James J. Martin, 1916 – 2004

The noted revisionist historian James J. Martin, who died at around six o’clock in the morning on Sunday April 4, 2004 at his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was the author of Men Against the State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827-1908 (1953), American Liberalism and World Politics, 1931-1941 (1963), the collections Revisionist Viewpoints: Essays in a Dissident Historical Tradition (1971) and The Saga of Hog Island and Other Essays in Inconvenient History (1977), as well as dozens upon dozens of as yet uncollected essays, articles, book reviews, introductions, and prefaces. Martin, who was eighty-seven years old at the time of his passing, will be sorely missed by everyone who looks at the historical record and, in the words of William Appleman Williams, “sees basic facts in a different way and as interconnected in new relationships” (338). Williams, writing in 1973 in his famous essay “Confessions of an Intransigent Revisionist,” was trying to put his finger on just what sorts of qualities tended to lead an historian into revisionism in the first place. Whether his attempt was successful, each reader must decide for himself. But one thing is certain: whatever that combination of qualities was, he himself had it, and so did James J. Martin.

He didn’t regard himself as a “revisionist,” really, Martin told me near the beginning of our first telephone conversation late in 2002, so much as an “additionist” – the fellow who comes along after the historical accounts have been written and adds what’s been (inadvertently or deliberately) left out. It was a good line – and quite accurate, too – but it seems likely to have been one of those clever lines that come to us sometimes like a bolt from the blue, ornamenting the conversation or the manuscript at hand but having no lasting life, no lasting influence. For, in all our subsequent conversations, Martin never repeated it or referred to it in any way. In those later talks, he always referred to himself and his intellectual comrades at arms as “revisionists,” and never as anything else.

He himself had first been drawn to revisionism, he told me in March 2003 in a face-to-face conversation that took place over the course of an unsettled, forboding afternoon, while in his last year as an undergraduate history major at the University of New Hampshire. It was the weather that was unsettled and forboding that afternoon: the sky was the blue/grey of slate and the weatherman was forecasting a blizzard (by the time it hit, we had driven up the road a piece, as far as Denver, so it was there that we got snowed in for three days). But inside Martin’s unpretentious suburban-style home the atmosphere was very different – warm, hospitable, with a bottomless pot of spaghetti and much good company. He had been born in 1916 (September 18, to be exact), he told me, “in New Brunswick, Canada. My father was an unschooled, Irish immigrant laborer, and my mother was a Maine school teacher. I don’t know how those two ever hooked up. Looking back on it, I couldn’t imagine two persons less likely to have hit it off – in terms of background, that is. I couldn’t see how they ever made any sense out of it.”

They didn’t, for long. “Eventually, my father sold what he had going there in Canada and bought a farm in New Hampshire, just about in time to experience the total collapse of the agricultural price scene in 1921.” At about that same time, Martin’s mother took ill and died. He was five years old. For the next several years, he “ended up being passed around from one housekeeper to another” – and also, more importantly, from one Catholic school to another. “I spent eight years in Catholic schools. My father was not known to have ever been in a church of any kind. He despised all churches. But he thought that Catholic schools were better, so he put me in them.” Then “I went to a Catholic high school in the ’30s – two of them, in fact: one taught by Christian Brothers and the other taught by nuns. Looking back, I can see they weren’t easy. They hit you with a lot of stuff. I had five years of Latin. Today, you prescribe Latin, you’d probably be shot in your tracks.”

Rigorous though the educational program might have been, however, Martin was not inspired by it to pursue a life of scholarship. “I was a football player. I wasn’t interested in books. I was a football player, and I had a high school reputation in New Hampshire.” That high school reputation won him a scholarship to the University of New Hampshire, where he was no more scholarly than he’d ever been up to this time in his life. Then he got sick. “In June of ’39 during the final exams, I came down with pneumonia. I was the only sick kid out of two thousand students. I was in the school hospital, Hood House, donated by a big dairy producer in Boston, H. P. Hood. I was the only patient in it. I kept the whole place open for weeks. I was on what they called the ‘danger list.’ That meant you weren’t expected to live the rest of the week. I was on that list for seven weeks. Eventually they shipped me in an ambulance to the nearby city of Dover, which had a much bigger hospital, and I eventually got well there.”

