- Gerrymandering is the practice of dividing a city, state, or country into voting districts in an unfair way to enable the party in power to retain its control. This word entered the English language in 1812 to describe the redistricting of Massachusetts by its governor, Elbridge Gerry. Through that maneuver Gerry's party won fewer popular votes than the opposition, but because of the gerrymandering won almost three times as many seats.Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814) served as vice president of the United States under James Madison for a year and a half before he became ill and died. The Madison-Gerry ticket, although successful, lost the state of Massachusetts by a wide margin, proof that the people had not forgiven Gerry for juggling their districts.Gerry was born into a wealthy mercantile family at Marblehead, Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard University in 1762. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a delegate to the United States Constitutional Convention, and a member of the House of Representatives for four years. In 1797, he was sent to France, together with John Marshall and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, to discuss the sensitive problems of French privateering. Talleyrand refused to see them and confronted them with Messrs. X, Y, Z, as reports called them. When the French representatives demanded money, Marshall and Pinckney packed their bags and sailed for home, but Gerry remained until President John Adams ordered him back.Gilbert Stuart, the celebrated artist, while visiting the offices of the Boston Sentinel, saw on a wall a map of the new district, which bore the shape of a serpent. He proceeded to add a head, wings, and claws, and remarked to Benjamin Russell, the editor, "That will do for a salamander!" "Better say gerrymander," growled Russell, and so the name given this political reptile insinuated itself into the English language.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.