James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Elbridge Gerry, 19 May 1812

From Elbridge Gerry


Cambridge 19th May 1812

Dear Sir,

I have been honored by your letter of the 9th, & having heard of two instances only, in which is manifested a disposition to embarrass the detachments, I flatter myself they will be generally successful. When I came into office there were seven federal of eleven Major Generals, & now there are but six of seventeen; being the number of existing militia divisions. The increase I effected as an indispensable measure.

The anxiety here is great for the final decision. The opposition increases with delay, & predicts that it will terminate in vapour. This would produce on the one part a compleat triumph, & on the other an overthrow. National decision & vigor, would recover soon the lost Ground; would fill the ranks of the army; & would supply the Treasury. The wealth of the nation is at the command of the Government; if fifty millions are wanted, it may be procured as I conceive promptly, by various ways & means familiar to our financier. The nation can fund that or double the sum; & Treasury bills grounded on such a fund would be gold & silver—indeed they may be made preferable, by establishing a national bank & making the subscriptions payable in such bills only. After the bills are paid in, they may be exchanged for Gold & silver, without difficulty; & would thus command it, from banking speculators. This is an indigested suggestion, but the plan appears quite feasible in my mind.

The republicans in this state stood on high ground, & did not think such a revolution as has happened, possible. They charge their misfortune to the stamp & other war taxes, which they say need not to have preceeded the expected event; also to the premature declaration, by the adverse party, of the embargo. This unfortunately arrived at Boston on the eve of our election, & was blazoned thro’out the State with the utmost rapidity. I have used every mean to quiet these feelings; but they will for a time have some effect, & cease, as I conceive, on the commencement of warlike measures. The leading Republicans, without the least hint to me, have warmly advocated a measure honorable to myself, & consider it as a mean, if attained, that will substitute victory for defeat.1 On this subject, I can say nothing; but leave it to its fate. Sure I am, that it will be most strenuously opposed by british influence, thro’ every channel; for to such means I have ever been the declared enemy—God’s name be praised, that the southern & western States are uncontaminated, & that in this Section, the physical force of the republicans, which would increase rapidly in case of a war, far exceeds that of our adversaries. The Republicans have been so mortified & vexed by the loss of the gubernatorial election, as to have disregarded the representative elections; but will rally in due time. By war, we should be purified, as by fire. With the highest esteem, friendship & respect—Yours very sincerely My dear Sir—

E. Gerry

RC (DLC); FC (CLjC). RC docketed by JM.

1Gerry was referring to efforts made by Massachusetts Republicans to promote him to the vice presidency. On 16 May 1812 the National Intelligencer printed a call for the Republican members of Congress to assemble on the evening of 18 May “for the purpose of designating such persons as they may think most proper to be supported as candidates for the offices of the President and Vice-President of [the] United States at the ensuing Election.” According to the newspaper, JM was the only candidate “seriously spoken of for the Presidency,” but for the vice presidency, vacant since the death of George Clinton on 20 Apr. 1812, the names of John Langdon of New Hampshire and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts were the most frequently mentioned. “The choice,” the National Intelligencer concluded, “on whomsoever it may fall, will undoubtedly be from the Eastern States.”

At the meeting of the Republican caucus on 18 May, eighty-two members of Congress were present, all of whom voted for JM’s renomination, and “no other person” was voted for. For the vice presidency, Langdon received sixty-four votes and Gerry sixteen; two votes were cast for other, unnamed, candidates. The meeting concluded with the formation of an eighteen-member “committee of correspondence and arrangement.” Langdon, however, declined his nomination, pleading the defects of his “blunted” faculties at the advanced age of seventy-one years. His withdrawal required seventy-seven Republican members of Congress to caucus again on 8 June 1812, on which occasion Gerry received seventy-four votes for vice president, with three votes scattering. At that time too a further ten Republican congressmen, who had been absent from the meeting held on 18 May, cast their votes for JM as the Republican presidential candidate (National Intelligencer, 19 May and 6, 9, and 11 June 1812).

Index Entries