The Statute of Northampton (1328) And American Equivalents

Why does this page exist? Because briefs are being submitted to the federal courts that misrepresent the content of many of these statutes and cite laws that do not exist, such as this. Because courts tend to accept the essential honesty of briefs submitted to them, it seemed necessary to put together a list of these statutes with images to allow independent verification of the contents of these frequently cited statutes. Along with the images, there is a link to the session laws from which they come. Google "Bellesiles scndal" and you will see why trusting the integrity of academics is often foolish.

Some gun control advocates claim that English law prohibited the carrying of arms and point to the Statute of Northampton (1328):

Parliament continued that tradition in 1328 by enacting the Statute of Northampton, which provided that "no Man great nor small" was to "go nor ride armed by night nor by day, in Fairs, Markets, nor in the presence of the Justices or other Ministers, nor in no part elsewhere," on pain of forfeiture of the arms or prison time.
But this appears to be a mistranslation from the Norman French in which the Statute of Northampton 2 Edw. III (1328) was originally written. The words in Norman French "a force & armes." have sometimes been translated as "force and arms." Source: The Statutes: Revised Edition, p. 144 What appears to be a predecessor statute sheds light on the proper translation of the Norman French word "armes." "A Statute Forbidding Bearing of Armour" 7 Edw. II (1313) decrees that "every man shall come witheut all force and armour, well and peaceably, to the honour of us, and to the peace of us and our realm...." It also uses the Norman French word "armes" but in this case translated as "armour," not "arms." Later in the statute it asserts that "to us it belongeth, and our part is, through our royal seignory, straitly to defend [force9] of armour..." with note 9 defining "force" as "wearing." Source: The Statutes: Revised Edition, p. 113

Both legal and literary sources for several centuries show "a force & armes" meant "armour," not "arms." Blackstone's discussion of the Statute of Northampton p. 148 and p. 149 compares it to "by the laws of Solon, every Athenian was finable who walked about the city in armour." Blackstone, 4 Commentaries on the Laws of England 1489 (1800). This usage which includes the wearing of armor, continues to appear in dictionaries into the eighteenth century: "to arm" ("To furnish with armour of defence, or weapons of offence") . Sheridan, A Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1789)>.

A nineteenth century manual for justices of the peace in Ireland discussing the Statute of Northampton explains that "A man cannot excuse the wearing of such armour in public." Source: MacNally, 1 The Justice of the Peace for Ireland: Containing the Authorities and Duties of That Officer 32 (1808) Significantly the Statute punishes violators "upon pain to forfeit their armour to the King, and their bodies to prison at the King's pleasure," with no mention of forfeiting arms. Even as to wearing arms in the modern sense, this volume is clear that "no wearing of arms is within the meaning of this statute, unless it be accompanied with such circumstances as are apt to terrify the peopleā€¦" Concerning these wearing armor under their clothes: "And persons armed with privy [private] coats of mail, to the intent to defend themselves, against their adversaries, are not within the meaning of this statute, because they do nothing in terror of the people." MacNally, 1 The Justice of the Peace for Ireland: Containing the Authorities and Duties of That Officer 32 n. 7 (1808). Concealed armour was okay; to be openly armoured was not. If the Statute has any applicability to the modern day or antebellum American law, it would appear there is a strong case for allowing concealed carrying of arms (which cannot terrify others). This manual for justices of the peace, confirms that the original intent to prohibit the wearing of armor by knights and nobles other than royal officials, out of concern that wearing armor would terrify common people, by suggesting that combat was imminent.

Other sources confirm that "arms" in Statute of Northampton often meant "armour." " Arms, in the understanding of the law, are extended to any thing that a man wears for his defence, or takes into his hands or useth in anger to strike or cast at another." 2 The Encyclopaedia Londinensis 201 (1810). Further, the same section explains that the Statute of Northampton and later versions, "Under these statutes none may wear (unusual) armor publicly..." Source: 2 The Encyclopaedia Londinesis 201 (1810)

In at least one literary source, "armed" clearly means "wearing armor," not carrying arms. John Winthrop's description of a conflict with Indians describes soldiers as "some ten only (who had pieces would could reach [the Indians]) shot" and yet later, "they shot only one of ours, and he was armed, all the rest being witheut arms." Source: Winthrop, 1 Winthrop's Journal: "History of New England" 16301649 191 (1908). Note 3 also clarifies that "Armed" means "with defensive armor."

