An Interview with Nathaniel Philbrick

Park Rangers asked author Nathaniel Philbrick a series of questions to coincide with the release of his book, Bunker Hill: A City, A Seige, A Revolution, in 2013. Below are the questions and Mr. Philbrick's thought provoking answers.

Question: What do you think the memorialization of Bunker Hill has to tell Americans today?
Answer: The Bunker Hill Monument is there to remind us that what is now a picturesque hilltop set amid a heavily settled neighborhood in Charlestown was once scene of the bloodiest fighting of the Revolutionary War. It's there to remind us that our past should never be taken for granted.

Question: What does the Second Amendment mean to you after researching the Battle of Bunker Hill?
Answer: I've come to appreciate the fact that the Revolution would never have happened if the 250 or so towns throughout Massachusetts didn't have militia composed of farmers and artisans equipped with muskets and other weapons. They became the basis of the embryonic Continental army. Militias dated back to the previous century when towns had defended themselves against attack by the region's native peoples. It was an ancient tradition in New England that made it much more difficult for the British military--which had recently crushed rebellions in Scotland and Ireland--to bring the colonists in line. Militias were there to protect a community's collective liberty rather than an individual's personal freedoms. I think it's an important distinction if you're looking to our Revolutionary past when talking about the Second Amendment.

Question: What do you think the intention of our founders were when they wrote the Second Amendment?
Answer: The founders knew that their country's independence had depended on their right to bear arms and they didn't want to lose that.

Question: What are the lessons today?
Answer: The circumstances under which the Second Amendment were drawn up are very different from what they are today. The technology of weapons, our sense of personal freedoms, are all very different from those of the founding generation. I have a hard time finding specific lessons in the past; it's so easy to take the past out of context - to, in essence, cherry pick from our history to support a specific point of view.

Question: Research suggests there were as many as 150 Native and African Americans fighting in the Battle of Bunker Hill. What do you think they were fighting for?
Answer: A wide variety of reasons: some may have hoped that the rhetoric of liberty might one day apply to them; the warrior traditions of the native peoples may have led some of them to join the provincial army; others, being young men, may have been excited at the prospect of fighting in a battle; for others it may have represented a pay check.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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