O'Donnell an outspoken advocate of gun control for everyone but herself--she with an armed bodyguard, the now deceased Washington, D.C. journalist who was an outspoken advocate of gun control--for everyone but himself, he who one night shot a neighbor youth in his swimming pool with an illegal handgun. And there was the report that the New Jersey head of the Million Moms March was arrested for owning three illegal handguns. Best of all, there was Sarah Brady making an illegal purchase of a firearm--a rifle for her son. Never mind that I don't think it should be illrgal to purchase a firearm as a present, but she evidently technically broke firearms laws in doing so.

Dave Livingston - 12/18/2003


Please do consider coming out here to Colorado for a visit. I'll be pleased to show you a little bit of how some of us rustics live.

Lady, you're in grotesque error to think firearms haven't been in widespread use in America since those folks stepped ashore at Plymouth Rock (I own land in northern Maine & there's no way I'd have come ashore to live on the land with nothing but a stone axe). Growing up in smalltown Kansas I cannot remember the day when there weren't guns about, nor the year my uncles didn't come by on a cold winter's morning to kick me out of a warm bed to go hunting. I still have the twenty guage pump shotgun, Remington Wingmaster, I was given for my fourteenth birthday. Then my folks gave me a .22 rilfe when I was fifteen & a year later a .22 revolver, which I've given to my younger son.

The news media commonly says there are approximately 200 million firearms in the hands of civilians in the U.S., but my guesstimate is the actual figure is at least twice that many, probably closer to three times the guessed 200 million.

Roughly 4 and one-half million new firearms are sold in the U.S. each yeasr--even more whenever the gun control nuts make a splash in the news.

One reason I make this estimate is firearms ordinarily evaporate or rust away. For instance, in my little collection is a Winchester Model 73 manufactured in 1892. It is in nearly perfct condition & modern made ammunition is readily available for it. There are tens of thousands of firearms manufactured in the 19th Century in collections across this land.

Dave Livingston - 12/18/2003

Michael Bellesiles has my support for chossing not to utilize a computer for some of his note-taking. In this technology obsessed day there are frequent occasions when using a computer is more awkward and time-consuming than resorting to pen or pencil . In fact, I use an old-fashioned thirteen column columar pads for keeping track of my household budget & expenses. In short, there is no obligation for one to use the latest high tech toy in one's work.

But that is beside the point that clearly Bellesilies evidently claimed to have utilized non-existent, including, destroyed in the 1906 earthquake & fire, San Francisco County probate records to support his anti-gun thesis.

It saddens me that he (or anyone) self-destructs as he did. It certainly isn't a smudge on one's record that any of us would be pleased to have, to have the Bancroft Prize and prize money one was awarded retracted, for the first time in the prize's history.

From a rustic's point of view this episode points up the disconect between urban and rural America. If only Mr. Bellesiles had lived in rural America he would have realized that inherently his thesis was faulty. For European man to have spread across this land and prospered it was necessary that he had the use of effective firearms.

The point of the Second Amendment is not to protect hunting, nonetheless European man could not have survived and prospered had he not, the first century & a half or so here hunted.

There was an incident in Colorado Springs in October,2002 that illustrated the growing disconnection of urbanites from nature. Some kids at Colorado College, a Liberal Arts College, fresh back from an extended stay in Mongolia decided to throw a Mongolian style cook-out. This required the butchering of a lamb. Neighbors objected to the abusive killing of the lamb. In fact, one gal went so far as to offer to go to a market to purchase lamb chops, if the kids wouldn't kill that poor. sweet little lamb.

One wonders from whence came the lamb chops she proposed to buy? Did she think they were made of plastic? Some of today's urbanites object to hunting apparently without thinking about from where does the bacon & sateak they eat comes, the leather of the shoes & belts theyt wear.

As a sometime hunter I like certain wild game for my dinner table, but I'm strongly in agreement with my urban cousins who object to trophy hunting. Recently there was an incident nearby of fellows killing deer for their antlers & leaving the meat to go to waste. It appears those fellows are enroute to the hoosegow & they damned well deserve it.

Josh Greenland - 12/18/2003

"These were vague or ambiguous passages."

You mean "These weren't vague or ambiguous passages," don't you?

Josh Greenland - 12/18/2003

"He cited whole bodies of documents that don't exist, etc., etc."

Perhaps the worst, most blatant examples was his citation of San Francisco probates that had been burned up in the 1906 earthquake fire. When that one hit the national news, it was the beginning of the end for him.

