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title:“Luther Martin’s Reply to the Landholder”
authors:Luther Martin
date written:1788-3-14

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:21 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Feb. 21, 2024, 7:47 p.m. UTC

Martin, Luther. "Letter to the Landholder." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

Luther Martin’s Reply to the Landholder (March 14, 1788)

For the origin of this controversy see above CLVII, CLXII, CLXXV, CLXXXIX, CXC. It is continued in CXCII and CXCIX, below.
Baltimore, March 14, 1788.
I shall at this time beg your indulgence, while I make some observations on a publication which the Landholder has done me the honour to address to me, in the Maryland Journal of the 29th of February last. In my controversy with that writer, on the subject of Mr. Gerry, I have already enabled you to decide, without difficulty, on the credit which ought to be given to his most positive assertions and should scarce think it worth my time to notice his charges against myself, was it not for the opportunity it affords me of stating certain facts and transactions, of which you ought to be informed, some of which were undesignedly omitted by me when I had the honour of being called before the House of Delegates. No 'extreme modesty' on my part was requisite to induce me to conceal the 'sacrifice of resentments' against Mr. Gerry, since no such sacrifice had ever been made, nor had any such resentments ever existed. The principal opposition in sentiment between Mr. Gerry and myself, was on the subject of representation; but even on that subject, he was much more conceding than his colleagues, two of whom obstinately persisted in voting against the equality of representation in the senate, when the question was taken in Convention upon the adoption of the conciliatory propositions, on the fate of which depended, I believe, the continuance of the Convention. In many important questions we perfectly harmonized in opinion, and where we differed, it never was attended with warmth or animosity, nor did it in any respect interfere with a friendly intercourse and interchange of attention and civilities. We both opposed the extraordinary powers over the militia, given to the general government. We were both against the re-eligibility of the president. We both concurred in the attempt to prevent members of each branch of the legislature from being appointable to offices, and in many other instances, although the Landholder, with his usual regard to truth and his usual imposing effrontery, tells me, that I 'doubtless must remember Mr. Gerry and myself never voted alike, except in the instances' he has mentioned. As little foundation is there in his assertion, that I 'cautioned certain members to be on their guard against his wiles, for that he and Mr. Mason held private meetings, where the plans were concerted to aggrandize, at the expence of the small States, old Massachusetts and the ancient dominion.' I need only state facts to refute the assertion. Some time in the month of August, a number of members who considered the system, as then under consideration and likely to be adopted, extremely exceptionable, and of a tendency to destroy the rights and liberties of the United States, thought it advisable to meet together in the evenings, in order to have a communication of sentiments, and to concert a plan of conventional opposition to, and amendment of that system, so as, if possible, to render it less dangerous. Mr. Gerry was the first who proposed this measure to me, and that before any meeting had taken place, and wished we might assemble at my lodgings, but not having a room convenient, we fixed upon another place. There Mr. Gerry and Mr. Mason did hold meetings, but with them also met the Delegates from New Jersey and Connecticut, a part of the Delegation from Delaware, an honorable member from South Carolina, one other from Georgia, and myself. These were the only 'private meetings' that ever I knew or heard to be held by Mr. Gerry and Mr. Mason, meetings at which I myself attended until I left the Convention, and of which the sole object was not to aggrandize the great at the expense of the small, but to protect and preserve, if possible, the existence and essential rights of all the states, and the liberty and freedom of their citizens. Thus, my fellow citizens, I am obliged, unless I could accept the compliment at an expence of truth equal to the Landholder's, to give up all claim to being 'placed beyond the reach of ordinary panegyrick,' and to that 'magnanimity' which he was so solicitous to bestow upon me, that he has wandered [into] the regions of falsehood to seek the occasion. When we find such disregard of truth, even in the introduction, while only on the threshold, we may form judgment what respect is to be paid to the information he shall give us of what passed in the Convention when he 'draws aside the veil,' a veil which was interposed between our proceedings and the Public, in my opinion, for the most dangerous of purposes, and which was never designed by the advocates of the system to be drawn aside, or if it was, not till it should be too late for any beneficial purpose, which as far as it is done, or pretended to be done, on the present occasion, is only for the purpose of deception and misrepresentation. It was on Saturday that I first took my seat. I obtained that day a copy of the propositions that had been laid before the Convention, and which were then the subject of discussion in a committee of the whole. The Secretary was so polite as, at my request, to wait upon me at the State House the next day (being Sunday), and there gave me an opportunity of examining the journals and making myself acquainted with the little that had been done before my arrival. I was not a little surprised at the system brought forward, and was solicitous to learn the reasons which had been assigned in its support; for this purpose the journals could be of no service; I therefore conversed on the subject with different members of the Convention, and was favoured with minutes of the debates which had taken place before my arrival. I applied to history for what lights it could afford me, and I procured everything the most valuable I could find in Philadelphia on the subject of governments in general, and on the American revolution and governments in particular. I devoted my whole time and attention to the business in which we were engaged, and made use of all the opportunities I had, and abilities I possessed, conscientiously to decide what part I ought to adopt in the discharge of that sacred duty I owed to my country, in the exercise of the trust you had reposed in me. I attended the Convention many days without taking any share in the debates, listening in silence to the eloquence of others, and offering no other proof that I possessed the powers of speech, than giving my yea or nay when a question was taken, and notwithstanding my propensity to 'endless garrulity,' should have been extremely happy if I could have continued that line of conduct, without making a sacrifice of your rights and political happiness. The committee of the whole house had made but small progress, at