Little Bits of History

February 20

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 20, 2017

1472: King Christian I of Norway cannot pay his daughter’s dowry. The Orkney Islands are an archipelago off the northern tip of Scotland. The Shetland Islands are even farther north and both are part of what is today called the Northern Isles and part of the United Kingdom. The Vikings had taken over the region after the Gaels, Picts, Celts, and Scots had all tried their hand at living there. The Vikings used the islands as a way station before heading farther south to raid and plunder coastal Europe. The Norwegians took over the islands by 875 and they remained under Norway’s rule, at first via Earls of Norway and then under the King himself.

By the mid-1400s Denmark and Scotland were in a feud over taxation of the Hebrides, another group of islands off the coast of Scotland. The King of France suggested the daughter of the King of Denmark and Norway (they were united at the time) marry the son of the King of Scotland. In July 1469, Margaret (13), daughter of Christian, married James (18), son of King James II. The Norse king was a bit short of cash. Margaret’s dowry was 60,000 Guilders. Christian was to pay 10,000 Guilders and put up Orkney as collateral for the rest. But the King could only come up with 2,000 Guilders and the Shetland Islands were then also added as further collateral.

Christian was unable to come up with the money he owed to the Scottish rulers and on this day the lands were taken over by Scotland. Neither Danes nor Norwegians accepted the fact their lands were taken and they attempted to fight the annexation for many centuries. However, since the lands had been put up as collateral and the debt had not been paid, there was legal basis for the Scots taking them over. The islands remain under Scottish/British control to this day.

Margaret’s marriage to the King of Scotland was not an entirely happy one. She simply did not care for the man. She joined the marriage bed solely for the purpose of procreation and did have three sons to carry on the line. She was much more popular than her husband and she has been described as better fit to rule than the actual king. Margaret died at Stirling Castle in July 1486 at the age of 30. There were rumors her husband had poisoned her. While these were probably false, they did not endear the man to his countrymen. James III died in 1488 either in battle or while trying to escape. James IV succeed his father to the throne and is generally accepted at the most successful of all the Stewart monarchs.

A currency serves three functions: providing a means of payment, a unit of account and a store of value. Gold may be a store of value for wealth, but it is not a means of payment. You cannot pay for your groceries with it. Nor is it a unit of account. Prices of goods and services, and of financial assets, are not denominated in gold terms. – Nouriel Roubini

The payment for sins can be delayed. But they can’t be avoided. – Shawn Ryan

Everybody loves to spend money at least some of the time – because everybody loves the stuff you can buy with it. The key to the pleasure level of any transaction is the balance between the pain of the payment and the reward of the purchased object. – Jeffrey Kluger

I’ve learned that when someone does something very kind and refuses payment, giving them an engraved Swiss Army knife is never refused! – Christine Lavin

February 19

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 19, 2017

1913: Pedro Lascuráin becomes the 34th President of Mexico. He was born in Mexico City in 1856 and graduated from law school in 1880. He was the mayor of Mexico City in 1910 when Francisco Madero challenged then-President Porfirio Diaz and sparked the Mexican Revolution. This led to Madero taking over the Presidency which he held until his assassination on this day. Lascuráin had supported Madero in his rule and served as foreign secretary in his cabinet for two terms. In revolutionary times, the leadership position is often up for grabs by whomever has the power to take control. General Victoriano Huerto was that person.

Huerto used Lascuráin to convince Madero to resign his position while he was being held prisoner in the National Palace. Madero was told his life was in danger if he did not relinquish control. The 1857 Constitution listed who would take over the rule of the country should a President leave office for any reason. The vice president, the attorney general, the foreign minister, and finally the interior minister. As Huerto was getting rid of Madero, he also ousted Vice President Jose Maria Suarez and Attorney General Adolfo Valles Baca. That left Lascuráin as next in line. In order to give some semblance of authenticity to the coup d’état, Lascuráin was made President of Mexico, a post he kept for less than an hour. Some sources say only 15 minutes and some give as long as 56 minutes. Regardless, his is the shortest Presidency in the world.

Huerta called for a late night session of Congress and with his backers holding guns on them, Congress endorsed Huerta’s rise to power. Within days, both Madero and Suarez were killed. Huerta’s regime came immediately under fire and resistance dogged his every stop. He was forced to flee the country in 1914 just 17 months after his coup. He was attempting to meet with German spies when he was arrested in the US during World War I. He died while in custody. Cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver or possibly poisoning, widely suspected at the time.

