The principle of a universal legal duty for individual militia service persisted even after the Colonists began enacting their own legislation, and then set off on the path that would separate them entirely from the Crown. In that most perilous of times, just before and through the War of Independence, Rhode Islanders still, perhaps especially, knew that “the Preservation of this Colony, in Time of War, depends, under God, upon the military Skill and Discipline of the Inhabitants”. (footnote 1) And the continuity of this principle over so many decades proves that the basis for Rhode Island’s power to require her inhabitants to serve in a Militia, and their corresponding duty to do so, was understood by all as transcending mere Royal prerogative or the positive laws of even popular, representative legislatures. (footnote 2)
Rather, both the Colony’s legal power and her inhabitants’ corresponding duty found their geneses and justifications in the realization that “every Principle, divine and human, require us to obey that great and fundamental Law of Nature, Self-Preservation”. (footnote 3) This was the law of which Locke had taught that “the Society can never, by the fault of another, lose the Native and Original Right it has to preserve it self”. (footnote 4) It was the law Blackstone described as “justly called the primary law of nature, so it is not, neither can it be in fact, taken away by the law of society”. (footnote 5) It was foremost among “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” that the Declaration of Independence invoked for the right of Rhode Island and her sister Colonies “to assume among the powers of the earth” a “separate and equal station”—certainly
(i) the necessary means to secure the right to “Life”, which the Declaration identified as first among those “certain unalienable Rights” with which “all men * * * are endowed by their Creator”, and
(ii) among the “just powers [derived] from the consent of the governed” that “Governments” may and should exercise “to secure these rights”.
And, operating perforce of and through the Declaration, it was the right upon which the authority, power, and permanence of the Constitution would thereafter rest, encapsulated in the Second Amendment’s precept that “[a] well regulated Militia” is “necessary to the security of a free State”, and echoed in the preamble of a then-contemporary Rhode Island Militia Act, that “the Security and Defence of all free States essentially depend, under God, upon the Exertions of a well regulated Militia”. (footnote 6)