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Foreword - Mercy Otis Warren, History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution vol. 1 
History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution interspersed with Biographical, Political and Moral Observations, in Two Volumes, Foreword by Lester H. Cohen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1994). Vol. 1.
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Mercy Otis Warren (1728–1814) was the most formidable female intellectual in eighteenth-century America. In an era dominated by giants, she honorably may be numbered among the intellectuals of the second rank: those, for example, who served in colonial or state legislatures, the Continental Congress, and the Constitution-ratifying conventions and those who publicized the revolutionary cause through their writings.
Between 1772 and 1805, Warren published at least five plays1 —three political satires and two verse tragedies—a collection of poems, a political pamphlet warning of the dangers of the proposed Constitution, and one of the two most important contemporary histories of the American Revolution. Beginning about 1770 she became a prolific letter writer, entering into a kind of literary apprenticeship in one of the century’s more interesting genres—the “familiar letter”—and leaving to us a legacy of more than a thousand pages of correspondence devoted to a variety of political, cultural, economic, and social themes.
Warren’s History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution was the culmination of her literary career. Through it she satisfied a powerful urge to fuse her personal and public convictions. It served as a means to unite her ethical, political, and philosophical concerns; it joined her personal religiosity with her ideological commitments; and it provided a vehicle for a female intellectual to be useful in a republican culture. For forty years Warren worked to develop the habits of mind and a style of writing that would satisfy these requirements. She thought it her principal responsibility as a poet, playwright, and historian “to form the minds, to fix the principles[,] to correct the errors, and to beckon by the soft allurements of love, as well as the stronger voice of reason, the young members of society (peculiarly my charge), to tread the path of true glory. . . .” Several years later she observed that “The Ladies of Castille,” which would be published with her collected poems in 1790, was created by a writer “who wishes only to cultivate the sentiments of public and private virtue in whatsoever falls from her pen.”2 These letters reveal that she found in writing a way to integrate private and public roles: the traditional role of mother—the young were “peculiarly my charge”—and the less conventional ambition to be a woman who gave voice to the central principles and values of the political culture.
Warren’s major literary and political aims—to form minds, fix principles, and cultivate virtue—characterized her writings from the beginning. Her satirical plays—“The Adulateur,” “The Defeat,” and “The Group”—are memorable chiefly as representative examples of early American political satire3 and as well-timed propaganda.4 Her poetry, long neglected, is now being taken seriously by scholars. That she was committed to poetry as an art and as a vehicle for political and didactic themes is evidenced by the dozens of poems that, until recently, remained unpublished and by her numerous, careful revisions of her work.5 But the best of Warren is her prose, and the best of her prose is her History.
In historical narrative Warren found the medium which, better than poetry or satire, satisfied her urge to be both an artist and a political and moral force. In her History she sustained the republican persona that she had been developing in her letters since the 1770s.6 And here she joined more successfully than ever the themes that lay at the center of her concern. These themes involved both her conception of history and her understanding of the proper role of the historian in a republican order.
Warren viewed history in terms of three fundamental conflicts: a political conflict between liberty and arbitrary power; an ethical conflict between virtue and avarice; and a philosophical conflict between reason and passion. The three were consistent with one another: History revealed a continual struggle between liberty, virtue, and reason against the blind pursuit of power, luxury, and passion. Beyond being mutually consistent, liberty, virtue, and reason were, for Warren as for many of her generation, necessary to sustain a republic. Liberty without virtue and reason to guide it led to licentiousness; virtue without reason and liberty to energize it led to passivity and quietism; and reason without liberty and virtue to focus it led to abstraction and cynicism. The need for all three animating principles demonstrated why republics had proven to be so fragile.
Warren sometimes characterized the three conflicts in the starkest terms, suggesting that she viewed history as a vast morality play—not unlike “The Sack of Rome,” which she had based on Joseph Addison’s “Cato” (1713)—in which simple, industrious, virtuous, liberty-loving republicans courageously resist the encroachments of kings, despots, and mannered aristocrats who care only to gratify their baser passions. While, for Warren, history may have been easy enough to categorize into strict oppositions, its outcomes were neither obvious nor inevitable. If history revealed any consistent tendency, it was that arbitrary power, corruption, and irrationality tended to defeat enlightened principles. That was why most of the world remained enslaved. “Ambition and avarice,” she wrote, “are the leading springs” of history, whereas “virtue in the sublimest sense, has an influence only on a chosen few,” and “the guidance of reason . . . operates too little on the generality of mankind.”7 Faced with those who lusted for power and self-aggrandizement, most people in the history of the world submitted, too ignorant, cowardly, or despairing to resist.
