Why Luther Martin Didn’t Sign the Constitution

One of the greatest debates that occurred in American history was the debate about ratifying the Constitution. One of my favorite Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry, was among those who did not endorse the document. Among the major concerns was the fear that the states’ rights would be trampled by a national government. Despite the addition of the Bill of Rights, many of Henry’s and his fellow “Anti-Federalist” writers’ predictions have come to pass. The national government has become a behemoth, taxing citizens to accomplish tasks that were not granted to it in the Constitution. (Read Thomas DiLorenzo’s book about Alexander Hamilton to see how this has played out.)

While Patrick Henry may be the most famous opponent of the Constitution, Luther Martin is another well-known Founding Father who refused to sign. Martin, who had been an early advocate for American independence from Great Britain, was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The express purpose of the meeting was to revise the Articles of Confederation. As it turned out, however, the delegates soon scrapped the Articles altogether. This, among other things, greatly troubled Martin.

Martin left the Convention early, discouraged by the direction it was heading. States’ rights, he believed, would be diminished with the establishment of a large, monolithic national government. Martin wasn’t alone. The concern about the proposed Constitution developed into a national newspaper debate between the “Federalists” (pro-Constitution) and the “Anti-Federalists” (those with serious concerns with the Constitution).

Another one of Martin’s concerns with the Constitution is not often discussed. He did not like that the Constitution provided that no religious test shall be required of statesman. Martin sarcastically lamented:

The part of the system which provides that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States was adopted by a great majority of the Convention and without much debate; however, there were some members so unfashionable as to think that a belief in the existence of a Deity and of a state of future rewards and punishments would be some security for the good conduct of our rulers, and that, in a Christian country, it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.

At the time, many state constitutions were explicitly Christian. Martin recognized that the federation of states constituted a “Christian country”—a county influenced by the ideals and standards of the Bible. However, the failure of the Constitution to explicitly acknowledge Christ was a concern for Martin. As Gary DeMar wrote, “As a nation, we need the Lordship of Jesus Christ mentioned in the Constitution, an oath whereby rulers acknowledge His Lordship, and the will of the people and representatives to serve Him.”

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