Josh Greenland - 12/18/2003

"I am shocked if a historian has written something that he deliberately distorted and lied about. Why would a historian do such an thing? What could his motive be?"

Read the first six pages of his book. It should be obvious from that that he is a hardcore gun control supporter.

"I cannot make any judgement about this and it has to be left to historians - so what will be done?"

Much of it has already been done: after two investigations, his university forced him to resign; his academic publisher, Knopf, stopped selling his book and pulped the remaining copies, and Columbia University took the Bancroft Prize away from him that they'd earlier awarded for best history book of the year.

Don Williams - 12/18/2003

I wrote an article about 18 months ago for HNN re the background
of Arming America -- Bellesiles involvement in gun control efforts, his allies, and the lengthy quotations of Bellesiles' work by gun control legal briefs in two major Second Amendment cases.

See http://historynewsnetwork.org/articles/article.html?id=741 .
What interests me is not so much Bellesiles but some of his prominent ideological allies (ex-allies?) in the History profession --e.g. Jack Rakove of Stanford.

See,e.g., my post on the historians H-OIEAHC forum --
at http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-oieahc&month=0301&week=e&msg=5%2b8SY5LwwM8pBlTCpRhMcA&user=&pw=

John Brown - 12/18/2003

Bellesiles can't come clean because his mistakes aren't honest ones. He cited documents as proof when they say the opposite of what he contends. He cited whole bodies of documents that don't exist, etc., etc. What's amazing is how liberals continue to make excuses for this pathetic hack.

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/18/2003

"I am shocked if a historian has written something that he deliberately distorted and lied about. Why would a historian do such an thing? What could his motive be?"

Was this intended to be sarcasm? If not, let me explain.

There is a pretty major political struggle going on in the United States about gun control. Bellesiles's work has been repeatedly cited by gun control advocates in support of their position that the Second Amendment was not intended to protect an individual right to keep and bear arms. Alternatively, that the right was effectively stillborn, because the right was not widely exercised in 1789, and therefore there is no obligation for the courts to recognize that right today.

This is not a surprise to Bellesiles. The dust jacket of the first edition quoted any number of prominent people on the political implications for gun control. "NRA's worst nightmare" is one of them. Morris Udall is quoted to the effect that "thinking Americans" have been waiting for this information for a long time.

Why was Bellesiles's book needed? Because over the last twenty years, there has been a flood of published work on the subject of the Second Amendment, and overwhelmingly, it has recognized that the right was individual in nature. While there is considerable disagreement about the limits of that right, and there are legitimate disagreements about how to interpret that right in a modern context, the gun prohibitionist crowd was in a pile of hurt, and needed a blockbuster piece of work to win the battle. Guess who wrote the blockbuster that they needed?

Barbara Cornett - 12/18/2003

I am shocked if a historian has written something that he deliberately distorted and lied about. Why would a historian do such an thing? What could his motive be?

I know that recently Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin were accused of plagiarism and it made headlines and I thought that sort of thing was unusual enough to make news.

I cannot make any judgement about this and it has to be left to historians - so what will be done?

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/18/2003

Professor Young: please respond to http://www.claytoncramer.com/columbia.18apr01.htm. I have included photocopies of some of the pages from the first edition of Arming America, along with photocopies of the documents that he misrepresents. Please give a detailed explanation of why Bellesiles isn't a liar, based on those images.

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/18/2003

Except he hasn't come clean. He is continuing to claim that colonial laws required nearly all guns to be kept in central storehouses, only issued at militia musters and in emergencies. His own citations clearly show that this was not the case. Every colony, by the time of the Revolution, had laws requiring every militiaman (and in some colonies, every householder) to have a gun. Many colonies required militiamen to carry their guns when they went more than one mile from town, or when attending church. South Carolina required elders of the church to search men as they entered to make sure that they were armed.
Bellesiles is a liar.

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/18/2003

An example? Arming America is probably the best example. Bellesiles repeatedly falsified documents. You want examples? See http://www.claytoncramer.com/columbia.18apr01.htm for images of just a few primary sources that Bellesiles misrepresented in the first edition.

These weren't errors. These were vague or ambiguous passages. These weren't documents that he missed. These were documents that he cited--and that do not say what he says that say.

Josh Greenland - 12/18/2003

You say you've taught the Arming America controversy to a class, claiming that there is was a great deal obfuscation "on both sides," but you only mention the Emory external committee's report as evidence of the shoddiness of AA's critics.

