Gambling has become a fearful scourge in our expanding country. It is practiced upon the humblest watercraft that floats upon our canals--the frail flatboat that descends our streams--the majestic steamboat that traces our mighty rivers. It lurks in the lowest groggeries that curse community--is tolerated in some of the most fashionable hotels. Its victims are found in all classes from the hod carrier in his bespattered rags up to the members of Congress in their ruffles. The gambling room is the enchanted ground of destruction. Once within its serpentine coils--a centripetal force rushes its votary to the vortex of ruin. Interested friends may kindly warn--the tender wife may entreat with all the eloquence of tears--children may cry and sob for bread--if within the fatal snare the infatuated mortal is seldom extricated in time. He combines the deafness of the adder with the desperation of a maniac.
At the gambling table men and youth have been prepared to commit deeds registered on the black catalog of crime. In blazing capitals RUIN is marked over the outer door of every gambling den. On the inner door is written in bold relievo--CASTLE OF DESPAIR. WRECKS OF FORTUNE AND DEMONS MADE HERE. One of the wicket gates that leads thousands into this labyrinth of misery consists in fashionable circles where games are played as an _innocent_ amusement. It is there that many young men of talent, education and wealth, take the entered apprentice degree that leads them to the knight templars of destruction. Without any knowledge of a game but few would venture money at a gambling table. The gaming examples of men in high life have a baneful influence and practically sanction the high handed robberies of the finely dressed boa-constrictor black legs. The gambling hells tolerated and patronized in our cities are a disgrace to any nation bearing a Christian name and would be banished from a Pagan community with a Vicksburg vengeance. To the honor of the members of the Continental Congress they placed a veto upon this heaven provoking, soul destroying, reputation ruining, wealth devouring, nation demoralizing vice.
Among those who abhorred this practice was Elbridge Gerry, born at Marblehead, Massachusetts, on the 17th of July 1744. His father was an enterprising merchant and bestowed upon this son a classical education. He graduated at Harvard University in 1762 with a high scholastic reputation. Judging the tree by its fruit, the seed from which it sprang must have been of the purest kind and its vegetation not retarded by the absorbing and poisonous weeds of vice. Its incipient pruning must have been performed by a master hand to produce a specimen of so much symmetry of proportion, beauty of form and richness of foliage.
After having completed his collegiate studies Mr. Gerry entered the counting house of his father and ultimately became one of the most enterprising and wealthy merchants of his native town. In his kind of business he was amongst the first to feel the weight of the impolitic and unconstitutional revenue system. From the nature of his composition he was amongst the first to meet oppression at the threshold. A man of deep reflection and philosophical investigation--he examined closely the extent of American rights and British wrongs. He made himself acquainted with the principle and structure of government, international, civil, common, statute and municipal law, political economy, home and foreign policy. No one was better informed upon the natural, legal and practical relations between the mother country and the colonies. He was prepared to act advisedly and firmly. His extensive influence, decision of character, sound discretion and exalted patriotism--made him a master spirit to guide the public mind. He participated in all the movements in favor of liberty.
On the 26th of May 1773 he commenced his official career as a member of the Assembly of Massachusetts Bay then called the General Court. That body and the royal governor took a strong issue upon rights and wrongs. The unconstitutional acts of parliament were sanctioned by the latter and fearlessly censured by the former. A standing committee was appointed to scan the proceedings of ministers and parliament and to correspond with the other colonies relative to the important concerns of the nation. Mr. Gerry had been in that body but two days when he was made a member of this important committee. He became one of the principal actors on the tragic stage of the revolution, the drama of peace and formation of the Federal government. He walked shoulder to shoulder with Samuel Adams and John Hancock in the bold measures that roused the lion from his lair--the people to their duty. At the Boston tea party--in the opposition to the Port Bill--the impeachment of the crown judges--the controversy with Gov. Hutchinson--non-intercourse with Great Britain--Mr. Gerry stood firm as the granite shores of the Bay State. Nor did he waver when Gov. Gage took the helm with a military force to do his will and pleasure. When it was found that reason, appeal, remonstrance--all fell upon his adamantine soul like dew upon the desert of Sahara, the legitimate source of a righteous government was resorted to--THE PEOPLE--who nobly sustained their leaders in the hour of peril. Severe measures were adopted by parliament--the charter of Massachusetts was altered by _ex-parte_ legislation--illegal taxes were increased--the hirelings of the King became more insolent--the indignation of the people rose like a tornado--colonial blood flowed--the war cry was raised--the clash of arms commenced--the fury of battle raged--the struggle was terrific--the lion was conquered--AMERICA WAS FREE.
