Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Elbridge Gerry's Library

He's best known for his namesake, the dreaded gerrymander, but there's much more to Elbridge Gerry than that: as a delegate to the Continental Congress he signed the Declaration of Independence; as a delegate to the 1787 Convention he did not sign the Constitution (he wanted a Bill of Rights, and disagreed with various other elements of the final document). Reconciled to the new federal system he served in the House of Representatives for the first two congresses, then was one of the three diplomats caught up in the messy XYZ Affair in the late 1790s.

Home in Massachusetts, Gerry ran unsuccessfully for the governorship in 1800, 1801, 1802 and 1803, then served two terms as governor (1810 and 1811) before being defeated again in 1812, partly over the redistricting controversy which resulted in that famously-contorted legislative district. Gerry's final post was as the fifth Vice President of the United States; he was elected to that office in the fall of 1812 (serving under James Madison) and became the second VP to die in office on 23 November 1814.

Gerry's library, or at least a major portion of it, was sold at auction the following spring by Boston's Francis Amory. The catalog for that sale, Catalogue of a Collection of valuable and scarce Books, Being part of the Library of the late Elbridge Gerry, esq. To be sold for the benefit of the Widow and Minor Children of the deceased, at the store of Francis Amory, No. 41, Marlborough-Street, On Tuesday morning, 18th April [1815], Commencing at Nine o'clock, exists in very few copies: those at the Clements Library and the MHS are the only listings in WorldCat. The MHS copy caught my eye one day as I was retrieving another book from an adjacent shelf, so I took a look and decided the contents would work well as a Legacy Library.

The product is here: 325 titles, most of which I've been able to identify with a reasonable amount of certainty based on the number of volumes and place of publication (I don't say it enough, but ESTC is amazing). If you sort by entry date, the books will be listed as they appear in the catalog.

Gerry's library is (not surprisingly) less scientific than some of the contemporary ones I've worked on (Jefferson, Priestley, &c.), with even more of a focus on government, philosophy, and literature and less emphasis on natural history and agricultural matters (although there's still a bit of that here). He liked Goldsmith and Defoe, Sterne and Smollett. And he had quite a few compilations of state and federal laws. Religious titles are few and far between.

As always, any additions are welcomed, and as I have not managed to trace even one of Mr. Gerry's books down to the present, records of any extant Gerry holdings would be much appreciated.