This month marks the bicentennial anniversary of the first appearance of a monster that is still with us today: the Gerry-Mander, first published in a Salem broadside in January of 1812. Very Scary.
The background for the appearance of the Gerry-Mander (a play on salamander) is the Massachusetts State Senate Election of 1812. The two political parties at the time, the Jeffersonian Republicans and Federalists, were deeply divided: politically, culturally, socially. Here in Salem, members of the opposing parties didn’t even talk to each other, and they had erected separate assembly houses in the previous decade so they certainly didn’t dance with each other either. The Jeffersonian Republicans pushed through the Massachusetts Legislature a bill creating electoral districts which gave them a distinct advantage in the upcoming election and Governor Gerry (somewhat reluctantly) signed the bill into law. In protest, the Federalists hired engraver Elkanah Tisdale to create a caricature of the new Essex district, and thus the “Gerry-Mander” was born. He (or she?) appeared in several Massachusetts newspapers (including the Boston Gazette) over the next few months, and reappeared regularly across the US–in different incarnations– over the next 200 years. Governor Gerry went on to become James Madison’s Vice-President.
A cropped version, and one with the carved-out Essex County towns filled in.
January 24th, 2012 at 11:18 am
Very informative post Donna. We are very familiar in Ireland with that term “Gerrymandering” as it was a big problem in Northern Ireland during the troubles, however I was not aware of its origin until now. Thank you!
March 5th, 2012 at 1:34 pm
[…] historian Donna Seger’s excellent blog, Streets of Salem, a short history of the origins of the word Gerry-Mander in a cartoon of a sinister salamander that […]