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

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 7:58 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Feb. 21, 2024, 6:21 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 3, 1788)

For the origin of this controversy see above CLVII, CLXI, CLXXV, and CLXXXIX. It is continued in CXCI, CXCII and CXCIX.
Baltimore, March 3, 1788.
But the Landholder wishes it to be supposed, that though my veracity should not be doubted, yet my evidence ought to be rejected, and observes, that to comprehend what credit ought to be given to it, by which I suppose he means its sufficiency if credited, it ought to be known how long I was absent from Convention, as well as the time I attended. I believe Sir, whoever will read my former publication will in a moment perceive, that I there 'stated' all the 'information' on this subject that was necessary or material, and that I left no defect for the Landholder to supply. I there mentioned that 'I took my seat early in June, that I left Philadelphia on the fourth of September, and during that period was not absent from the convention while sitting, except only five days in the beginning of August, immediately after the Committee of Detail had reported.' I did not state the precise day of June when I took my seat — it was the ninth, not the tenth — a very inconsiderable mistake of the Landholder. But between that day and the fourth of September he says that I was absent ten days at Baltimore, and as many at New York, and thereby insinuates that an absence of twenty days from the Convention intervened during that period, in which time Mr. Gerry might have made and failed in his motion concerning continental money. A short state of facts is all that is necessary to shew the disingenuity of the Landholder, and that it is very possible to convey a falsehood, or something very much like it, almost in the words of truth. On the twenty-fifth of July the Convention adjourned, to meet again on the sixth of August. I embraced that opportunity to come to Baltimore, and left Philadelphia on the twenty-seventh; I returned on the fourth of August, and on the sixth attended the Convention, with such members as were in town, at which time the Committee of Detail made their report, and many of the members being yet absent, we adjourned to the next day. Mr. Gerry left Philadelphia to go to New York the day before I left there to come to Baltimore; he had not returned on Tuesday, the seventh of August, when I set out for New York, from whence I returned and took my seat in Convention on Monday, the thirteenth. It is true that from the twenty-fifth of July to the thirteenth of August eighteen (not twenty) days had elapsed, but on one of those days I attended, and on twelve of them the Convention did not meet. I was, therefore, perfectly correct in my original statement that from early in June to the fourth of September I was absent but five days from the Convention while sitting, and in that statement omitted no 'necessary information'. It is also true that of those eighteen days Mr. Gerry was absent twelve or thirteen, and that one of those days when he was not absent was Sunday, on which day the Convention did not meet. Thus, Sir, by relating facts as they really occurred, we find the only time between early in June and the fourth of September when such a motion could have been made by Mr. Gerry without my being present is narrowed down to four, or at most five days, as I originally stated it, although Landholder wishes it should be supposed there were twenty days during that period when it might have taken place without my knowledge, to wit, ten while I was at Baltimore, and as many more while at New York. The Landholder also states that the Convention commenced the fourteenth day of May, and that I did not take my seat till the tenth day of June, by which, if he means anything, I presume he means to insinuate that within that portion of time Mr. Gerry's motion might have been made and rejected. He is here, Sir, equally unfortunate and disingenuous. Though the Convention was to have met by appointment on the fourteenth of May, yet no material business was entered upon till on or about the thirtieth of that month. It was on that day that the Convention, having had certain propositions laid before them by the Honourable Governor of Virginia, resolved to go into a consideration of these propositions. In this fact I am confident I am not mistaken, as I state the day not merely from my own recollection but from minutes which I believe to be very correct, in my possession, of the information given by the Honourable Mr. McHenry to the assembly. The truth is, Sir, that very little progress had been made by the Convention before I arrived, and that they had not been more than ten days, or about that time, seriously engaged in business. The first thing I did after I took my seat was carefully to examine the journals for information of what had already been done or proposed. I was also furnished with notes of the debates which had taken place, and can with truth say that I made myself 'minutely informed' of what had happened before that period. In the same manner, after my return from New York, I consulted the journals (for we were permitted to read them, although we were not always permitted to take copies). If the motion attributed to Mr. Gerry had been made and rejected, either before I first took my seat or while at New York, it would have there appeared, and that no such motion was made and rejected during either of these periods I appeal to the highest possible authority. I appeal to those very journals, which ought to have been published, and which we are informed are placed in the possession of our late Honourable President. But why, Sir, should I appeal to these journals, or to any other authority? Let the Landholder turn to his eighth number, addressed to the Honourable Mr. Gerry; let him blush, unless incapable of that sensation, while he reads the following passage: 'Almost the whole time during the sitting of the Convention, and until the Constitution had received its present form, no man was more plausible and conciliating on every subject than Mr. Gerry,' &c. Thus stood Mr. Gerry, till towards the close of the business he introduced a motion respecting the redemption of paper money. The whole time of the sitting of the Convention was not almost past. The Constitution had not received its present form, nor was the business drawing towards a close, until long after I took my seat in Convention. It is therefore proved by the Landholder himself that Mr. Gerry did not make this motion at any time before the ninth day of June. Nay more, in the paper now before me he acknowledges that in his eighth number he meant (and surely no one ought to know his meaning better than himself) to fix Mr. Gerry's apostacy to a period within the last thirteen days. Why then all this misrepresentation of my absence at Baltimore and New York? Why the attempt to induce a belief that the Convention had been engaged in business from the fourteenth of May, and the insinuation that it might have happened in those periods? And why the charge that in not stating those facts I had withheld from the public information necessary to its forming a right judgment of the credit which ought to be given to my evidence. But, Sir, I am really at a loss which most to admire — the depravity of this writer's heart, or