Luther Martin

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Martin, Luther,

c.1748–1826, American lawyer and political leader, b. New Brunswick, N.J. He practiced law in Maryland and became the first attorney general of the state, holding office from 1778 to 1805 and again from 1818 to 1822 (although he was inactive in his last two years of office). He was a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention but refused to sign the Constitution because he felt it violated states' rights. Martin, considered one of the nation's leading lawyers, was one of the defense counsel in the trials of Justice Samuel Chase (1805) and of Aaron Burr (1807). He was a bitter opponent of Thomas Jefferson.


See biography by P. S. Clarkson and S. R. Jett (1970).

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Martin, Luther

(c. 1748–1826) lawyer; born in New Brunswick, N.Y. After graduating from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) (1766), he worked as a teacher while reading law, eventually being admitted to the Virginia bar (1771). He served as attorney general of Maryland (1778–1805, 1818–22) and as a delegate from Maryland to the Continental Congress (1785). He went to the Constitutional Convention in 1789, but as an opponent of a strong central government, he left the convention and then unsuccessfully tried to prevent Maryland from ratifying the new constitution. He got into a legal quarrel with Thomas Jefferson and went over to the Federalist Party, helping Justice Samuel Chase in his impeachment trial (1804) and Aaron Burr in his treason trial (1807). His final years were marked by family problems, his own health problems, and his alcoholism; he ended up destitute and living with his former client, Aaron Burr.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
Luther Martin was one of those who feared the replacement of the Articles of Confederation with a document that, in his opinion, gave far too much power to the federal government.
"[C]an it be supposed," asked Luther Martin, that people who had so recently fought a revolution for independence "would ever submit to have a national government established, the seat of which would be more than a thousand miles removed from some of them?"
Every lawyer, who deserves that name, knows that the claim for slavery could stand no such test." Luther Martin, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and later opponent of ratification, partially anticipated this argument, declaring that when it came to slavery, his fellow delegates "anxiously sought to avoid the admission of expressions which might be odious to the ears of Americans."
To those who criticize the judge, I refer them to the words of the first great trial lawyer in America, Luther Martin, who, during his closing in defense of Aaron Burr, trumpeted to Justice Marshall: 'It is easy to do our duty in fair weather, but when the tempest rages, when lightning blazes all around us--it is then that a truly brave man stands his post.'"
Elite Anti-Federalists like the historian Mercy Warren, Virginia planter George Mason, and Maryland lawyer Luther Martin expressed doubt that Federalists' justifications for the Constitution were anything more than abstract appeals to the people, "a pleasing fiction, designed to make political authority appear legitimate" (63).
After reviewing the activities of the men involved in the convention (Patrick Henry, George Mason, Luther Martin, Richard Henry Lee, John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton), participants prepare speeches that represent the position on ratification of a delegate they are assigned.