By the time it ended, however, the illness had taken a fearsome toll. “I lost 50 pounds. I lost all my hair. I had to go to bed at six o’clock every night for a year and a half.” And even after he had got well, he wasn’t really that well. “They couldn’t use me in the war, you know. I remember one recruiting officer looked at my x-rays, and he said, ‘Go home.’ He said, ‘If we’re invaded, we’ll call you.’ That’s how bad they thought I looked. I wasn’t declared fit again until 1947.”

There was, of course, a sort of silver lining in that long period of convalescence. “I had been in an ROTC regiment at the University of New Hampshire which was in the advance wave of the invasion of Casablanca in November 1942, and I would have been in that for damned sure, and the beach was littered with guys who got killed that I played football with. I told myself, ‘Well, you lucky bastard, you lost your football career, but you survived the war.’” The loss of the football career was, nevertheless, a difficult cross for Martin to bear. “I was a psychological wreck. Everything I had lived for I couldn’t do anymore.” Then, “to do something, I learned all about books, and then started reading, and became a historian.”

Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple. Up to the time of his illness, Martin had changed majors frequently; his focus wasn’t on graduating, but on taking classes that interested him and playing football. Now “I looked back on it. I said, ‘Well, you’re going to be here forever if you don’t figure out what the hell you’re going to major in. You’re going to be here that long just to get enough credits to graduate.’ So I looked over my record, and I had more good credits in history than anything, so that’s the direction I went.” He had the credits in history because “I liked history, and I was good at it, and I got good grades. I could remember. I had a good memory.” So he majored in history. And by the time he was in his long-postponed senior year and getting ready to graduate, he had begun to notice that “people were neglecting this, and that, and the other thing. The establishment was ignoring things. That had something to do with my getting into revisionism.”

For example, “I remember running across the first American-Korean War. It wasn’t in 1950. It was in June 1871. The Far East American fleet of five ships landed four hundred marines, who tackled a whole bunch of Koreans in a fortress at the mouth of the Han River and killed six hundred of them in one day. There were a lot of big battles that didn’t have six hundred dead in them. Yet I had never heard a word about it.”

“I remember the first time I ran across the big story about all the Americans that deserted the trenches in World War I. A whole bunch of them just walked off. There were so many, the military police cooperated with the French to create two big camps to put them in when they rounded them up. They were never tried. They were never shot. I first read about it going through The New York Times in microfilm looking for something else, and there was a big spread on this story over a period of about four months. There was a congressional investigation planned but it was abandoned, and I gather these guys figured, ‘Look, this will cause more trouble than it will solve. Let’s just forget about it.’ And as a result, this episode has disappeared from the history books.”

Nor was this all. There was more. “I didn’t know the United States had a poison gas factory in World War I, an immense factory in Aberdeen, Maryland. It’s northeast of Baltimore. It outproduced Germany, Russia, Italy, France, and Austria combined – and England, too.”

By now, Martin was in Tucson, doing graduate work at the University of Arizona. “How I happened to go to Arizona from New Hampshire? The main reason was they had a summer semester in Tucson. You could get a whole semester’s work in one summer. Usually you could only get half that, and that was the main reason I went there. Also, just to get a change of climate.”

The experience proved frustrating, however, because of what Martin called “the deportation of the young teachers. The young professors were taking commissions in the Navy to escape getting drafted into the Army, and I exhausted their resources in one semester. The courses I needed for my master’s degree were taught by men who weren’t there anymore. They were on leave. And no school fired anybody who took a Navy commission like that. They all returned there as a rule.” So Martin dropped out. “I came back home and took a job teaching at a New Hampshire high school, and then started fishing around for another school, and wrote letters to various places. And I got a favorable response from Michigan after they saw my grades from Arizona. I transferred some of them and went there three summers to get a master’s degree.”

