Elbridge Gerry

U.S. Vice President / State Governor

Born: 17 July 1744
Died: 23 November 1814
Birthplace: Marblehead, Massachusetts
Best known as: The early American politician who gave us the term "gerrymandering"
Elbridge Gerry was a signer of the both the Articles of Confederation and the Declaration of Independence and a major political figure of colonial Massachusetts. He died in office as vice president under James Madison, but not before inventing the political trick which became known as "gerrymandering." A graduate of Harvard College (1762), Elbridge Gerry was a shipping merchant who used his procurement skills to aid the colonists in their revolt against England's King George III. He served in the Continental Congress (1776-81) and was elected to represent Massachusetts in the House of Representatives in the new government, serving from 1789 to 1793. Gerry worked under President John Adams as a negotiator with France (1797-98), then returned to Massachusetts, where he ran unsuccessfully for governor four times (1800-1803) before finally getting elected to consecutive terms (1810 and 1811). His deepest groove in history comes from one of his last acts as the Massachusetts governor: prior to the 1812 elections he signed a bill that restructured voting districts to give his party, the Democratic-Republicans, a majority in the legislative body. Since then, carving up voting districts for political gain has been known as "gerrymandering." Like his vice presidential predecessor George Clinton, Elbridge Gerry was chosen as a vice presidential candidate in 1812 to bring the northern votes for Madison, a Virginian who'd been picked to follow Thomas Jefferson into the presidency. And, just like Clinton, Elbridge Gerry died while serving as vice president.
Extra credit: Ironically, Elbridge Gerry's wife, Ann Thompson Gerry, didn't join him in Washington, D.C. for his vice presidential term because of her ill health. Yet she outlived him by 35 years.

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