MassMoments tells us that on this day – February 11, 1812 – the political weapon known the “gerrymander” was born with the stroke of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry’s pen. The practice of gerrymandering in America predates the invention of the term, but it was this Massachusetts law that gave rise to the “beastly” name when Governor Elbridge Gerry, a Jeffersonian Republican, signed a reapportioning act that heavily favored his own party in upcoming elections in the closely divided Bay State legislature. Whether in action, result or cartoon, the term remains both in the lexicon and in fact. Some would say there is a “salamander-looking” district – even today – in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
…in 1812, a political monster — the “Gerrymander” — was born in the Massachusetts State House. Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that created oddly-shaped voting districts in several parts of the state. The lines of these districts gave Gerry’s party an advantage in the upcoming election. An artist added a head, wings, and claws to the strange shape that was the governor’s new home district and declared it looked like a salamander. A quick-witted friend decided a better name was “Gerry-mander.” Within a month, the image appeared as a cartoon in the local papers and gerrymander, later gerrymander [with a soft “g”], entered the language. The term has referred ever since to any deliberate redrawing of voting districts to influence the outcome of an election.