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Mercy Otis Warren Biography | Poet

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Mercy Otis Warren (September 14, 1728 – October 19, 1814) was born in Barnstable, Massachusetts. She married James Warren in 1754 and moved to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Mercy had five sons. She felt it was her duty to participate in the Patriot cause during the American Revolution. Her brother was the noted patriot lawyer James Otis, and they were descended from Mayflower passenger Edward Doty. Her husband James was a descendant of fellow Mayflower passenger Richard Warren. During the time of the Revolution, she hosted political meetings in her home, and in 1772, she published her play, The Adulateur. After the war, in 1790, Mrs. Warren published a volume of poetry in her name. In 1805, she wrote History of the American Revolution. She died in Plymouth in 1814.

Mercy Otis Warren was known as The Conscience of the American Revolution.

When she married James Warren, they moved to Plymouth, which means she never saw anything beyond Eastern Massachusetts for most of her 86 years. When the Thirteen Colonies increasingly rebelled against English rule, Mercy Otis Warren became perhaps the most important of Revolutionary War women. Like the men of her family, she was among those ready to throw out the colonial governor.

In 1772 -- four years before the United States Declaration of Independence-- she anonymously published The Adulateur, a satire that cast the governor as Rapatio, a villain intent on raping the colony. Rapatio appeared again in her second play, The Defeat (1773). She published her third, The Group, in 1775, just as the rebellion began to be violent. All were thinly disguised attacks on specific public officials, for she unhesitatingly urged the taking of risks to achieve American independence. Much later, at the time of the French Revolution, Warren wrote tellingly that revolutions are "permitted by providence, to remind mankind of their natural equality." More than most of the men of her era, she saw the American Revolution as having significance beyond its apparent economic and political warfare; instead, she foresaw a deep and permanent shift of Western ideology.

At a time when even most Americans still thought of democracy as an impossible notion tainted by ignorant rabble, Mercy Otis Warren understood that the natural rights philosophy inherent in the Declaration of Independence would inevitably mean democracy and egalitarianism. Indeed, so thorough a radical was Warren that she joined the minority who opposed ratification of the United States Constitution in the late 1780s.The Revolution was scarcely begun before Warren began recording the history of it.

During the next three decades, she worked steadily on the three volumes that were finally published -- when Warren was seventy-seven-- as History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution (1805). Her work not only provided an insider's view of the Revolution, but also set an important precedent for women authors. Until that time, the few who existed in American did not set out to consciously publish, but instead wrote primarily for themselves (as in the case of Anne Bradstreet and Phyllis Wheatley). Warren thus became the first to publish books that marked her as a professional writer of nonfiction who -- despite her upper class status -- offered her work for sale.

Bitterly resentful in her old age of the restrictions imposed upon women, Warren focused particularly on educational reform. She chafed at the memory of doing needlework while her brothers were taught Latin and Greek, and she argued that such artificial limits on achievement harmed both men and women and were a violation of the natural rights philosophy espoused in the Revolution. Though it may have appeared that few understood her message at the time, the first serious educational institution for women, Emma Willard's Troy Female Seminary, appeared less than a decade after her death.

Warren's thoughts on the subject may have had more influence than she knew. Mercy Otis Warren had a clear, analytical mind that brought logic even to her poetry. Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous (1790), a collection published when she was sixty-two, was the first of her works that bore her name ("Mrs. M. Warren"), but she kept other poetry so personal that it was not published until almost two centuries after her death. Hundreds of Warren's letters to contemporaries (including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Abigail Adams and her husband John -- with whom Warren quarreled as John Adams grew increasingly conservative) also have been published. They provide historians with interesting details and insightful commentary on the founding of the nation by one whose gender excluded her from the direct participation that she doubtless would have preferred.

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