Lascuráin had been offered a position in Huerta’s cabinet but wisely declined the offer. He retired from politics and began to practice law again. He became the director of the Escuela Libre de Derecho, a conservative law school in Mexico City. He worked there for sixteen years and also published many articles on commercial and civil law. He died in 1952 at the age of 96. Diosdado Cabello of Venezuela, served as President of that country for just a few hours when Hugo Chavez was taking control there, the second shortest Presidency.

Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct. – Thomas Jefferson

Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. – Ambrose Bierce

No real social change has ever been brought about without a revolution… revolution is but thought carried into action. – Emma Goldman

I love power. But it is as an artist that I love it. I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies. – Napoleon Bonaparte

February 18

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 18, 2017

1930: Pluto is discovered by Clyde Tombaugh. Tombaugh was born in 1906 in Illinois and the family moved to Kansas when he was a teenager. A hailstorm destroyed their crops, ending Clyde’s hopes for a college education. Instead, he began to build his own telescopes at home. He hand dug a pit 24 feet long and 8 feet deep, measuring 7 feet wide in which to lower his scopes to create a better environment for watching the night sky. In a temperature controlled pit free of air currents he was able to make several observations. He sent detailed drawing of Jupiter and Mars to Lowell Observatory and they offered him a job. He worked there from 1929 to 1945.

His job at the Flagstaff, Arizona observatory was to make a systematic search for a proposed trans-Neptune planet theorized by Percival Lowell and William Pickering. Tombaugh used the 13-inch astrograph (a telescope designed solely for taking pictures of space) to observe the same section of the sky several nights apart. He then used a machine to compare the sequential photographs to determine if there were any objects moving through the background stability of the night stars. He noticed such an object. He had already found many asteroids and was able to determine, due to the orbit outside Neptune, what he had discovered was the mathematically predicted planet Lowell and Pickering had hoped for. Images from January were studies and on this day, the discovery was made.

There were several names suggested for the new planet (since demoted to dwarf planet) but Venetia Burney (11-year-old schoolgirl from England) suggested the Roman god of the underworld who could make himself invisible. Due to the far flung orbit and hidden nature of the find, Pluto became the name for the first of many objects found in Kuiper belt, sometimes referred to as the “third zone” of the solar system. The Kuiper belt is disc shaped like the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and not to be confused with the Oort cloud which is spherical and surrounds the entire solar system in every direction.

Pluto is the second most massive object in the Kuiper belt, Eris being larger but far more distant. Pluto’s orbit is quite eccentric, ranging from 30 to 49 astronomical units from the sun, a difference of 3 billion kilometers from closest to farthest point. Pluto has five known moons with Charon being the largest. As our observational equipment grew ever more powerful, many more objects were discovered outside Neptune’s orbit. As more of these bodies were found, it became necessary to reassess our definition of what a planet actually was. In 2006, a consensus was agreed upon and Pluto did not meet the requirements. Therefore, it was reassigned as a dwarf planet.

I refuse to accept Pluto’s resignation as a planet. – Amy Lee

With any luck, by the time NASA’s space probe hits Pluto, you’ll be booking a spaceflight with a privately run suborbital airline. – Burt Rutan

When I was a little kid, we only knew about our nine planets. Since then, we’ve downgraded Pluto but have discovered that other solar systems and stars are common. So life is probably quite prevalent. – Buzz Aldrin

Pluto’s orbit is so elongated that it crosses the orbit of another planet. Now that’s… you’ve got no business doing that if you want to call yourself a planet. Come on, now! There’s something especially transgressive about that. – Neil deGrasse Tyson

February 17

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 17, 2017

2015:  Eighteen people are killed during a Mardi Gras parade. Mardi Gras is also called Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday. Carnival is a period in the Christian calendar, beginning after the feast of the Epiphany (aka Three Kings Day and traditionally celebrated January 6) and the day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. The period often culminates in celebrations and parades on the day before the forty days of Lent begin, a time of sacrifice and atonement. Port-au-Prince is the capital of Haiti and there is a huge following there to celebrate this holiday. A parade was held on Champ de Mars. During this parade, around 2.48 AM, a disaster struck.

