Friday, May 16, 2014

Elbridge Gerry: Salamanderian Vice President

What are you gonna do about it, motherfucker?
At long last, it's time for another vice presidential post, friends! I picked this guy because he has a funny-looking name. Elbridge Thomas Gerry (pronounced like "Gary") was born in Massachusetts in 1744 to a family of merchants. If you were like, "WTF kind of name is Elbridge?" I will tell you! It's one of his maternal ancestors' last names or whatever. Elbie was the third of eleven children in the Gerry family, only five of whom survived to adulthood because old-timey times. He studied with tutors from a young age and went to Harvard at 14, where he would eventually earn bachelor's and a master's degree in somethingorather. In the 1760s, Gerry joined his father's business and made some $$. Or at least my notes just say "$$" right there, so I'm going to assume that's what that was supposed to mean. Elbridge's dad was involved in the local militia and politics. Presumably those contacts were useful to Elbridge as he took an interest in politics himself. He was against Parliament taxing the colonies and was in correspondence with Samuel and John Adams about such issues.

The 'Bridge got himself elected to some kind of provincial legislature, worked with his pal Sam Adams, something something a committee of correspondence and a riot over smallpox inoculations. He did some other shit, but refused a seat at the First Continental Congress because his father had recently died and he needed to stick close to home. Back in the provincial assembly, Gerry used his foreign business contacts to support the new Continental Army. He did attend the Second Continental Congress, supported the passage of the Declaration of Independence, and was one of its signatories. Good job, Elbridge Gerry, that is an important document! He didn't want too much power centralized in the federal government, got in a bit of a snit about it, and resigned from the congress over it. He came back to the epically useless Confederation Congress in 1783, though. He couldn't quit you, fledgling United States government!

In 1786, Gerry married Ann Thompson, the (much-younger) daughter of a merchant. James Monroe was his best man. They had ten kids in fourteen years, to which my mother would (awkwardly) say, "You guys need to get cable." All that old timey child-bearin' pretty much destroyed Ann's health. Nice job, Elbbzz. But enough about his dick. Gerry made money during the Revolutionary War, after which he sold his business(es?) and invested in land, including Elmwood Estate, which would become the family compound or something. In 1787, Gerry served as a representative to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. He was against the 3/5 Compromise and the popular election of Senators. Mixed bag on that one. He actually spoke out against ratification because he believe the Constitution needed to list citizens' personal liberties and refused to sign the document. At some point during state ratification proceedings, Gerry got into a shouting match with another representative and got thrown out. Pretty badass.

"SRSLY, you're not going to include a bill of rights?"
With fellow dissenters George Mason and Edmund Randolph at the National Constitution Center.** Source.
Gerry was nominated as an Anti-Federalist candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in 1788, but was defeated by one big-signatured fellow by the name of John Hancock. Gerry did, however, get nominated and actually served two terms in the very first sessions of the U.S. House of Representatives. From the House, he helped shape the Bill of Rights. He was big on the Second Amendment, the militia-having part, because he was nervous about standing armies. He may or may not have* accused such an institution as being dangerously similar to a "standing member," which shows you that the right to bear arms has always been about penises. Gerry was a supporter of Alexander Hamilton, who, as we know, is on the ten (What have you done?).

In 1792, Gerry decided to take a break from politics to go home to Massachusetts and take care of his approximately 134 children and ailing wife. He did serve as a presidential elector for his old colleague John Adams in 1796 and stayed strategically friendly with both Adams and Jefferson. In 1797, Adams sent Gerry to France as part of a diplomatic mission to Talleyrand. THIS TRIP DID NOT GO WELL (See: XYZ Affair). Gerry was temporarily tarnished by the whole debacle. In 1800, Gerry officially joined the Democratic-Republican Party, but he couldn't get elected to governor of Massachusetts (again) and went back into semi-retirement since by now his brother had somehow managed to fuck up the whole family's finances.

If anything, that's like, a dragon or some shit.
Gerry was finally elected the state's governor in 1810, despite claims that he was a "French partizan." Things got dicey in 1812 when the Republican-controlled state legislature redrew districts to benefit its own party. Detractors (who are bad at animals) claimed the boundaries of one district were so nonsensical and partisan, that it resembled a salamander, attributed the scandal to the leader of the state's party, and the word "Gerrymander" was born. Over time the voiced velar stop (/g/) of Gerry's last name shifted to a voiced alveo-palatal affricate (/dʒ/) in the portmanteau's pronunciation. That's some Parks & Rec shit. Also there was that whole "War of 1812" situation heating up, Governor Gerry tried to sue some Federalist newspapers for libel, and he lost reelection in 1812, though his compatriots in the legislature gained from their own line-drawing and recaptured majorities.

At this time, because of his shattered finances, Gerry asked President James Madison for a federal position to help support his family. He was chosen as Madison's running mate for the 1812 election, though he really was second choice. Gerry was considered a safe choice for vice president because he would appeal to Northern voters and would not threaten Monroe's position as Madison's heir apparent. Of course, Madison and Gerry were elected, and Elbridge spent his short term in office worrying about Federalist newspapers and pulling partisan moves during the War of 1812. Unfortunately, while working at the Capitol one day in 1814, Gerry suddenly fell ill and died that night. His sickly wife outlived him. He had paid off his brother's debts with his VP salary, so he was only able to leave his family the land they owned. Gerry was interred in Washington, D.C. and is the only signer of the Declaration to be buried in the District. One of his sons and a grandson would ultimately serve in Congress, but Gerry's greatest legacy is being the eponym for a shady election tactic.

*Too lazy to verify if this quote is real.
**Guys, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo (The Both) tell a great story about when they played Aimee's "Save Me" for some awards ceremony for Hillary Clinton at the National Constitution Center WHICH IS WHERE THESE STATUES ARE FROM. Why aren't you listening to The Both by The Both right now on repeat like I have been for a couple of weeks? We saw them last weekend here in Minneapolis and I'm not saying that I want to join them in a non-platonic musical/comedy trio or anything, but I'm not not saying that, either.

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