This week, we celebrated another glorious year of independence as a sovereign nation. People maybe evoked names like George Washington, John Adams, and Paul Revere in between doing shots of fireball at their lakeside cabins, if they actually talked about the nation’s founding at all. Maybe they talked about how great it was that Betsy Ross sewed that flag to create a beacon for the warriors fighting the redcoats at night. But let’s be real: women are not usually a part of the Revolutionary War story. Oh, let’s also be real about one other thing: history’s not really my thing, and I didn’t just fact-check anything about Betsy Ross.
Today, though, I want to talk about one badass lady that was an influential part of the American Revolution and the preservation of its story: Mercy Otis Warren.
This woman, a Mayflower descendant and Puritan to the bone, bucked even her own ideas of womanhood in order to stand up for what she believed. As a child, while most girls were not receiving formal educations, she convinced her father to let her sit in on some of her brothers’ private tutoring sessions. She also became the lucky recipient of books from her local minister.
When she grew older, she married her second-cousin (ew), James Warren. He was an active politician, her brother was active in the revolution, and they spent a lot of time hanging out with ol’ John Adams. While at first our girl Mercy condemned political involvement, writing of its “dismal train of warring passions” and “endless strife,” it was hard for her to stay out of it when some of the greatest political minds of the time were regularly meeting in her living room. Unbelievably, she both expressed her opinion in those meetings and had her voice heard by the men in attendance – especially Johnny Adams, who encouraged her to lend her voice to their cause. She agreed, and penned several dramatic satires – The Adulateur, The Defeat, The Group, The Blockheads – in which she attacked local loyalists.
Mercy’s works, biting criticisms published anonymously so as not to be attributed to a woman, made her uncomfortable. Could it really be her that had written those harsh words? Unfortunately our girl had some self-doubt (normal for any woman even today) and decided from there on to only write to private audiences. She continued providing council to her husband and Mr. Adams through written correspondence until Adams and she found that they largely disagreed over the writing of the Consitution. That’s when Mercy got back into the game and wrote the “Columbian Patriot,” in which she argued as an Anti-Federalist that the Constitution lacked a Bill of Rights and extolled the need for freedom of speech and term limits. This paper was widely distributed across New York, once again anonymously. She finally got her moment, however, as an out-and-open female writer in 1805 when she published a massive history of the revolution with History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution, interspersed with Biographical, Political and Moral Observations. This is when the friendship with ol’ Johnny A. went really bad, as he felt she had defamed him. At least she had President TJ on her side; Jefferson ordered copies for he and each of his cabinet members.
So this week, let’s cheers to Mercy Otis Warren, a woman who would never consider herself a feminist, but still let her voice be heard and be influential in a key moment in history.
Sources for this post include this writing by Pamela Kline and Paul Pavao and this one by Ray Raphael. I am a college graduate and acknowledge that neither of these sources would ever suffice for an academic paper, but this is my blog and I’m in Colombia and I do what I want, y’know?