Over the course of the Convention, Luther Martin (Maryland) had been a petulant opponent of the plan and an irritant to pretty much everybody there – even those who agreed with him. Now that his State, Maryland, is taking up ratification, he will continue to adamantly and vociferously oppose the Constitution. He is the very embodiment of the Anti-Federalists.
Pretty much nobody will listen to his ranting, and Maryland will easily vote to ratify.
It’s what happens after that is so fascinating to me. Because of our own historical myopia, we tend to only see the good and heroic sides of the Framers and Founders. We don’t relate to them as people just like us, facing difficulties and crises. Consequently, we don’t learn from their example of how to deal with and even overcome those difficulties.
The rest of Luther Martins’ life will be spent in various pursuits as a lawyer – including defending Aaron Burr against charges of treason – and in the bottle. But by 1807, he will be called, “The Federalist Bulldog,” by no less than Thomas Jefferson. What drives a man who is virulently anti-Federalist to change his mind? Was it the ultimate “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?” Or did Luther Martin discover something about human nature in his later years?
After “impartial discussion & full consideration,” the Massachusetts delegates to their State ratifying Convention agreed to what became known as the “Massachusetts Compromise.” This allowed a number of anti-Federalists, including Samuel Adams, to vote in favor of ratifying the Constitution. But it wasn’t a cut and dried, full-throated endorsement of the document. As the compromise agreed, many of the Anti-Federalist ideas worked their way into the ratification document as proposed amendments to the Constitution.
Many of their recommended amendments are easily recognized by us today, and some made their way into the proposed Bill of Rights when the 1st Congress finally convened. Some of the ideas were ultimately rejected, but there is one overriding idea that we must keep in mind when considering these ideas: all of them came from people who did not like the Constitution as proposed.
As intriguing as what the Massachusetts Convention recommended is what the did not include in their list of proposed amendments. Did they leave out some of the most treasured Rights because they assumed the States would and could protect them or did they presume that the proposed Federal Government would never try to stifle free speech or religion?
When the Massachusetts Convention gathered in early January 1788 to consider ratification of the Constitution, the state faced three hurdles to ratification.
First, the lingering suspicion and distrust of a central government from the western part of the State where just two years before, Shay’s Rebellion had shaken the nation. The western part of the State saw the Constitution as little more than a larger form of the same government that had suppressed their rights and demanded their hard currency be turned over, and strongly objected to the idea that Congress would be able to tax and that only gold and silver could be used to pay debts.
The Second problem was Maine. At the time, Maine was part of Massachusetts, and because of its physical separation, Maine had often felt both neglected and treated as second class by the Boston mercantile class. Furthermore, Maine had staunch loyalist leanings during both the Revolutionary War. It would support the British again during the War of 1812. It was assumed by most people that Maine wanted to separate from Massachusetts, but that the proposed Constitution made it virtually impossible to do so since Massachusetts would have to give its consent to do so. But like many assumptions about both the people and the Constitution, this turned out to be the least of the Federalist’s worries.
The third, and potentially the greatest hurdle to Massachusetts ratification was Sam Adams. He had made it clear that he saw in the Constitution, not a protection of the sovereignty of the States in a federal union, but instead, a national government, which he was certain would crush the rights so recently and so difficultly won. Despite his “open-mouthed” opposition to the Constitution, he was elected as a delegate by Boston, which supported the ratification.
As Henry Knox informed General Washington, 2/7th’s of Massachusetts was “insurgents” who had supported Shays, 2/7th’s was Maine which opposed the ratification on their own grounds. Leaving only 3/7th’s to try and carry the Constitution and try and make Massachusetts the 6th State to ratify…