Declaration Signer Elbridge Gerry on Right to Civil Trial by Jury



And a trial by jury shall be preserved as usual in civil cases.’

Elbridge Gerry, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, proposed that addition to the draft of the U.S. Constitution near the end of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787. Charles Pinckney, delegate to the convention from South Carolina, joined him in the motion. The motion reflected the fervent belief by the two men that the Constitution would be incomplete and would not sufficiently protect the rights of individuals and of the states, in particular the right to a jury trial for civil cases. Gerry voted against the Constitution for that reason and was joined by George Mason and Edmund Randolph of Virginia. Although the motion was defeated that day, co-authors Gerry and Pinckney saw their motion included in the Bill of Rights introduced into the First Congress by James Madison and ratified by the states as the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution.

This quote is included in an excellent article, Charles Pinckney and the Seventh Amendment, written by Joel W. Collins, Jr., of the firm of Collins & Lacy, PC, for the Fall 2009 issue of Voir Dire, published by the American Board of Trial Advocates. The article also includes additional details on the development of the right to a jury trial for civil suits, and I highly recommend it.