An old post resurrected on the usage of the term Well-Regulated in early congressional debates

A great deal of debate has centered on the phrase ‘A well-regulated militia
being necessary to the security of a free State’, in the Second Amendment
to the US Constitution.  Those who are arguing for more restrictions on
firearms generally argue that this phrase limits the right to bear arms
to those who are in a well-regulated militia, and claim that this is
synonymous with a militia under government control, and claim that this
means the modern day National Guard.  Those arguing against further
restrictions, and for the repeal of at least some current restrictions,
frequently point to early dictionaries referring to well-regulated clocks,
appetites, and shotgun bores, in which the term means ‘properly functioning’
or ‘properly aligned’.  Well, to make life MORE fun, I’ve found several
places in the early Congressional debates, contemperaneous with the
adoption of the Second Amendment, where the term was used in reference
to a ‘well-regulated government’.  The only editing I have done is for
the purpose of fitting within a posting, but I’ve noticed one or two
places where the Library of Congress’  OCR software goofed (arc instead of
are, for instance), and left those intact.  Scanned images of the documents
are available at the Library of Congress site, in addition to the OCR version
I copied this from.

The original usage I found when looking up something else, in the records of
the early Congressional debates as found at  This is from
page 314 of The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of
the Federal Constitution (Elliot’s Debates):

It is further said, that the operation of local interests should be
counteracted; for which purpose the Senate should be rendered permanent. I
conceive that the true interest of every state is the interest of the whole;
and that, if we should have a well-regulated government, this idea will
prevail. We shall, indeed, have few local interests to pursue, under the new
Constitution, because it limits the claims of the states by so close a line,
that on their part there can be but little dispute, and little worth disputing
about. But, sir, I conceive that partial interests will grow continually
weaker, because there are not those fundamental differences between the real
interests of the several states, which will long prevent their coming
together, and becoming uniform. Another argument advanced by the gentlemen is,
that our amendment would be the means of producing factions among the
electors; that aspiring men would misrepresent the conduct of a faithful
senator, and by intrigue procure a recall upon false grounds, in order to make
room for themselves. But, sir, men who are ambitious for places will rarely be
disposed to render those places unstable. A truly ambitious man will never do
this, unless he is mad. It is not to be supposed that a state will recall a
man once in twenty years, to make way for another. Dangers of this kind arc
very remote: I think they ought not to be brought seriously into view.
Another usage I found from the Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789,
from Monday, January 31, 1785, p.26:
“Mr. [Jacob] Read, to whom was referred a letter from the Comptroller of the
treasury with its enclosures stating that a number of the Certificates issued
by John Pierce Commissioner for liquidating the Claims of the Army, had been
counterfeited: beg leave to submit the following report. That the honor as
well as the interest of the federal government requires that the most
efficacious measures should be taken to discover the persons who have been
guilty of the said forgery, to the end that an Act which the laws of all well
regulated governments have marked as an offence may in future be prevented,
its injurious effects both to the United States and its Citizens as far as
possible restrained, and the Mischievous and wicked Authors of it brought to
punishment.–Whereupon resolved, that, the Comptroller be required to trace
the said certificates as far back as possible through their several possessors
on their progress to the Treasury.

And another usage:

We are told that both sides are distinguished by these great traits,
confidence and distrust. Perhaps there may be a less or greater tincture of
suspicion on one side than the other. But give me leave to say that, where
power can be safely lodged, if it be necessary, reason commands its cession.
In such case, it is imprudent and unsafe to withhold it. It is universally
admitted that it must be lodged in some hands or other. The question, then,
is, in what part of the government it ought to be placed; and not whether any
other political body, independent of the government, should have it or not. I
profess myself to have had a uniform zeal for a republican government. If the
honorable member, or any other person, conceives that my attachment to this
system arises from a different source, he is greatly mistaken. From the first
moment that my mind was capable of contemplating political subjects, I never,
till this moment, ceased wishing success to a well-regulated republican
government. The establishment of such in America was my most ardent desire. I
have considered attentively (and my consideration has been aided by
experience) the tendency of a relaxation of laws and a licentiousness
of manners.

>From p. 394 of Elliot’s Debates — Saturday, June 14, 1788, in a discussion
over how the powers over the militia should best be distributed.
Again, all of this was found at (actually,