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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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GERRYMANDER (usually pronounced "jerrymander," but the g was originally pronounced hard), an American expression which has taken root in the English language, meaning to arrange election districts so as to give an unfair advantage to the party in power which passed the Redistribution Act, and so to manipulate constituencies generally, or arrange any political measure, with a view to an unfair party advantage. The word is derived from the name of the American politician Elbridge Gerry. John Fiske, in his Civil Government in the United States (1890), says that in 1812, when Gerry was governor of Massachusetts, the Democratic state legislature (in order, according to Winsor, to secure an increased representation of the Democratic party in the state senate) "redistributed the districts in such wise that the shapes of the towns forming a single district in Essex county gave to the district a somewhat dragon-like contour. This was indicated upon a map of Massachusetts which Benjamin Russell, an ardent Federalist and editor of the Centinel, hung up over the desk in his office. The painter, Gilbert Stuart, coming into the office one day and observing the uncouth figure, added with his pencil a head, wings and claws, and exclaimed, ` That will do for a salamander!' ` Better say a Gerrymander,' growled the editor; and the outlandish name, thus duly coined, soon came into general currency." It was, however, only the name that was new. Fiske (who also refers to Winsor's Memorial History of Boston, iii. 212, and Bxyce's American Commonwealth, i. 121) says that gerrymandering, as a political dodge, "seems first to have been devised in 1788, by the enemies of the Federal constitution in Virginia, in order to prevent the election of James Madison to the first Congress, and fortunately it was unsuccessful." But it was really earlier than that, and in the American colonial period political advantage was often obtained by changing county lines. In 1709 the Pennsylvania counties of Bucks, Chester and Philadelphia formed a combination for preventing the city of Philadelphia from securing its proportionate representation; and in 1732 George Burrington, royal governor of North Carolina, divided the voting precincts of the province for his own advantage. Gerry was not the originator of the Massachusetts law of 1812, which was probably drafted by Samuel Dana or by Judge Story. The law resulted in 29 seats being secured in Massachusetts by 50,164 Democratic votes, while 51,766 Federalist votes only returned II members; and Essex county, which, undivided, sent 5 Federalists to the Senate, returned 3 Democrats and 2 Federalists after being "gerrymandered," Stuart's drawing (reproduced in Fiske's book.) was contrived so as to make the back line of the creature's body form a caricature of Gerry's profile. The law of 1812 was repealed in 1813, when the Federalists had again gained control of the Massachusetts legislature.

See also Elmer C. Griffith, The Rise and Development of the Gerrymander (Chicago, 1907); John W. Dean, "History of the Gerrymander," in New England Historical and Genealogical Register, vol. xlvi. (Boston, 1892).

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Gerrymander'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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