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title:“[Elbridge Gerry:] Reply to a Landholder”
authors:Elbridge Gerry
date written:1788-4-30

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:32 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Dec. 6, 2023, 10:45 a.m. UTC

Gerry, Elbridge. "Letter to a Landholder." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

[Elbridge Gerry:] Reply to a Landholder (April 30, 1788)

For the origin of this controversy see CLVII. It is continued in CLXII, CLXXV, CLXXXIX-CXCII.
In a late address to the honorable Luther Martin, Esquire, the Landholder has asserted, that Mr. Gerry "uniformly opposed Mr. Martin's principles," but this is a circumstance wholly unknown to Mr. Gerry, until he was informed of it by the Connecticut Land holder; indeed Mr. Gerry from the first acquaintance with Mr. Martin, has "uniformly had a friendship for him."
This writer has also asserted, "that the day Mr. Martin took his seat in convention, without requesting information, or to be let into the reasons of the adoption of what he might not approve, he opened against them in a speech which held during two days." But the facts are, that Mr. Martin had been a considerable time in convention before he spoke; that when he entered into the debates he appeared not to need "information," as he was fully possessed of the subject; and that his speech, if published, would do him great honor.
Another assertion of this famous writer is, that Mr. Gerry in "a sarcastical reply, admired the strength of Mr. Martin's lungs, and his profound knowledge in the first principles of government;" that "this reply" "left him a prey to the most humiliating reflections; but these did not teach him to bound his future speeches by the lines of moderation; for the very next day he exhibited, without a blush, another specimen of eternal volubility." This is so remote from the truth, that no such reply was made by Mr. Gerry to Mr. Martin, or to any member of the convention; on the contrary, Mr. Martin, on the first day he spoke, about the time of adjournment, signified to the convention that the heat of the season, and his indisposition prevented his proceeding, and the house adjourned without further debate, or a reply to Mr. Martin from any member whatever.
Again, the Landholder has asserted that Mr. Martin voted "an appeal should lay to the supreme judiciary of the United States for the correction of all errors both in law and fact,1" and "agreed to the clause that declares nine states to be sufficient to put the government in motion:2" and in a note says, "Mr. Gerry agreed with Mr. Martin on these questions." Whether there is any truth in the assertions as they relate to Mr. Martin, he can best determine; but as they respect Mr. Gerry, they reverse the facts; for he not only voted against the first proposition (which is not stated by the Landholder, with the accuracy requisite for a writer on government) but contended for jury trials in civil cases, and declared his opinion, that a federal judiciary with the powers above mentioned, would be as oppressive and dangerous, as the establishment of a star-chamber, and as to the clause that "declares nine states to be sufficient to put the government in motion," Mr. Gerry was so much opposed to it, as to vote against it in the first instance, and afterwards to move for a reconsideration of it.
The Landholder having in a former publication asserted "that Mr. Gerry introduced a motion, respecting the redemption of old continental money" and the public having been informed by a paragraph in the Massachusetts Centinel, No. 32, of vol. 8, as well as by the honorable Mr. Martin, that neither Mr. Gerry, or any other member, had introduced such a proposition, the Landholder now says that "out of 126 days, Mr. Martin attended only 66," and then enquires "whether it is to be presumed that Mr. Martin could have been minutely informed, of all that happened in convention, and committees of convention, during the sixty days of absence?" and "Why is it that we do not see Mr. McHenry's verification of his assertion, who was of the committee for considering a provision for the debts of the union?" But if these enquiries were intended for subterfuges, unfortunately for the Landholder, they will not avail him: for, had Mr. Martin not been present at the debates on this subject, the fact is, that Mr. Gerry was not on a committee with Mr. McHenry, or with any other person, for considering a provision for the debts of the union, or any provision that related to the subject of old continental money; neither did he make any proposition, in convention, committee, or on any occasion, to any member of convention or other person, respecting the redemption of such money; and the assertions of the Landholder to the contrary, are altogether destitute of the shadow of truth.
The Landholder addressing Mr. Martin, further says, "Your reply to my second charge against Mr. Gerry, may be soon dismissed: compare his letter to the legislature of his state, with your defence, and you will find, that you have put into his mouth, objections different from anything it contains, so that if your representation be true, his must be false." The objections referred to, are those mentioned by Mr. Martin, as being made by Mr. Gerry, against the supreme power of Congress over the militia. Mr. Gerry, in his letter to the legislature, states as an objection, "That some of the powers of the federal legislature are ambiguous, and others (meaning the unlimited power of Congress, to keep up a standing army, in time of peace, and their entire controul of the militia) are indefinite and dangerous."3 Against both these did Mr. Gerry warmly contend, and why his representations must be false, if Mr. Martin's are true, which particularized what Mr. Gerry's stated generally, can only be discovered by such a profound reasoner, as the Connecticut Landholder.

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