Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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GERRYMANDER (IN U. S. HISTORY). In 1814 the democratic legislature of Massachusetts proceeded to lay out the senatorial districts of the state with the single purpose of securing as many democratic senators as possible from the democratic vote. One result was, the extraordinary distortion of some of the districts, instead of the compact shape taken by a district fairly formed from contiguous territory. In one instance the district assumed a shape so distorted as of itself to suggest unfairness. The Boston Centinel published a colored map of the district, and the hand of Gilbert Stuart, the artist, completed the resemblance to some fabulous monster, to which was given the name of "the gerrymander," combining the names of the salamander and of Gerry, the democratic governor of the state. (See GERRY, ELBRIDGE.) The name, like the evil which gave rise to it, has survived to our own day. It is used either as a verb or as a noun; but it is more common to say that a party has "gerrymandered" a state than to say that it has been guilty of a "gerrymander" in a state.


—The following hypothetical description of the process of gerrymandering, though written in 1815, is still perfectly accurate: "I suppose a case. Six counties, each containing 1,000 voters, are to be formed into three senatorial districts, each to elect four senators. These districts may be so contrived that the party predominant in the legislature at the time of arranging them, whether federal or democratic, with 2,320 voters, shall have eight senators, and the other, with 3,680 voters, shall have but four, and nevertheless every elector of the whole 6,000 shall exercise the right of suffrage. I state the number of voters of each of the six counties to which I give names:

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I might have styled the parties big-endians and little-endians; the name is of no importance. Now for a display of political legerdemain—in order to enable the minority to rule the majority:

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Thus a minority of 2,320 have twice as many senators as the majority of 3,680—their candidates having been successful in the first two districts. This political arithmetic, like every other science, has its arcana. The grand and unerring rule is to make your own majorities as small and those of your adversaries as large as possible: in other words, to throw away as few votes on your own side, and as many on the other, as is in your power."


—The process has since been varied in its application to legislative and congressional districts, but without forsaking the general rule above given. All parties, and in all states, have been guilty of the practice; and where a party has succeeded in carrying an election by demonstrating an outrageous gerrymander by its opponents, it has usually proceeded to offset it by an equally outrageous gerrymander of its own. The political history of the states of New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Indiana would give abundant but unnecessary illustration. A leading politician of the last named state is said to have remarked with satisfaction that he had so fixed his state that his opponents could not carry the legislature without at least 15,000 popular majority. The most flagrant instance of gerrymandering in congressional districts is probably the sixth district of Mississippi. This remarkable district consists of all the counties of the state which touch the Mississippi river. Its length is about 300 miles and its average breadth about 20; and its peculiar shape has given it its popular name of "the shoe-string district."


—See APPORTIONMENT: 6 Hildreth's United States, 487; Parton's Caricature and other Comic Art. 316: Carey's Olive Branch, 409.


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