Elbridge Gerry, born in 1744, was a member of the group of the American patriots who stirred the townspeople of Boston into active opposition toward the Acts of George III, resulting in the War for Independence.
Subsequently he was a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He continued to serve in this Congress until 1786, and was elected to the First and Second Congresses after the adoption of the Federal Constitution in 1788.
Twice he was elected governor of Massachusetts, but was defeated when running for the third time in 1812. Instead, however, he was elected vice-president of the United States in that same year and served in that capacity until his death in 1814.
But despite this honorable record, Gerry’s name has come down to us in association with one dishonorable episode in his career.
While running for his third term as governor of Massachusetts, he permitted the state legislature, in accordance with customs of the times, to divide the electoral districts of the state into new districts in such manner that the strength of the opposing party was concentrated into a few districts.
A map of one of the districts thus arbitrarily created was seen by the painter, Gilbert Stuart. Stuart saw in it a resemblance to the body of an elongated animal.
With a few strokes he added a head, claws, and wings, and remarked, “That will do for a salamander.” “Better say a gerrymander,” growled the editor in whose office the map was hanging.