By now Martin had come upon a few more of those inconvenient facts that tended to be neglected or ignored by most historians. “One subject I got interested in that I was going to write about, and I took a lot of notes on, was how much of the Civil War was fought by boys, twelve-year-olds, thirteen-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds. I found a piece by a nurse. She was so shaken by what had happened to her that she couldn’t write about it for thirty-five years. She was on a floor where every kid died of gangrene after having an arm or a leg lopped off – twelve-year-olds, thirteen-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds. The Union Army was loaded with children. I’m sure the same was true in the South too. Big farm kids who passed themselves off as two, three years older. A lot of this we know because, after the war, when Congress passed the pension bill, I think in 1882, covering the Union veterans, they had to verify the birth dates of the surviving veterans to qualify them. And there was a whole operation run by a general, a Union general, that verified these birth dates and as a result of that, we know a great deal about the extreme youth of a whole bunch of people who qualified for pensions though they were just boys during their term of service. Gettysburg was fought mainly by boys. Now it’s reenacted by forty-year-old drunks.”

Martin had also come upon interesting evidence of “who made the big bucks out of” the U.S. Civil War. “And boy, there were immense fortunes made out of that. There was an economist named White who used to write about this in the immediate years right after the war, ’66, ’67, ’68, ’69. He wrote a series of articles dealing with some of the people who made big dough. You know, the stock markets got so busy they had to have two sessions. They had to have both a downtown and an uptown stock market – the New York Stock Exchange. And of course, the people who sold gold to the government made a real killing. There were a number of multi-millionaires and billionaires. All the post-Civil War fortunes had their origins in supplying the Northern armies. Actually there’s a succession of economists, historical economists, in the post-Civil War period who keep bringing this subject up all the way down into the administration of Benjamin Harrison. They’re still confronting the people who made the money. But by that time, everybody has decided to forget all about that. We’re all heroes. We’re all giants.”

Then there was the inconvenient information Martin had turned up regarding “how eager the young men of the nation were to join the army in 1917. Over a million young men dodged the draft. The army never found a one of them. Of course, they didn’t have any machinery to look for them. The majority took isolated work on farms, other places where they weren’t concentrated, and the army authorities never found a damned one of them, as near as I can figure out. And the gang they did round up – God, horrible pieces, terrible examples, of humanity. The intelligence tests they administered, in particular. I think the whole bunch combined, Black and White together, ranked moron. A lot of soldiers made money in the first war if they could write. The great majority could not write a letter home, so a lot of guys made a few bucks on the side writing letters home for A, B, C, D, and E, whoever couldn’t write. They charged them a small sum, but they had so much business that they didn’t have to charge them much. A great many letters written home were not by the writers, were not by the authors. Somebody else wrote for them.”

Perhaps most fascinating of all there was the vast treasure trove of neglected lore Martin had begun unearthing about an amazing human dynamo named Benjamin R. Tucker (1854-1939) – journalist, editor, printer, publisher, and bookseller. The progeny of Quakers, Unitarians, and Abolitionists, Tucker was suckled by radicalism and deflowered while still a youth by early feminist radical Victoria Woodhull. An ardent exponent of freedom in all its forms – free love, freethought, and, of course, the political freedom of the individual – Tucker sought to eliminate marriage, God, and the State. He founded and editied Liberty, in its day (1881-1908) the largest circulation anarchist periodical in the world. He gathered around him an extraordinary group of writers and intellectuals and became the spearhead for what probably should be regarded, from our vantage in time, as the first, almost entirely forgotten, libertarian movement. Tucker commissioned and published (and, in some cases, personally created) the original English translations of Proudhon’s What is Property, Bakunin’s God and the State, Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done?, Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata, and Max Stirner’s The Ego and His Own. He also brought out American editions of works by Oscar Wilde, Herbert Spencer, Emile Zola, John Henry Mackay, and many others.  He studied and helped to popularize the work of earlier American individualists who had come to reject the State – Josiah Warren, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Lysander Spooner – thereby establishing the first serious claim to a genuinely libertarian tradition in American intellectual history. And all of this had been neglected, ignored, utterly forgotten. Martin decided to go for a Ph.D. and do his dissertation on these American individualist anarchists.

While he was finishing up his work on this dissertation, he received a mailing from the noted historian and polemicist Harry Elmer Barnes. Barnes had written to graduate students and faculty in history departments all over the United States, advertising a new pamphlet he had just written and published: Revisionism and the Historical Blackout. Martin ordered a copy and, once he’d read it, wrote to Barnes commenting on it. Barnes wrote back. Before long, the two men were corresponding regularly, sometimes as often as four times a week, and Martin had become a frequent guest in Barnes’s home, first in Cooperstown, New York, then in Malibu, California.

