The Founding Fathers Did Know About Repeating Rifles Before the Bill of Rights Was Drafted

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By T. Logan Metesh

Gun control advocates often claim that the Founding Fathers couldn’t have conceived of repeating rifles when they drafted the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights. The history of Joseph Belton, an inventor and gunsmith from Philadelphia, and his correspondence with the Continental Congress proves otherwise.

Belton claimed to have devised a new form of flintlock musket that was capable of firing as many as sixteen consecutive shots in as little as twenty seconds. After the gun had fired its consecutive loads, it could then be reloaded individually like all other traditional weapons of that time.

Bolton wrote to Congress about his new invention on April 11, 1777, letting them know he could be available to demonstrate it to them at any time.

Intrigued by Belton’s claim, Congress ordered 100 examples of his “new improved gun.” They authorized him to oversee the construction of new guns, or alteration of existing guns, so that they were capable of discharging eight rounds with one loading and that he “receive a reasonable compensation for his trouble, and be allowed all just and necessary expences [sic].”

On May 7, Belton replied to Congress with his terms regarding what he felt to be reasonable compensation. He wanted to arm 100 men with his invention, demonstrate the capabilities to top military officers, and see how many men the officers felt his 100 men were equivalent to.

For example, 100 specially-armed men were equivalent to 200 regularly-armed men, or more. For his ability to double the manpower, he felt that he was entitled to £1,000 from each state that he armed 100 of their men.

Belton justified his price by claiming that a state could not raise, equip, and clothe 100 men for £1,000, making his 100 men armed as though they were 200 men a bargain. For reference, £1,000 in 1777 is the equivalent of £116,500 in 2016. If all 13 states outfitted 100 men, Belton would receive £13,000 – or a cool £1.5 million today.

Belton argued that arming 3,000 men or more with his invention created enumerable advantages beyond description on the battlefield and that, as such, his compensation was “vastly reasonable” and that if the Congress refused his terms, he wouldn’t do it. (For those doing the math, 3,000 men armed with Belton’s repeater would mean that he’d collect almost £3.5 million if adjusted to 2016.)

Belton must have realized immediately that his demands were more than outlandish because the next day, on May 8, he wrote a letter to John Hancock lowering his fee to £500 for doubling, £1,500 for tripling, £2,000 for quadrupling, and so forth.

On May 15, Congress read Belton’s letter to the body. They quickly dismissed it because of his “extraordinary allowance.” (No one saw that coming, right?) Congress considered the matter dropped and didn’t reply to Belton, likely assuming he would take their lack of reply as a refusal.

Having heard nothing from Congress, Belton wrote them again on June 14. This time, he claimed he could make the shots accurately out to 100 yards and then, obviously feeling that wasn’t impressive enough, said he could make the shots out to 200 yards and would be available to demonstrate this to the body on the State House Yard.

Again, he heard nothing for almost a month.

Still undeterred, Belton wrote Congress again on July 10. This time, he tried to rile members of the body by claiming that Great Britain regularly pays £500 for such services. He also enclosed a letter signed by General Horatio Gates, Major General Benedict Arnold (before he became a turncoat), well-known scientist David Rittenhouse, and others, all claiming that his invention would be of “great Service” and that Belton is entitled to “a hansome [sic] reward from the Publick [sic].”

Having received the letter immediately, Congress resolved that same day to refer Belton’s petition to the Board of War, made up of five delegates. Among these five delegates were future 2nd President of the United States, John Adams, and Benjamin Harrison V, father and great-grandfather of the 9th and 23rd Presidents of the United States, respectively.

Nine days later on July 19, Congress got word from the Board of War. They dismissed Belton’s petition altogether. At this point, he must have finally gotten the hint that Congress wasn’t going to authorize such exorbitant payment for his services because the historic record turns up no more correspondence between Belton and Congress.

Despite the fact that Joseph Belton failed to convince the Continental Congress to outfit colonial soldiers with his repeating rifle, it’s still a very important story. Belton invented his gun in 1777. The Bill of Rights wasn’t ratified until 1791.

I’m no math whiz, but even I know that means our Founding Fathers not only knew about repeating rifles 14 years before the creation of the Second Amendment, but that they thought highly enough of the design to pursue further development and implementation of such technology.

