Who is Luther Martin, and why is he saying these terrible things about the American Constitution?
Thanks for asking. Luther Martin (b. Feb. 20, 1748 [approximate]–d. July 10, 1826) represented Maryland at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. So he was one of the founding fathers–except that he opposed the Constitution loudly and at length. He wanted to be one of the non-founding fathers. The Convention supposedly had been called to revise the Articles of Confederation, but consolidationists who wanted a strong central state (James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, etc.) had more than a revision of the Articles in mind. Luther Martin fought a tenacious rearguard battle to defeat the proposed Constitution, but the other side won. So he is largely forgotten. So are all of the so-called Anti-Federalists–forgotten for the most part, except to specialists in that field of history.
That is going to change. Part of the reason it is going to change is because of Bill Kauffman. He has written a wonderful book entitled Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin (published 2008). Another reason it is going to change is because every year it becomes more obvious that the Constitution contained the roots of American destruction. The death of the republic (1861), the hog on ice empire, the baby-killing central state, could be foreseen once the Constitution was the law of the land. Luther Martin was among a small handful of people who saw the dangers of the Constitution. We Joe Six-Pack types will look around at the unfolding disaster which the United States has become, will figure things out eventually, and then we will rediscover the Anti-Federalists. They won’t be a footnote anymore. They will be people from whom we learn.
Bill Kauffman (b. Nov. 15, 1959) was born and lives in New York (state, not city). Wikipedia says his “politics remain difficult to categorize.” He is a Roman Catholic, and is aligned with the localist movement. He describes himself as “A (cheerful) enemy of the state.” What I will say with confidence about him is that he is an American treasure.
This is the second book of his that I have read. The first was Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism. I discussed that superb book in a blog post for Dec. 1, 2016. The title tells a great deal. Mr. Kauffman wants to leave other countries alone, and thinks the empire is disastrous for all of us. Go figure.
His book on Luther Martin backs up one part of his self-description. He is indeed a “cheerful” enemy of the state. His writing brims with humor. We may be watching the disappearance of Christian civilization on this continent, but there is no reason to be grumpy about it, seems to be the attitude of Mr. Kauffman. He is a gifted writer who loves the truth.
Part of the truth about Luther Martin was that he was a very flawed man. Mr. Kauffman doesn’t try to sugarcoat the aspects of Martin’s character and actions that are disappointing. We have him, “warts and all,” as Oliver Cromwell might say. Martin was often drunk. That fact makes its way into the the very title of the book about him.
But for all Martin’s faults, Bill Kauffman understands that Luther Martin was . . . well, I’ll let the final paragraph of the text tell it.
“But as we survey the minatory contours of the U.S. government and see a powerful central state involved in perpetual warfare around the globe, a tax-gathering apparatus with its grip on every paycheck, states and localities reduced to mere administrative units of the central state, this Anti-Federalist suspects that for all his vices, for all his inability to shut the hell up, for all the gallons upon gallons of rotgut he imbibed, Luther Martin was not a reprobate, but a prophet.” (p. 166) [I had to look up minatory; it means menacing or threatening.]
Indeed he was a prophet. This book proves it. The Anti-Federalists were correct. As I read the book, I almost wore out a pen underlining superb insights from Martin and from other Anti-Federalists contemporaneous with him, as well as insights from Mr. Kauffman.
Somewhere C. S. Lewis says that when you go down a wrong path, keeping on the same wrong path is not helpful. The thing to do is to recognize your error, turn around, and get back on the right track. The right path is to get back to a very limited central government. Read The Breakdown of Nations by Leopold Kohr for another cheerful enemy of giant empires. I blogged about it on Oct. 13, 2016.
If we want to learn more about the Anti-Federalists, we can follow up the leads Mr. Kauffman gives us. Another good source is a 12-part lecture series by Professor Thomas L. Pangle, “The Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution,” available from The Teaching Company. Professor Pangle is actually a supporter of the Constitution, but to his immense credit presents the Anti-Federalist ideas with respect and fairness. Listening to his lecture series will wake up many people to the fact that the Constitution was a wrong path. Perhaps Professor Pangle should listen to his own lecture series; he might change his mind about which group had practical wisdom on its side. Anyway, he deserves kudos for his presentation.
While we would have been much better off with The Articles of Confederation (revised or unrevised), it is crucial for us to note that there are no easy paths to having a semi-sane nation. A nation where the people are vicious, will find a way to act in a vicious manner. The Articles of Confederation may have restrained the central state to a certain large extent, but succeeding generations could always find a way to self-destruction. Our only long-term option is to become a godly people who apply biblical principles to how we live and govern. That is covenantal Christianity, which is another way of saying it is biblical Christianity. It is a straightforward and honorable way to live, but it is not easy to get to or to maintain.
If we are going to rebuild and extend Christian civilization, we are going to need many thousands of people who care deeply about the truth. Mr. Kauffman has given us an example. He has done the research, he has told the truth, he has thought deeply about the consequences of the central state. He has given us the life story of one man, Luther Martin, who fought the good fight to restrain Leviathan. Martin lost, but the battle is not necessarily lost for all time. We need to know about him and his fellow truth-tellers. The truth may be covered up for a thousand years, but it just sits there like a bump on a log waiting to be rediscovered and honored. Luther Martin, rest in peace.
The best price I could find today for Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet, was $10.81 total at Amazon. AbeBooks and Alibris had prices slightly over $14.00.
This book by Mr. Kauffman lifts the spirits and warms the heart. When I can embezzle enough money from my place of employment, I will be buying another book by Bill Kauffman. There is a significant handful to choose from, and he is still writing–hopefully for many more years. May his tribe of truth-tellers increase.