James J. Martin (left) with Harry Elmer Barnes in the backyard of Barnes’s hunting camp, Redfield, NY, August 8, 1954.

According to Marguerite J. Fisher, Barnes was born in 1889 “on a farm near Auburn, in the Finger Lake district of central New York State.” He “entered Syracuse University in the fall of 1909,” with “the aim of preparing himself to be a high-school history teacher.”

"When he graduated from Syracuse in 1913, he achieved all of the academic honors available for a history major: graduation summa cum laude at the top of his class, not only in Liberal Arts but in the University as a whole, first honors in history, and the annual Historical Essay Prize for his essay on Alexander Hamilton. After graduation he remained at Syracuse for two years as an instructor in sociology and economics."

In 1915, Barnes applied for admission to graduate study at Columbia. William Harrison Mace, the chairman of the History Department at Syracuse, wrote to the Columbia Graduate Faculty that “Harry Elmer Barnes is probably the ablest student and most tireless worker the Department of History has ever graduated” (Fisher 1, 3, 4).

In 1918, Barnes submitted his dissertation and was awarded his Ph.D. He “spent 1919-1920 as one of the original staff of the New School for Social Research,” and devoted a number of years thereafter to teaching at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, first as an associate professor of European history, then as Professor of the History of Thought and Culture. Later, “[i]n 1923, Barnes left Clark to go to Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts as Professor of Historical Sociology. In addition to his regular position at Smith, he taught at Amherst for two years at the request of Dwight Morrow, who asked him to teach an introductory social science course known as ‘Social and Economic Institutions’” (Fisher 15).

Meanwhile, he was writing voluminously on a freelance basis for both the scholarly and the popular press – for the American Journal of Sociology, the Political Science Quarterly, and the American Historical Review; for The Nation, the New Republic, and the American Mercury. And sometime in 1921, he found the subject for which he would ultimately become most famous: the origins and significance of World War I. During that war, as a graduate student in history at Columbia and a budding part-time journalist and polemicist, he had been loud in his support of the conflict. As William L. Neumann notes,

"Like many young men of his time he was a partisan of Woodrow Wilson. Like many of his older Columbia colleagues, notably […] Charles A. Beard, he favored American entry into the European war before April of 1917. For his hometown New York newspaper, the Port Byron Chronicle, he wrote a long pro-intervention article in the winter of 1916-1917 which he later recalled as being ‘as ferocious in content, policy, and language as anything contributed by any sane person at the time.’ He also contributed to the pamphleteering work of the National Security League, the National Board for Historical Service, the American Defence Society, and several other propaganda agencies favorable to American entry into the European War." (262)

Then, in 1920 and 1921, Barnes read a series of articles in the American Historical Review by Sidney B. Fay of Smith College entitled “New Light on the Origins of the World War.” Only a short time before, as Warren I. Cohen describes it,

"the opening of the Russian archives was followed by the opening of the archives of the defeated Central Powers. Numerous historians sat down to years of laborious research. The publicists and historians of lesser patience took a quick look and began writing. Almost all concluded what every intelligent American had known all along: that the Germans had not been one hundred per cent ‘evil,’ nor France and her allies one hundred per cent ‘good.’ But the ‘revisionist’ interpretation often went further, to the extent of shifting primary responsibility for the origins of the war from the Central to the Allied Powers – and, ultimately, condemning American intervention." (2)

Fay was one of the less patient historians; he had taken a quick look and had begun writing. Barnes took a somewhat slower look at the new evidence, but within three years he was not only a convert to Fay’s revisionism but also its chief apologist in the popular press. An article under Barnes’s byline on “Assessing the Blame for the World War” appeared in the May 1924 issue of Current History (Neumann 266). It was followed a year later by a series of twelve shorter articles on the same subject in the Christian Century (268-269). The last of these Christian Century pieces had no sooner appeared (in the issue for December 17, 1925) than Barnes was busily at work revising and expanding the series for publication as a book: “[B]y June of 1926, the first edition of The Genesis of the World War was in the hands of reviewers, seven hundred and fifty pages long and selling for four dollars” (270, 272). Two years later, in 1928, Barnes “collected many of the controversial reviews of the first edition of the Genesis, his own rejoinders, some of his earlier articles, and an American Mercury article by C. Hartley Grattan” into a second book on World War I, In Quest of Truth and Justice (279).