the weakness of his head. Is it possible he should not perceive that the moment he fixes the time of Mr. Gerry's motion to the last thirteen days of the Convention, he proves incontestably the falsehood and malice of his charges against that gentleman — for he has expressly stated that this motion and the rejection it received was the cause, and the sole cause, of his apostacy; that 'before, there was nothing in the system, as it now stands, to which he had any objection, but that afterwards he was inspired with the utmost rage and intemperate opposition to the whole system he had formerly praised;' whereas I have shown to the clearest demonstration, that a considerable time before the last thirteen days, Mr. Gerry had given the most decided opposition to the system. I have shown this by recital of facts, which if credited, incontestibly prove it — facts which, I again repeat, will never be contradicted by any member of the Convention. I ground this assertion upon the fullest conviction that it is impossible to find a single person in that number so wicked, as publicly and deliberately to prostitute his name in support of falsehood, and at the same time so weak as to do this when he must be sure of detection. But the Landholder is willing to have it supposed that Mr. Gerry might have made the motion in a 'committee', and that there it might have happened without my knowledge; to such wretched subterfuges is he driven. This evasion, however, will be equally unavailing. The business of the committees were not of a secret nnture, nor were they conducted in a secret manner; I mean as to the members of the Convention. I am satisfied that there was no committee while I was there, of whose proceedings I was not at least 'so minutely informed', that an attempt of so extraordinary a nature as that attributed to Mr. Gerry, and attended with such an immediate and remarkable revolution in his conduct, could not have taken place without my having heard something concerning it. The nonadoption of a measure by a committee did not preclude its being proposed to the Convention, and being there adopted. Can it be presumed that a question in which Mr. Gerry is represented to have been so deeply interested, and by the fate of which his conduct was entirely influenced, would for want of success in a committee have been totally relinquished by him, without a single effort to carry it in Convention! If any other proof is wanting, I appeal again to the Landholder himself. In his eighth number he states that the motion was rejected 'by the Convention.' Let it be remembered also, as I have before observed, in the paper now before me, he declares it was his intention in that number to fix Mr. Gerry's apostacy to a period within the last thirteen days; and in the same number he observes that Mr. Gerry's resentment could only embarrass and delay the completion of the business for a few days; all which equally militate against every idea of the motion being made before he left Philadelphia, whether in Committee or in Convention. The Landholder hath also asserted, that I have 'put into Mr. Gerry's mouth, objections different from any thing his lette to the legislature of his State contains, so that if my representation is true, his must be false.' In this charge he is just as well founded as in those I have already noticed. Mr. Gerry has more than once published to the world, under the sanction of his name, that he opposed the system from a firm persuasion that it would endanger the liberties of America, and destroy the freedom of the States and their citizens. Every word which I have stated as coming from his mouth, so far from being inconsistent with those declarations, are perfectly correspondent thereto and direct proofs of their truth. When the Landholder informed us that Mr. Gerry was 'face to face with his colleagues in the Convention of Massachusetts,' why did he not, unless he wished to mislead the public, also inform us for what purpose he was there? that it was only to answer questions; that might be proposed to him, not himself to ask questions that he could not consistently interfere in any manner in the debates, and that he was even prohibited an opportunity of explaining such parts of his conduct as were censured in his presence? By the anonymous publication alluded to by the Landholder, and inserted in the note, Mr. Gerry's colleagues are not called upon to acquit him: it only declares 'that he believes them to be men of too much honour to assert that his reasons in Convention were totally different from those he published;' and in this I presume he was not disappointed for the Landholder otherwise would have published it with triumph; but if Mr. Gerry, as it is insinuated, was only prevented by pride, from, in person, requesting them to acquit him, it amounts to a proof of his consciousness that, as men of honour, they could not have refused it, had he made the request. No person who views the absurdities and inconsistencies of the Landholder, can I think, have a very respectable opinion of his understanding, but I who am not much prejudiced in his favour, could scarcely have conceived him so superlatively weak as to expect to deceive the public and obtain credit to himself by asking 'if charges against Mr. Gerry are not true why do not his colleagues contradict them?' and 'why is it that we do not see Mr. McHenry's verification of your assertions?" If these Gentlemen were to do Mr. Gerry that justice, he might as well inquire 'why is it we do not also see the verification of A, B, C, and D and so on to the last letter of the Conventional alphabet. When the Landholder in his eighth number addressed himself to Mr. Gerry he introduces his charges by saying 'you doubtless will recollect the following state of facts; if you do not every member of the Convention will attest them.' One member of the Convention has had firmness sufficient to contradict them with his name, although he was well apprised that he thereby exposed himself as a mark for the arrows of his political adversaries, and as to some of them, he was not unacquainted with what kind of men he had to deal. But of all the members who composed that body, not one has yet stepped forward to make good the Landholder's prediction; nor has one been found to 'attest' his statement of facts. Many reasons may be assigned why the members of the Convention should not think themselves under a moral obligations of involving themselves in controversy by giving their names in vindication of Mr. Gerry; and I do not believe any of those who signed the proposed Constitution would consider themselves bound to do this by any political obligation: But, Sir I can hardly suppose that Mr. Gerry is so perfectly esteemed and respected by every person who had a seat in that body, that not a single individual could possibly be procured to give his sanction to the Landholder's charges, if it could be done with justice and as to myself, I much question whether it would be easy to convince any person, who was present at our information to the assembly, that every one of my honourable colleagues, (to each of whose merit I cordially subscribe, though compelled to differ from them in political sentiments) would be prevented by motives of personal delicacy to myself, from contradicting the facts I have stated relative to Mr. Gerry, if it could be done consistent with truth. . . .

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