So, the next time someone tells you the Second Amendment was never designed to protect the right to own a repeating rifle, or that it was only meant to apply to flintlock muskets, sit them down and tell them the story of Joseph Belton and his repeating flintlock musket.

comments

  1. avatar Stu in AZ says:

    Make the story short cuz they won’t listen and will just switch to another argument without conceding anything.

    1. avatar Jared says:

      Couldn’t have said it any better.

    2. avatar mark s. says:

      I repeatedly made this argument to gun grabbers until I realized your point was , as Vern Gosdin would say , chiseled in stone . These folks haven’t the ability to reason . There are other examples that bear out this same argument including the fact that a Blunderbuss or Dragon loaded with shrapnel or even a Buck and Ball musket would do devastating damage in a room full of dancing dudes or a conference room full of coffee drinking white shirts . It is also a known fact that it was private citizens that formed our first ‘ Armies ‘ , with their own weapons of mass destruction ( cannons and commerce ships retrofitted for war ) , hired or commissioned to defend Americas interest . just as it is today , as it is the American tax payer that provides the subsidies that arms our citizens for war , and every weapon in Americas arsenal is citizen owned . It is not a weapon problem but a moral ethical problem that we face . A moral ethical responsible person could have a nuclear missile in their garage and we would have no issues if they could guarantee it did not fall into the hands of a immoral , unethical and irresponsible person .
      The State can provide people food and a roof but it cannot replace or provide the ‘ change of our nature ‘ that can only come from our acceptance of and faith in God .

      1. avatar DaveW says:

        SCOTUS, back around 1934, ruled that sawed off shotguns were not a weapon for war. However, the British Marines aboard British warships used the “blunderbuss” loaded with scrap metal, broken pottery shards, etc to sweep the decks of opposing ships clear of resistance. The blunderbuss is a muzzle-loading firearm with a short, large caliber, unrifled barrel, which is flared at the muzzle and frequently throughout the entire bore, and used with shot and other projectiles of relevant quantity and/or caliber.

        1. avatar mark s. says:

          I’ve seen a replica in action and believe me , you would not want to be within twenty square feet of one of these weapons of mass destruction , and there were many others of which I can’t recall right now like Grapeshot and of coarse there were probably twenty different types of cannon ammo , like ball and chain and canister shot . If you have any questions I’m sure you could Google search all the ways men devised to massively destroy each other in the 1700’s . These gun grabbers rely on emotional arguments , deception and ignorance to achieve their goals .

        2. avatar Danny Griffin says:

          That because the .gov lawyers lied to the SCOTUS.

        3. avatar Doug says:

          As recently as WWI, short-barrelled versions of the good ‘ole Winchester Model 1912 were used for “trench clearing”. Not weapons of war, indeed!

          And as for “muskets”, in the Revolutionary War, Major Ferguson’s breech-loading rifled flintlock was advancing the discussion, British military conservatism notwithstanding.

  2. avatar James69 says:

    Wow! Now the question, where are these assault muskets today? I bet an example would fetch a pretty penny. Kinda sounds like the BS that contractors pull today. I think he was a time traveler from the Regan years.

    1. avatar Stu in AZ says:

      I think there’s a pic of one in this video:
      https://youtu.be/CquUBWHU2_s

    2. avatar Kyle says:

      Your right! They do fetch a good bit of cash. They’re in museums and worth a fortune.

      1. avatar neiowa says:

        Who has the RP file? Get the “3D printers going”.

  3. avatar Michael Acuna says:

    It’s so crazy how the argument of its old and past its time/they didn’t know better/couldn’t see the future/ works for 2nd but not any other part of the Constitution.

    1. avatar peirsonb says:

      I suspect they’d be more accepting of the idea of repeating rifles than the idea that I hold a device in my hand that allows me to instantly communicate with someone around the world.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        Oh, hell yeah.

        If we could teleport the founders into today’s world, their minds would truly be blown by the technology.

        The ability to take a detailed photograph of the insides of a human body without cutting into it.