Late in the ’20s, Barnes was given an opportunity to place his message before a much larger audience than he could ever command from the front of a college classroom or the pages of an intellectual weekly. Not surprisingly, he jumped at it. As Marguerite Fisher tells the story, “In 1929, during a sabbatical leave of absence” from his job at Smith, “Barnes went to New York to experiment for a year as an editorial writer, columnist, and book reviewer with the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain […] then a powerful and liberal newspaper chain” (17). The experiment was deemed a success, by both Barnes and his new employer, and was continued for another four years. In 1934, “he left the general organization of Scripps-Howard” and “was then taken on as a columnist, editorial writer and book reviewer for the World-Telegram, the New York City Scripps-Howard newspaper and the most important one in the chain. […] Barnes finally left the World Telegram in May, 1940,” determined to carve out a career for himself as a freelance intellectual – writing books, contributing to magazines and newspapers, and taking the occasional appointment as a visiting lecturer at such colleges or universities as might be interested in his services (21).

“His departure” from the World-Telegram, according to Fisher, “was hastened by the controversy aroused by his anti-interventionist editorials, columns, and book reviews.” It was perhaps inevitable, then, that he would next turn his revisionist attention to the very Second World War that he had tried so valiantly but failed so miserably to keep the United States out of. As Henry M. Adams puts it, “[j]ust as in March, 1922, Barnes had demanded that the current interpretations of the causes of World War I be revised, so now, at the end of 1947, he made a similar demand with regard to World War II, only to find that the difficulties in the way of getting any truth published about the responsibility for World War II were all but insuperable” (295). Still, by 1953 Barnes was able to find a publisher for his most ambitious revisionist project on the second great war. This was a nearly seven-hundred page collection of essays by diverse hands, “dedicated to the late Charles Austin Beard who had suggested its title, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. The specific content of the book was then illuminated by its subtitle, A Critical Examination of the Foreign Policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Its Aftermath” (303).

In the years between 1947 and 1953 Barnes wrote and self-published no fewer than four long essays on the difficulties confronting any historian who wanted to take a revisionist look at the last great war. Reading the first of these, Revisionism and the Historical Blackout, that fateful year in the late 1940s, seems to have had a powerful effect on James J. Martin. His dissertation on the American individualist anarchists was the last book he ever wrote on intellectual history. After reading Barnes, making his acquaintance, and becoming his close friend and protégé, he turned his attention instead to what had long preoccupied Barnes: the two major wars of the first half of the 20th Century. Martin’s second book, published in 1963, was a mammoth two-volume study of American Liberalism and World Politics, 1931-1941: Liberalism’s Press and Spokesmen on the Road Back to War Between Mukden and Pearl Harbor. His third, Revisionist Viewpoints: Essays in a Dissident Historical Tradition (1971), focused entirely on issues relating to the two world wars. His fourth, The Saga of Hog Island and Other Essays in Inconvenient History (1977), did the same. His fifth, Beyond Pearl Harbor: Essays on Some Historical Consequences of the Crisis in the Pacific in 1941 (1981), bears a title that speaks for itself. So does 1984’s The Man Who Invented “Genocide”: The Public Career and Consequences of Raphael Lemkin, the 20th Century Polish academic and bureaucrat who coined the term that has become so ubiquitous in the years since. And so does An American Adventure in Bookburning: In the Style of 1918 (1988).

In short, the influence of Barnes seems to have transformed an intellectual historian interested in 19th Century America into a World War I and World War II revisionist on the pattern of Barnes himself. There was one important difference, however. Barnes was an early 20th Century “progressive.” He believed that government had a positive, valuable role to play in “correcting” the “market failures” and other “deficiencies” of “capitalism.” He supported the domestic programs of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, objecting only to his foreign policy. Martin, by contrast, was a libertarian – an individualist anarchist whose most important intellectual influences where political philosophy was concerned were Benjamin R. Tucker and Max Stirner (1806-1856), the German philosopher whose magnum opus, Der Einzige und Sein Eigenthum (1845), Tucker had published in its first English-language edition in 1907. Barnes practiced revisionism in order to advance his views on war and peace, in order to make the world a better, safer place to live in. Martin, on the other hand, was never much of a do-gooder, much less a world-saver. As he explained to a panel of interviewers from Reason magazine late in 1975, “my interest in [revisionism] is not necessarily activated by ideological considerations. It’s more of a technical interest in getting the record straight.” He had never, he said at that time, been much concerned with

"doing good or bringing about a set of better social conditions, an improvement in the race or any long range programs of that sort. My friend Harry Elmer Barnes was very much so motivated. But I was nowhere nearly as involved in his objectives as I was in his work. We often worked for totally different reasons at the same thing. I have no compulsions to save the world or save the human race” (14-15).

