Founding Fathers Black Hills

Next up: Gerry v. Wilson


This week’s Founding Fathers competition pits Elbridge Gerry, the signer who gave us the political term “gerrymandering,” against James Wilson, the signer who some historians call the “Architect of the U.S. Constitution.”

Gerry was just 32 when he signed the Declaration of Independence, which he probably did some time in the fall of 1776, since he missed the official signing ceremony on Aug. 2, 1776. He had a contentious congressional career that was capped by an even more unpopular term as governor of Massachusetts (which is where the unfortunate practice of gerrymandering began). While he was the chief executive of the state, he backed a plan to redraw legislative districts to favor his political party. A political cartoonist thought the new district’s creative borders resembled nothing so much as a salamander and, hence, the term “gerrymander” was born.

Gerry somehow managed to become vice president under James Madison in 1812 but he died at age 71 while in office, so broke that Congress had to pick up the tab for his Washington, D.C., funeral.

Wilson, of Pennsylvania,  was one year older than Gerry — 33 — when he signed the Declaration

.James Wilson

While he was considerably better liked than Gerry by his political cronies, he had even worse financial sense. He managed to be a fine lawyer, a signer of both the Declaration and the U.S. Constitution, and a Supreme Court justice who ended up in debtor’s prison at the end of his life thanks to bad judgment and land speculation deals gone bad and died, at age 56,  even broker than Gerry did.

While most historians consider James Madison to be the father of the U.S. Constitution, Wilson played a big role in writing and drafting it, too.

For all of their faults and flaws, Gerry and Wilson are both important Founding Fathers who made huge contributions of service to America.

Last week, it was the money man versus the military man.  Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, who was essential to the financial success of the American Revolution,  was defeated in our weekly contest by Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut, who helped win the Battle of Saratoga, by a vote of of 41 to 23.  Way to go, Oliver!