Elbridge Gerry was born on March 4, 1744 and passed away on November 23, 1814 in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
During his life time he is known as one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and The Articles of the Confederacy.
He joined forces with George Mason and Peyton Randolph, and together refused to sign the Independence until The Bill of Rights was included, he is one of the men that ensured our Bill of Rights. Gerry was also James Madison’s Vice President, which allowed him to be the fifth Vice President of the United States of America. However, Elbridge Thomas Gerry was known in the history books for gerrymandering.
In the year of 1758, he started to go to Harvard to become a doctor. At that time Harvard was the equivalent to preparation school. After graduation four years later, with a Masters degree, he began to share his views and feelings of the British Parliament that was creating havoc in the American colonies.
Since his father was in the mastery of ship trading, he joined his family business. The family business exported with their fleets of shipments and imported Spanish goods to the colonies.
Though he made his feelings known about the British Parliament before, it was not until May 1772 that Elbridge Gerry became truly into the eye of the public. Since he enjoyed the aspect of the life more than the family business’s counting house he was elected to be a representative for the General Court.
It was in this time period that he made the acquaintance of Samuel Adams. After corresponding for nearly two years, Samuel Adams felt he found a willing individual with similar political views about the British.
The British closed the Boston harbor in 1774 and Marblehead, Massachusetts became the main entry for shipments. Massachusetts joined together from all the towns and Gerry represented Marblehead in the First Provincial Congress.
This would be how Elbridge Gerry met many political individuals and some of the Founding Brothers.
John Hancock was assigned as president of the First Provincial Congress.
The group had no legal justifications under provisions of King George; it was simply voluntary in the first attempts to organize a resistance to the British and their authority on the colonies.
Since the group had raised enough stink during their time period of working together the British decided they would like to capture those they saw as rebelling tyrants and their spies as well.
It was in April of 1775 that proved to the individuals that they were getting their point across to the British. Samuel Adams and John Hancock were sleeping at the Lexington, while Elbridge Gerry had been to the Menotomy Tavern on the road to Lexington, the British began searching houses along the road, luckily Elbridge and the two others escaped and hid in the previous year’s corn that had been left standing in the field.
The rest of that year was spent building troops and collecting supplies, business connections and shipping ability through his family helped tremendously. In January of 1776, he went to Philadelphia where he became a delegate for the Second Continental Congress. The Massachusetts members included, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Thomas Chusing, and James Bowdoin.
John Adams and Elbridge Gerry traveled together and became friends, even though that Gerry had began to build a representation as being a snob and became quite unpopular. He was a small man, with a long nose and looked down that nose at the common man. His small stature was made up with a cocky attitude and resembled another John Adams of dynamite coming in small packages. One of the other problems with Elbridge Gerry was that he changed his mind very often and he lacked a sense of humor.
Even though that he lacked a sense of humor, he still enjoyed participating at the dinners, the meetings, and the social functions.
Elbridge Gerry supplied the armies and became very invaluable as a private merchant he showed his brothers how to route their ships to ensure getting around the British.
In the years of 1776 to 1780 Elbridge was a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress and later served in the years of 1783 to 1785.
During the Constitutional Convention, Gerry was a very active member and some said that he was the most active member. He helped with the support of the Great Compromise that provided equal representation of the states in Senate and representation in the House of Representatives.
During the early stages of the constitution, one of his strongest worries was that the people’s liberty and the states power would be in jeopardy. The convention adapted several of his ideas and proposals, but still he was worried about saving a document that he perceived as greatly flawed.
Finally, Elbridge Gerry offered a motion that the Bill of Rights and several other safeguard liberties were established.
One of the main issues that Elbridge Gerry felt discouraging was Article I, and section 3, that specify, “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate.” He voiced his opinion loudly about the issue saying, “We might as well put the President himself at the head of the legislature. The close intimacy that must subsist between the president and vice president makes it absolutely improper.” He later agreed that he could have accepted the provision and others he found troubling had the Constitution not given Congress such strong powers. The major fear of anarchy shadowed over Elbridge Gerry.
Once the new national government was instated, he served in Congress in the years of 1789 and 1793. The man soon surprised many of his political friends as he fully supported the new government once it was complete with The Bill of Rights. He showed complete support to Alexander Hamilton’s reports on public credit, assumption of state debts and even Hamilton’s new Bank of the United States.
Elbridge Gerry was recognized by the Federalists to be a leading champion and became a presidential elector for John Adams 1796. It was John Adams that appointed him to perform a critical role with France in the XYZ Affair in delegation.
The XYZ Affair was the diplomatic predicament that caused more problems with the relationship between the United States and France in 1798 and soon led to the Quasi- War in. Gerry faithfully remained in France to eliminate the frustrations between the two countries. One of his main reasons for staying was that he feared that if he left France there would be a bigger problem and felt a constant representation of the United States was necessary.
It was on his return that Elbridge Gerry returned to farther humiliation when the Federalists accused him of supporting the French and in 1800 changed to the Anti- Federalist party, also known as the Democratic – Republican Party. The Democratic – Republican Party welcomed him openly to their party.
When he became an unsuccessful nominee as Governor of Massachusetts in 1800, 1801, 1802, and 1803, he became finally elected the Governor of Massachusetts as a Democratic- Republican.
Then he became the reason the word gerrymandering is used even today. The word itself is a blend of his name and salamander. The word salamander is used to describe the shape of the electoral districted through Massachusetts in 1812. It was Jefferson that had created the boundaries leaving Elbridge Gerry to reluctantly sign the district into law in order to reduce any competition from electoral opponents.
The word means “to divide into political units to give special advantages to one group.” The word is also known as to describe the electoral geography itself.
The main function of gerrymandering is to maximize the effective votes of supporters and minimize the effective votes of the opponents.
In 1811 Gerry was re-elected but defeated for his support of the redistricting bill that created the word that was based on his name.
Instead, he was chosen as a Vice President to James Madison in 1813, after the Vice Presidency had remained vacant for a year of Madison’s presidency following the death of George Clinton’s death.
Like Madison believed, Gerry felt that the war was necessary to protect the liberties that had been hard work to obtain. Elbridge Gerry was supportive of Thomas Jefferson’s embargo and Madison’s foreign affairs.
Elbridge Gerry was one of the signers that I was quite shocked to discover that he had such a strong leadership and was friends with many well known Founding Brothers, but no one had ever heard of this man.
Though this man once went to school to be a doctor, in some ways he did create something healthy, he helped us ensure our freedom still exists today. Before I started the research for this essay, I never would have realized that the phrase gerrymandering came from an actual person.
Elbridge represented his country until his death, as he died while he was in office as he followed his quote and despite that many said he said one thing, but acted like another were proved wrong as he kept at least one quote’s words. Elbridge Gerry is quoted as saying, “It is the duty of every man, though he may have but one day to live, to devote that day to the good of his country.”