Fantom was the lead singer for a Haitian hip hop band or rap kreyòl called Barikad Crew, sometimes just called BC. The band was formed in 2002 and has had several tragedies befall them. Papa K-tafalk, Deja-Voo and Kondagana started the band to create music reflective of life in the slums of Haiti. They were commercially successful when their singles were released, allowing them to finally put out an entire album in 2007. The membership of the band has altered over time. In 2008 while travelling to a concert, Papa K-tafalk, Deja-Voo and Dade were killed in a car accident. Young Cliff was killed in the January 2010 earthquake that rocked the island. On this day, Fantom was riding atop a float in the parade when he made contact with a high-voltage power line. He survived the jolt and was in stable condition after the event.

The electrifying event caused a stampede among the revelers. It was at first thought that sixteen people were killed but later reports increased the numbers. Fifteen men and three women were killed and another 78 people were injured in the hysteria following the initial accident. Video of the event can be found at You Tube.

The Prime Minister of Haiti called for three days of mourning for the 18 people killed. There was also a state funeral and vigil for the victims held on February 21. In order to honor those who lost their lives on that fateful night, another parade, this one to be held in silence would follow the same route on Champ de Mars. The President of Haiti offered his condolences and the Minister of Communications announced the government’s plan to modernize the state electricity company to keep other events like this one from happening.

There’s a thing I’ve dreamed of all my life, and I’ll be damned if it don’t look like it’s about to come true-to be King of the Zulu’s parade. After that, I’ll be ready to die. – Louis Armstrong

I love Mardi Gras. I’m a street rat. – Mitch Landrieu

Do what you do. This Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, Twelfth Night, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, St. Paddy’s Day, and every day henceforth. Just do what you do. Live out your life and your traditions on your own terms. If it offends others, so be it. That’s their problem. – Chris Rose

It has been said that a Scotchman has not seen the world until he has seen Edinburgh; and I think that I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans. – Mark Twain

February 16

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 16, 2017

1959: Fidel Castro becomes the 16th Prime Minister of Cuba. He was born in 1926 in Biran, Oriente Province, Cuba. He was eventually sent to live with a teacher in Santiago de Cuba and it was there he was baptized Catholic when he was eight. This allowed him to be educated at the La Salle boarding school in Santiago. He went on to a more prestigious Jesuit run school. He was not an excellent student and spent most of time playing sports. In 1945 he entered law school at the University of Havana and there began his interest in politics. He joined the violent gang culture of the university and decried US involvement in the Caribbean and the corruption of Cuban politics.

In June 1947, Castro joined an expedition to invade the Dominican Republic and overthrow Rafael Trujillu, but the Cuban president was pressured to stop the invasion. Castro was not arrested but when he returned to college, he took a more active leadership role in campus politics as it intersected with the government. In 1948 he married the daughter of a wealthy family and while neither family was overjoyed, the couple was treated to a three month honeymoon in New York City. Upon return to Cuba, Castro opened a law practice catering to the legal issues of the poor. The business was a financial failure. He wanted to run for Congress in the June 1952 elections under the Ortodoxo party, but leaders were fearful of his radical reputation and refused to nominate him. He was nominated by Havana’s poor to run for a seat in the House of Representatives.

While campaigning, Castro met General Fulgencio Batista, a former president who was returning to politics. They were polite but not mutually supportive. In March 1952, Batista seized power and declared himself President. Castro formed a group amongst the poor to fight Batista’s power grab. Castro declared himself a revolutionary socialist and refused the communist name. The revolt he planned was a failure and Castro was eventually captured. He acted as his own lawyer, unsuccessfully, and was imprisoned. After his release, he once again planned an overthrow of the dictator. A guerilla war ensued and eventually Batista was routed. His abdication was announced on January 1, 1959.

A provisional government was set up and Castro put himself into a position of power. While Manuel Urrutia Lleo was declared president, Castro had a great deal of power and called himself Representative of the Rebel Armed Forces of the Presidency. He set up programs to increase literacy and decrease corruption as well as ridding the government of any Batista leftover followers. One of his first acts after being made Prime Minister was to visit the US in order to open channels of communication. He met President Nixon and did not like him. He then went on a larger good will tour of the Americas. On his return home he instituted several new policies helping the impoverished and repeatedly called himself a socialist and refused the label of communist.

The revolution is a dictatorship of the exploited against the exploiters.

A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.

I am not a communist and neither is the revolutionary movement.

