Friday, October 3, 2008

Book Review

New Society of the Genesee member and Crooked Lake Review contributor, Bill Kauffman, has a new book out, Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet, The Life of Luther Martin.

Martin was a member of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 who fought for a federation of sovereign states instead of a strong national government. With all of his formidable knowlege and eloquence, he argued against the centralized state set up by the new constitution.Such a government provides a channel for the power hungry, he said. Government should be as close to the individual citizen as possible. Republics could thrive only in small territories.

Because Kauffman has done so much research, he does not need to novelize his story to make us believe we are hearing what really happened at the Convention. It was convened, not to write a new constitution, but to repair the Articles of Confederation, then was hijacked by those who wanted a strong central government. Even the name federalist was taken away from the states' righters, and they were forced to become the anti-federalists.

The reader leaves the book with a more open mind about history, less likely to swallow the conventional wisdom that winners are always right, and the only ones deserving of the admiration of posterity, or that great thinkers are always consistent.

It was not a miracle at the Constitutional Convention; it was a group of politicians fighting over their differing viewspoints. Some won; some lost. We can decide for ourselves who was right and who was wrong, but Kauffman makes sure that, this time, history does not bury the dissenters.

Kauffman tells a good story. He names names. He lets us in on the personal hatreds and conflicts that fueled the debates. But all Kauffman's research and finding of documents barely shows. As usual, he makes all his erudition and wit seem easy.

The book is published by ISI, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, PO Box 4431, Wilmington, DE 19807-0431.

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