        Spaceflight. The cellphone you mentioned. A good stereo system, etc…

        1. avatar DaveW says:

          If teleported to the present, I believe the Founders would simply be amazed at what has been accomplished. They were educated men and not exactly young, so they had seen advancements in technologies. Remember, Ben Franklin played with electricity long before Edison. At the same time they would be greatly saddened that what they left us had been so abused.

          Can anyone imagine that under the guise of free speech someone could wipe their a$$ with a flag so many had died to defend? That so many people would be ready to vote to end the form of government they devised? Or that people would seek to deny others rights which the Constitution guaranteed? That eco-Nazis would seek to end hunting, fishing, logging or any other occupation or pastime as old as civilization?

  4. avatar Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

    Sounds like we’ve found the smoking gun.

  5. avatar surlycmd says:

    The Founding Fathers did not need to envision the technologies of the future. They understood the history of human nature.

    1. avatar UrbanFuturistic says:

      No, the majority of them were scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs. George Washington created the 16 sided barn. Ben Franklin invented, among other things, bi-focal glasses and the lightning rod. The latter of which did not see any form of improvement for 150 years because it was so good. Thomas Paine, on top of being one of Americas first best-selling authors, designed the second iron bridge in human history, smokeless candles and early engine designs.

      But go on and tell me how they didnt need to envision future technologies, or how they wouldnt be able to comprehend or accept the idea of your cell phone/mobile computing device.

      1. avatar surlycmd says:

        I did not intend to imply the Founding Fathers were unable to comprehend current or future technology. The Founding Fathers had a profound understanding of human nature. They knew power corrupts. They knew some men seek power for their own agendas. Despite technology, human nature has not changed after thousands of years. Some people want to control others. I believe the Founding Fathers used that knowledge of human nature to develop our Constitutional Republic.

        1. avatar mark s. says:

          They knew a hard truth that has escaped most of the modern world , a truth that a force of evil has tried to cover up , dispel and reverse since the fall of modern man , that humans are evil by nature . Progressives , and Stateist , Communist and Atheist all try to convience themselves and others that this is not true and the deception is as old as the tree of knowledge and because ( humanity ) ( we ) as a whole have steadily seperated itself ( ourselves ) from this truth our destiny is destruction , plain and simple .

      2. avatar 16V says:

        UF, You might want to go back and re-read surlycmd’s post. He didn’t say what you think he said. At all.

    2. avatar Doc Samson says:

      Well said and spot on.

    3. avatar Doug says:

      Whether they were what we might call “bible-believing Christians” or not — some were, some weren’t — they generally and collectively bought in to a very Judeo-Christian understanding of the nature of Man (fallen, where the best of men were imperfect, and the worst are very bad indeed) and so they designed a limited form of government, where the institutions would be resistant to the tyrannically-inclined, and where the people were not to be supine or defenseless. As has been said, and I love the quote, but cannot find the author, ‘Americans are willing to be governed, but will not be ruled.’

      If they wanted to expressly limit the arms which the people could keep and bear, they could easily have done so; yet they did not. Given the “shall not be infringed” language, the implication is that the relationship between the force available to the people and that of the military was, if not equal, at least close enough to allow some hope of effective resistance in a time of dire necessity, as it was in 1775.

      To me, that would logically then allow for at least what we as citizens have access to now in the more conservative states, such as Texas.

  6. avatar hello from illinois says:

    There were repeating flintlocks as far back as the 1600s including the Lorenzoni and Berseli magazine pistols and Kalthoff repeater.

    Even in the colonies there were Cookson repeating rifles based on a similar mechanisms.

    1. avatar Arian55 says:

      Clark of the famous Lewis & Clark has a repeating Air rifle that was lethal out to 75-100ish yards. They were not new technology. Honestly the biggest revolution in arms since that time wasn’t in rifle tech but ammo tech. Namely, the self contained cartridge

      1. avatar Icabod says:

        The rifle was in service with the Austrian army in 1780. Here you have repeating rifle with a silencer.
        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girandoni_air_rifle

    2. avatar VSN says:

      Ah, you beat me to the Lorenzoni

  7. avatar Joe R. says:

    “The Founding Fathers Did Know About Repeating Rifles Before the Bill of Rights Was Drafted”

    More importantly, they knew that the evil POS liberal-progressive-communist gun-grabbers were more persistent than the Sith.

