Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet, by Bill Kauffman

This book is a quick read and marked by monumental scholarship and deft style.

Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet

Publisher: ISI
Subtitle: The Life of Luther Martin
Author: Bill Kauffman
Price: $25.00
Length: 225
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781933859736
US publication date: 2008-09

History books are necessarily problematic. Despite their oft-noble aims of presenting “just the facts ma’am”, history books are plagued by the linear nature of narrative; in linking the events which they treat together, they have to present their account of history as singular and exhaustive. History, though, is not a causal chain of occurrences. It is an infinitely vast mosaic of motivation, actuality, and relationship. This could only approach representation in some non-linear history—a history that doesn’t presume that its plot captures history within a single timeline. Such a history would be unnatural, unreadable, and painfully Joycean. Writing is naturally linear, history is naturally diffuse.

However, this does not leave us immobilized with a medium inappropriate for presenting its subject. Rather, we have adapted to understand history not as something which is contained in a single, sufficiently researched tome, but, rather, as the intersection between a collection of history texts; we guard against linearity by writing history for ourselves as a summa rather than a story.

Very few history books are aware of this, though. Despite the literary community’s savvy on any number of vastly more complicated hermeneutical issues, most history authors turn a deaf ear to how we interpret history and continue to feed us linearity and feign shock at any alternative. Bill Kauffman is no such author. Kauffman’s latest offering Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin proves not only his mettle as a formidable researcher and archivist, but foreground his relentless awareness of the hermeneutical dimension of history. Without sacrificing cogency and maintaining a consistently cool voice, Kauffman plumbs history in its diffuseness to round out historical models.

Forgotten Founder tells the story of Luther Martin, one of America's less-remembered founding fathers. A livid Anti-Federalist, Martin has gone down in the annals of 18th century America as little more than a footnote. He was accused of being an absolute boor, drinking to excess, rambling in speech with incessant monotony, and having an altogether prickly disposition.

Kauffman takes up the cross of giving Martin a fair shake, not by defending the man but just by telling his story. Kauffman never thinks he is revising an inappropriate history, but rather sees himself as extending our current knowledge of the Constitutional Congress and the subsequent 18th century. Never the explicit apologist, Kauffman delicately and humorously weaves a more complete portrait of Martin. Furthermore, Kauffman’s writing is well-founded upon a towering bibliography that Kauffman adroitly parses.

However, a few pages in, it becomes apparent that Kauffman is not just writing a story about a forgotten founder, he is writing a story about Anti-Federalism and the nature of history at large. He begins “…[the Anti-Federalists] have been written off as bucolic bumpkins unable to grasp the exquisiteness of the Madisonian argument.” However, “The Antis were not quibblers, not captious carper arguing about dotted i’s and uncrossed t’s. Their objections cut to the heart of the new Constitution.” Kauffman sees his book as finally fleshing out history on the side that lost, not because he feels the Antis deserve recompense, but because history is truest when most exploded. Kauffman’s end is not to rewrite history from the point of view of Martin and the Antis, but, to free history from the Federalist-centric linearity that grade school texts typically confer. Kauffman does this very well.

This book is a quick read and marked by monumental scholarship and deft style. The only time Forgotten Founder stumbles is when Kauffman becomes a little too caught up in the belles-lettres that come so naturally. For every ten pages of excellent prose there might be one cringe-worthy overuse of alliteration, one awkwardly florid clause, or one joke only a historian could love. However, this hardly detracts from the book. If anything, such visible faults only reinforce Kauffman’s latent argument that no single history can ever be perfect.

Kauffman proves time and again that although a specific text will never be all-sided enough to capture history, we can still value texts based upon how much they expand, rather, than contract our sense of history. In this sense, Kauffman is not only capable in his writing, but in his mastery of the spirit of history.






Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.