Who Was the "Gerry" of Gerrymandering?

Elbridge Gerry // Public Domain
Elbridge Gerry // Public Domain

This week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it has no authority to decide cases that challenge partisan gerrymandering—a practice in which political parties draw Congressional districts to increase votes in their favor. Gerrymandering shifts power away from voters to toward the parties, and the Supreme Court's decision is likely to increase the momentum.

But how, exactly, do elected officials pick and choose their voters? Their main tactic is as simple as it is unfair. By redrawing the borders of electoral districts, members of a given political party can cram the opposition’s supporters into as few precincts as possible—thus grabbing a disproportionate amount of power.

The tactic gets its name after a man who helped make the Bill of Rights happen, a one-time vice president, and the only signer of the Declaration of Independence who's buried in Washington, D.C.

“A Man of Immense Worth”

Elbridge Gerry was born on July 17, 1744. He was a native of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and both his parents were linked to the merchant business. Gerry took up the trade in 1762 and became an exporter of cod (a profitable fish upon which countless fortunes have been built).

At age 28, he won a seat on the colony’s general court, where he’d come to share Samuel Adams’s revolutionary rhetoric. In 1776, Gerry joined the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Throughout his tenure there, Gerry demanded pay raises for patriot troops, earning him the nickname “soldier’s friend.” The merchant’s integrity was widely admired, even by John Adams (who was notoriously hard to impress). “[He] is a man of immense worth,” wrote the future president. “If every man here was a Gerry, the liberties of America would be safe against the gates of Earth and Hell.”

In 1787, with the war over, Gerry took part in the Constitutional Convention. The importance of his presence cannot be understated. After all, it was he who moved to include a Bill of Rights—an idea that his colleagues shot down. Five days after the proposal, the newly completed Constitution was ready to be signed. Since a Bill of Rights was nowhere to be found, Gerry—along with just two other delegates who made it to the end of the convention—withheld his signature.

A subsequent letter to the Massachusetts State Legislature explained this choice. “It was painful for me, on a subject of such national importance, to differ from the respectable members who signed the Constitution; but conceiving, as I did, that the liberties of America were not secured by the system, it was my duty to oppose it,” Gerry stated. He may have lost that battle, but he ultimately won the war. Thanks in part to dissenters like him, a 10-amendment Bill of Rights was formally adopted on December 15, 1791.

Had he retired from politics right then and there, Elbridge Gerry might have gone down in history as the “Father of the Bill of Rights.” Instead, he’s remembered first and foremost for another, less admirable claim to fame.

Redrawing his legacy

Massachusetts made Gerry its eighth governor in 1810. By then, America had turned into a nation divided. Two rival parties now split the electorate: Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans and the late Alexander Hamilton’s Federalists.

Gerry belonged to the former group, which backed his successful re-election campaign in 1811. At the time, Democratic-Republicans represented the Massachusetts legislature’s majority party. This gave them enough votes to pull off a rather devious scheme that secured big wins in the state Senate one year later.

The plan was brilliant in its straightforwardness. Early in 1812, Democratic-Republican legislators laid out new districts which shoehorned most Federalist Party supporters into a handful of precincts.

Behind closed doors, Governor Gerry denounced this plot, calling it “highly disagreeable.” Unfortunately, that didn’t stop him from signing the proposed new districts into law anyway. The result was a monstrously slanted election season. Overall, Federalist candidates for the state Senate earned 1602 more votes than their Jeffersonian opponents did. Yet, because of these new precincts, the Democratic-Republican Party nabbed 29 seats to the Federalist’s 11.

The new state electoral map looked positively absurd. Thanks to partisan manipulation, districts now came in all manner of irregular shapes. Particularly infamous was one such division in Essex County. To the staff of The Weekly Messenger, a prominent Federalist newspaper, this squiggly precinct looked like a mythical salamander. Thus, the name “Gerrymander” was born—and it stuck.

The Federalist surge meant that Gerry was ousted from office, but Gerry’s career wasn’t quite over yet. On the contrary, it saw a swift rebound when James Madison chose him to become his second vice president the following year. But like Madison’s previous VP, Gerry didn’t last long. Death took him while he was still in office on November 23, 1814.

Those interested may find his grave in the capital city of the nation he helped create. Nestled inside Washington’s Congressional Cemetery is Elbridge Gerry’s tomb. Above it sits the first monument ever funded in full by the federal government, where visitors can read Gerry’s personal creed: “It is the duty of every man, though he may have but one day to live, to devote that day to the good of his country.”

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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8 Surprising Facts About Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1977.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1977.
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Rarely has anyone been more driven to succeed than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Austrian came to America in the 1960s and became a champion bodybuilder. Refuting advice that his accent was too thick, his body too developed, and his name too confusing, he became the biggest box office attraction in the world thanks to films like 1982’s Conan the Barbarian and 1984’s The Terminator. That would satisfy most ambitious people, but Schwarzenegger then went a step further and became governor of California in 2003.

