Mercy Otis Warren: One Very Cool Chick
A Women's History Month moment on women I've always wanted to write about.
I’ve been doing some Women’s History Month teaching with my kids, highlighting the stories of amazing women in American history. As always, if a costume can be involved, I add a costume. This goes for social events, professional settings, and homeschooling, which allows me to embarrass the widest swath of friends and acquaintances possible. Up first, Mercy Otis Warren. Scroll down for more of her writings and a costume!
A poet, satirist and biting wit, friend of many a Founding Father and sometime debater of them as well, Mercy Otis Warren wrote under a pseudonym to become one of the most influential women of the time, inspiring people to fight for independence, and patriot leaders to add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution.
A couple reasons I love her: How could I not love a sarcastic lady writer who championed a Bill of Rights and got into a famously vicious letter-writing debate with John Adams over the proper power of a central government? I see you, Mercy. I see you. Before that falling out, she wrote a poem about the Boston Tea Party at his suggestion, casting it as a fight between sea nymphs.
One of 13 kids, she sat in on her brothers’ studies early in life. She followed her brother James “Jemmy” Otis into revolutionary and abolitionist politics, a friend to the likes of Adams and Thomas Paine. Otis was a prominent Whig who became famous for laying out the colonists’ case against the British government’s writs of assistance in 1761, where he’s credited with popularizing some of the natural law arguments we think of as central to the fight for American liberty.
His activism was not without costs, and when a bar fight with loyalists to the Crown either incapacitated him or simply exacerbated existing mental illness, he had to withdraw from some of his public life. Mercy took on his correspondence and hosted meetings of famous patriots in Massachusetts in the wake of his injury.
She started writing publicly in her 40s after having five sons. Love a SAHM making things happen in her second chapter of life! I was just gonna learn to make crafty cocktails in my later years and watch more reality TV.
She became the first female historian in American history when she wrote, using her own experiences and access to tons of primary documents the 1,200 page tome, “History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution.” She was 77 when it was released. Then President Thomas Jefferson ordered copies for all his cabinet heads.
And, that is Mercy Otis Warren, writer, revolutionary, and one very cool chick.
Excerpt from “Observations on the New Constitution,” written under the name Columbian Patriot.
There is no provision by a bill of rights to guard against the dangerous encroachments of power in too many instances to be named: but I cannot pass over in silence the insecurity in which we are left with regard to warrants unsupported by evidence …We are told by a gentleman of too much virtue and real probity to suspect he has a design to deceive —” that the whole constitution is a declaration of rights,”— but mankind must think for themselves, and to many very judicious and discerning characters, the whole constitution with very few exceptions appears a perversion of the rights of particular states, and of private citizens. But the gentleman goes on to tell us, “that the primary object is the general government, and that the rights of individuals are only incidentally mentioned, and that there was a clear impropriety in being very particular about them.” But, asking pardon for dissenting from such respectable authority… The rights of individuals ought to be the primary object of all government, and cannot be too securely guarded by the most explicit declarations in their favor…
No republic ever yet stood on a stable foundation without satisfying the common people.