Still, it seems evident that if Martin ever harbored any hopes about the effect his writings might have on his readers, what he hoped for was very different from what Barnes hoped for. Barnes wanted to steer American government away from what he regarded as wasteful and destructive policies. Martin, if he wanted anything other than just to get the record straight, wanted to steer American society away from government. Barnes sought to publicize the truth about the world wars in order to convince his fellow Americans that their government should use the resources it was wasting on unnecessary and destructive foreign conflicts to make improvements at home, improvements like ending poverty and stamping out crime. Martin sought to publicize the truth about the world wars in order to get the record straight – and perhaps to convince his fellow Americans that it was dangerous and foolhardy to trust any group of men, even if they called themselves “the government,” with the kind of power you need to commit destruction and carnage on that sort of worldwide scale.

Martin graduated, began writing his books, and embarked on a series of teaching assignments. Northern Illinois University was on his itinerary, as were San Francisco State College and Deep Springs College in the Southern California desert, the school Newsweek once described as “the most isolated, obscure, and selective college in the entire U.S” (“Introducing” 14). He ended up in Larkspur, Colorado at Rampart College, an institution founded and run by the legendary libertarian journalist, broadcaster, writer, editor, and teacher Robert LeFevre (1911-1986). LeFevre had founded what he originally called the Freedom School in 1957, building the campus part time with a crew of volunteers and a few paid workers while he labored full time as the editorial page editor of the daily Gazette-Telegraph in nearby Colorado Springs. At first, once the physical plant was ready for use, he conducted only summer sessions, employing a roster of part-time lecturers that included “Rose Wilder Lane, Milton Friedman, F.A. Harper, Frank Chodorov, Leonard Read, Gordon Tullock, G. Warren Nutter, Bruno Leoni, James J. Martin, and even Ludwig von Mises” (Rockwell). But the Freedom School prospered, attracting new funding and a steady stream of students. LeFevre decided it might be possible to quit his full-time job and devote his entire energy to this educational project. In 1965, he renamed the school Rampart College, launched a quarterly journal, and began hiring full-time faculty for his planned expansion into a regular, four-year, degree-granting liberal arts college.

One of his first hires was James J. Martin, whom he lured away from Deep Springs by offering the chairmanship of the Rampart history department. Martin quit his job and moved to Colorado, only to discover that LeFevre’s plans had been bigger than his resources and Rampart College was not going to become a full-fledged college after all. In 1968, three years after his arrival, the former Freedom School folded for good. As LeFevre tells the story in his autobiography, he first discussed the situation with the chairman of his economics department, W. H. Hutt, and released him from his contract. Then he called Martin “into my office and released him from his contract, too.”

"Martin stalked from the office. A day later, I received a letter in which he informed me that he was prepared to hire legal representation and that no matter how hard I tried, he was going to hold me to the contract. Only one year of the five-year term had run. I had four more years in which I would pay his full salary plus provide him with housing. Any failure on my part and he’d see me in court! Martin had been among those most ardent in insisting that government was totally unnecessary. But not if he needed it in dealing with me." (475)

As might be imagined, Martin’s version of the debacle is a little different. “I had read so much stuff by LeFevre over the years,” he told me that afternoon in Colorado Springs, “all the bawling about the sacredness of contracts, that I said to myself, ‘Well, for once I’m going to hold him to one and see what he does.’ And I think he began to realize the absurdity of his situation – spending years saying all these kinds of things about contracts, and then trying to run out on one. He could easily have done it. I didn’t have the resources to chase him. And he knew it. I didn’t threaten to sue him. I didn’t. I expected him to just walk away. But he had the backing of two, three, four millionaires, Charles Koch, all these other guys in Wichita, and sixty-thousand dollars was no money to them. Hell, they spent that maybe at the casinos on weekends.”