There were, of course, exceptions to this grim scenario, the most conspicuous of which in the modern world was that of the American colonists who, according to Warren, manifested the kind of virtue and commitment to liberty only rarely witnessed in history. Warren “trembled for the events of the present commotion,” she wrote in 1774; she believed that “there must be a noble struggle to recover the existing liberties of our injured country” and that no one could predict how the struggle would turn out. In retrospect, however, she was able to conclude: “Reduced nearly to a state of nature with regard to all civil or authoritative ties, it is almost incredible, that the principles of rectitude and common justice should have been so generally influential” among the people. From the Stamp Act to the introduction of a standing army in Massachusetts, from the nonimportation agreements to the Coercive Acts, and finally from these tensions to a state of war, “it must be ascribed to the virtue of the people . . . that they did not feel the effects of anarchy in the extreme.”8 The American Revolution was a signal victory over “an ungrateful, dissipated” Britain, a nation which had fallen into “barbarism” and internal corruption and whose “republican opinions and . . . freedom . . . had been on the wane” since the first Stuart.9
Yet despite the triumph of liberty, virtue, and reason on this occasion, Warren was not confident and surely not complacent about the long-term prospects of the Revolution. On the contrary, when she drafted her History during the 1780s and ’90s, she wrote in a mood of profound concern. The new nation seemed to be manifesting the same dreaded signs of decay that had characterized the decline of all earlier republics: political partisanship that would undermine revolutionary unity; financial insolvency that threatened the continued existence of government on all levels; social rivalries that could destroy stability; and, above all, moral and political degeneration that substituted private passion for enlightened self-interest and that eventually would make a mockery of a “republican” culture.
As early as 1780, she wrote to her friend John Adams, wishing for his speedy return from Amsterdam, where he was negotiating loans and a treaty. “We need the steady influence of all the old republicans,” she wrote, “to keep the principles of the revolution in view.” “The truth is,” she added to her son Winslow, then in Europe, America has “deviated from the principles, manners, and spirit, that instigated to an opposition to Britain” and that were essential to the success of the republic. By 1786 she believed the revolutionary venture might fail entirely. Here were the new states, “emancipated from a foreign yoke,” a long and bloody war finally ended, “with the liberty of forming our own governments, framing our own laws, choosing our own magistrates, and adopting manners the most favourable to freedom and happiness, yet sorry I am to say I fear we have not virtue sufficient to avail ourselves of these superior advantages.” Instead, she wrote a year later to Catharine Macaulay, republicanism and independence “are nearly dwindled into theory.” Republicanism was “defaced by a spirit of anarchy,” while independence was “almost annihilated … by a kind of public gambling, instead of private industry.”10
Events in Warren’s personal life no doubt intensified her feelings of melancholy and heightened her sense of widespread public decline. Before her History went to press, three of the five Warren sons had died. Charles died of consumption at the age of twenty-four in 1786; the favored Winslow, seeking to avoid a lawsuit for moneys owed, joined General Arthur St. Clair’s ill-fated expedition against the Miami Indians and died in battle in Ohio in 1791 at thirty-one; and the youngest, George, died in Maine at the age of twenty-four. Her oldest son, James Jr., a naval lieutenant, returned from a mission to France in 1779, crippled for life with a shattered right knee that he suffered when the Alliance encountered two English sloops. Moreover, her husband James, distinguished for his service as speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, president of the Provincial Congress, and commissary general in the Continental Army, had, incredibly, become politically suspect to the ruling Hancock forces in Massachusetts. James’s sympathy for the Shaysites in 1786, his frequent laments about public corruption, and his moderate antifederalism placed him outside the growing federalist mainstream. Even John Adams, a long-time friend, found his views increasingly obnoxious. Though James was elected lieutenant governor in 1780 (to serve in a Hancock administration), he declined the post and sank into undeserved obscurity.
