Luther Martin's Theses. (Flashback)

By Kauffman, Bill | The American Enterprise, January-February 2003 | Go to article overview

Luther Martin's Theses. (Flashback)


Kauffman, Bill, The American Enterprise


Martin Luther launched a Reformation, Martin Luther King got a national holiday, yet what does their nominal inversion, Luther Martin, get? No respect!

Luther Martin of Maryland, perhaps the finest lawyer at the Constitutional Convention, is remembered if at all as a loquacious drunk who bored the other Founders silly in that Philadelphia summer of 1787. That's what happens when a man chooses the losing side.

Historians have not been kind to the anti-Federalists, the misleading name slapped on those who opposed ratification of the new Constitution. They have generally been written off as bucolic bumpkins unable to grasp the exquisiteness of the Madisonian argument or as agrarian radicals motivated by antipathy toward wealth, commerce, and fine clothing.

Luther Martin has gotten an especially bad posthumous press. He has been called: "Slovenly, often drunk and in debt." "Without grace or bearing of speech." "Impulsive, undisciplined, altogether the wild man of the Convention." He was a "notorious reprobate genius," in Henry Adams's words, who delivered a two-day harangue to the Convention with "much diffuseness and considerable vehemence," as Madison noted snottily.

Okay, so he was a long-winded dipsomaniac. But what did he say?

Martin, who served as Maryland's attorney general for 30 years, lodged objections to almost every aspect of the Constitution. The House of Representatives with its proportional representation would allow the larger states to control the government and employ the behemoth to God knows what ends. The Senate was just as flawed. States could not recall refractory senators like under the Articles of Confederation, and the six-year term was so long that members would shift their allegiance to the national government: "If he has a family, he will take his family with him to the place where the government shall be fixed, that will become his home, and ... his future views and prospects will center in the favours and emoluments ... of the general government."

Martin scorned the President as a virtual monarch, thanks to his power of appointment and role as Commander in Chief. The national judiciary, he predicted, would eventually strip state and local governments of power, making them subjects of the omnipotent central state. …

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