So Martin got his sixty thousand. And he decided to stay on in Colorado. “I just got tired of running. I ran back and forth across this country from coast to coast, including both coasts, and I said to myself, ‘What’s the point of all this? Aren’t you tired of it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I am.’ I had no dependents. So I said, ‘I’ll just stay here and revert back to my old way of living.’ I put myself through three university degrees by living like a concentration camp rat, and I said, ‘Well, I’ll just go back to that again. Cut down on this, cut down on that, live within my means, bank interest, whatever.’ And here I am. I’ve survived thirty-five years living like that. I’ve stayed off the labor market, felt pretty good, wrote a lot of books. I’ve published over two million words.”

He also published at least a dozen books by other writers in that thirty-five-year span, most of them in the first decade after his departure from Rampart College. For Martin put only a portion of his sixty-thousand-dollar windfall into an account, in order to earn the “bank interest” he referred to. The rest of it he invested in an enterprise that never earned him very much, if anything, unless perhaps it was the title of most influential libertarian book publisher since Benjamin R. Tucker – an accolade I fancy he would have liked. Rampart College, as has been noted, shut down in 1968. Harry Elmer Barnes died that same year, aged seventy-nine. And later in 1968, Ralph Myles, Publisher of Colorado Springs, Colorado issued its debut volume, a festschrift in Barnes’s honor, featuring essays by former students, former colleagues, and fellow scholars. Harry Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader: The New History in Action was followed in short order by reprints of various revisionist works Martin felt were neglected or ignored: Barnes’s In Quest of Truth and Justice, William Henry Chamberlain’s America’s Second Crusade, Arthur Ekirch’s seminal The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition. In 1970, Martin issued a revised and enlarged edition, the first edition in paperback, of his own Men Against the State. In 1975, he teamed up with the libertarian historian Leonard P. Liggio to edit together a book from the texts of a series of papers presented at a “conference held in 1971 at Gibson Island under the chairmanship of Dr. Felix Morley and sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies” (Liggio xi). The resulting volume, Watershed of Empire: Essays on New Deal Foreign Policy, was published by Ralph Myles in 1976.

As Martin recalled it that afternoon in Colorado Springs, “I began Ralph Myles to print just one thing” – the Barnes festschrift – “and then it just ballooned, and I found myself saying, ‘Well, I’ve got to get this out, I’ve got to get that out, this hasn’t been done for years.’ And I ended up with a string of titles. We went in two directions. Originally I was going to deal mainly with what you might call revisionism and then I got into – I had already been involved for years with – libertarianism.” In addition to his own Men Against the State, Ralph Myles reissued Benjamin R. Tucker’s State Socialism & Anarchism and Other Essays, Lysander Spooner’s No Treason, Etienne de la Boetie’s The Will to Bondage, and numerous other volumes of immense interest to anyone concerned with the libertarian intellectual tradition, both in this country and in Europe. Each of these titles was graced by a James J. Martin introduction, and each of those introductions was a small marvel of esoteric information and sound scholarship. It is difficult to imagine what the would-be historian of libertarian thought would be up against if James J. Martin had never written Men Against the State and had never founded Ralph Myles, Publisher. All those who care about such matters owe him a profound debt of gratitude.

It might interest such readers – and may also appall them – to know that many of the Ralph Myles titles are still available, still at the familiar bargain prices (thirty years at least behind the pricing realities in the publishing world of today) – but they are available from only one bookseller. This is the infamous Institute for Historical Review (IHR), to which Martin sold his remaining stock a few years ago, when he became too infirm to deal any longer with such strenuous work as filling orders from book dealers. Martin was associated with the IHR for the last twenty-five years of his life, a fact that has embarrassed not a few of his longtime admirers and dissuaded not a few potential admirers from ever taking the trouble to take a look at his published writings.

