Born: July 17, 1744
American statesman, Vice President of the United States, born in 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 (1774Ð76) 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 1781Ð83. 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. He refused to sign the completed Constitution,
reasons stated in his published message to the Massachusetts legislature,
entitled "Observations on the New Constitution . . . by a Columbian
Most of Gerry's objections were later met by the first 10 amendments
(Bill of Rights).
He served (1789Ð93) 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 salamander-like shape, a political maneuver then
named by his opponents and since known as a gerrymander (from his name
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