When James Warren wrote to Elbridge Gerry on 20 July 1788, the two political allies were digesting the legal ratification of the new U.S. Constitution, which they had opposed.
Warren and his wife Mercy had just moved out of the mansion in Milton where Gov. Thomas Hutchinson had lived before the war. Gerry was living on the Cambridge estate confiscated from Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver.
That’s the context for the Massachusetts Historical Society’s newly acquired letter, which Warren started by commiserating with Gerry about the political attacks on him. Soon, however, he was complaining about his own troubles:
Neither the stationing of Centries, or the malicious wishes & Obliquy of the federals will ever prevent my visiting my friend at Cambridge when it is in my power. No Man, or at least very few, can at this day possess that invaluable Treasure Mens Conscia recti [from Virgil, “a mind aware of what is right”] as I firmly beleive you do without being marked by detraction & Ill nature.Warren had just sold his Milton mansion to Patrick Jeffrey, estranged husband of Mary Wilkes Hayley. I can’t identify the “Mr. Lee” whom Warren wrote about.
I have myself a large share of malicious Slander which I never deserved from this Country I heartily despise it. my spirits shall never be affected by it, & among the numerous resources of Consolation it certainly is no inconsiderable one to be associated with a Man who I so much Esteem & with whom I have been associated in the most Zealous & faithful services to this Country. they now wish us to be Bankcrupt, & despondent, or they would not spread such ill founded rumours. they gratify their Malice instead of exerciscing those feelings which pity if not gratitude should Excite on such an occasion if true.
No Man was ever persecuted with such inveterate Malice as I am. it follows me in every step I take. an Instance has lately occurred in which the public certainly had no Concern, but more Noise has been made about my takeing of a few Lockes from Milton House, than would have been made if another Man had burned it[.] it is so in every thing, & I suppose will be so for the same reason it has been so. I will quit this subject after giveing you one anecdote, which I think sufficient to silence Malevolence itself. I went to his Agent & Informed him that there were a variety of Articles which would be very Convenient to Mr Lee, that he should have the preference at a moderate price if he Inclined to have them, & afterwards received this surly answer, that he would not lay out a Shillings there, & now Complains that they are taken away.—
(we are now to see the Operation of the New Constitution with all its splendid Advantages. you must prepare yourself for takeing a part in the Execution in one House or the other. Policy will prevail over Malevolence, & make your Election certain.) and your Acceptance I think must be as certain as your Election, & will be a Choice only of the least evil. I have much to say to you on this & other subjects, which I design to do ere long viva voce in the mean time give my great regards to the federal Lady & believe me to be your Friend &c &c
Trying to milk this letter for further gossip, I note Warren’s phrase “give my great regards to the federal Lady.” Did that refer to Gerry’s wife Ann, and does that mean she favored the Constitution?
In any event, as Warren counseled, Gerry did participate in the new federal government as a member of the first two Congresses, opposing George Washington’s administration; then as a diplomat under John Adams; and finally as Vice President under James Madison. He also slipped in a term as Massachusetts governor. Ann Gerry (1763-1849), nineteen years younger than her husband, was the last surviving widow of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.