Antebellum State Versions of the Statute of Northampton

California AG's brief claimed that a number of states adopted the Statute of Northampton by statute:

Shortly after the founding, for example, North Carolina adopted its own Northampton statute, making it illegal to "go []or ride armed by night []or by day, in fairs, markets . . . [or] part[s] elsewhere," 1792 N.C. Law 60, ch. 3.... See, e.g., 1786 Va. Acts 33, ch. 21; 1795 Mass. Law 436, ch. 2; 1801 Tenn. Laws 259, 260261, ch. 22, § 6; 1821 Me. Laws 285, ch. 76, § 1

Many of these statutes do not exist.

North Carolina

California AG's brief:
Shortly after the founding, for example, North Carolina adopted its own Northampton statute, making it illegal to 'go []or ride armed by night []or by day, in fairs, markets . . . [or] part[s] elsewhere,' 1792 N.C. Law 60, ch. 3

1792 N.C. Ch. 3 is

An act to amend an act, entitled, An act to compel certain officers therein mentioned to publish the application of the public monies and allowances for insolvents."
Ch. 60 is no better:
An Act to amend an act, entitled, An Act to amend an act, entitled, An act for the regulation of a town of Hillsborough, passed at Fayetteville, in the year one theusand, seven hundred and eighteight; and to lay a tax in the county of Guilford for the purpose of repairing the public buildings.
Source: Laws of North Carolina (1792)

What may be the source of confusion is Francois Xavier Martin, A Collection of Statutes of the Parliament of England in Force in the State of North Carolina, 6061 (Newbern 1792). Notice the dates of publication and similarity of page numbers in the citation and page number in Martin's collection.

The legislature had tasked Martin to sift through all existing British statutes that might have some applicability to North Carolina.

I began at Magna Charta. The old statutes, before that period are generally acknowledged to be rather a matter of mere curiosity, and scarcely an authentic record of any of them is extant.... I have inserted every statute unrepealed by subsequent acts, or which did not appear so glaringly repugnant to our system of government as to warrant its suppression.
Title page (there appears to be no online source available): Martin, A Collection of Statutes of the Parliament of England in Force in the State of North Carolina (1792).

Concerning the translation issue discussed above:

Many of the statutes were couched, at the time of their being enacted, in the latin [sic] or French language. I have been advised to print the translation only.

At Martin, A Collection of Statutes of the Parliament of England in Force in the State of North Carolina 6061 (1792) is the Statute of Northampton as passed in 1328 and identified as 2 Edw. III, ch. 3. The North Carolina legislature had not adopted the statute.

The Cal. AG also listed other states that had adopted the Statute of Northampton:

"See, e.g., 1786 Va. Acts 33, ch. 21; 1795 Mass. Law 436, ch. 2; 1801 Tenn. Laws 259, 260261, ch. 22, § 6; 1821 Me. Laws 285, ch. 76, § 1."
Like the North Carolina statute many of these citations are to laws not even remotely connected to arms regulation.

Virginia

1786 Va. Acts 33, ch. 21 is actually "An act for giving further time to officers, soldiers, sailors, and marines, to settle their arrears of pay and depreciation, with the auditor of public accounts." continued on p. 279 Source: Hening, 12 Statutes at Large 278 (1823)

Massachusetts

"1795 Mass. Law 436, ch. 2" would appear to refer to the session laws of 1794-95. There are chapters associated with both years in one volume. Page 436 is part of the 1795 session laws. It begins in the middle of Chap. 68, "An Act to Enable Sheriffs, Deputy Sheriffs, & Constables, to Require Aid in the Execution of Their Respective Offices in Criminal Cases," and starts Chap. 69: "An Act for Recording Births and Deaths by the Clerks of Towns & Districts."

1794 ch. 2 is "An Act Dividing the Town of Hallowell in the County of Lincoln into Three Parishes and for Incorporating the Same"

1795 ch. 2 is "An Act to Change the Name of William Shelden of Hadley in the County of Hampshire to the Name of Giles Crouch Kellogg."

