FlaglerLive | December 6, 2009
Gerrymander the noun was first used as such in 1812, and first used as a verb in 1813. “In 1812,” according to A Memorial History of Boston (published in 1880), while Elbridge Gerry was Governor of Massachusetts, the Democratic Legislature, in order to secure an increased representation of their party in the State Senate, districted the state in such a way that the shape of the towns forming … a district in Essex County brought out a territory of regular outline. This was indicated on a map which Russell, the editor of the Continent, hung in his office. Stuart the painter, observing it, added a head, wings and claws, and exclaimed “That will do for a salamander!” “Gerrymander!” said Russell, and the word became a proverb.
John Russell Bartlett disputes the original use of the word. It wasn’t in 1812, but 1811. He writes: “In Massachusetts, for several years previous, the Federal and Democratic parties stood nearly equal. In that year the Democratic party, having a majority in the Legislature, determined to so district the State anew that those sections which gave a large number of Federal votes might be brought into one district. The result was that the Democratic party carried everything before them at the following election, and filled every office in the State, although it appeared by the votes returned that nearly two-thirds of the voters were Federalists.”