I find capitalism repugnant. It is filthy, it is gross, it is alienating… because it causes war, hypocrisy and competition. – all from Fidel Castro

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February 15

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 15, 2017

1493: Christopher Columbus writes an open letter discussing his discovery. The Genoese sailor had left Spain under the Crown of Castile in August 1492 to discover a faster way to China. His inaccurate mathematics led him to believe the circumference of the world was much smaller and there was a good chance he could sail westward to reach the Far East. Luckily for him, there is a large landmass in the way. He did not, as he had intended and thoroughly believed he did, land in the East Indies. Instead, he landed on several Caribbean islands in what would eventually come to be known as the Americas. After a few months of travelling in the Gulf of Mexico, he boarded the Nina on January 15, 1493, and sailed back to Spain to tell of his adventures. On February 14, they ran into a storm which damaged this ship.

Surviving the storm but unsure of reaching port, Columbus wrote an account of what they had found, calling them the “islands of the Indies”. He wrote two versions of the missive. The first in Spanish to be delivered to Luis de Santangel (a major financier of the trip) and a second in Latin was sent to Barcelona and the King and Queen. Many copies were made and translations were also made for those not able to work with the Latin or Spanish versions. The printing press had only recently been brought online and so it was possible to print out thousands of copies, making this a veritable best seller of its day.

Columbus called the region he discovered “India beyond the Ganges” which was what we might call Indonesia. They were the islands outside of the subcontinent proper, called “India within the Ganges”. The letter does not describe the voyage itself but skips right to the wonders found at the end of the journey. He stated how he renamed six of the islands he landed on and gave rather florid and not-quite-accurate descriptions of the land and people already there. He talked much about Cuba and Hispaniola making them sound perfect for future colonization. He claimed there was much gold to be found, as well.

He claimed the natives were docile and without government or religions of any kind, although they were said to have believed the Europeans were delivered from the heavens. He didn’t want to discount them completely and vouched for their ability to work, both men and women. He noted that he was told of cannibals in the region but disregarded it as a myth and assured his readers he did not see any. He finished his letter and added a postscript in Lisbon on March 4 when they put to port there to repair the ship before sailing back to Barcelona. He sent his letters ahead of him.

Riches don’t make a man rich, they only make him busier.

I saw a boy of the crew purchasing javelins of them with bits of platters and broken glass.

The Indians on board said that thence to Cuba was a voyage in their canoes of a day and a half; these being small dug-outs without a sail. Such are their canoes. I departed thence for Cuba, for by the signs the Indians made of its greatness, and of its gold and pearls, I thought that it must be Cipango.

For the execution of the voyage to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps. – all from Christopher Columbus

February 14

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 14, 2017

1983: The United American Bank (UAB) collapses. Jacob “Jake” Butcher was born in 1936 in Union County, Tennessee. His father was a general store manager and president of the bank in Union County. Jake attended the University of Tennessee and Hiwassee College and then served in the United States Marine Corps. He and his younger brother, CH Butcher, Jr., worked at their father’s bank while teenagers. The brothers began buying stock in many Tennessee banks in 1968 and by 1974 owned or controlled eight banks. Their United American Bank controlled 39% of the banking reserves in Knoxville, Tennessee.

In the late 1970s, UAB built a 27-story headquarters in Knoxville and it was, and remains, the city’s tallest building. Plaza Tower was joined by CH Butcher’s City and County Bank’s Riverview Tower, the second tallest building in the city. Jake expanded his area of influence in the early 1970s by entering politics. In 1974, he hoped to gain the Democratic Party’s nomination for Governor of Tennessee, but lost in the primary. He did get the nomination in 1978 but lost the election to Republican Lamar Alexander. There was talk of his running again in 1982, but he supported Knoxville Mayor for the race. His brother supported Alexander’s bid for a second term. Alexander won.

The 1982 World’s Fair open in Knoxville, a project which had greatly benefited from Butcher influence. It was considered to be a success with over 11 million visitors in the six months it was open. The site remains in use as a park in Knoxville. By 1982, UAB owned over half of Knoxville’s business loans and Jake’s personal net worth was listed at about $34 million. There were rumors the brothers had engaged in illegal banking practices. On November 1, 1982 the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation sent in 180 federal bank regulators to all 29 bank branches and offices owned by the brothers simultaneously to prevent transfers of funds to cover malfeasance.