Although these private events added to Warren’s gloom, they should not be allowed to overshadow her public vision or to depreciate her broader understanding of national affairs. In her fifties and sixties when her History was taking shape, Warren was seventy-seven when it was published, and her commitment to her role as a historian had long since developed into a public as well as a personal one. At the heart of that commitment was the complex of motives that she had mentioned in her letters to Winslow and implied in her letters to John Adams and Catharine Macaulay. Writing history was less a means of edification than a mode of exhortation. Narrative was a political and ethical performance, calculated to instill in a new generation a vigilance toward their liberties and to animate responsibility for their actions. History also provided an opportunity to define the terms—literally, the vocabulary—with which people could properly discuss politics and history.11
In short, history was “philosophy teaching by examples,” as Lord Bolingbroke had written; it “inculcates images of virtue and vice,” and its proper task was to train people, especially young people, in “public and private virtue.”12 This was the eighteenth-century version of the classical “exemplary theory of history,” which swept the Revolutionary generation of historians and which accorded perfectly with Warren’s understanding of her proper role.13 If she frequently painted history in blacks and whites and with broad strokes, creating simple moral oppositions wherever possible, she did so in order to make utterly clear to the rising generation that the struggle never ended.14 She stated the lesson plainly near the end of the History. Once corruption begins among individuals, it will, left unchecked, become systemic. If that should ever happen in America, she exhorted, “let some unborn historian, in a far distant day, detail the lapse, and hold up the contrast between a simple, virtuous, and free people, and a degenerate, servile race of beings. . . .”15
But, Warren lamented, that “far distant day” already had arrived, and something had to be done to reverse the decline. While a few “old republicans” sought political or constitutional remedies for the disease ailing the body politic, Warren turned to the word, for historical narrative had the power to redeem.
* * *
Warren’s ambition to be useful was no accident. For four generations before her birth on September 14, 1728, the Otises had served in town and colony offices, reaching as high as the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Governor’s Council. Her father had been Speaker of the House. Mercy Otis entered the world, the third child and first daughter of James and Mary Allyne Otis, with all the family’s privileges: wealth, social prestige, and political power; she added to these intellect and energy, and she made the most of her gifts.16
When Mercy Otis married James Warren in November 1754, two of the most prominent families in provincial Massachusetts were joined. The two families had taken similar routes to fortune and prestige; were the historical record less ample, both family histories would appear to be parodies of nineteenth-century success stories. John Otis I had emigrated to Bear Cove (later Hingham) in his fiftieth year in 1630. Richard Warren had arrived on the Mayflower ten years earlier. Both quickly acquired wealth and station, the result partly of being first in time and place, partly of their ability to recognize the economic and political possibilities of the new world. By the third generation, John Otis III (d. 1727) had become the most prominent citizen in Barnstable, having tripled the family assets (as his father had before him) and having served as judge of the Probate Court, chief justice of Barnstable County’s Court of Common Pleas, captain of a militia company, and Barnstable’s first representative to the Massachusetts General Assembly. In the same generation, Captain James Warren, also wealthy and respected, had had a similar career, serving as high sheriff of Plymouth County, captain of the militia, and Plymouth’s representative to the General Assembly.
Mercy Otis and James Warren could thus look back upon distinguished ancestors and forward to lives of affluence and respectability befitting people of their station. Viewed from one perspective, they did lead the conventional lives of the provincial elite. They settled on the Warren family estate at Eel River (established by the founder, Richard Warren) and soon acquired the Winslow mansion in Plymouth town. James conducted the family commercial enterprise, engaging in coastal and overseas trade, and entered politics as his forebears had. He became sheriff of Plymouth County and justice of the peace in 1756, offices that suited a rising man of thirty; he later served as a colonel in the militia. Other positions of power and prestige would follow as a matter of course. The Warrens reared five sons with parental devotion and concern.
Viewed from another, more important, perspective, however, the events of the American Revolution made conventional life impossible. While James Warren helped found the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence in 1772, Mercy was writing the plays that launched her political and literary career. When James went to Watertown to serve as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress (succeeding cousin Joseph Warren, who fell at the Battle of Bunker Hill), Mercy began firing the literary salvos that would lead to her collection of poetry, her pamphlet of 1788, and the History.
