A rare and spectacular broadside satirizing one of the most toxic yet enduring features of American politics.
In 1812 Massachusetts Republicans led by Governor Elbridge Gerry engineered a radical redistricting, designed to disadvantage the Federalist majority in the upcoming state senatorial elections. The legislation was enormously successful, and in that year’s election the Republicans’ majority grew from 21-19 to 29-11… though the Federalists actually received more votes!
On viewing a map of the redistricted Essex County, one wag—the painter Gilbert Stuart, some say—combined the governor’s name with that of the mythical beast, and so the “Gerrymander” was born. Soon after the first image of the Gerrymander appeared in print, probably in the Boston Gazette of March 26. The image consists of a map of one of the two new districts in Essex County, with the constituent towns shown in outline, ornamented by fearsome jaws and claws and a demonic-looking set of wings.
Offered here is a broadside issued somewhat later, perhaps 1820 or so, apparently on the occasion of another redistricting effort. The Gerrymander woodcut is featured prominently, seemingly line-for-line identical to the original, as is a more realistic woodcut map of Essex County showing its two senatorial districts. The first column of text is reprinted from the original Boston Gazette piece of 1812, while the second column gives a “Political History” which may be original. The American Antiquarian Society suggests a date of 1813-1822.
Not in Shaw-Shoemaker. Murrell, A History of American Graphic Humor, pp. 54-60 (illus. p. 65). Phillip Lee Phillips Society Newsletter, Winter 2001- Fall 2002, p. 20 (illus. p. 18). OCLC #58784901 and 47849017 (AAS, Boston Athenaeum, and the Massachusetts and New York Historical Societies).
Untrimmed, with minor soiling and some restoration to upper margin.