In all the thrilling scenes that passed in Massachusetts before his election to Congress, Mr. Gerry took a leading part. He was an efficient member of the Committee of Safety and Supplies that were for a time virtually the government. In April 1775 he narrowly escaped the grasp of his foes. The night previous to the battle of Lexington Messrs. Gerry, Lee and Orne were at Cambridge through which the British passed on their way to the opening scene of hostilities. When opposite the house where these gentlemen were in bed a file of soldiers were suddenly detached and approached it rapidly. The patriots barely escaped by the back way in their linen. After the military had left they returned for their over clothes and immediately roused the people to resistance. The night previous to the death of his intimate friend, the brave Warren, Mr. Gerry lodged with him. The anxiety they felt for their country induced them to concert plans for future action rather than sleep. The lamented hero of Bunker Hill appears to have had a presentiment of his premature fate as indicated by the last words he uttered as they parted. "It is sweet to die for our country."
In July 1775 the government of Massachusetts adopted a new form of government. A legislature was organized and a judiciary established. Mr. Gerry was appointed Judge of the Court of Admiralty but declined that he might do more active service. On the 18th of January 1776 he was elected to the Continental Congress. Fearless, cautious, prudent--he was the kind of man to meet the momentous crisis of that eventful era. Standing on a lofty eminence of public reputation he was hailed as an able auxiliary in the cause of freedom. He had a place upon the most important committees and performed his duties strictly. To speculators and peculators that prowled around the public offices and army he was a terror during the war. He introduced into Congress many salutary guards against dishonest men who prey upon government like promethean vultures. With its age and experience our republic is now occasionally tapped at the jugular and gets a cut under the fifth rib--producing a laxity of the sinews of power.
When the Declaration of Independence was proposed in Congress the soul of Mr. Gerry was enraptured in its favor. He had long been prepared for the measure and gave it his ardent support. When the thrilling moment arrived for final action upon this important question he sanctioned it by his vote and signature and rejoiced in the fulfilment of prophecy--_A nation shall be born in a day_. He was continued in Congress and faithfully discharged his duties with unabated zeal. The committee rooms and the house were alike benefitted by his intelligence and extensive experience in general business. He rendered efficient aid in reducing to system every branch of the new government. He took a conspicuous part in the debates upon the Articles of Confederation and was listened to with great attention. He spoke well, reasoned closely--demonstrated clearly. He was truly republican and opposed to everything that did not bear the impress of sound sense, practical usefulness--equality of operation. For these reasons he opposed a resolution of thanks to his bosom friend, John Hancock, for his services as President of Congress. He said his friend Hancock had done no more than to ably perform his duty--all the members had done the same. It would be a singular entry upon the journal to record a vote of thanks to each. Etiquette prevailed over sound logic--the vote of thanks was passed--introducing a custom in the new government that has long since lost all efficacy by too frequent use on occasions of minor importance. Mr. Gerry was on the committee that devised the plan of operations for the Northern army that resulted in the capture of Burgoyne. He was upon the one to obtain supplies for army and visited the camp of Washington in the winter of 1777. These multiform duties strictly discharged are stronger encomiums upon his talents, energy and patriotism than a volume of panegyric from the most accomplished writer.
It has afforded me great pleasure to be able to frequently refer to the religious and moral character of the members of the Continental Congress. The fact is illustrated in the history of the men and corroborated by the records of that body and responded to by the States. In 1778 a resolution was passed in Congress recommending them to adopt decisive measures against "theatrical entertainments, horse racing, gaming and such other diversions as are productive of idleness, dissipation and a general depravity of principles and manners." Another resolution strictly enjoined upon the officers of the army--"to see that the good and wholesome rules provided for the discountenancing of profaneness and vice and the preservation of morals among the soldiers are duly and punctually preserved." A third one was passed that would be a sweeper if revived at the present day. It arose from a disposition on the part of a few officers to disregard the one first cited and was a supplement to that. "Resolved--That any person holding an office under the United States who shall act, promote, encourage or attend such plays--shall be deemed unworthy to hold such office and shall be accordingly dismissed."
Mr. Gerry supported and voted for all these resolutions and for those recommending days of fasting, humiliation and prayer. Sectarianism never polluted the members of the Continental Congress. Charity was the bright star in their diadem of fame. He was upon the grand committee of one from each State to examine foreign affairs and the conduct of foreign commissioners particularly that of Mr. Deane. This committee used the probe freely and recommended Congress to use the amputating knife upon every limb affected by the gangrene of political corruption. O! Jupiter! what a slaughter such an operation would make at the present time. On the 14th of October 1779 Mr. Gerry proposed the expedition against the Indians which was successfully executed by Gen. Sullivan. He proposed a resolution designed to guard against inducements to corrupt influence--"No candidates for public office shall vote in or otherwise influence their own election--that Congress will not appoint any member thereof during its time of sitting or within six months after he shall have been in Congress, to any office under the States for which he or any other for his benefit may receive any salary, fees or emolument." It was then lost but he revived and carried it in 1785. The principle has since been partly adopted under the Federal Constitution. As a member of the Committee of Finance he stood next to Robert Morris. In 1780 he retired from Congress after an arduous and faithful service of five years. In all situations and at all times he was energetic, zealous and active in the cause of liberty. When his duties called him to the army if there was any fighting on the tapis whilst he was in camp he always took an active part. In the battle of Chestnut Hill he shouldered a musket and entered the ranks. When Gen. Kniphausen engaged the American army at Springfield Mr. Gerry took his station by the side of Washington who invested him with a volunteer command during his stay.
