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title:“The Landholder”
authors:Oliver Ellsworth
date written:1787-12-24

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retrieved:Feb. 27, 2021, 12:10 a.m. UTC

Ellsworth, Oliver. "The Landholder." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

The Landholder (December 24, 1787)

To the Hon. Elbridge Gerry, Esquire.
When a man in public life first deviates from the line of truth and rectitude, an uncommon degree of art and attention becomes necessary to secure him from detection . . . . his first leap into the region of treachery and falsehood is often as fatal to himself as it was designed to be to his country. Whether you and Mr. Mason may be ranked in this class of trangressors I pretend not to determine. Certain it is, that both your management and his for a short time before and after the rising of the fœderal convention impress us with a favorable opinion, that you are great novices in the arts of dissimulation. A small degree of forethought would have taught you both a much more successful method of directing the rage of resentment which you caught at the close of the business at Philadelphia, than the one you took. . . .
It is evident that this mode of proceeding would have been well calculated for the security of Mr. Mason; he there might have vented . . . his sore mortification for the loss of his favorite motion respecting the navigation act. . . .
You will doubtless recollect the following state of facts — if you do not, every member of the convention will attest them — that almost the whole time during the setting of the convention, and until the constitution had received its present form, no man was more plausible and conciliating upon every subject than Mr. Gerry — he was willing to sacrifice every private feeling and opinion — to concede every state interest that should be in the least incompatible with the most substantial and permanent system of general government — that mutual concession and unanimity were the whole burden of his song; and although he originated no idea himself, yet there was nothing in the system as it now stands to which he had the least objection — indeed, Mr. Gerry's conduct was agreeably surprising to all his acquaintance, and very unlike that turbulent obstinacy of spirit which they had formerly affixed to his character. Thus stood Mr. Gerry, till, toward the close of the business, he introduced a motion respecting the redemption of the old Continental Money — that it should be placed upon a footing with other liquidated securities of the United States. As Mr. Gerry was supposed to be possessed of large quantities of this species of paper, his motion appeared to be founded in such barefaced selfishness and injustice, that it at once accounted for all his former plausibility and concession, while the rejection of it by the convention inspired its author with the utmost rage and intemperate opposition to the whole system he had formerly praised.1 His resentment could no more than embarrass and delay the completion of the business for a few days; when he refused signing the constitution and was called upon for his reasons. These reasons were committed to writing by one of his colleagues2 and likewise by the Secretary, as Mr. Gerry delivered them. These reasons were totally different from those which he has published, neither was a single objection which is contained in his letter to the legislature of Massachusetts ever offered by him in convention.3
Now Mr. Gerry, as this is generally known to be the state of facts, and as neither the reasons which you publish nor those retained on the Secretary's files can be supposed to have the least affinity to truth, or to contain the real motives which induced you to withhold your name from the constitution, it appears to me that your plan was not judiciously contrived.
[Footnotes as included or written by Farrand]
  • 1 For Gerry's reply see CLXII below. The controversy may be followed farther in CLXXV, CLXXXIX-CXCII, and CXCIX.
  • 2 Probably refers to King, see Records of September 15.
  • 3 Somewhat too sweeping an assertion although there are great differences between Gerry's objections in Convention on September 15 and those embodied in his letter to the Massachusetts legislature. See Records of September 15, and CXXXIII above.
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