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A Quick Guide to Elbridge Gerry

A Quick Guide to Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry was one of the founding fathers of the United States and a pivotal figure in American history. He was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, served in the United States House of Representatives, and was the fifth Vice President of the United States. Despite his many achievements, Gerry’s legacy is often overshadowed by his controversial role in the redistricting of Massachusetts, a process that became known as gerrymandering. Nonetheless, Gerry’s life and accomplishments are worth examining in detail.

Early Life and Education

Elbridge Gerry was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, on July 17, 1744, into a wealthy family. His parents were Thomas Gerry, a merchant, and Elizabeth Greenleaf Gerry. Gerry was one of twelve siblings. He received his early education at home and attended Harvard College, where he graduated in 1762. After college, Gerry joined his father’s business and became a successful merchant.

Political Career

Gerry’s political career began in 1772 when he was elected to the Massachusetts General Court. He quickly became involved in the Patriot movement and played an important role in the agitation against British policies in the lead up to the American Revolution. In 1776, Gerry was appointed to the Continental Congress, where he signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. Gerry’s signature was particularly large and bold, and today, it is easy to spot on the document. 

After the war, Gerry continued to be involved in politics. He was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and in 1787, he was appointed as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Gerry was one of the “anti-Federalists” at the convention, and he played an important role in securing the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the final version of the Constitution. However, he ultimately refused to sign the Constitution itself, feeling that it gave too much power to the federal government at the expense of the states.

In 1789, Gerry was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party. He served in the House for three years before being appointed by President James Madison as Vice President in 1813. Gerry served as Vice President until his death in 1814.

Redistricting and Gerrymandering

Gerry’s most controversial legacy is his role in the redistricting of Massachusetts in the early 19th century. In 1811, Gerry was serving as governor of Massachusetts when his party, the Democratic-Republicans, redrew the state’s electoral districts. The new districts were designed to benefit the Democratic-Republicans by concentrating their opponents in a few districts and spreading their own supporters across the others.

The most famous of these districts was the 1812 Essex County district, which was shaped like a salamander. The district was so unusual that it became known as a “gerrymander,” a term that is still used today to describe the practice of manipulating electoral districts for political gain.

Many people criticized Gerry’s role in the redistricting process. His opponents accused him of    sacrificing the principle of fair representation in order to gain political advantage. Even within his own party, some criticized Gerry for creating districts that were so blatantly partisan.


Despite the controversy surrounding his role in redistricting, Elbridge Gerry’s legacy is a positive one. He was deeply committed to the principles of liberty and democracy, and he played an important role in the early years of American history. Gerry’s commitment to the Bill of Rights and his opposition to centralized power helped shape the American political system.

Furthermore, Gerry’s influence can still be seen in the workings of American democracy today. The use of gerrymandering to manipulate electoral districts for political gain is still a common practice, and Gerry’s name has become synonymous with the practice. Nonetheless, many people are working to reform the process of redistricting in order to promote fair and equal representation, and Gerry’s legacy serves as a reminder of the importance of this work.

In conclusion, Elbridge Gerry was a remarkable figure in American history. He was a man of great intelligence and conviction who played an important role in the birth of the United States. While his legacy has been somewhat obscured by his role in redistricting, his commitment to democracy and his belief in the principles of liberty and equality continue to inspire us today.

Founding Fathers: Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry was a delegate for Massachusetts to the Continental Congress. He signed the Declaration of Independence, but was opposed to the Constitution and did not sign that. In 1810, Gerry was elected Governor of Massachusetts.

Here, he became well known for creating electoral districts for political gain, which is now known as “gerrymandering”. Elbridge Gerry was Vice President under James Madison and supported the War of 1812.

Early Life of Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry was born on July 17, 1744, in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Elbridge Gerry’s parents were Thomas Gerry, a merchant, and Elizabeth Greenleaf. Gerry graduated from Harvard in 1762 and afterward entered his father’s business. Between 1772 and 1773, Gerry was a member of the Massachusetts legislature and General Court, where he served on a Committee of Correspondence.

He was also a member of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress between 1774 and 1775. Between 1776 and 1780, he was also a delegate to the Continental Congress which was held in Philadelphia. Here he was an early advocate of the colonies’ independence from Great Britain.

Political Career of Elbridge Gerry

Gerry was also a member of Congress from 1783 to 1985 under the Articles of Confederation as well as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 in Philadelphia.

He was a very outspoken challenger of the United States Constitution is ratified, worrying that the document might give way to monarchical or aristocratic rule. However, Jerry gave the Constitution his full support after its ratification, assisting in the drafting of the Bill of Rights and acting as a representative in

Congress between 1789 and 1793 for two terms

In 1797, President John Adams sent Elbridge Gerry, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and John Marshall to France on the job that resulted in the XYZ Affair. This mission was an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate some sort of treaty to settle many long-standing disputes.

The mission ended early due to the dishonest treatment of the American negotiators by Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, the French foreign minister, and his subordinates. After the French agents requested bribes, Pinckney and Marshall departed in disgust.

However, Elbridge Gerry stayed in Paris with the vain hope that Talleyrand might give him, a well-known friend of France, terms to a treaty that had been refused to Pinckney and Marshall.

This act brought a storm of censure and abuse from Federalist partisans, from which Elbridge Gerry never cleared himself fully.

Elbridge as Governor of Massachusetts

After four tries to win election as governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry finally succeeded in 1810 and was then reelected in 1811. Gerry’s administration was known for its use of what became later known as gerrymandering, where he would divide the electoral districts for partisan political advantage.

Elbridge as Vice President

In 1812 Elbridge Gerry, a strong supporter of the War of 1812 against Great Britain, was elected vice president of the United States with Madison on the Jeffersonian Republican ticket.

In 1813, while presiding over the Senate, Elbridge Gerry, who along with Madison was not in good health, refused to yield his chair at the end of the legislative session, thus preventing William Giles, who was a Virginia Senator and a promoter of peace with Britain, from being president pro tempore of the Senate and succeeding the president in accordance to Presidential Succession Act of 1792.

On his way to the Senate, Elbridge Gerry suffered a hemorrhage of the lungs and died on November 23, 1814.