    “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. . .

    In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

    . . . We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our . . .settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”
    U.S. Declaration of Independence http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

  8. avatar JR Pollock says:

    Given the fact that two of the more famous Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin & Thomas Jefferson, were quite gifted and prolific inventors, I’ve always found the claim that they couldn’t have envisioned the modern technologies, or would have been shocked by them, to be a truly specious argument.

    In Franklin’s case, I really believe that if he’d been handed a Thompson or an M-16, they literally would have had to pry it from his cold, dead hands.

  9. avatar Omer Baker says:

    If Benton was really smart he would have bribed the members of the Board of War. Maybe hire a lobbyist or two.

    1. avatar neiowa says:

      “Democrat” had not yet been invented and Tory was not much in style in America.

    2. avatar Meerling says:

      From what I’ve heard, back then that would have gotten you in major deep nasty stuff. The founders really hated that kind of corruption with a passion secondly only to religious rule.

  10. avatar Jack says:

    They didn’t envision a future with the internet, but they did envision a government that would want to suppress speech it found inconvenient.

    They didn’t envision the mini gun but they did envision a government that would want a monopoly on lethal force

  11. avatar O2HeN2 says:

    Not to mention that the rifled firearms wielded by many colonists were actually superior to the military weapons of the day, the smooth bore musket.

    So much for “They didn’t mean military-grade weapons!”

    O2

  12. avatar formerwaterwalker says:

    It doesn’t matter if the framers of the constitution imagined anything. Because they were wise enough to I clude “shall not be infringed”. As far as predicting future technology a non prejudiced reading of biblical prophecy reveals unimaginable things-like attack helicopters and atomic war(SEE: The Revelation of Jesus Christ-written in the 1st century AD.)

  13. avatar lowhouse5 says:

    I would ask that you pin this article into the “facts about guns” section.
    The post and the comments are very useful vs. one of the standard arguments that gun controllers use.

  14. avatar James69 says:

    That’s it, ALL the founding fathers were time travelers. Makes ya wonder don’t it? I do.

  15. avatar BDub says:

    You see, when you base you acts on principles, you need not base them on prognostications.

  16. avatar Defens says:

    There you have it – even back then Congref rejected the notion of weapons of mass destruction on the streets! Or at least that would be the progressive claim.

  17. avatar NorincoJay says:

    It is a crazy idea that the Bill of Rights is designed around technology of the day and it’s not an idea to be used on future advancement. If it only safe guarded us against government intrusion when using tools from that time we will have lost the future of freedom.

    Are we not to be secure in our emails, phone called, txt messages and devices from unwarranted search and seizure because they weren’t around back then? News organizations can’t have online news sites because freedom of the press only dealt with paper print? We don’t have freedom of speech on blogs again because the founders didn’t know about blogs?

    If the 2nd intended to limit firearms citizens could own they would have done that. There were plenty of different firearms of the day. Rifled muskets, smooth bore, pistols, different calibers, barrel lengths, cannons, mortars and I’m sure even more. And they did not limit anyone of them.

  18. avatar Gregolas says:

    It’s articles this one that I am most grateful to TTAG for, and why I visit this site several times a day.
    Thank you, RF and team, for the GREAT work !

    1. avatar KJ says:

      Well said. I completely agree. ttag is doing a great service to the USA with posts like this one.

  19. avatar the ruester says:

    This one is so easy. Thomas Paine, author of “Age of Reason,” is one of the left’s fave revolutionaries due to his skeptical views on religion, laid out in that work. However, in the very same work, there is a section detailing his thoughts on the EXISTENCE OF EXTRA-TERRESTRIALS.

    http://www.ushistory.org/paine/reason/reason13.htm

    It gets better. All of the founders opined on the issue, and there is even evidence that members of the uneducated public feared the possibility of INTERPLANETARY INVASION, should the theory prove true.
    AND these were people for whom flight was already theoretically possible on paper, lest we forget Davinci…

    Speaking of which, he designed tanks and helicopters, too. “Couldn’t envision,” my rear.

    1. avatar NorincoJay says:

      Yeah he was very skeptical of organized religion. Tho he did strongly believe in a great creator God that created the vastness of the universe. The larger the universe and the number of worlds increase so does the power and glory of this creator God.

