If the Founding Fathers could choose one among them they would prefer to remain forgotten, it undoubtedly would be Luther Martin of Maryland.

They said he talked too much, trying "the patience of all who heard him," as one delegate remembered. They said his "very bad delivery" left "marks of fatigue and disgust" around the room. In the evening, recalled another delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Martin engaged in endless "tavern harangues."

By their standards, Martin was simply uncouth, an embarrassment, above all, a troublemaker, the sort of man of whom it is constantly asked, "Who let him in here?"

Martin, a bulldog of a man with a large chip on his shoulder, arrived late at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 -- on June 9, 200 years ago this week -- just as it was speeding through James Madison's grand scheme for a new government. While the progress was deeply satisfying to Madison and his allies, to Martin, it was a dangerous juggernaut. The more he learned, the more determined he became to stop it, or at least throw a monkey wrench into it.

About the same time, other delegates who had sat quietly as the convention had moved ahead, were growing increasingly unhappy with what they were seeing, and by the end of the week, they and Martin had formed themselves into an organized opposition.

Together, they would transform the convention from a relatively tranquil "reunion among friends" into a donnybrook, a bitter battle that would rage on for weeks and threaten the convention with collapse.

The issue that set it off was the allocation of power between the small states and the large. Remote as such a dispute may seem 200 years later, it was everything to them, and it would ultimately reshape the future of the government of the United States.

At the beginning of the week, things were going so smoothly that Ben Franklin was telling friends that the delegates would "soon finish their business, as their are no prejudices to oppose nor errors to refute" in any of the delegates.

The convention had glided over the resolutions proposed by Virginia's Madison with amazing speed, giving tentative approval to a raft of proposals, including popular elections for the House of Representatives, that had been expected to take weeks to sort out.

It had been so lacking in fireworks that one delegate, Pierce Butler of South Carolina, occupied his time in doodling -- drawing faces on letters of the alphabet until they resembled other members of the convention.

There was debate and disagreement, of course, but some of it had to be pried loose. If it hadn't been for Franklin's prodding, for example, they would have voted without any discussion on as profound an issue as the makeup of the presidency.

Come now gentlemen, Franklin had said, this is a "point of great importance." Surely the delegates will "deliver their sentiments" on it before taking a vote.

In hindsight, it had been unreal, and Madison should have known something was wrong.

Even as they spoke, a sheet of paper was circulating among the delegates showing how drastically power in the United States would be realigned if Madison's scheme became reality.

In the existing one house Congress of the confederation, each state was treated equally, each with a single vote, regardless of size or wealth.

In Madison's Virginia Plan, seats in both the upper and lower houses of Congress would be allocated according to the size of each state -- by proportional representation. (That Congress would then choose the president and the Supreme Court.)

The numbers on the sheet only confirmed the obvious: tiny Delaware, for example, would be reduced from one of 13 votes in the old Congress to one of 65 or 70 votes in the new one. Smaller states like Connecticut and New Jersey would suffer similar fates.

The giants -- Virginia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania -- would see their influence multiplied dramatically, to the point that voting together in a new government would give them overwhelming dominance over the other states combined.

While real power among the small states and the large was definitely at stake, the issue went well beyond this, for both sides. To staunch proponents of states' rights and a truly "federal" system of government, the existing principle of one-state, one-vote was also the crowning symbol of state equality and state sovereignty. If each state was equal, each should have an equal vote. State equality was, to them, the heart of federalism.

Martin left behind a memoir that helps explain 200 years later how strongly some of the small-state delegates to the convention felt.

Martin was the clever son of a poor New Jersey farmer, who had managed to put Luther through Princeton. Luther probably could have gone further in life than he had, but rumors of heavy drinking and profligacy pursued him throughout his career. While studying law, for example, it was said that he lost a job as a schoolmaster because he "spent most of his time in drinking and finally left the county because his attention to a daughter of a prominent planter was very objectionable."

He went to Virginia to become a lawyer, attempting without success to break into a closed patrician legal circle in Williamsburg. From there, he went to Maryland's Eastern Shore, hoping that with the recent death of one of the three prominent lawyers there, some work might become available.

Compared with Washington, Franklin, Hamilton and others, Martin was a nobody, not a war hero, not a great thinker, not a scion of a great family. By the time of the convention, nearing the age of 40, Martin was officially the attorney general of Maryland, but in fact only a spear carrier for the political organization in that state headed by Samuel Chase.

The legislature invited at least a dozen other Marylanders to attend the convention before scraping the bottom of the barrel and coming up with Martin.

Arriving belatedly in Philadelphia, Martin hurriedly inspected the journals to see what the convention had done. His reaction, as recounted by him after the convention, is a full illustration of how one man's noble experiment appears to another to be a dark cabal.

The purpose of the Virginia Plan, as Martin saw it, was obvious: "The object of Virginia and the other large states {was} to increase their power and influence over the others . . . ." Through the principle of proportional representation, these three states {he meant Virginia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania} "would make what laws they pleased, however injurious or disagreeable to the other states . . . . They were not only, sir, by this system, to have such an undue superiority in making laws and regulations for the Union, but to have the same superiority in the appointment of the president, the judges, and all other officers of government . . . . This president and these judges so appointed, we may be morally certain, would be citizens of one of those three states" and "would espouse their interests and their views when they came in competition with the views and interests of the other states."

