Elbridge Gerry

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Elbridge Gerry
Elbridge gerry.jpg
5th Vice President of the United States
From: March 4, 1813 – November 23, 1814
President James Madison
Predecessor George Clinton
Successor Daniel D. Tompkins
Former Governor of Massachusetts
From: June 10, 1810 – June 5, 1812
Lieutenant William Gray
Predecessor Christopher Gore
Successor Caleb Strong
U.S. Representative from Massachusetts's 3rd Congressional District
From: March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1793
Predecessor none
Successor Shearjashub Bourne; Peleg Coffin Jr.
Party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Ann Thompson Gerry
Religion Episcopalian

Elbridge Gerry (July 17, 1744 - November 23, 1814) was Vice president of the United States under James Madison from 1813 to 1814. He previously served as Governor of Massachusetts, signed the Declaration of Independence, and was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. The phrase "gerrymander" was coined because a new district (in Massachusetts) had been shaped like a salamander.[1]

Early life

Elbridge Gerry was born at Marblehead, in the State of Massachusetts, July 17, 1744. He became a member of Harvard college before his fourteenth year, and on leaving the university, engaged in commercial pursuits at Marblehead, under the direction of his father. His inclination would have led him to the study of medicine; but great success attended his mercantile enterprise, and, in a few years, he found himself in the enjoyment of a competent fortune.[2]


State Representative

In May, 1772, Mr. Gerry was chosen a representative to the General Court of Massachusetts, to which office he was re-elected the following year. During this year he was appointed one of the committee of correspondence and inquiry. In June, the celebrated letters of Governor Hutchinson to persons in England were laid before the House by Mr. Adams. In the debates on this disclosure, Mr. Gerry highly distinguished himself. He was also particularly active in the scenes of 1774. He was a member of the Provincial Congress which met at Concord, and powerfully contributed to the measures of opposition, which led to the Revolution. In 1775, the new Provincial Congress, of which he was one, assembled at Cambridge. In this body, he evinced a degree of patriotic intrepidity, which was surpassed by none.

A committee of Congress, among whom were Mr. Gerry, Colonel Orne, and Colonel Hancock, had been in session in the village of Menotomy, then part of the township of Cambridge. The latter gentleman, after the close of the session, had gone to Lexington. Mr. Gerry and Mr. Orne remained at the village; the other members of the committee had dispersed. Some officers of the royal army had passed through the villages just before dusk, and the circumstance so far attracted the attention of Mr. Gerry, that he dispatched an express to Colonel Hancock, who, with Samuel Adams, was at Lexington. Mr. Gerry and Colonel Orne retired to rest, without taking the least precaution against personal exposure, and they remained quietly in their beds, until the British advance were within view of the dwelling-house. It was a beautiful night, and the polished arms of the soldiers glittered in the moon-beams, as they moved on in silence. The front passed on. When the centre were opposite the house, occupied by the committee, an officer and file of men were detached by signal, and marched towards it. The inmates, for whom they were in search, found means to escape, half dressed, into an adjoining cornfield, where they remained concealed until the troops were withdrawn. Every part of the house was searched " for the members of the rebel Congress;" even the beds in which they had lain were examined. But their property, and, among other things, a valuable watch of Mr. Gerry's, which was under his pillow, were undisturbed.

On the 17th day of June, the memorable battle of Bunker Hill was fought. The Provincial Congress was at that time in session at Watertown. Before the battle, Doctor Joseph Warren, President of the Congress, who was the companion and roommate of Mr. Gerry, communicated to him his intention of mingling in the approaching contest. In the morning, in reply to the admonitions of his friend, he uttered the well known words, "Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori," which means "It is sweet and glorious to die for one's country". The sweetness and the glory, he but too truly experienced, and died one of the earliest victims to the cause of his country's freedom.

John Adams

In 1775, Mr. Gerry proposed a law in the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, to encourage the fitting out of armed vessels, and to provide for the adjudication of prizes. This important measure was passed, and under its sanction, several of the enemy's vessels, with valuable cargoes, were captured.

Future President John Adams thought very highly of Gerry. He wrote: "The News you will learn from my very worthy Friend Gerry. He is obliged to take a Ride for his Health, as I shall be very soon, or have none. God grant he may recover it, for he is a Man of immense Worth. If every Man here was a Gerry, the Liberties of America would be safe against the Gates of Earth and Hell."[3]

Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention

In 1776, Mr. Gerry was chosen a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, in which body he shortly after took his seat. His services in this capacity were numerous and important. Having married in New York, he returned to his native State, and fixed his residence at Cambridge, a few miles from Boston. During his time in the Continental Congress, Gerry became associated with the Conway Cabal, though nothing came of it.

In 1787, Mr. Gerry was chosen a delegate to the Convention which assembled at Philadelphia, to revise the Articles of Confederation. To him there appeared strong objections to the Federal Constitution, the most notable of which was the lack of a Bill of Rights. Because of this, he declined to sign the Constitution.

But after that Constitution had gone into effect, and he was chosen a representative to Congress, he cheerfully united in its support, since it had received the sanction of the country. Other members of the Massachusetts delegation to the Convention were Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King, and Caleb Strong.


In 1797, Mr. Gerry was appointed to accompany General Pinckney and Mr. Marshall on a special mission to France. On their arrival in Paris, the tools of the government made the extraordinary demand of a large sum of money, as the condition of any negotiation. This being refused, the ridiculous attempt was made by the Directory, to excite their fears for themselves and their country. In the spring of 1798, two of the envoys, Messrs. Pinckney and Marshall, were ordered to quit the territories of France, while Mr. Gerry was invited to remain, and resume the negotiation which had been suspended. He accepted the invitation to remain, but resolutely refused to resume the negotiation.

XYZ Affair

For a more detailed treatment, see XYZ Affair.
His object in remaining was to prevent an immediate rupture with France, which, it was feared, would result from his departure. His continuance seems to have eventuated in the good of his country. "He finally saved the peace of the nation," said the late President Adams, "for he alone discovered and furnished the evidence that X. Y. and Z. were employed by Talleyrand; and he alone brought home the direct, formal, and official assurances upon which the subsequent commission proceeded, and peace was made."

Later Years

Mr. Gerry returned to America in 1798, and in 1805 was elected by the republican party, Governor of Massachusetts. In the following year he retired, but in 1810 was again chosen Chief Magistrate of that commonwealth, which office he held for the two succeeding years.

Vice Presidency and Death

In 1812, he was elected Vice-President of the United States, into which office he was inaugurated on the 4th of March, 1813. While attending to his duties at Washington, he was suddenly summoned from the scene of his earthly labors. A beautiful monument, erected at the national expense, bears the following inscription: .

"ELBRIDGE GERRY, Vice-President of the United States, who died suddenly, in this city, on his way to the Capitol, as President of the Senate, November 23rd, 1814. Aged 70.

Gerry is the only signer of the Declaration of Independence buried in the nation's capitol.[4]


An early political cartoon poking fun at the shape of the district

Elbridge Gerry is oftentimes remembered for the phrase gerrymandering, which is pronounced with a hard G.(like Gary) The word is a combination of his last name and mander, as the district looked to some to bear a resemblance to a salamander.[5]

The Elbridge Gerry House in Marblehead, Massachusetts, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.[6]


Gerry's views on slavery, like most of the Founding Fathers, was one of contempt. During the debate that took place at the convention, Gerry wondered aloud if that if slaves, who were considered property, could vote then why not other forms of property.


  • "Why should the blacks, who were property in the South, be in the rule of representation more than the cattle and horses of the North?"[7]

See also


External links