Today, the Constitution Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin tells the story of Massachusetts 229 years ago. They named their delegates to the Constitutional Convention, and one of their delegates influenced the subsequent people’s rights.
From the March 1871 Historical Magazine:
Ninth on the list of those who appointed Delegates, was Massachusetts, whose “General Court,” on the tenth of March, 1787, formally authorized Frances Dana, Elbridge Gerry, Nathaniel Gorham. Rufus King, and Caleb Strong, Esquires, as “their Delegates, to attend and represent this Commonwealth in the said proposed Convention;” and, on the ninth of April, her Governor officially commissioned the gentlemen referred to, as such Delegates.
I refer you to the credentials—the only authority which I have been able to find on the action of your State—for the evidence of the origin and character of the Delegation from Massachusetts; but, as the Great Seal of the Commonwealth and the signatures of her Governor and Secretary of State attest the authenticity of the reference, I have no doubt of its correctness.*
*Those who are interested this matter may find, in Resolves of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, (Page 5) the resolve appointing Delegates for Convention, to be commissioned, in the preamble to which it is said “the Legislature of this Commonwealth, did, on the third day of this present month,” [March, 1787] elect the Hon. Francis Dana, Elbridge Gerry, Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King and Caleb Strong, Esquires, delegates, or any three of them, to attend and represent this Commonwealth, at the aforesaid Convention, for the sole and express purpose mentioned in the afore-recited resolve of Congress”
I have not found the Journals of the General Court, for 1787; but, this formal recital of the action of that body, on the third of March, within a week after it occurred, is conclusive.
One of those men actively participated in the convention and ultimately chose not to sign.
Similar to other active participants, he believed the constitution as first written did not include enough rights for personal liberty.
The Official Programme for the Centennial Celebration of the Framing of the Constitution of the United States held on September 15th, 16th and 17th, 1887 included a short biography of the gentleman.
ELBRIDGE GERRY enjoys the distinction of being the fifth signer of the Declaration of Independence; but though a member of the Federal Convention and actively participating in its debates until the close, he firmly refused to sign the Constitution, for reasons which will be stated presently.
He was born in the town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, in the year 1744, his father being a merchant of considerable means. He was educated at Harvard University, and received his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1762.
He then applied himself to mercantile pursuits, and while still young acquired a large estate and stood well among the merchants of his State.
His attention was soon directed to the political concerns of the province; and in May, 1773, he took his seat in the general court of Massachusetts Bay, and became, from that moment, one of the most zealous political leaders in the country.
In the eventful controversy between Governor Hutchinson and the province, the impeachment of the Judges, the opposition to the importation of tea, and to the Boston Port Bill, in the establishment of the non-intercourse system, and of close correspondence with the other colonies, Mr. Gerry bore a leading part.
He became a member of the Provincial Congress and of the Committee of Safety.
In the early part of 1776, he was chosen, with Hancock, the Adamses and Paine, to the Continental Congress at Philadelphia, and with them signed the Declaration.
For five years Mr. Gerry remained a member of that body, and served upon all the important committees, distinguishing himself by his close attention to questions of finance, trade and the supply of the army.
In 1780 he retired, as did so many of the eminent names in American history, and did not return to public service until June, 1783, and then served until September, 1785.
In ’87 he became a member of the Federal Convention, and strenuously opposed what he deemed the aristocratic or monarchical features of the plans proposed.
These appeared so objectionable, that he refused to sign, as did Mason and Edmund Randolph, of Virginia.
In a letter to his constituents he explained his position as follows:
“It was painful for me, on a subject of such national importance, to differ from the respectable members who signed the Constitution. But conceiving, as I did, that the liberties of America were not secured by the system, it was my duty to oppose it.
“My principal objections to the plan are, that there is no adequate provision for a representation of the people; that they have no security for the right of election; that some of the powers of the Legislature are ambiguous; and others indefinite and dangerous; that the executive is blended with, and will have an undue influence over the Legislature; that the judicial department will be oppressive; that treaties of the highest importance may be formed by the President, with the advice of two-thirds of a quorum of the Senate; and that the system is without the security of a bill of rights.
“These are objections which are not local, but apply equally to all the States.”
These views and those of others who concurred, were so potent as to prove a direct cause of the Eleven Amendments to the Constitution, many of which were made the conditions of ratification by Massachusetts, Virginia and other States.
When the new government went into effect, Mr. Gerry became a member of Congress, and served for two terms.
In 1797 he was sent as one of the envoys to France. He subsequently became Governor of Massachusetts; and on the 4th of March, 1813, was inaugurated Vice President of the United States, and died, while holding that office, November 23, 1814, at the age of seventy.
His career amply illustrated his own maxim: “It is the duty of every citizen, though he may have but one day to live, to devote that day to the service of his country.”
The Constitution Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin shows beside an engraved portrait of Elbridge Gerry by J. B. Longacre.