​March ​​26-The ​​"Birth" of ​the ​Gerrymander

​March ​26- ​

The ​​"Birth" of ​the ​Gerrymander

Gerrymandering was not its namesake’s idea, but he has gotten all the credit – and his name mispronounced in the process. But Gerry is more than “mander.” John Adams shares his thoughts on the man and his “namesake.”


As Adams explained above, “gerrymandering,” with a soft G, was named for Elbridge Gerry, with a hard G. I have yet to discover the reason for this little twist. But like the John Harvard statue, there are a few things wrong with the name.

First, there’s the name, aside  from the pronunciation. It makes it sound as though this was solely Governor Gerry’s doing. It wasn’t. The Massachusetts legislature was responsible for redrawing the electoral districts. Thanks to Adams seeming to get all the blame for the Alien and Sedition Laws, I have a slight soft spot for Massachusetts politicians getting a bum rap. 

Still, it is a slight soft spot, since, after all, Adams did sign those laws as President, so yeah, he bears some responsibility. Just not one hundred percent. Gerry didn’t craft the electoral districts. But his signature is on them. So while not one hundred percent, yeah, he bears some responsibility.

There is also the misconception that this was Gerry’s invention. I mean, the process has his name all over his it. But of course, that name wasn’t his doing either. The Governor wasn’t even the first in America to redistrict for self-preserving methods. That honor goes to Patrick Henry, who tried to keep James Madison out of the House of Representatives in 1788, by redrawing boundaries of Virginia’s largest congressional district. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. Hence, we don’t have “Henry-mandering.”

Nevertheless, with the imaginative artwork of the newspapers, and a catchy title, we now have larger recognition of this shifting practice. And Gerry’s name is indefinitely attached to the practice. But at least he has John Adams’ respect for his other qualities.​

John ​Adams

​To Benjamin Waterhouse, March 11, 1812

​I have Voted for Mr Gerry; and will vote for him this Year; and most ardently hope he will be chosen; because I believe him to be incomparably the most independent, disinterested, and capable Man for the Office that now breaths the Air of Massachusetts.

About the Author

The "founding father" of Historic Experience. Peyton is an actor-historian with over 15 years experience as a John Adams and Theodore Roosevelt interpreter, impersonator, speaker, or whatever descriptor speaks to you. Peyton Dixon is based in central New Jersey and travels across the country bringing American history to life.