What have you taught your classes about the main Lindgren and Heather article, and the articles by Gloria Main, Raldolph Roth and Ira Gruber in the early 2002 William and Mary Quarterly. Are all of these obfuscatory and slippery?

Ralph E. Luker - 12/18/2003

Professor Young, I can't imagine that you mean to imply that the anonymous opinion of a single, random _Choice_ reviewer ought to bear the same weight as an advisory by three senior historians offered only after all internal processes of appeal have been exhausted.

Michael B. Young - 12/17/2003

I have taught the Bellesiles controversy to my classes, and the obfuscation on both sides is enough to convert even a die-hard empiricist into a postmodernist. The "Report" commissioned by Emory is often cited confidently, but it is a slippery document which raises many troubling questions in itself about the integrity of the profession. Most upsetting is the disproportionate punishment of Bellesiles. One of his critics was criticized herself in a _Choice_ review of her book because she "abandons any pretext of objectivity," adopts a "clearly partisan approach," and "ignores the overwhelming difficulties" in the data. Yet no one to my knowledge has called for her dismissal.

Bill Henslee - 12/17/2003

Dear Caleb:

I don't know how you can say "Good for You" without either reading the work or the report. Bellesiles is the artful dodger, writing away his sins by pointing at easily smeared targets outside the profession. Rather than reading the work, read the report of the investigation committee, three distinguished professors from Harvard, Princeton and the U. of Chicago which is located on the site.

If you can't take the time, read this from the Summary:

"Finally, the committee concluded that Bellesiles is "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work," though at all times he was "both cooperative and respectful." His responses, the committee declared, "have been prolix, confusing, evasive and occasionally contradictory." The committee specifically noted that Bellesiles's disavowal of emails he had sent to James Lindgren was implausible.

In sum, the committee found that "his scholarly integrity is seriously in question."

Good for you??????

Todd Galle - 12/17/2003

What has this to do with the earlier criticisms of Bellesiles book ? What new facts supporting Bellesiles do you present? I am certainly interested in accuracy, but this might also be put to Bellesiles' new edition, as well as "rightwing propoganda machines". It seems ridiculous to repeat all the evidence against his book once again. I mean really, who's politicizing what, and how does his research relate to Waco?

Caleb - 12/17/2003

Although I have never read the book but heard of its problems, I applaud Michael Bellesiles for coming clean and discussing his errors frankly and honestly. I think everyone on this posting board knows how hard it is to come out and say "I was wrong," and we don't even have to use our real names!

It would have been far easier to keep his head low and try to move on with another topic, as this one seems pretty thoroughly discredited. Instead, he has stuck with his research, convinced that there is more in the records than the part of his research that has been rebuked. So he went out and explained his position. I think we are so used to people ducking the issues and trying to justify the unjustifiable, we tend to react cynically when anyone comes out and tries to correct his error. Good for you, Mr. Bellesiles.

S. G. Overton - 12/17/2003

Thanks for info on computers and NARA. I was recently in a branch outside of Washington and when I wanted to look at some papers, they provided me with pencils and a notepad and asked me not to bring in other items but I admit I did not have a computer with me.

Yet I think your point about the revised edition hurting the antigun movement is a little irrelevant. Academic freedom, if not the first amendment, does not preclude publishing items even if controversial and even if they impede or accelerate one's cause. Oh indeed, this case does involve academic freedom if the author's punishment was in anyway related to his ideology. I am not claiming it is but it is suggested by some.

S. G. Overton - 12/17/2003

Thanks for info on computers and NARA. I was recently in a branch outside of Washington and when I wanted to look at some papers, they provided me with pencils and a notepad and asked me to bring in other items but I admit I did not have a computer with me.

Yet I think your point about the revised edition hurting the antigun movement is a little irrelevant. Academic freedom, if not the first amendment, does not preclude publishing items even if controversial and even if they impede or accelerate one's cause. Oh indeed, this case does involve academic freedom if the author's punishment was in anyway related to his ideology. I am not claiming it is but it is suggested by some.

Ken Allen - 12/17/2003

Intellectual and moral dishonesty speaks for itself. All the protestations of "error", "unimportant mistake" ad infinitum does nothing to dispel the fact that hiis book was intended to either:

1. Sell a lot of books to liberals, or

2. Promote a bundle of lies intended to injure those who own or may someday own guns as provided for by the US Constitution.

