Constitutional Convention Records: Elbridge Gerry

Constitutional Convention Records: Elbridge Gerry


Read about the contributions of Elbridge Gerry, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Stories about Constitutional Convention Records: Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry

    Elbridge Gerry was born in Marblehead, MA, in 1744. A graduate of Harvard, having studied medicine, he worked in his father's shipping business where he became an opponent to commerce taxes. He was elected to the Massachusetts General Court in 1772 on an anti-British platform.

    From 1776-1780 he was the Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress. He signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, but refused to sign the Constitution because it did not have a Bill of Rights. Apparently a contrary and contradictory man, he was one of those who was a good agitator for the American Revolution and a good wartime leader but who could not sit down and painstakingly take care of stabilizing a national government.

    He was one of the most vocal delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, where he voted against the new Constitution. You can see, in his own handwriting, his Motion proposing the method of electing a "supreme Executive" or president on Footnote (see  images to the right). Since his handwriting is difficult to read, I have transcribed it:

    "That the regulatures of the several states shall ballot in the [in the] following proportion for the supreme Executive, the majority of votes shall determine the Election, but in case there shall not be a Majority, the four persons having the highest votes shall be candidiates for office, & out of these the first Branch shall elect two, & the second Branch shall determine which of the two so elected shall be chief Magistrate."

    The numbers of votes for each of the states were as follows:

    New Hampshire 1, Massachusetts 3, Rhode Island 1, Connecticut 2, New York 2, New Jersey 2, Pennsylvania 3, Delaware 1, Maryland 2, Vermont 3, North Carolina 2, South Carolina 2, and Georgia 1.

    Although he did not sign the Constitution, he was a strong supporter of the new national government. During the American Revolution, America had formed a treaty with France against the British ("the enemy of an enemy is a friend of mine"); however, at the outbreak of the French Revolution, America was unwilling and unable to lend aid. Gerry was one of the three men sent on a peace mission to France in 1797, but the French Foreign Minister Talleyrand refused to receive them. Unfortunately, France resorted to requesting $250,000 just for the privilige of having the delegation received and, just as unfortunately, Gerry chose to remain in France after America refused and the delegation disbanded. Many questioned his loyalty to America but not enough, apparently, to keep him from being chosen as vice-president to James Madison in later years. He died in office in 1814.

    One of the things that made Gerry a household name was his attempt to realign political districts to favor a particular political party. Today that is known as "gerrymandering".

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