He made 119 speeches at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. At one point he declared: “The evils we experience come from an excess of democracy”. Like many, he went to Philadelphia to make needed adjustments to the Articles of Confederation. He would leave refusing to sign the new Constitution. Ironically, he was elected to the First Congress in 1789. This was after he recommended his State not ratify the Constitution without Amendment.
Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts is best known for the term gerrymander but that diminishes his contributions. If you think about what it means to be a conservative, Gerry personifies it. He was suspicious of any power that was not local. He believed in severely limited powers for the central government. As M.E. Bradford put it, “he had not come to Philadelphia to vote Massachusetts out of existence.”
Like most men of his time and a few today, he was not a career politician. In many ways he was reluctant and still ended up the 5th Vice President of the United States under James Madison. It is important to note that he supported John Adams for president and in 1804 was one of Jefferson’s electors. This shows he had principles.
First a Federalist and then a Democratic-Republican, Gerry was staying true to his beliefs. Surprisingly, these were the same beliefs of many in Massachusetts. He was elected governor as a Democratic-Republican who supported Thomas Jefferson. This is important history if we are to understand the evolution of increased Federal power. Early in the 19th century there were “conservatives” with influence in New England. It would not be too much of a stretch to call Elbridge Gerry a “state rights man”. Yet, today our discourse and understanding of history is so degraded this is seen as a slight by people who call themselves Republicans and even conservatives. A state’s right to do what is a common question from those who think they are clever. Gerry might have responded with, “to exist, you ignoramus”.
Source: A Worthy Company, M.E. Bradford, 1982