The investigation revealed illegal loans, forged documents, and various other forms of fraud. On this day, the USB bank failed, the fourth largest bank failure in the country – up to that time. Seven other Butcher-controlled banks and a separate loan entity run by CH failed during the remainder of the year and three more failed in 1984. The FDIC estimated the losses connected to these collapses to be approximately $382.6 million. Jake Butcher was also found to be penniless. His assets were listed at nearly $12 million but his liabilities were $32.5 million. He pled guilty to bank fraud in 1985 and was sentences to twenty years and received parole in 1992. CH was also sent to prison and was paroled in 1993. He died in 2002. Jake is reportedly working as Toyota distributer and real estate developer near Atlanta, Georgia.

There is no evidence that more regulation makes things better. The most highly regulated industry in America is commercial banking, and that didn’t save those institutions from making terrible decisions. – Wilbur Ross

It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning. – Henry Ford

Banking was conceived in iniquity and born in sin. – Josiah Stamp

There’s a loss of faith in the banking system that for so long has been the backbone of prosperity and growth. – Lucy Powell

February 13

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 13, 2017

1867: Brussels, Belgium begins to bury a river. Brussels has historically been a Dutch-speaking city, but the emphasis has shifted since the late 19th century and today it is mostly French-speaking. It was first settled when Saint Gaugericus built a chapel on an island in the Senne River around 580. The official founding of the city was in 979 when it was sanctioned by the Duke’s presenting relics to the chapel. The Senne was a major waterway at the time. For the Dutch speakers, it was called Zenne. The river grew ever more polluted as the city grew and presented health hazards to the citizenry. It became less navigable as it was filled with garbage and decaying organic matter (offal from butchering). It flooded frequently and usually displaced working class families who lived in the neighborhoods close to it.

There were many options for trying to fix the problem. Jules Anspach, the mayor of Brussels, selected a design by Léon Suys in which the river was covered and a series of grand boulevards and public buildings were erected on the new land. This plan faced a great deal of opposition for two major reasons. The first was cost; the second was the displacement of those same working class families who were often flooded out. These objections were overcome and a British company was contracted to implement Suys’s design. After a great deal of embezzlement and other issues, the government took control over the completion of the project.

The contracts for the project were signed in June 1866 and work began on this day. Part of that time was used to expropriate the first 1,100 houses so building could commence. There were to be two sewers built, one upriver and one down, in adjacent suburbs and 1.4 miles of the river was to be covered. There were to be two 20 feet wide tunnels made of bricks and running parallel to each other with two lateral drainage pipes taking waste water away from respective sides of the street. Brussels geology caused some issues but were not insurmountable and were less daunting than some engineers had feared. The embezzlement scandal also slowed construction. Finally, on November 30, 1871 the sluice gates were ceremoniously opened and the project was complete.

Over the next two years, the boulevards created by the project were opened to traffic. The four streets offered a more efficient way to travel into the lower town and helped to revitalize the area. Part of this was due to the plan to create public buildings to attract other investment. Suys had the Brussels Stock Exchange built there, a remarkable example of metallic architecture. It replaced the often unclean open air markets and attracted private investment into building there. The plan was successful in cleaning up the river and flooding issues in the city. Other areas were still stuck with a still polluted river and flooding. Later projects were instituted to help with these problems and it is hoped the Senne River will soon be purified.

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one. – Khalil Gibran

What is a fish without a river? What is a bird without a tree to nest in? What is an Endangered Species Act without any enforcement mechanism to ensure their habitat is protected? It is nothing. – Jay Inslee

I know the joy of fishes in the river through my own joy, as I go walking along the same river. – Zhuangzi

You drown not by falling into a river, but by staying submerged in it. – Paulo Coelho

February 12

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 12, 2017

1924: George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue premieres at Aeolian Hall. Gershwin was born in Brooklyn in 1898 to Russian and Ukrainian Jewish parents. They came to America when life in Russia became precarious for Jews. George was uninterested in music until the age of ten when he attended a friend’s violin recital. While the elder Gershwin’s had bought older brother, Ira, piano lesson, it was George who spent more time at the instrument. George quit school at age 15 and became a “song plugger” (a singer or pianist who performed songs to help sheet music sales). George worked in Tin Pan Alley, earned $15 a week, and began publishing his own music with “When You Want ‘Em, You Can’t Get ‘Em, When You’ve Got ‘Em, You Don’t Want ‘Em”. By that time, he was 17 and made fifty cents for his tune.