Warren may have had a history in mind as early as 1775, for Abigail Adams wrote to her in “hope the Historick page will increase to a volume.” At the end of 1787, John Adams wrote from London thanking Warren for a copy of “The Sack of Rome” and cautioning her not to get her hopes up for an English edition of anything she might write. “Your Annals, or History, I hope you will continue, for there are few Persons possessed of more Facts, or who can record them in a more agreeable manner.” But: “nothing American sells here”—not Ramsay’s or Gordon’s histories, or Barlow’s poems.17
There is reason to believe that by 1791 Warren had completed the manuscript up to the Treaty of Paris and that she considered Chapter XXXI, which deals with the period from 1783 to the Constitution, as a “supplementary chapter. “It is my purpose Sir,” she wrote to Elbridge Gerry in a “Secret and Confidential” letter of 1791, “at the Conclusion of a certain Historical and biographical Work to make a few [strictures] on the origin[,] the nature & the pitiable consequences of the new government.” She asked Gerry detailed questions about the numerous people he had known in the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention and concluded: “You may think sir the business I am upon is a bold undertaking; it was begun for the amusement of myself[,] continued with a view of conveying to my children the causes of a struggle & . . . information of the conduct & character of the principal actors at the beginning of the revolution[,] and I wish to finish it in a manner that may be useful to them & interesting to their friends. . . . ” The design of the “supplement” was to carry the story forward through the turbulent formation of the new federal government: “to give a general view of the first fifteen years after the peace.”18
The timing of the History is of some importance, for Warren may have delayed publication until 1805 because she thought it unlikely to gain approval as a result of its supposed antifederalist and Jeffersonian biases. It is clear from her letters to Gerry that she knew the History would raise political hackles. Moreover, La Rochefoucauld, who visited the Warrens in the late 1790s, said that Mercy and James had, “with great prudence, resolved not to send [the History] to the press while they live, but to leave for publication after their death; the truth may then, they say, be safely declared.”19 And Judith Sargent Murray said as late as 1805 that “very many” people who otherwise admired Warren were not subscribing to the History because of its “political principles.”20
Warren, however, had never balked before. While her political apprehensions probably played some role in delaying the History, they will not explain why the intrepid Warren, who had published “Observations on the New Constitution” in 1788, should have turned shy three years later. In addition to the likelihood of political opposition (which the History did not escape in any case), the delay in publication must be ascribed to Warren’s aesthetic and moral concerns. The story she had set out to tell had not yet ended. She simply could not publish a history ending in 1783, when “the contrast” between the virtuous generation of the Revolution and the “degenerate, servile race of beings” which was succeeding it was so obvious to her. Such a history would not only be factually incomplete; it would also lack the moral unities of historical literature and represent a lost opportunity for Warren to drive home the political and ethical lessons of the American experience.21
Nor should the realities of daily life be overlooked. Warren was sixty-three years old in 1791 and isolated in Plymouth, far from Boston publishers. In the same year she lost her favorite son, Winslow, on whom she had lavished great affection (and apprehension) for years. Until Rev. James Freeman, who had experience in handling publications, began serving as her agent, she had little opportunity and less emotional incentive to see her work to publication.
Freeman’s moral support and help with business transactions no doubt helped ease the mind of a distant author. In February 1803, Freeman encouraged Warren to publish the work as soon as possible and not to worry about possible political opposition to it.22 In October he informed Warren of the terms on which Manning and Loring would publish the History.23 As the work neared completion in press, Freeman offered to look for subscribers among the membership of the Massachusetts Historical Society.24 He also suggested half a dozen possible mottoes for the book, drawn from Seneca, Lucretius, Terence, and Manilius, though he cautioned Warren: “The best passages of the ancient authors have been anticipated by former historians.”25 As usual, Warren followed her own inclinations and used the quotations from Saint Paul and Shakespeare that appear on her title page.
Although Freeman predicted that the History would be widely appreciated, it has been neglected since Warren’s own day. In the decades following the Revolution, a large number of magazines, some devoted specifically to literature, appeared in virtually all of the major cities of America. While John Marshall’s Life of George Washington, Abiel Holmes’s Annals of America, and other historical works were announced, reviewed, and even excerpted in some of these periodicals, Warren’s was announced twice and reviewed only once. The reviewer for The Panoplist criticized Warren’s style, but it is difficult not to conclude that this criticism masked a less worthy agenda. He noted that, though authors should have a free hand in drawing characters, Warren sometimes exercised that freedom “in some instances which a gentleman would not, perhaps, have thought prudent.” The reviewer also observed that all members of society “have our ‘appropriate duties’ . . . even aged women’ have a sphere of usefulness. . . .”26 But if the History was long neglected because of Warren’s politics or because she was a woman or because it prompted some powerful people (including her old friend John Adams) to personal outrage, it has properly become the subject of study in recent years.27
The History has attracted the attention of modern readers neither, principally, because it is the most complete account we have of the Revolution, nor because it satisfies a modern urge for narrative history. If anything, we know more about the Revolution than Warren could have hoped to know, and her style will seem quaint to some and florid to others. Instead, its appeal today lies in its simultaneous presentation of history and author, an appeal which is enhanced because the History is “interspersed with biographical, political and moral observations.” Modern scholars have begun to take seriously Thoreau’s notion that all literature, no matter how “documentary,” is written in the first person—from some standpoint that is both here and now. As a result, we do not simply read through Warren’s History to the historical world to which it points. We read Warren in her History, constantly aware of the narrative voice that presents the world beyond the words. In doing so, we gain a purchase on the political, ethical, and philosophical assumptions that lie behind the language. Historical narrative thus becomes less a window than a mirror—a mirror that reflects its author’s values and expectations, and, if we read carefully, our own as well.