The same ill health that forced him to sell his remaining stock to the IHR eventually confined Martin to his bed. His last years must have been difficult indeed. Yet I found him cheerful, if more than a bit cynical, when I visited him a little more than a year before his death. I also found him still mentally sharp as ever, that amazing memory seemingly unimpaired, engaged as ever with the issues and events of the day. “What Barnes and I liked to think,” he told me that afternoon in Colorado Springs, “we didn’t say, we never got into it to any degree, but I believe, essentially, we thought we were the supporters of the Republic. Like Gore Vidal does now. Gore Vidal sounds just like we did. I have both of his last two books here. He’s not a scholar, but he’s such a good writer that, in each case, I just sat and read right through the whole book. I didn’t put it down. He understands history as well as anybody I’ve ever known, Ph.D. or no degrees at all; it’s irrelevant for our purposes to know that he didn’t go through the rat race that we did.

“Anyway, the attitude Barnes and I generally had was that we were just like Vidal thinks of himself now – a bulwark of the Republic. We were supporting George Washington’s foreign policy – stay home, keep the hell out of other people’s affairs, no alliances with anybody, improve your own country, and so on. You see? The opposition to us captured the country in 1917 and they’ve had it ever since.

“So we were fighting a rear guard action against the crowd of imperialists and world meddlers that now is about ready to take on the whole world. If they keep going, they’re going to have a billion Muslims for sure as opponents, and I don’t know who else, but that’s what they’re asking for, whether they realize it or not. One of the interesting things about Vidal’s little book, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, is that he didn’t realize that the revisionists had used the same title fifty years before he did. I’m amazed that the administration hasn’t passed a special law permitting them to put him in jail.”

Martin was an iconoclast par excellence. In his own words, he was “an unorganizable, stubborn and isolated crank” (“Introducing” 21). Think Ed Abbey. Think Karl Hess. Think long and hard – and by all means think for yourself! – on the passing of one of the great libertarians of the 20th Century.


Adams, Henry M. “World War II Revisionist.” Harry Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader: The New History in Action. Ed. Arthur Goddard. Colorado Springs, CO: Ralph Myles, 1968. 288-313.

Cohen, Warren I. The American Revisionists: The Lessons of Intervention in World War I. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.

Fisher, Marguerite. “Harry Elmer Barnes: An Overall Preview.” Harry Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader: The New History in Action. Ed. Arthur Goddard. Colorado Springs, CO: Ralph Myles, 1968. 1-40.

“Introducing Revisionism: An Interview with James J. Martin.” Reason January 1976: 14-21.

LeFevre, Robert. A Way to Be Free: The Autobiography of Robert LeFevre. Vol. 2. Culver City, CA: Pulpless.com, 1999.

Liggio, Leonard P., and James J. Martin, eds. Watershed of Empire: Essays on New Deal Foreign Policy. Colorado Springs, CO: Ralph Myles, 1976.

Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. New York: Free Press, 1993.

Martin, James J. Men Against the State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827-1908. Colorado Springs, CO: Ralph Myles, 1970.

—. The Saga of Hog Island and Other Essays in Inconvenient History. Colorado Springs, CO: Ralph Myles, 1977.

—. Revisionist Viewpoints: Essays in a Dissident Historical Tradition. Colorado Springs, CO: Ralph Myles, 1971.

—. American Liberalism & World Politics, 1931-1941: Liberalism’s Press and Spokesmen on the Road Back to War Between Mukden and Pearl Harbor. New York: Devin-Adair, 1963.

—. Beyond Pearl Harbor: Essays on Some Historical Consequences of the Crisis in the Pacific in 1941. Little Current, ON: Plowshare Press, 1981.

—. An American Adventure in Bookburning: In the Style of 1918. Colorado Springs, CO: Ralph Myles, 1988.

—. The Man Who Invented “Genocide”: The Public Career And Consequences of Raphael Lemkin. Costa Mesa, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1984.

Neumann, William L. “World War I Revisionist.” Harry Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader: The New History in Action. Ed. Arthur Goddard. Colorado Springs, CO: Ralph Myles, 1968. 261-287.

Rockwell, Llewellyn H. “The Wisdom of LeFevre.” The Free Market Vol. 19, No. 7: July 2001.

Williams, William Appleman. “Confessions of an Intransigent Revisionist.” A William Appleman Williams Reader. Ed. Henry W. Berger. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992.

Author: Jeff Riggenbach

Jeff Riggenbach, the author of In Praise of Decadence, is a member of the Organization of American Historians and a senior fellow of the Randolph Bourne Institute. His articles and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Times, Reason, Inquiry, and Liberty, among other publications.