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calendar   Friday - February 12, 2016

On This Day In History: February 11

1534: On what would be February 11th by the current calendar, An egotistical tyrant, murderer, lecher, and glory hound removes the right of Christian priests to appeal his decisions to Rome, effectively breaking with the Papacy and declaring himself head of the Church of England. God in Heaven, I am Protestant and I despise writing about that inflated bloodbag. The best I can say is that many of his successors exercised their powers far more responsibly than trying to stamp their names on any surface they could get their hands on. Another reason why I basically hate all the Tudors except for Elizabeth.....


1812:  The Gerrymander was born. This species of monster has been one of the great banes of liberty to have originated in the US since the fall of Britain’s military occupation over the Atlantic Seaboard. Long after North America basically tamed most of the animals that were hostile to human existence on the continent, this thing has not only remained strong but has if anything grown stronger and been exported off the continent. Bad mathematics and cartography helps to enable bad representation, which makes it a lot easier for things that are even worse to come to the fore. But whil a lot of people have heard of this term and a fair number of people know the name of the man who provided half the word Gerrymander, not many people know the detailed story behind it. Which I think is a shame, because I think knowing that story helps us understand how this mess- and other abuses- come to be. As well as how new, novel ones will be invented. These are threats to any free republic, constitution, or democracy just like the headhackers are, so I think it is worth discussing it.
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The reason this day stands as the commemoration date one is because it is the anniversary of when Governor Elbridge Gerry (G’s pronounced like “G-uh") put his signature to a proposal for redistricting the state’s electoral districts to bring them into compliance with the US Constitution. That much was a fair and necessary objective for a new state in a new Republic. But as it turns out, the proposal was drafted by Gerry’s political allies (and cronies) in the Massachusetts state legislature. And- tell me if you’ve heard this before- in a few weeks the people of Massachusetts came to learn that compliance with the Constitution was not the only motive behind this particular bit of mapping. But the full story behind it, the political climate that saw it arise, and the man who penned his John Hancock to it go back years.

Gerry was one of the truly original Founding Fathers, serving on virtually every Patriot committee you could name in the Commonwealth years before the outbreak of the Revolution. He has the distinction of sending the colonial militia’s weapons stockpiles to Concord, and having the Redcoats march past him when they tried to confiscate them there. Throughout the Revolutionary War he became known for being one of the most prominent and honest suppliers of the Continental cause’s armed forces (and trust me when I say that supply was probably THE great struggle of the Revolution), but also one of the more statist for his early support of price controls. He served in the Second Continental Congress throughout the war, and was probably one of the key unsung figures in pushing the Declaration of Independence into approval.far more people know the name of this than they know the story of how it came around. Chances are, even those who know the basic story of what this strategy is and its’ first use do not know either the specifics of it, or about the man whose name forms the root of it. Governor Elbridge Gerry appended his signature to a proposal drafted by his political allies (and cronies) Massachusetts state. After the war he entered into state politics back home, and was called back for the Constitutional Convention.


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Ironically given his most visible linguistic legacy, he spent most of his career suspicious of partisan politics and political parties- not unlike most of the Founders-. However, he was even more suspicious of the power of central government vis-ai-vis the local and state levels. Which is why he was one of the few delegates to reject the final draft of the Constitution, and as the party lines deepened he turned against the Hamiltonian Federalists in favor of Jefferson’s budding Democratic-Republicans. But this is also what led him to his role in this mess. Throughout the final years of the 18th century Massachusetts politics followed those of the nation at large in dividing between the two camps just as Elbridge was climbing the rungs of state politics before eventually getting into the Federal House of Representatives. But the final straw came not domestically, but overseas. He was one of the several sent as part of a commission to France, where they ran right into the infamous Talleyrand, who followed the finest traditions of the Ancien Regime by trying to make a bribe shakedown. Everybody refused as talks stalemated, but Talleyrand believed Gerry was the most pliable- or weakest- of the American mission. So he basically isolated Gerry for talks and froze out the rest. While his compatriots left for home, Gerry was kept there under threat of a war declaration if he left. Across the ocean it had already come to something like that; the correspondence of Gerry’s co-workers and continued French attacks on American shipping led to a Quasi-War, equaled by only a few similar conflicts in American history.

But “Weak link” or not, Gerry never gave in or broke when across the table with the most powerful diplomat in the world. Eventually, the French government got wind of what Talleyrand had done and called him to task for it, and once Napoleon took the reigns of power a peace was hashed out for the bitter naval war. Gerry went home unbowed, and claiming credit as the reason why there was never any declared state of war between the French and US governments through the bloody months of naval skirmishing and marine landings. He only found out when he got home that he was being branded a quisling or collaborator, mostly by the Federalists. He was accused of having been a tool of Talleyrand and was quite literally burned in effigy. Ultimately his own correspondence was published which cleared his name, but it would not clear the air. Understandably enraged at being labeled a traitor, Gerry openly declared himself for the Democratic-Republicans and the newly partisan grievances he had paved the way for the Gerrymander’s birth.

Gerry had a bit of bad luck; as the 19th century began and a Jeffersonian tide started to wash the Federalists away across the Union he had the bad luck of being resident to one fo the few states where the Federalists were actually gaining ground. Federalists dominated the governorship and legislature for the first decade of the new century, the Democratic-Republicans in the state were so divided Gerry could only count on the support of some of them, and just as the political troubles were mounting his brother’s financial malfeasance meant that Gerry had to guarantee a loan. It would wind up ruining him financially for the rest of his life, and so he stood out of politics. But then in 1810, he stood for election as Governor against the sitting Federalist. After a bitter and nasty fight that aired old laundry and personal accusations, he triumphed. For the first term in office, Gerry ruled as Governor with a Federalist state legislature and judiciary. So he kept his head down and charted a moderate course. But when he faced a rematch for the Governor’s seat the next year, he won again and saw a legislature dominated by fellow Dem-Reps be sworn in. Now he had a far freer hand, and he decided to use it in a way that we are still paying for.

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Posted by Turtler   United States  on 02/12/2016 at 07:37 AM   
Filed Under: • HistoryIranMiddle-EastMiscellaneousPhilosophyPolitics •  
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Oh, and here's some kind of visitor flag counter thingy. Hey, all the cool blogs have one, so I should too. The Visitors Online thingy up at the top doesn't count anything, but it looks neat. It had better, since I paid actual money for it.
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