Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Martin Luther by Bill Kauffman

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Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Martin Luther

The Anti-Federalist Luther Martin of Maryland is known to us—if he is known at all—as the wild man of the Constitutional Convention: a verbose, frequently drunken radical who annoyed the hell out of James Madison, George Washington, Gouverneur Morris, and the other giants responsible for the creation of the Constitution in Philadelphia that summer of 1787. In Bill Kauffman’s rollicking account of his turbulent life and times, Martin is still something of a fitfully charming reprobate, but he is also a prophetic voice, warning his heedless contemporaries and his amnesiac posterity that the Constitution, whatever its devisers’ intentions, would come to be used as a blueprint for centralized government and a militaristic foreign policy.

In Martin’s view, the Constitution was the tool of a counterrevolution aimed at reducing the states to ciphers and at fortifying a national government whose powers to tax and coerce would be frightening. Martin delivered the most forceful and sustained attack on the Constitution ever levied—a critique that modern readers might find jarringly relevant. And Martin’s post-convention career, though clouded by drink and scandal, found him as defense counsel in two of the great trials of the age: the Senate trial of the impeached Supreme Court justice Samuel Chase and the treason trial of his friend Aaron Burr.

Kauffman’s Luther Martin is a brilliant and passionate polemicist, a stubborn and admirable defender of a decentralized republic who fights for the principles of 1776 all the way to the last ditch and last drop. In remembering this forgotten founder, we remember also the principles that once animated many of the earliest—and many later—American patriots.


'“Kauffman doesn’t flinch in offering this judgment. His aim is to rehabilitate Martin, not to prettify him. One of his most impressive feats is to make his subject sympathetic even after relating the ugliest moments of Martin’s life. . . . By letting us into the mind of one flawed, fascinating, and ultimately tragic figure, Kauffman has not just reminded us that Luther Martin of Maryland deserves a place beside the other giants of the founding generation. He has made a compelling case for a disreputable but worthy movement, for the men so committed to what we now call constitutional principles that they refused to accept the Constitution itself.” —Jesse Walker, The American Conservative“It figures that local patriot Kauffman is skeptical about the Constitution. . . . Kauffman, the liveliest conservative wit of our time, tells Martin’s story with great relish and principaled rue for federalism lost.” —Ray Olson, Booklist“Bill Kauffman shows us a sot, a quarrelsome bore, a butcher of the English language, an outspoken abolitionist who himself owned slaves—and a man who advanced opinions at the Constitutional Convention that desperately needed to be heard. . . . Mr. Kauffman tells this harrowing tale with a proper recognition of its farcical elements. He is a rollicksome stylist. . . . But throughout Mr. Kauffman shows a sympathetic regard for his subject. An appreciation of Luther Martin is perhaps overdue; a respect for the Anti-Federalists certainly is. Both ends are well served by this entertaining and instructive work.” —Alan Pell Crawford, The Wall Street Journal“Kauffman properly avoids undue somber adulation of either the rest of the Founding crew or his hero Martin, and remains vividly entertaining in chronicling both the power and the ideological plays that went into the making of the Constitution—and the making of the way we now remember the making of it. . . . But we’re also cheered to realize that those who were right in their warnings even centuries ago can see their foresight and sense survive, with the help of light-handed but wise chroniclers such as Kauffman.” —Brian Doherty, Senior Editor, Reason Magazine'
The Anti-Federalist Luther Martin of Maryland is known to us—if he is known at all—as the wild man of the Constitutional Convention: a verbose, frequently drunken radical who annoyed the hell out of James Madison, George Washington, Gouverneur Morris, and the other giants responsible for the creation of the Constitution in Philadelphia that summer of 1787. In Bill Kauffman’s rollicking account of his turbulent life and times, Martin is still something of a fitfully charming reprobate, but he is also a prophetic voice, warning his heedless contemporaries and his amnesiac posterity that the Constitution, whatever its devisers’ intentions, would come to be used as a blueprint for centralized government and a militaristic foreign policy.

In Martin’s view, the Constitution was the tool of a counterrevolution aimed at reducing the states to ciphers and at fortifying a national government whose powers to tax and coerce would be frightening. Martin delivered the most forceful and sustained attack on the Constitution ever levied—a critique that modern readers might find jarringly relevant. And Martin’s post-convention career, though clouded by drink and scandal, found him as defense counsel in two of the great trials of the age: the Senate trial of the impeached Supreme Court justice Samuel Chase and the treason trial of his friend Aaron Burr.

Kauffman’s Luther Martin is a brilliant and passionate polemicist, a stubborn and admirable defender of a decentralized republic who fights for the principles of 1776 all the way to the last ditch and last drop. In remembering this forgotten founder, we remember also the principles that once animated many of the earliest—and many later—American patriots.


'“Kauffman doesn’t flinch in offering this judgment. His aim is to rehabilitate Martin, not to prettify him. One of his most impressive feats is to make his subject sympathetic even after relating the ugliest moments of Martin’s life. . . . By letting us into the mind of one flawed, fascinating, and ultimately tragic figure, Kauffman has not just reminded us that Luther Martin of Maryland deserves a place beside the other giants of the founding generation. He has made a compelling case for a disreputable but worthy movement, for the men so committed to what we now call constitutional principles that they refused to accept the Constitution itself.” —Jesse Walker, The American Conservative“It figures that local patriot Kauffman is skeptical about the Constitution. . . . Kauffman, the liveliest conservative wit of our time, tells Martin’s story with great relish and principaled rue for federalism lost.” —Ray Olson, Booklist“Bill Kauffman shows us a sot, a quarrelsome bore, a butcher of the English language, an outspoken abolitionist who himself owned slaves—and a man who advanced opinions at the Constitutional Convention that desperately needed to be heard. . . . Mr. Kauffman tells this harrowing tale with a proper recognition of its farcical elements. He is a rollicksome stylist. . . . But throughout Mr. Kauffman shows a sympathetic regard for his subject. An appreciation of Luther Martin is perhaps overdue; a respect for the Anti-Federalists certainly is. Both ends are well served by this entertaining and instructive work.” —Alan Pell Crawford, The Wall Street Journal“Kauffman properly avoids undue somber adulation of either the rest of the Founding crew or his hero Martin, and remains vividly entertaining in chronicling both the power and the ideological plays that went into the making of the Constitution—and the making of the way we now remember the making of it. . . . But we’re also cheered to realize that those who were right in their warnings even centuries ago can see their foresight and sense survive, with the help of light-handed but wise chroniclers such as Kauffman.” —Brian Doherty, Senior Editor, Reason Magazine'
Publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute ISBN: 9781497635753 Pages: 225