For more than 200 years, candidates have been running for election in districts that were gerrymandered. The term comes from the name of the governor in Massachusetts. In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that changed the district lines for candidates. One of those contorted districts in the Boston area resembled the shape of a salamander. Thus the term “gerrymander’ was born.
Recently I learned that gerrymandering goes all the way back to the first congressional elections and involved two of the founders. One of them was James Madison, architect of the Constitution. The other was James Monroe. Both went on to become the fourth and fifth presidents of the United States.
In the summer of 1788, Virginia became the 11th state to ratify the Constitution. Governor Patrick Henry called for elections, and worked to prevent James Madison from serving in the Senate or the House of Representatives. First, he worked with members of the Virginia legislature to deny Madison a Senate seat. Back in those days, the legislature selected the U.S. Senators.
Next, he worked to deny Madison a seat in the House of Representatives. Patrick Henry convinced the Virginia Legislature to draw the Fifth District lines so they included both Madison’s home and Monroe’s home. The two friends were forced to compete against each other.
During the election, they traveled together and debated each other at various gatherings. Through hard and smart campaigning, Madison managed to defeat Monroe and then served in Congress.
There is a bright side to all of this. During the debates with Monroe, Madison realized how important a Bill of Rights would be. Some of the voters wanted such protections. So he made a campaign promise that he would support a Bill of Rights when elected to Congress. This is one campaign promise that was kept. Within six months, Madison pushed through the Bill of Rights, which was later ratified.
I suppose you can say that good things sometimes do come from districts that have been gerrymandered.