Elbridge Gerry

Gerry, Elbridge (gĕrˈē) [key], 1744–1814, American statesman, Vice President of the United States, b. Marblehead, Mass. He was elected (1772) to the Massachusetts General Court, where he became a follower of Samuel Adams, who enlisted him in the colonial activities preceding the American Revolution. Gerry was (1774–76) a member of the provincial congresses and of the committee of safety, and as chairman of the state committee of supply he worked energetically to procure supplies for the army gathering around Boston. In Jan., 1776, he left for Philadelphia to attend the Continental Congress, of which he was a member until 1785, although he absented himself in 1781–83. He voted for and signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. With his brothers at Marblehead, he carried on a large trade with Spain and other countries and procured articles needed by the Continental forces. After the war Gerry was an opponent of a large standing army and of a stronger central government. However, his views were modified by Shays's Rebellion, and he consented to be a delegate to the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787. There he was one of the most frequent speakers, and while realizing the need for a stronger union, he opposed those leaders who were anxious to consolidate power in the proposed central government and refused to sign the completed Constitution. Most of his objections were later met by the first 10 amendments (Bill of Rights). He served (1789–93) in the first two U.S. Congresses. In 1797, President John Adams chose him, together with C. C. Pinckney and John Marshall, for a mission to France in a new attempt to secure a recognition of U.S. rights from Talleyrand (see XYZ Affair). He was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1810 and reelected in 1811. In his second term his party, the Jeffersonians, desiring to retain their control of the state, rearranged the election districts in their favor in a grotesque salamanderlike shape, a political maneuver then named by his opponents and since known as a gerrymander (from his name and salamander). Gerry was defeated for reelection in 1812, but he was immediately nominated by the Jeffersonians for Vice President on the ticket with James Madison, and he was elected. He loyally supported the War of 1812, though his Massachusetts constituency was opposed to it. Gerry died in office.

See biography by G. A. Billias (1976).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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