Drunk Without Power

The rehabilitation of an Antifederalist


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.

NEXT: LEAP on Repeal Day

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. not to be confused with Martin Luther.

  2. Very interesting article ... libertarians would do well to remember that their progenitors were the Anti-Feds, and NOT those that supported ratification ... The Constitution may be a great document, but it ultimately ended as the Anti-Feds predicted - a loosely worded document that was ripe for abuse and too-open interpretation.

  3. Punk7,

    So what were the anti-feds proposing instead?

  4. "The Constitution was ratified, and for all its flaws the document does seem rather preferable to whatever it is that governs us now."


  5. Matthew-

    Many of them were proposing that those who held war bonds should not have been bailed out. They were right.

  6. Through a quirk of fate, I never had to read the Federalist Papers in high school (a requirement back in that ancient era). But I did pick up a copy of the Anti-Federalist Papers later on in college and have read that. Thus my understanding of constitutional issues comes from a warped and radical viewpoint.

    p.s. I love the look on Paulite "Constitutionalists" when I explain to them that I'm an Anti-Federalist. To some of them that's worse than being a member of the CFR.

  7. "Nonetheless, Martin was an essential figure in the early history of the Republic, and he deserves far better than the treatment he usually gets: forgotten by most of us, derided by most of the rest."

    Really? A racist drunk who sponged off the government via a special "Martin only" subsidy funded by a state tax on lawyers? This is a guy libertarians want us to admire? This guy is worse than the Supreme Court justice who supposedly achieved immortality by voting to overturn a minimum wage for women (sorry, I forgot his name).

    Dredging up a collection of historical losers is not going to "save" us from the Obamanation that libertarians appear to anticipate with such dread.

    Instead of wishing that the Consitution had never been ratified, or that the minimum wage had never been held constitutional, why don't libertarians develop positions on current-day issues that have some traction? And why don't they press Obama to rescind and revoke the fearsome excesses of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld years?

  8. Oops: I forgot that writing about the past precludes writing about the present. No wonder libertarians have no positions on current-day issues.

  9. Alan, sweetie,

    Libertarians are doing those things already. If you've got a problem with them exploring history and debating political philosophy, you can always turn off the computer.

  10. Jesse,
    Duh. As for Martin's hideous, glaring flaws, name one prominent political figure without hideous flaws and I will eat my leather shoes.

  11. Leather shoes!? History will condemn you as you deserve, economist.

  12. just bought the book on amazon...

  13. Book? History will damn you to the hell of tree-killers, phil.

    History is one tough bastard.

  14. ProL,
    History is also a damn hypocrite.

  15. History will get you for that, economist!

  16. "This guy is worse than the Supreme Court justice who supposedly achieved immortality by voting to overturn a minimum wage for women (sorry, I forgot his name)."

    George Sutherland, one of the sponsors of the Nineteenth Amendment (equal voting rights for women). Not that I'm endorsing his judicial imperialism, but if History remembers him only for that one ruling, then History is a fickle bitch. (Sutherland may have worried about the minimum wage for women because of its scarcely-concealed purpose of getting women *out* of the workforce).

    As for Luther Martin - the Constitution is a great document, head and shoulders above its rivals (like the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, *Das Kapital,* and the rest). If implemented properly, the Constituion would give Americans a decent chance at decent government. However, no document implements itself, and the Constitution is actually in many respects a dead letter.

    No document, not even the Articles of Confederation, can protect the people against bad rulers - a vigilant people needs to do that.

  17. tarran, honey poo, The Geist is always right! Become reconciled!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.