ELBRIDGE GERRY: Founding Father and Republican Statesman by George Athan Billias

ELBRIDGE GERRY: Founding Father and Republican Statesman

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Elbridge Gerry, the wealthy Massachusetts politician who refused to sign the final draft of the Constitution, is often pegged as a rabid Anti-Federalist and an inconsistent policy advocate. This laudatory biography shows that, on the contrary, he played a key role in effecting compromises during the Constitutional Convention and even during the ratification fight. The grounds for his concessions on states' rights--""equal representation in the Senate had been for him a quid pro quo for exclusive control over money bills by the House""--reflect the basis of his seeming inconsistency, an ""enthusiasm for economic centralization"" combined with a ""fear of political centralization."" Gerry made his fortune during the Revolutionary War as a speculator, arms procurer, and trader (he always ""placed patriotism above profits,"" adds Billias). The 1786 Shays Rebellion in his home state gave him a fear of popular uprisings and federal intervention alike, although Billias never convincingly explains why he railed all his life against ""military despotism."" In general, Gerry's rhetoric seems to bear only an oblique relationship to his activities, which included a key liaison role between moderate Federalists and moderate Republicans; he himself, though a staunch Hamiltonian on financial matters, became a Republican governor bucking New England antipathy to the War of 1812. He died ""land-poor' at 70, certainly a ""complex and important"" figure whom this rather flat-footed biography has at least begun to reappraise.

Pub Date: July 4th, 1976
Publisher: McGraw-Hill