the time I arrived, in the discussion of the propositions which had been referred to them; they completed that discussion, and made their report. The propositions of the minority were then brought forward and rejected. The Convention had resumed the report of the committee, and had employed some days in its consideration. Thirty days, I believe, or more, had elapsed from my taking my seat before in the language of the Landholder, I 'opened in a speech which held during two days.' Such, my fellow citizens, is the true state of the conduct I pursued when I took my seat in Convention, and which the Landholder, to whom falsehood appears more familiar than truth, with his usual affrontery, has misrepresented by a positive declaration, that without obtaining or endeavoring to obtain any information on the subject, I hastily and insolently obtruded my sentiments on the Convention, and to the astonishment of every member present, on the very day I took my seat, began a speech, which continued two days, in opposition to those measures which, on mature deliberation, had been adopted by the Convention. But I 'alone advocated the political heresy, that the people ought not to be trusted with the election of representatives.' On this subject, as I would wish to be on every other, my fellow citizens, I have been perfectly explicit in the information I gave to the House of Delegates, and which has since been published. In a state government, I consider all power flowing immediately from the people in their individual capacity, and that the people, in their individual capacity, have, and ought to have the right of choosing delegates in a state legislature, the business of which is to make laws, regulating their concerns, as individuals, and operating upon them as such; but in a federal government, formed over free states, the power flows from the people, and the right of choosing delegates belongs to them only mediately through their respective state governments which are the members composing the federal government, and from whom all its power immediately proceeds; to which state governments, the choice of the federal delegates immediately belongs. I should blush indeed for my ignorance of the first elements of government, was I to entertain different sentiments on the subject; and if this is 'political heresy,' I have no ambition to be ranked with those who are orthodox. . . . As to the 'jargon' attributed to me of maintaining that notwithstanding each state had an equal number of votes in the senate, yet the states were unequally represented in the senate,' the Landholder has all the merit of its absurdity; nor can I conceive what sentiment it is that I ever have expressed, to which he, with his usual perversion and misrepresentation, could give such a colouring. That I ever suggested the idea of letting loose an army indiscriminately on the innocent and guilty, in a state refusing to comply with the requisitions of Congress, or that such an idea ever had place in my mind, is a falsehood so groundless, so base and malignant, that it could only have originated or been devised by a heart which would dishonour the midnight assassin. My sentiments on this subject are well known; it was only in the case where a state refused to comply with the requisitions of Congress, that I was willing to grant the general government those powers which the proposed constitution gives it in every case.1 Had I been a greater friend to a standing army, and not quite so averse to expose your liberties to a soldiery, I do not believe the Landholder would have chose me for the object on whom to expend his artillery of falsehood.
That a system may enable government wantonly to exercise power over the militia, to call out an unreasonable number from any particular state without its permission, and to march them upon, and continue them in, remote and improper services; that the same system should enable the government totally to discard, render useless, and even disarm, the militia, when it would remove them out of the way of opposing its ambitious views, is by no means inconsistent, and is really the case in the proposed constitution. In both these respects it is, in my opinion, highly faulty, and ought to be amended. In the proposed system the general government has a power not only without the consent, but contrary to the will of the state government, to call out the whole of its militia, without regard to religious scruples, or any other consideration, and to continue them in service as long as it pleases, thereby subjecting the freemen of a whole state to martial law and reducing them to the situation of slaves. It has also, by another clause, the powers by which only the militia can be organized and armed, and by the neglect of which they may be rendered utterly useless and insignificant, when it suits the ambitious purposes of government.1 Nor is the suggestion unreasonable, even if it had been made, that the government might improperly oppress and harass the militia, the better to reconcile them to the idea of regular troops, who might relieve them from the burthen, and to render them less opposed to the measures it might be disposed to adopt for the purpose of reducing them to that state of insignificancy and uselessness. When the Landholder declared that 'I contended the powers and authorities of the new constitution must destroy the liberties of the people,' he for once stumbled on the truth, but even this he could not avoid coupling with an assertion utterly false. I never suggested that 'the same powers could be safely entrusted to the old Congress;' on the contrary, I opposed many of the powers as being of that nature that, in my opinion, they could not be entrusted to any government whatever consistent with the freedom of the states and their citizens, and I earnestly recommended, what I wish my fellow citizens deeply to impress on your minds, that in altering or amending our federal government no greater powers ought to be given than experience has shown to be necessary, since it will be easy to delegate further power when time shall dictate the expediency or necessity, but powers once bestowed upon a government, should they be found ever so dangerous or destructive to freedom, cannot be resumed or wrested from government but by another revolution.
[Footnotes as included or written by Farrand]
  • 1 According to this idea, I endeavored to obtain as an amendment to the system the following clause: 'And whenever the legislature of the United States shall find it necessary that revenue shall be raised by direct taxation, having apportioned the same by the above rule, requisitions shall be made of the respective states to pay into the continental treasury their respective quotas within a time in the said requisition to be specified, and in case of any of the states failing to comply with such requisition, then, and then only, to have power to devise and pass acts directing the mode, and authorizing the same in the state failing therein.' This was rejected, and that power, which I wished to have given the government only in this particular instance, is given to it without any restraint or limitation in every case.
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