The second year after his retirement he again took his seat in Congress. The business of the nation was then more perplexing than in the heat of the war. An empty treasury, a prostrate credit, an enormous debt presented a fearful aspect. To aid in bringing order out of chaos he was of great service. Committee labors were piled upon his shoulders as if he was an Atlas to carry the world or an Atalanta in the celerity of business. The local feelings and interests of the states had become effervescent. The half pay for life guaranteed to all officers who remained in the army during the war was satisfactory to but a few. This was settled by compounding the annuity for five years full pay. In 1784 he was on the important Committee of Foreign Relations--on the one to revise the Treasury Department. The same session he presented a resolution for the compensation of Baron Steuben who had rendered immense services by introducing a system of military tactics and discipline into the American army by which it was governed and which was strictly adhered to long after the Revolution. It was warmly supported by Mr. Jefferson and others but was lost, charity would suggest, in consequence of the embarrassed state of the finances. In 1785 Mr. Gerry closed his services in Congress and retired to Cambridge near Boston, with all the honors of a pure patriot crowned with the sincere gratitude of a nation of freemen.
Time soon developed to the sages of the Revolution that the Articles of Confederation that bound the colonies together when impending dangers and one common interest created a natural cement--were not sufficient to secure the liberty they had achieved. Local interests engendered jealousies, these produced dissatisfaction and this threatened to involve the government in anarchy. To remedy these evils Mr. Madison made a proposition that each state send delegates to a convention which convened in May 1781 at Philadelphia and framed the Federal Constitution in which Mr. Gerry took a very active part. He was amongst those who did not sanction or sign that instrument. For this act, dictated by his conscience, he was liberally abused by out door cynical partisans--not by the noble minded statesmen who differed with him in opinion--all honest in their views and patriotic in their motives. They soared above the acrimonious scurrility of venal party spirit. After the constitution was adopted no one adhered to it more strictly than Mr. Gerry--always holding sacred the great republican principle--_the majority must rule and be obeyed_. He was a member of the first Congress under it and did much toward raising the beautiful superstructure now towering sublimely upon its broad basis. He served four years and again sought retirement. This was transient.
In 1797 the relations between our country and France had assumed a portentous aspect. President Adams determined on sending an able embassy to that government--to make a strong effort to conclude an amicable arrangement of difficulties before appealing to arms. Gen. Pinckney was then there. Mr. Gerry and Mr. Marshall, since Chief Justice of the United States, were appointed to join him, each empowered to act collectively or separately as a sound discretion should dictate. On their arrival the French Directory refused to recognize them. To prevent an immediate rupture--prudence and patriotism were necessary. After many fruitless attempts to enter upon a negotiation Messrs. Pinckney and Marshall were peremptorily ordered home and Mr. Gerry recognized as the official organ of the United States. By his discreet, firm and manly course he effected a settlement and prevented a war that seemed inevitable.
In 1805 he was a member of the electoral college. Although his state was decidedly federal he was elected governor in 1810 by the republican party by a large majority--conclusive evidence of his great popularity. He never entered into partisan feelings. In his first message he lucidly portrayed the danger of high toned party spirit. He felt and acted for his whole country. For many years he had anxiously desired to be excused from public duties but no excuse was accepted. In 1813 he was inaugurated Vice President of the United States. He discharged the duties of the office with great ability and dignity. His impartiality, correctness and candor gained for him the esteem of the elevated body over which he presided to the last day of his eventful and useful life--teaching by example his favorite precept--"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." At the city of Washington a beautiful monument is erected to his memory with an inscription as follows.
THE TOMB OF
VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES,
WHO DIED SUDDENLY IN THIS CITY ON HIS WAY TO THE
CAPITOL, AS PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE,
NOVEMBER 23D, 1814,
In the review of the life of Elbridge Gerry the pure patriot finds much to admire--the Christian nothing to condemn. Partisans may censure because he kept aloof from high toned party spirit--the maelstrom of nations that once were but now are not. His examples of devotedness to the good of his country, his untiring industry, his intelligence, his moral worth--are all worthy of imitation and shed a rich unfading lustre upon his character. He discharged all the duties of private life with the strictest fidelity. He was useful in every station where duty called, no perils retarded his onward course towards the goal of RIGHT. His purposes were deliberately formed and boldly executed. He was an honor to our country, the cause of freedom and enlightened, philanthropic and liberal legislation. He was a noble specimen of unalloyed patriotism--a patriotism that must be widely diffused among the increasing masses of our expanding country--then our UNION will be preserved--our land continue to be what it now is--THE LAND OF THE BRAVE--THE HOME OF THE FREE.
Source: Sages and Heroes of the American Revolution, by L. Carroll Judson: Copyright, 1854 Available for download at the Project Gutenberg website.