Source: Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1794) and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1795)

Maine

"1821 Me. Laws 285, ch. 76, ; 1,": Ch. 76 is on page 95. There is no p. 285. Ch. 76 is actually "Resolve appointing a Committee to examine certain accounts, and to report the same to the Governor and Council. March 22, 1821."

Source: Resolves of the Legislature of the State of Maine (1821)

Tennessee

"1801 Tenn. Laws 259, 260261, ch. 22." There is amazingly, actually a statute at the named location that regulates firearms. An Act for the restraint of idle and disorderly persons." This is a vagrancy law that applied to a very narrow group: "

Whereas it becomes necessary for the welfare of the community, to suppress wandering, disorderly and idle persons.... That any person or persons who have no apparent means of subsistence, or neglect applying themselves to some honest calling for the support of themselves and families, who shall be found sauntering about neglecting his business, and endeavoring to maintain himself by gaming or other undue means...

could be required to post a bond "for his good behavior." ; 6 contains the text of the Statute of Northampton, but converted into a peacebond statute.
That if any person shall publicly ride or go armed to the terror of the people or privately carry any dirk, large knife, pistol or any other dangerous weapon to the terror of any [illegible], it shall be the duty of any judge or justice, on his own view, or upon the information of any other person on oath, to bind such person or persons to their good behavior, and if he or they fail to find securities, commit him or them to gaol...

It appears that this statute was still on the books in 1831. See The Statute Laws of the State of Tennessee, of a Public and General Nature (1831).

Curiously, Simpson v. State (Tenn. 1833) involved a case where the defendant was indicted for

with force and arms, at the county of White, being arrayed in a warlike manner, then and there in a certain public street and highway sithate, unlawfully, and to the great terror and disturbance of divers good citizens of the said state, then and there being, an affray did make, in contempt of the laws of the land.

The defendant appealed:
On the the argument in this case, it is contended by the counsel of the plaintiff in error, the record does not present any charge that is known to the law, as cognizable in our courts by indictment. Simpson v. Tennessee, 13 Tenn. (5 Yer.) 356, 357 (Tenn. 1833)

The opinion claimed that Simpson might have engaged in affray (a commonlaw crime), But they also cited the Statute of Northampton, acknowledging that the autherity they cited, Serjeant Hawkins, claimed that

[P]ersons of quality are in no danger of offending against this by wearing their common weapons, or having the usual number of attendants with them, for their ornament or defence, in such places and upon occasions in which it is the common fashion to make use of them witheut causing the least suspicion of an intention to commit any act of violence or disturbance of the peace. Simpson v. 13 Tenn. (5 Yer.) 356, 358, 359 (Tenn. 1833)

The opinion also refused to agree that Simpson had engaged in affray and rejected any commonlaw basis for banning the bearing of arms because the Tennessee Constitution's right to keep and bear arms provision overrode any English laws:

The like deduction may be drawn from the second section, where it is laid down, "that no quarrelsome or threatening words whatsoever shall amount to an affray, and that no one can justify laying his hands on these who shall barely quarrel with angry words, witheut coming to blows." But suppose it to be assumed on any ground, that our ancestors adopted and brought over with them this English statute, or portion of the common law, our constitution has completely abrogated it; it says, "that the freemen of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defence." Article 11, sec. 26. It is submitted, that this clause of our constitution fully meets and opposes the passage or clause in Hawkins, of "a man's arming himself with dangerous and unusual weapons," as being an independent ground of affray, so as of itself to constitute the offence cognizable by indictment. By this clause of the constitution, an express power is given and secured to all the free citizens of the state to keep and bear arms for their defence, witheut any qualification whatever as to their kind or nature; and it is conceived, that it would be going much too far, to impair by construction or abridgment a constitutional privilege which is so declared; neither, after so solemn an instrument hath said the people may carry arms, can we be permitted to impute to the acts thus licensed such a necessarily consequent operation as terror to the people to be incurred thereby; we must attribute to the framers of it the absence of such a view. Simpson v. Tennessee, 13 Tenn. (5 Yer.) 356, 359, 360 (Tenn. 1833)

There is no mention of 1801 Tenn. Laws 259, 260261, ch. 22 by the attorneygeneral, the opinion of the court, or the dissenting opinion. The reason may be simply that the statute only made the carrying of arms a crime if in violation of a peacebond, and apparently Simpson was not.