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Item 7027 - Elbridge Gerry Autograph Letter Signed Catalog 509 (Oct 2017)

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Description


Signer of the Declaration of Independence from Massachusetts (1744-1814) who later served as vice president under James Madison. His name entered the language as a result of his support of politically advantageous redistricting, which became known as ‘gerrymandering.’ Partial ALS signed “E. Gerry,” three pages on two adjoining sheets, 8 x 12.75, [docketed January 16, 1792]. The concluding pages of a longer letter, in part: "General Knox wishing to see me desired by a messenger I would call on him as I went to Congress; & being informed of my indisposition & that it prevented a compliance with his request, he called on me, recognized his obligations for bringing him on to his present office & entered into a confidential conversation respecting the justice policy & military operations of the present war & the clamor against it—it was a subject I well understood & I stated to him my ideas of the causes, justice & necessity of the war, of the wise conduct of the president in every respect, of the judicious measures of the War department & of the errors thereof, & of the misfortunes & defects of the military operations. I was also explicit in my ideas of what ought to be done as well to satisfy the public mind & give it a just idea of measures, as for the further prosecution & termination of the war. He listened with evident mark of great satisfaction & expressed a reliance in me to support the execution by bringing forward motions adapted to this purpose. I am happy it is in my power to do it on principles of honor; for I never will submit to the prostituted office of varnishing the fault or follies of any man however exalted powerful or popular. But it is remarkable that General Knox should place this confidence in me solely, which he declared was the case, there not being another member of either house, as he said to whom he had thus committed himself, seeing that when the constitution was put into administration every one was emulating to offer income to the President, & I was of the very few to oppose the torrent of giving up all political authority into his hands, then indeed, offices were to be conferred, now they are conferred, & the most violent friends of the President are become cool from the want of a prospect of personal reward. My determination is now as it was then to support the executive in the due discharge of his duty, & I am well disposed to keep this resolution, because I seriously think we never shall have so good a president in after this, altho I do not admit him to be infallible.

Mr. Lowell called on me this morning, by whom I learned that Miss Lowell's foot is better & Mrs. Lowell is well. He enquired for you & was happy to hear of your situation. Stocks continue to rise six per cent cash 24/9 at 60 days 25/4 3 p Cent 15/3% & deferred cash 15/11% I fancy the two last must be at 60 days also—they were 14/6 & 14/11% cash. Half shares 120% & 62 which is 441 Dollars for 200. Whole shares payable in Jany next & deleverable at ye same time -80 p Cent to 82% or 720 to 730 Dollars for 400. Duer has purchased as I am informed 500 shares paya & deleverable in Jany next at 87% p Cent which is 750 dollars a share. There is a wager by which if they rise 100 dollars a share he will make 50000 dollars & if they fall the sum he will loose as much. I cannot think it justifiable however for any person to run the risk of ruining his family at one stroke, for any chimerical prospects of a gain, for of the person of whom he purchases cannot punish the slaves or pay the difference, he runs a risk of loosing with out the chance of gaining. I prefer moving more slowly & sure. General Knox has the same idea of Gouverneur Morris as myself. He disgusted Mr. Pitt & the other British ministers to that degree that they think him a monster: & I believe the French administration will not think better of him. Miss Alexander gave me an a dance at which is curious. Some French ladies wanted to dance a cotillon & Miss Morris was with them: but was ordered by Mrs. Morris to sit down. In consequence of this Mrs. Bingham took her place & a French gentleman took ye violin & played for them after this Miss Morris rose, but the violin was returned to the musician, the French ladies & gentlemen being much offended." In fine condition, with separations along the hinge and a few small areas of paper loss to the last page.

Of all of America's founders, Elbridge Gerry was one of the most vocal opponents of creating a powerful centralized government—indeed one of "the very few to oppose the torrent of giving up all political authority into [the president's] hands." A delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, he refused to sign the Constitution on the basis of his general opposition to a strong federal government and due to its lack of a Bill of Rights. Keeping in line with this thinking, Gerry was also a major opponent to the establishment of a standing army. However, putting his fears of a standing army and a too-powerful executive aside, Gerry could at times agree with the administration's course. Such was the case with the Indian Wars. Some time before this letter was written, Congress had learned of the disastrous St. Clair expedition, in which troops led by Arthur St. Clair suffered a 97% casualty rate against a force of Miamis, Shawnees, and Delawares. As a result, Congress initiated its first investigation of the executive branch and Knox came under severe scrutiny. Gerry, as this letter indicates, was one of his supporters. Knox would be absolved of all blame in May, when the House of Representatives accepted his explanation of the defeat. A fantastic letter revealing Gerry's complex political relationships, and demonstrating his enormous respect for the nation's first commander-in-chief.

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