Lester H. Cohen is Associate Professor of History and American Studies at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.
The Writings of Mercy Otis Warren
MANUSCRIPTS AND COLLECTIONS
Mercy Warren Papers, MHS (Boston)
Otis Papers, MHS
Warren-Adams Manuscripts, MHS
Knight-Gerry Papers, MHS
Warren-Winthrop Letters, MHS
Elbridge Gerry Papers, MHS
Warren Family Letters and Papers, Pilgrim Museum (Plymouth)
Gay-Otis Papers, Butler Library (Columbia University)
Otis Family Manuscripts, Butler Library
Manuscript History, Houghton Library (Harvard University)
Charles Francis Adams, ed., Correspondence Between John Adams and Mercy Warren, Relating to the “History of the American Revolution,” MHS, Collections, fifth series, IV (Boston, 1878)
L.H. Butterfield, ed., Adams Family Correspondence (4 vols.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963–1973)
C. Harvey Gardiner, ed., A Study in Dissent: The Warren-Gerry Correspondence, 1776–1792 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968)
Warren-Adams Letters: Being Chiefly a Correspondence Among John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Warren, MHS, Collections, vols. 72, 73 (1917, 1925)
“The Adulateur,” Massachusetts Spy, March 26 and April 23, 1772
Boston, 1773 (pamphlet)
Magazine of History, 16 (1917–18), pp. 227–259
“The Defeat,” Boston Gazette, May 24 and July 19, 1773
Edmund M. Hayes, ed., NEQ, 49 (September 1976), pp. 440–458
“The Group,” Boston Gazette, January 23, 1775
Massachusetts Spy, January 26, 1775
Boston: Edes and Gill, 1775
New York: John Anderson, 1775 (The Group, A Farce)
Jamaica, printed; Philadelphia, reprint: James Humphreys, Jr., 1775.
(The Group, A Farce) (No copy of the Jamaica edition is available.)
“Observations on the New Constitution and on the Federal and State Conventions. By A Columbian Patriot” (Boston, 1788)
Reprinted in Paul Leicester Ford, ed., Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States, Published During Its Discussion by the People, 1787–1788 (Brooklyn, 1888): 1–23, where it is erroneously attributed to Elbridge Gerry.
Reprinted in Herbert J. Storing, ed., The Complete Anti-Federalist (7 vols.; Chicago, 1981), 4: 270–287
Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous (Boston, 1790)
(Includes two dramatic tragedies: “The Sack of Rome” and “The Ladies of Castille.”)
Edmund M. Hayes, ed., “The Private Poems of Mercy Otis Warren,” NEQ, 54 (June 1981), pp. 199–224
Plays and Poems of Mercy Otis Warren: Facsimile Reproductions Compiled and with an Introduction by Benjamin Franklin V (Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1980)
(Includes “The Adulateur,” “The Defeat,” and “The Group"; “The Blockheads” and “The Motley Assembly,” the authorship of which is disputed; and the 1790 Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous.)
History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution. Interspersed with Biographical, Political and Moral Observations (Boston: Manning and Loring, 1805)
Photo-facsimile, New York: A.M.S. Press, 1970
Chapter XXXI reprinted in Herbert J. Storing, ed., The Complete
Anti-Federalist (7 vols.; Chicago, 1981), 6: 195–249
The most comprehensive and complete biography of Warren is Mary Elizabeth Regan, “Pundit and Prophet of the Old Republic: The Life and Times of Mercy Otis Warren, 1728–1814” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, 1984). Jean Fritz, Cast for a Revolution: Some American Friends and Enemies, 1728–1814 (Boston, 1972) is an admirable study of Warren’s life in the context of Massachusetts politics. John J. Waters, Jr., The Otis Family in Provincial and Revolutionary Massachusetts (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1968) is a multigenerational family history which brilliantly illuminates local Massachusetts history as well as that of the Otises.