In 1916, Gershwin began working for Aeolian Company and Standard Music Rolls in New York City both recording and arranging music. He made many, perhaps hundreds, of music rolls both under his own and assumed names. He met William Daly and they collaborated on Broadway musicals. Gershwin worked with other composers while honing his own craft. He composed both popular and classical music with Rhapsody in Blue being his first. The work was orchestrated by Ferde Grofe and Gershwin was on piano with Paul Whiteman’s concert band playing along on the debut on this day.

On November 23, 1923, an experimental classical-jazz concert was put on starring French-Canadian singer Eva Gauthier. The event was at Aeolian Hall. Whiteman asked Gershwin to write a piece for an upcoming event. Whiteman asked for a concerto piece to be played at an all-jazz concert. The planned date was for the following February and Gershwin declined due to time constraints. Although he had written similar works in the past, they had not been commercially successful. On January 3, 1924 Ira Gershwin read from the newspaper to his brother which was how George learned he was working with Whiteman to create a jazz concerto. Irving Berlin and Victor Herbert were also in on the project. It was only then the George consented to enter the evening’s performance list. With only five weeks left, he got busy.

Rhapsody in Blue combines solo piano with jazz band backup and has elements of both classical composition and the jazz influenced music of the times. The piece was handed off to Grofe for orchestration and was finally complete on February 4. Paul Whiteman’s band, Palais Royal Orchestra played at an event called An Experiment in Modern Music. It became an instant hit and sold a million copies the following year. The song also made George a star. He and his brother continued to write music together and separately. George died of a brain tumor on July 11, 1937. He was 38 years old. Rhapsody in Blue can be heard at You Tube, here.

It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer – I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise….

And there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper – the complete construction of the Rhapsody, from beginning to end. No new themes came to me, but I worked on the thematic material already in my mind and tried to conceive the composition as a whole.

I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness.

By the time I reached Boston I had a definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance. – George Gershwin, explaining how he came to write Rhapsody in Blue

February 11

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 11, 2017

1812: Elbridge Gerry signs a Massachusetts bill into law. He was born in 1744 in the then-colony of Massachusetts to a merchant shipping family in Marblehead. He was one of eleven children, five of which survived to adulthood. He entered Harvard College just before he turned fourteen and earned both a BA and MA there before joining his father in business. The family was one of the wealthiest merchants in Massachusetts by the 1770s and had connections in Spain, the West indies, and all along the North American coast. His father was active in local politics and part of the militia. Elbridge was a vocal opponent of Parliamentarians and British taxation. He was friends with Samuel Adams, John Adams, Mercy Otis Warren and others who tried to halt British imports to the colony.

Gerry’s first political position was to the General Court of the Province of Massachusetts Bay – the legislative assembly of the colony. He was involved in many portions of the Revolutionary War and made a name for himself. He served on the Second Continental Congress and was influential in getting the United States Declaration of Independence signed. He was adamant about a strong separation of state and federal government bodies and was against the original version of the US Constitution, citing the lack of a Bill of Rights. His advocacy of both personal and state rights help gain him Anti-Federalist backing. He finally agreed to ratification of the Constitution as written as long as a Bill of Rights was added and gained more support. He was elected to the inaugural House of Representatives and served two terms.

Gerry was a Democratic-Republican and ran against Caleb Strong, a moderate Federalist. He lost his bid in 1803 and decided not to run in 1804 but to remain in semi-retirement. In 1807, James Sullivan won the governorship for his party but the Federalists retook the post in 1809 with Christopher Gore. Gerry beat Gore in 1810 by a narrow margin and again in 1811. Gerry’s first year as governor was less controversial because the Federalists controlled the state senate. Republicans took control of the legislative branch in 1811 and enacted many reforms. Caleb Strong came out of retirement to run against Gerry in the next election. And the senate wrote a bill to restructure voting districts. It was this bill that was signed on this day.

The restructuring of voting districts gave a clear advantage to the Democratic-Republican Party. When the newspapers printed out the new mapped areas, it was noted the contortions of districts in the Boston area looked rather like a salamander. The portmanteau word combining the Governor’s name with the amphibian has stuck and today gerrymandering takes place worldwide. Today, with all the data available from voter databases, the redistricting can be far more precise. The process still exists and it remains questionable. The redistricting cost Gerry his job but did help to stack the legislative arm of the state government with Democratic-Republicans.

Redistricting has made a tiny slice of ideological activists the power brokers in who gets sent to Congress.- Reuters

One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s objective. Election and power are. – Cal Thomas

People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election. – Otto von Bismarck

The right of election is the very essence of the constitution. – Junius