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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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Elbridge Gerry

GERRY, Elbridge, statesman, born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, 17 July, 1744; died in Washington, D. C., 23 November, 1814. His father, Thomas Gerry, came from Newton, England, to this country in 1730, and established himself as a merchant in Marblehead. Elbridge was graduated at Harvard in 1765, and the subject for master's degree assigned to his class at the annual commencement afforded him an opportunity, under the guise of discussing the right of a people to evade ruinous innovations in trade and revenue laws, to give his views on the principles of the stamp-act and the other oppressive revenue measures that had been lately enacted by the British government. Gerry, on leaving College, entered commercial life, and in a short time had amassed a considerable fortune. His public career began in 1773, when he sat in the general court of Massachusetts bay, as the representative of Marblehead, and from this time until his death in 1814 he was, with short interruptions, in continuous public life. In 1773 the assembly appointed a committee of correspondence, consisting of Hancock, Orne, and Gerry, whose duty it should be to keep informed on all governmental acts relative to the British colonies, and communicate with the sister colonies thereupon. Gerry was an active member of this committee, and warmly supported Samuel Adams in his dealings with Governor Hutchinson. In 1774, despite the prohibitory order of Governor Gage, an assembly election took place, and the delegates convened at Salem, but adjourned first to Concord and then to Cambridge. The members organized as a provincial congress, and held sessions thereafter annually at Cambridge and Watertown. Gerry was a conspicuous member of this revolutionary body, and as a committee of safety and supplies attended to the collection of ammunition and provisions for the militia. He drafted a bill, which was adopted in 1775, providing for the fitting out of privateers and the establishment of an admiralty court for the adjudication of prizes. The putting into effect of this measure was the initiatory step toward a national navy. In January, 1776, Mr. Gerry was chosen a delegate to the Continental congress. Associated with him on the Massachusetts delegation were Hancock, the Adamses, and Paine. He acted on the standing committee on the treasury, on that for providing the means of furnishing supplies to the army, on the issue of bills of credit, on the best methods of conducting the business of legislation in congress, and others. The committee on supplies, consisting of Sherman, Gerry, and Lewis, attended Washington at his headquarters near New York, to inquire into the necessities of the troops and the best means of supplying their wants, and as a result of their mission some measures of reform in regard to furnishing clothing, in the system of appointments and promotions, in the enlistment of the militia, in the administration of the quartermaster-general's department, and in the plan of hospital establishments, were approved by congress. Mr. Gerry early advocated the scheme for declaring the independence of the colonies, and, when the proposition was before congress, promoted the passage of the measure with all his powers of argument, seconding at the final stages the motion for adoption, and affixing his signature on its enactment. Congress convened at Philadelphia, 4 March, 1777, and Gerry attended the entire session, during which he reported a resolution authorizing the seizure of private property on the presentation of certificates of value, as a substitute for the wretched system of supply, which had thrown on the country a flood of depreciating currency. The congress, having little appreciation of the embarrassments of the army, sent out a committee, composed of Morris, Gerry, and Jones, to examine Washington at his post on the Schuykill with regard to the prosecution of a winter campaign to make up for the losses of the summer and autumn" of 1777. Their report expressed some dissatisfaction, conveying the idea that a more vigorous exertion of the military power might be made. The plottings of the "Conway cabal" had, without doubt, an effect upon the congressional committee, but it is improbable that they contemplated lending themselves to the schemes for Washington's overthrow. The Massachusetts members did not escape from the charge of complicity, but Gerry's correspondence shows that the imputation was unfounded in his ease, although he cherished resentment at the opposition of the army to congressional promotions. Mr. Gerry is credited with having, during this session, devised the plan of operations for Gates's campaign against Burgoyne. Negotiations for a treaty of peace were opened in the spring of 1779, and, at the instigation of Mr. Gerry, the protection of the fishery rights was made a stipulated article for a settlement. It was while he was chairman of the treasury committee in the congress of 1780, to which body he had been elected for the fifth time in November, 1779, that Mr. Gerry came into the conflict with Benedict Arnold, whose accounts he overhauled in a manner highly displeasing to that officer. Mr. Gerry's sensitiveness as to the rights of a delegate from a sovereign state involved him in a difficulty with congress in February, 1780, which led him to vacate his seat in that body, holding that the rights of his state had been infringed in a refusal of congress to order the yeas and nays on a question of order raised by him. He laid his complaint before the legislature, which passed resolutions of protest. This incident suspended Mr. Gerry's congressional service for about three years. In 1783, on a joint ballot in the general court, he was recalled to the position of a representative in congress. Meanwhile his constituents had given him their suffrages for state senator and simultaneously for representative, there being at that time no provision against plurality of office. He undertook only the duty of representing his town in the lower house, declining senatorial service. The congress to which Gerry was now elected concluded the treaty of peace with Great Britain, and he was on the committee to arrange the matter. The states at that time regarded their delegates in the light of ministers from independent sovereignties, and the Massachusetts legislature required from Mr. Gerry a fortnightly report of his proceedings. The proposition to organize the Society of the Cincinnati met with the determined opposition of Gerry, who lost no opportunity in public and private of pointing out the dangerous character of such an unrepublican institution. A riot in Philadelphia in 1783 caused a removal of congress to Princeton in June of that year. This event brought up the plan of a federal City, and two committees, with Gerry as chairman of each, were appointed to examine sites. In April, 1785, Mr. Gerry's constituents repeated their performance of designating him for two elective offices, while he still held his place in congress. His term there expired in September, 1785, and he accepted a seat in the popular branch of the legislature of his state. The sentiment of Massachusetts as to a constitutional convention as expressed by the legislature in 1785 was in favor of establishing "the Federal government on a firm basis, and to perfect the Union," declaring that "the present powers of congress of the United States, as contained in the articles of confederation, are not fully adequate to the great purposes they were originally designed to effect." These resolutions were given to Gerry, Holten, and King, in the form of instructions, but they construed them as merely advisory, and opposed every move in the congress of 1785 toward giving enlarged powers to the National government. They wrote a letter to Governor Bowdoin in justification of their action, saying that "any alteration of the confederation is premature: the grant of commercial power should be temporary; . . . the cry for more power in congress comes especially from those whose views are extended to an aristocracy." Governor Bowdoin replied to the effect that if it was hazardous to intrust congress with powers necessary to its well-being, the Union could not long subsist. The letters of Gerry and King being concurred in by Samuel Adams, then president, of the senate, stayed any demonstration of disapproval by the general court. Despite this antagonistic attitude, Mr. Gerry was elected delegate to the convention. He took part in all its deliberations, and succeeded in introducing into the constitution some of his propositions, and his energies were directed throughout to the prevention of the incorporation in the system of any features which he regarded as monarchical or tending to aristocracy. At the final moment, regardless of the pleadings of Washington and Franklin. Gerry, Randolph, and Mason withheld their assent to the constitution as adopted by the convention. Gerry returned to Massachusetts to seek an election to the State federal convention, but was defeated by Francis Dana. The convention extended to him an invitation to attend its sessions, for the purpose of answering questions of fact in regard to the constitution, but at the outset he created a commotion in the assembly by offering in writing a reply to a query, some members thinking that he sought to interject an argument under the guise of answering a question. The letter which caused the trouble, together with an account of the scene in the convention, taken from the "Massachusetts Sentinel," is printed in the edition of the debates and proceedings of the convention, published by the legislature in 1856. Mr. Gerry stated eight objections to the constitution, all of which he could waive, were it not that the National legislature had general power to make " necessary and proper" laws, to raise "armies and money" without limit, and to establish "a star chamber as to civil cases." Weary of sitting in a body to which he had not been chosen, he soon withdrew. After the adoption of the constitution, Gerry was in accord with the Republican party, which elected him to the 1st National congress in 1789, and re-elected him in 1791. In 1797 President Adams nominated him as a colleague with Marshall and Pinckney to go on a mission to France to obtain amends for French depredations on our commerce. In France they suffered many indignities at the hands of Talleyrand, who sent mysterious agents with disgraceful propositions, involving bribery and humiliation. Marshall and Pinckney soon became disgusted, and sailed for home, but Gerry thought it his duty to hold on, in the hope of preventing a rupture with France. (See ADAMS, JOHN.) The affair aroused great indignation in the United States, and his recall was soon ordered. In 1800 the Republican party nominated Mr. Gerry for governor, and in a close election he was defeated by Caleb Strong. In 1810 his efforts for the same office were rewarded with success, and he served for two terms. His administration was at a period of high party spirit, and he put into full effect the Jeffersonian principles of civil service. The incumbents of the civil offices were speedily removed from office, and their places filled by sympathizers with the Republican party, causing great outcry in the opposition papers. "The Federal press became so vituperative in its denunciations that Governor Gerry resorted to the extraordinary step of making the matter the subject of a special message to the legislature, transmitting at the same time a report of the attorney- and solicitor-general regarding the libellous articles. The message caused great excitement and the opposition responded by charging the governor with usurping his powers. The disaffection created by these proceedings, and the unpopularity occasioned by the partisan redistricting of the state, which was called by the Federalists the "Gerrymander," effected an overturn at the next election, the Federalists gaining control of the house, and electing Caleb Strong governor. The ex-governor's devotion and services to the Republican party were rewarded in 1812 with the office of vice-president, and he held this office at the time of his death, which occurred while he was on his way to the capitol, He married Ann, daughter of Charles Thomson, secretary of congress, who, with three sons and six daughters, survived him. Mr. Gerry's career, though characterized by devotion to party, and such episodes as the refusal to assent to a vote of thanks to Hancock on his retirement from the presidency of congress, the opposition to the Society of the Cincinnati, and the unhappy French mission, was honorable and useful ; and his patriotic services in the Revolutionary struggle entitle him to a high place among the statesmen of the early days of the republic. A monument was erected to his memory in the congressional burial-ground at Washington by the government. (See accompanying illustration.) His messages to the legislature have been published as follows: "Speech of His Excellency the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to both Houses of the Legislature, at the Session commencing on the Second Wednesday in January, 1812" (Boston, 1811)" "Legislature of Massachusetts. Speech, June 7, 1811. At twelve o'clock, His Excellency the Governor, attended by His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor and the Honorable Council (completely attired in cloth of American manufacture), met the two Branches of the Legislature" (Boston, 1811); "Message from His Excellency the Governor, February 27, 1812, regarding Libellous Articles" (Boston, 1812). See his life by James T. Austin (2 vols., Boston, 1828-'9) ; and a sketch, by Henry D. Gilpin, in Sanderson's "Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence."--His grandson, Elbridge Thomas, lawyer, born in New York City, 25 December 1837, was graduated at Columbia in 1857, studied law with William Curtis Noyes, and afterward became a partner in the firm of Noyes and Tracy. On the death of Mr. Noyes, in 1864, he formed a partnership with William F. Allen and Benjamin B. Abbott, which was subsequently dissolved. He has attained note at the bar, and owns one of the finest law libraries in the country, numbering 12,000 volumes. He became counsel of the Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals in 1870, took an active part in the formation of the Society for the prevention of cruelty to children in 1874, and in 1879 was elected its president. Mr. Gerry was a member of the State constitutional convention in 1867. He was chosen commodore of the New York yacht club in 1886, and re-elected in 1887.

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