History

Drunk Without Power

The rehabilitation of an Antifederalist

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There is a legend many conservatives tell about the ways the Founding Fathers have been remembered. Once upon a time, the tale goes, historians gave the men who created this country the respect they deserve. Then hippie revisionists took over the academy, and now schoolchildren are indoctrinated with every unpleasant rumor and fact about the Founders that the tenured radicals can find.

This story has many holes, even when the subject is George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. But when it comes to Luther Martin, the long-winded Baltimore attorney who stood up for states' rights during the debates over the U.S. Constitution, the truth is almost exactly the opposite. For two centuries, Martin has been remembered, if he is recalled at all, for the unappealing rumors and facts that had attached themselves to him. Those unflattering portraits, which depicted the defender of decentralism as a prolix dipsomaniac who stood athwart the Constitutional Convention yelling "Stop!," were initially spread not by radical academics but by Martin's fellow Founders. Now the independent historian Bill Kauffman, who may not be a hippie but certainly is a revisionist, has rehabilitated Martin's reputation in an irreverent and enjoyable biography, Forgotten Father, Drunken Prophet. Martin may have been an alcoholic prone to rambling, Chavezesque speeches, Kauffman says, but he was also a prescient critic of the problems built into America's Constitution….

Read the rest of this article in The American Conservative.