  20. avatar Ralph says:

    The founders knew a lot more than modern politicians. The USA is a nation founded by geniuses and run by idiots.

    1. avatar Accur81 says:

      Sad but true.

  21. avatar Kap says:

    it all boils down to the I’m smarter than you and or know more than you syndrome! you should do as I say simply I’m better than you!
    History be damned the now generation of non working pleasure seekers don’t believe it anyway or have no time, can’t comprehend it due to suspended brain functions (not agreeing with preconceived Ideas!) any body older than 40 lives in the stone age!

  22. avatar Roy Holbert says:

    If this is the rifle I thinking of, it had super-imposed loads with a sliding lock. You fired the further most load, then slid the lock backwards for each consecutive shot. The inventor of this rifle, to prove it’s strength and durability, fired off all loads at once. The inventor survived and so did the rifle.

  23. avatar Kyle (in Upstate New York) says:

    The concept of repeating arms was well-understood at the time. The issue was getting it to work. Thomas Jefferson knew about it from the two Girandoni air rifles he had. And they all knew that technology was advancing. Gun designs had continually been improved, and then when machine tools were invented that allowed for the mass production of standardized parts, Jefferson, as President, put them to use in mass-manufacturing firearms.

    Technologies the Founders truly could not have envisioned would be things like television, the Internet, etc…yet the First Amendment still clearly covers those.

    1. avatar BLAMMO says:

      Twitter is the “assault weapon” of the First Amendment.

      It sprays high-capacity stupidity to billions of people throughout the world at the speed of light.

  24. avatar Ad Astra says:

    Of course they knew about them among other things.

  25. avatar Preserve Freedom says:

    Hello my fellow freedom loving brothers and sisters!

    I recently joined the NRA a few months ago after years of procrastinating and now wish I had done so sooner in light of these new anti-gun, anti-freedom laws that moonbeam signed a couple weeks ago. This was a serious blow to our 2nd Amendment rights.

    Just as I procrastinated in joining the NRA, I’m sure there are many more like minded individuals who are still procrastinating. The single reason that took me so long to join was that I thought that after doing so I would constantly be inundated with phone calls & emails asking for donations, which turns out is not the case. I’ll receive an email every so often, but not what I expected. This should be communicated to those we encourage to join the NRA as this may help them to make the decision, take action and join in support.

    The NRA is the 2nd Amendment’s most powerful advocate and they need all the support possible to help us prevent the anti-gun, anti-freedom movement from advancing. We will continue to lose ground if we fail to act.

    Even as we continue to lose ground, there will be many freedom loving brothers and sisters that will continue to procrastinate and withhold from joining and supporting the NRA for various personal reasons.

    It’s with this realization that I’ve decided to donate to the NRA, 50% of the proceeds from the sale of my “Preserve Freedom” T-shirts. I believe this is a great way for those who wish to show and and support freedom whether you are an NRA member or not.

    https://teespring.com/stores/preserve-freedom

    We need all the support we can get!

    God Bless America!

  26. avatar Matt says:

    I’m confident that the Founding Fathers never believed anything to stay the same and knew change, progress and invention was forthcoming in all areas of society and that little remains the same. After all some of them were in the field of invention, science, medicine and such.

  27. avatar Fred says:

    Why are you arguing back? You sound stupid. Try; “I’m not getting in any boxcar”.

  28. avatar Gene says:

    They were well aware of the Puckle gun and it’s implications, too.

  29. avatar Steve says:

    This article is about something in Philadelphia why in the hell is it in foreign currency numbers

  30. avatar Tony says:

    In the Revolutionary War military assault rifle was the brown Bessie I believe is the correct name it was quick to reload since it had no rifling and it could fix a bayonet on to it so it could be used as a spear and also as a club it was a weapon of War – and not only did our founding fathers say you could not have one they also said you could have swords Spears cannons because they said arms not guns that’s the problem when you talk to an anti 2nd Amendment rights person they know nothing of what they say other than there scared of guns so nobody should have them

  31. avatar James Crump says:

    The founding Fathers did not invision career politicians that just thought of themselves and not the public. The constitution should have term limits on all elected officials

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