Andrew Ward - 12/17/2003

Since when does academic freedom embrace plagiarism and falsification? I am as anti-gun as they come, and though I was astonished by his findings, I initially welcomed Bellesisle's book. I have no idea what the motivation or politics of his critics might be, but his scholarship should have been able to hold up under anyone's scrutiny. It wasn't, and by resurrecting his disgraceful book he is only doing the anti-gun movement further harm.

Andrew Ward - 12/17/2003

In fact the NARA does allow computers in their research rooms.

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/17/2003

More of the same, I'm afraid. I've lost count of which iteration Bellesiles' current "response" constitutes -- is it something around Bellesiles Release 6.0? I must applaud the marketing, though. The response is sent to media, not made generally available to those most knowledgable of the weaknesses of Bellesiles' arguments (or of the possible incompleteness of the response). Thus those who are in a position to promote the work, but who are least informed of the issues, get Bellesiles' account only. And so it should be, I guess, as Soft Skull is presumably in the business of making money. That certainly explains why they still use reviews of the first edition to promote the second (corrected?) edition. I particularly enjoyed the quote from Robert Spitzer, which indicates more than anything else that he hasn't read the substantive criticisms of Bellesiles.

Barbara Cornett - 12/17/2003

How about an example?

Bill Henslee - 12/17/2003

Three distinguished professors from Chicago U., Harvard, and Princeton wrote the report on Bellesiles.

Finally, the committee concluded that Bellesiles is "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work," though at all times he was "both cooperative and respectful." His responses, the committee declared, "have been prolix, confusing, evasive and occasionally contradictory." The committee specifically noted that Bellesiles's disavowal of emails he had sent to James Lindgren was implausible.

In sum, the committee found that "his scholarly integrity is seriously in question."

They tried to be nice, but if you read the report without being blinded by arguments that people outside academia put in their two cents, you will ask yourself this question:

If this were a dissertation, would it have been accepted at your university with this report attached?

S. G. Overton - 12/17/2003

Mr Sparks, Is not the point you raise rather tangential. The evidence that I have seen is more than conclusive that this scholar debased his profession, falsified research to confirm an ideological animus and received appropriate opprobium.

I do not resent his continued protestations of innocence. He is a free man--er person--but I do not think his being expelled from academe was ideologically motivated but based on efforts to survey his sources and the accuracy and honesty of his conclusions.

I find his remarks here to be somewhat general and lacking precision in defending himself although I concede his utilization of pencils and notepads is clearly within the realm of accepted and common practice. You were right there.

Bill Henslee - 12/17/2003

Dear Ms. Cornett:

It's refreshing to hear that the self-annointed "good people" of academia on the left never have political agendas or stoop to politicizing their work.

Don Overtz - 12/17/2003

I wish more had the wisdom and insights of Ms. Cornett. So many historians on the HNN Hot Seat were either punished for antiwar speech or specious charges of plagiarism--not all but some-- that one wonders if the New McCarthyism is eroding traditional areas of academic freedom and intellectual independence.

Peace and justice.

Barbara Cornett - 12/17/2003

If you wrote a book challenging the notion that Americans have always been a heavily armed people then you were bound to get the attention of the propaganda squad of the rightwing.

Recently Howard Dean said that the democrats need to get the votes of folks who presently base their support of republicans on such narrow issues as guns, gays and God. Guns and the macho men whose self image is tied up with guns make them a vital symbol for republicans. They are not interested in the history or facts of guns in America, they are interested in images and propaganda.

That of course means that republicans have a tremendous vested interest in playing up the importance of guns and the role they played from the American revolution to the old west to Hollywood to Waco.

"Democrats are trying to take our guns" is not accurate but acccuracy is not important to people whose awareness extends no further then 'guns, gays and God'.

Isn't it interesting to see how far the power and the ambition of the rightwing propaganda machines reach as we witness their influence and involvement in scholarship.

Political rightwing power has attacked geniune journalism in the US, our Constitution and our laws. It is no surprise that they are also attacking scholarship since they have for many years been obsessed with 'liberals' on college campuses.

Good luck with the new corrected edition and don't allow political liars and manipulators to sabotage your work.

Hal Sparks - 12/17/2003

It does not surprise me that one uses pencils and notepads to record archival notes. Frequently, archives require it. In research I have done at NARA, I use a pencil because they won't allow a pen much less a computer. Whether the author is guilty of falsification of evidence and whether the review panel's decision that led to his resgination from Emory were appropriate or not, is not my purview or area of competence.