Feb 102013

Luther Martin was born on February 9, 1748. Who was Luther Martin? He was one of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention who refused to sign the finished document. Did you know that several of the delegates refused to sign the Constitution? I’ll be focusing on the heated battles of the Constitutional Convention in later posts. Martin so vehemently opposed the Constitution that he actually went out and campaigned against its ratification!
Martin attended the College of New Jersey, which later became known as Princeton, and went on to become one of the most prominent lawyers of his day. He advocated separation from Great Britain and took part in a number of patriot groups. He served as Maryland’s attorney general, and briefly took part in the war as a member of the Baltimore Light Dragons. He was a member of the Confederation Congress, but his public duties in Maryland prevented him from directly participating in its sessions in Philadelphia.

As a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Luther disagreed with the secret nature of the negotiations. He later broke his pledge of silence during a speech in the Maryland House of Delegates. He was a stanch anti-federalist. He believed a strong central government would ultimately threaten individual sovereignty. He feared that large states would come to dominate small ones, and he fought for the idea that one house should have an equal number of delegates from each state. In William Pierce’s Constitutional Convention notes, he remarked that “This Gentleman [Luther Martin] possesses a good deal of information, but he has a very bad delivery, and so extremely prolix, that he never speaks without tiring the patience of all who hear him.” His speech against adoption of the Virginia Plan lasted almost three hours. Martin actually walked out of the Convention when it seemed there was no support for a bill of rights.
Luther continued to oppose ratification of the Constitution because of the structure of the legislative branch, the federal government’s power over the states, and the lack of a jury in the structure of the Supreme Court. He also opposed the inclusion of slaves in determining the number of House members for each state, even though he was a slave owner himself.

Later in life he actually joined the Federalist Party because of his intense dislike for Thomas Jefferson. He continued to serve as Maryland’s State Attorney General for 28 years. During that time he also represented Aaron Burr during Burr’s 1807 treason trial, Justice Samuel Chase in his impeachment trial, and argued on Maryland’s behalf before the Supreme Court. However, he drank to excess and eventually lived on a tax placed upon the members of Maryland’s bar specifically to support him. He died four days after Jefferson and John Adams in the home of Aaron Burr.


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