With the “Austrian Oak” celebrating his 73rd birthday on July 30, we’re taking a look at some of the most interesting facts of his life and career.

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger went AWOL in the Austrian military.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984).20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Born July 30, 1947 near Graz, Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s family did not lead a comfortable life. Their home had no plumbing and no telephone. Schwarzenegger’s father, Gustav, was the village police chief and also a member of the Nazi party, which his son didn’t learn until much later on in his life. His father also pitted Schwarzenegger against his older brother, Meinhard, in various athletic contests, but it wasn’t until Arnold discovered bodybuilding that he found his calling.

Schwarzenegger, who made his own weights at a local metalworking shop, trained while performing a compulsory one-year tour of duty in the Austrian Army beginning in 1965. (Thanks to the balanced meals and protein offered by the military, he also gained 25 pounds.) During his time there, Schwarzenegger fled the base without permission so that he could enter a bodybuilding competition in Germany. He won, then spent seven days in military prison for the offense.

2. Arnold Schwarzenegger learned how to drive a tank.

While serving in the Austrian military, Schwarzenegger was given instruction on how to operate a tank. The vehicle apparently held some sentimental value for him, as he later acquired it and brought it to America. In 2000, he loaned the tank to the Motts Military Museum in Ohio, then had it returned to him in 2008 with plans to offer rides to disadvantaged youth in Los Angeles as a reward for working hard in school.

3. Arnold Schwarzenegger used psychological warfare to defeat his bodybuilding opponents.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron (1977).Getty Images

Schwarzenegger arrived in the United States in 1968 to pursue his bodybuilding career and enjoyed tremendous success, eventually winning seven Mr. Olympia titles. But it wasn’t solely due to his physique. In 2015, Schwarzenegger told podcast host Tim Ferris that he purposely engaged in psychological warfare to distract and shake the confidence of other competitors. He might, for example, ask a bodybuilder if they had a knee problem. “And they say, ‘Why are you asking?’” Schwarzenegger said. “I said, ‘Well, because your thighs look a little slimmer to me. I thought maybe you can’t squat or maybe there’s some problem with leg extension.’” The contestant would then feel self-conscious, and Schwarzenegger—always possessed of immense confidence—would capitalize on their insecurity, upstaging his opponent in front of the contest judges.

4. Arnold Schwarzenegger was already a millionaire before he got into acting.

Though he was successful in his bodybuilding career, Schwarzenegger wanted to have a reliable source of income beyond prize purses. He invested the money he won in competitions in California real estate, profiting immensely off the rise in property values in the 1970s. In doing so, he was able to be selective about the opportunities he chose to pursue in acting.

5. Mark Hamill told Arnold Schwarzenegger to lose his accent.

When his bodybuilding career began winding down, Schwarzenegger started looking to acting as his next challenge. Getting the title role in 1970’s Hercules in New York (where he was billed as Arnold Strong) did little to advance his ambition, as the movie was poorly-received and his heavy Austrian accent was dubbed over by an American actor. Later, after 1977’s Star Wars became a hit, Schwarzenegger asked Mark Hamill for advice. Hamill told him to lose the accent and his last name to give himself the best chance for success. Schwarzenegger obviously ignored the advice. He later said that he ultimately felt the accent was a benefit, since it made him a more distinctive commodity in Hollywood.

6. Arnold Schwarzenegger almost starred in a Hans and Franz musical.

Schwarzenegger had a sense of humor about Hans and Franz, the over-pumped Austrian bodybuilders played by Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon on Saturday Night Live. According to writer Robert Smigel, the actor was even interested in appearing in a big-screen Hans and Franz movie musical in the early 1990s. The characters would have been depicted as heading to California to pursue stardom, with Schwarzenegger appearing as both a version of himself and as the duo’s grandmother. The film was never made.

7. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s childhood home is now a museum.

As the pride of his tiny hometown of Thal, Austria, Schwarzenegger’s childhood residence is now a museum. The announcement came in 2011, with visitors able to go inside the first-floor flat and view Schwarzenegger’s old bed, a motorcycle from The Terminator, weightlifting equipment, and a copy of the desk he used while he was governor of California.

8. Arnold Schwarzenegger will be president (in a movie).

Because he was not born in America, Schwarzenegger is ineligible to run for the office of the President of the United States, which is something the actor said he would have done if he had been able. (And no, he couldn’t become vice president, either.) But there is no such law barring him from playing one in a movie. The actor will appear as the U.S. President in Kung Fury 2, a sequel to the 2014 short film parody of 1980s action movies directed by and starring David Sandberg. A release date has not yet been announced.