To Martin, Madison's plan was nothing less than a "system of slavery, which bound hand and foot 10 states in the union, and placed them at the mercy of the other three . . . ."

Madison was equally intense. Of all the characteristics of the old order, none so interfered with his vision of nationhood as the principle of one-state, one-vote. As he saw it, this was to be a government constituted by the people, not by states, and the people rather than the states should be represented. It was also unjust: Why should the power of 700,000 -- the estimated population of Virginia -- equal the strength of 59,000, the population of Delaware?

Madison, who had done some preconvention vote-counting, believed he could ram proportional representation through the convention. Massachusetts, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the most populous states, would of course favor it. The Carolinas and Georgia, filling up with settlers, expected vast population increases soon. They too, he thought, would benefit by proportional representation and would go along.

As to the smaller states, he had predicted, they would "finally bend . . . ."

The small-staters had expected a fight from the beginning -- the fact that Virginia was the sponsor of the convention had tipped them off -- and they had been waiting only for more troops and for the right opportunity.

On June 9, William Paterson, a squat New Jersey lawyer with a bulbous nose and traces of his native Ireland in his voice, rose to speak.

The proposition for proportional representation, he declared, strikes "at the existence of the lesser states."

Let the large states "unite if they please," he said, finally throwing down the gauntlet, "but let them remember that they have no authority to compel the others to unite. New Jersey will never confederate on the plan before the committee. She would be swallowed up."

His message was clear and uncomplicated and drew from James Wilson of Pennsylvania an uncomplicated response.

So be it, Wilson said. "If the small states will not confederate on this plan," the large states "will not confederate on any other . . . If New Jersey will not part with her sovereignty it is in vain to talk of government."

The convention recessed for the weekend. The rising temperature of the rhetoric coincided with a sudden change in Philadelphia's weather. At the start of the week it had been cold enough to make people long for the warmth of fires in their homes. By the end of it, a heat wave had begun.

The weekend recess gave Madison and his supporters time to ponder Paterson's words, time to gauge the consequences of holding fast to their position -- proportional representation in both houses of the new Congress. Were Paterson and the small-state men behind him bluffing? How far would they go? Should the large-state delegates even open the door to a compromise?

Their answer came on June 11, when Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed an accommodation.

It was easy to underrate Sherman -- and foolish to do so. He came off as a bumpkin, a caricature of the pious and unsophisticated New Englander. His eccentricities, his large body and even larger head, his awkwardness, his strange idiosyncracies of speech, fed the image.

But when Sherman latched onto an idea, he never let go. In 1777, when the Continental Congress was framing the Articles of Confederation, Sherman had applied his practical mind to finding a way to govern America that suited reality. He believed that America was and should be a federation of equal states, with a Congress that gave each state an equal vote.

He recognized, however, that the acts of such a Congress would lack wide public support, since they might not represent the sentiment of the majority of the people. What was necessary was a mechanism by which acts of Congress would reflect the will of the majority of the states and, at the same time, the will of the majority of the people. Sherman had tried to come up with a scheme in 1777 but got nowhere.

Now, a decade later, he and his fellow Connecticut delegate, Oliver Ellsworth, revived it.

Let representation in the lower house be proportional, he proposed to the convention on June 11, so as to reflect the will of the majority of the people. But let each state have an equal vote in the upper house, so as to express the sentiments of the majority of the states.

Before the convention came took the roll on Sherman's idea, Franklin had something he wanted to say. He had been deeply concerned by the hot exchange between Paterson and Wilson. Over the weekend, had put his thoughts on paper. Unable to stand on his feet because of a painful case of gout, Franklin handed his speech to Wilson to read for him:

"It has given me great pleasure to observe that till this point . . . our debates were carried on with great coolness," the speech said. ". . . If any thing of a contrary kind has . . . appeared, I hope it will not be repeated, for we are sent here to consult, not to contend with each other, and declarations of a fixed opinion and of determined resolution never to change it neither enlighten nor convince us."

The vote was taken. Voting for an equal vote in the Senate were Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. Voting against were Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

Sherman's motion failed.

Shortly thereafter, somewhere in Philadelphia -- neither the date nor the place are certain -- a small group of delegates in search of a strategy sat down together in a room.

Sherman and Paterson were there, along with other delegates from New Jersey, Delaware and New York. And Luther Martin was there, too, pen in hand.

On June 15, they returned to the floor of the convention as an organized opposition and presented a new proposal for a government, one which came to be called "The New Jersey Plan," the first counterproposal to Madison's Virginia Plan.

John Dickinson of Delaware turned to Madison and said, "You see the consequences of pushing things too far."

The Virginian recorded his thoughts at the bottom of a page of his notes: "The eagerness displayed by the members opposed to a national government . . . began now to produce serious anxiety for the result of the convention."NEXT MONDAY: The great confrontation