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Elbridge Gerry to Abigail Adams, 14 July 1797

Elbridge Gerry to Abigail Adams

Cambridge 14th July 1797

My dear Madam

I am honored by your letter of the 8th, & am much obliged to you for the kind interest you have manifested in my concerns; & for the communications contained in the letter & documents.1

Whatever may have been the reasons which induced some of the senators to vote against me, if they were influenced by a due regard to the publick welfare, & their opinions in this instance were even erroneous, they did no more than their duty; & I shall honor them, for their independent conduct: but you know, madam, & the first friend of yourself & of this country knows, that interest, prejudice, envy, & even pique, have often great effect on great men; & much more, on those who are not blessed with remarkable powers of discrimination. I dissented to the Constitution, it is true, and seven states were dissatisfied with it, for the reasons which influenced me. I was then a representative of this State; saw, or thot I saw a disposition in many of the Convention to have an indifinite Constitution; brot forward, with several others, motions to make it explicit; & saw every motion, to this effect, negatived; & under such circumstances, I could not, consistently with a sense of duty to my country, assent to the constitution, as it stood, & have therefore been abused ever since. admitting I was in an error, had I voted for it under such impressions, I should have sunk in my own esteem & have not risen again: but conscious of the rectitude of my intentions, I have never repented, a moment, of my vote on that occasion, & have since seen the constitution amended, as I wished, & the illiberality of those retaliated, who denied me the right of deliberating freely, & of exercising my judgment, when my country demanded it.2 but is there not, madam, an intimate difference, between voting on a bill for a constitution, & negotiating in behalf & under the instructions of a supreme executive? Can any candid mind, judging of my whole political conduct, & even of that part of it, liberally, draw from it such inferences as some gentlemen of the Senate have on this occasion? perhaps it may, but I flatter myself it will hereafter discover its error. I am happy however, to find, that these gentlemen who have manifested such an unfavorable opinion of me, are not of that description, who will “abuse the government, or calumniate its officers”:3 such characters I dislike, whether for or against me.

I regret exceedingly the impossibility of my paying my respects to the President, & yourself Madam, before my embarkation for Europe; but have taken a passage in the ship Union of Boston for Rotterdam, which is not yet provided with a captain, & the owner, Capt Fellows, supposes she will sail in ten days from this date.4

My dear Mrs Gerry has shewn great fortitude, in urging my acceptance: her distress, at the first notice of my appointment, rendered it impossible for me to accept without her solicitation. having this, & the promise of her sister to come from New york & reside with her in my absence, my mind is eased in some degree of a heavy burthen.5 may God grant to her & my petits, in my absence, comfort & happiness.6

If the President or you, my dear madam, have any particular commands in Europe, I shall depend on the honor of executing them, & remain with the highest sentiments of esteem & respect, in which Mrs Gerry requests to join, your most / obedt & very / huml sert

E Gerry

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Gerry July 14 / 1797.”

1AA wrote to Gerry on 8 July after learning with “great pleasure” that he had accepted his appointment. She also expressed her disappointment with the Federalists who voted against Gerry’s nomination, and she offered her sympathies to Ann Thompson Gerry on the upcoming separation from her husband (MB:Mss. Acc. 348).

2Elbridge Gerry refused to sign the Constitution in Sept. 1787, believing it gave the central government too much power, undermined the independence of the states, and threatened personal liberties because it lacked a bill of rights (ANB description begins John A. Garraty, Mark C. Carnes, and Paul Betz, eds., American National Biography, New York, 1999–2002; 24 vols. plus supplement; rev. edn., www.anb.org. description ends ; Billias, Elbridge Gerry description begins George Athan Billias, Elbridge Gerry: Founding Father and Republican Statesman, New York, 1976. description ends , p. 186).

3Here, Gerry quoted AA’s 8 July 1797 letter, for which see note 1.

4On 7 Aug. Gerry departed Boston aboard the ship Union, Capt. Ebenezer Nutting, owned by Boston merchants Nathaniel Fellows and Samuel Brown. He arrived in Rotterdam on 19 Sept., and after making trips to Amsterdam and The Hague he departed Rotterdam on the 25th and arrived in Paris on 4 Oct. (Massachusetts Mercury, 8 Aug.; Boston and Charlestown Ship Registers description begins Ship Registers and Enrollments of Boston and Charlestown, Boston, 1942. description ends , p. 208; Gerry, Letterbook description begins Elbridge Gerry’s Letterbook: Paris, 1797–1798, ed. Russell W. Knight, Salem, Mass., 1966. description ends , p. 13–14, 17, 18).

5Helen Thompson was Ann Thompson Gerry’s youngest sister. Elbridge Gerry wrote to his wife on 9 Oct. from Paris inquiring if Helen had arrived in Massachusetts (Annette Townsend, The Walton Family of New York, 1630–1940, Phila., 1945, p. 52; Gerry, Letterbook description begins Elbridge Gerry’s Letterbook: Paris, 1797–1798, ed. Russell W. Knight, Salem, Mass., 1966. description ends , p. 14).

6Elbridge and Ann Thompson Gerry’s surviving children were Catharine (1787–1850), Eliza (1791–1882), Ann (1791–1883), Elbridge Jr. (1793–1867), Thomas Russell (1794–1848), and Helen Maria (1796–1864). Another son, James Thompson, would be born in Oct. 1797 (Billias, Elbridge Gerry description begins George Athan Billias, Elbridge Gerry: Founding Father and Republican Statesman, New York, 1976. description ends , p. 403–404; Gerry, Letterbook description begins Elbridge Gerry’s Letterbook: Paris, 1797–1798, ed. Russell W. Knight, Salem, Mass., 1966. description ends , p. 30, 32).

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