The best short introduction to Warren’s thought and writings is Maud Macdonald Hutcheson, “Mercy Warren, 1728–1814,” WMQ, third series, 10 (July 1953), pp. 378–402. Arthur H. Shaffer, The Politics of History: Writing the History of the American Revolution, 1783–1815 (Chicago, 1975) discusses the historical writings of the Revolutionary era, with a focus on the development of a national historiography. William Raymond Smith, History as Argument: Three Patriot Historians of the American Revolution (The Hague, 1966) analyzes the historical theories and assumptions of David Ramsay, Mercy Warren, and John Marshall. I have discussed eighteenth-century historical thought generally in The Revolutionary Histories: Contemporary Narratives of the American Revolution (Ithaca, N.Y., 1980), and in “Creating a Useable Future: The Revolutionary Historians and the National Past,” in Jack P. Greene, ed., The American Revolution: The Unfinished Agenda (New York: forthcoming, 1987). I have treated Warren’s historical theory in its ideological context in “Explaining the Revolution: Ideology and Ethics in Mercy Otis Warren’s Historical Theory,” WMQ, third series, 37 (April 1980), pp. 200–218.
Warren’s plays and poetry are usually discussed in passing—ordinarily in the context of eighteenth-century American satire or poetry generally. Moses Coit Tyler’s The Literary History of the American Revolution, 1763–1783 (2 vols.; New York, 1896) remains useful. Everett Emerson, ed., American Literature, 1764–1789: The Revolutionary Years is a good collection of essays, including Calhoun Winton’s “The Theatre and Drama,” pp. 87–104. Bruce Ingram Granger, Political Satire in the American Revolution, 1763–1783 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1960) provides a good overview of an important topic. I learned much about American playwrights from Walter J. Meserve, An Emerging Entertainment: The Drama of the American People to 1828 (Bloomington, Ind., 1977). Gerald Weales, “ ‘The Adulateur’ and How It Grew,” Library Chronicles, 43 (1979), pp. 103–133 is the most insightful essay on Warren’s play specifically and on Warren as a playwright in general. Weales’s “The Quality of Mercy, or, Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” Georgia Review, 33 (Winter 1979), pp. 881–894 is entertaining as well as instructive. Benjamin Franklin V provides an introduction to his compilation of Warren’s poems and plays. Edmund M. Hayes has published an authoritative edition of Warren’s “The Defeat,” NEQ, 49 (September 1976), pp. 440–458, and hitherto unpublished poems, “The Private Poems of Mercy Otis Warren,” NEQ, 54 (June 1981), pp. 199–224. Cheryl Z. Oreovicz treats the corpus of Warren’s writings in “Mercy Warren and ‘Freedom’s Genius,’ ” University of Mississippi Studies in English, new series, 5 (August 1987). Emily Stipes Watts, The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945 (Austin, Tex., 1977) is the best discussion of its subject. Patti Cowell, ed., Women Poets in Pre-Revolutionary America, 1650–1775: An Anthology (Troy, N.Y., 1981) provides an introduction and well-chosen selections.
The two best books on eighteenth-century American women, both of which deal with Warren, are Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill, 1980) and Mary Beth Norton, Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750–1800 (Boston, 1980). Joan Hoff Wilson and Sharon Bollinger discuss Warren’s contributions to drama, poetry, and history in “Mercy Otis Warren: Playwright, Poet, and Historian of the American Revolution,” in J. R. Brink, ed., Female Scholars: A Tradition of Learned Women Before 1800 (Montreal, 1980). I have tried to show the relationship between Warren’s roles as political thinker, artist, and woman in “Mercy Otis Warren: The Politics of Language and the Aesthetics of Self,” AQ, 35 (Winter 1983), pp. 481–498.
This edition of Mercy Otis Warren’s History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution. Interspersed with Biographical, Political and Moral Observations reprints the first edition of the work published in Boston by Manning and Loring in 1805. To produce a new edition of the text, designed for general readers as well as scholars, we have made several concessions to modernity.
First, and most important, whereas the History originally appeared in three volumes, the present edition is in two. To help the reader make an easy correspondence between this edition and the first, we have used three devices: we have noted the original volume number in the running head; we have (following Manning and Loring’s original) numbered the chapters consecutively through the volumes and (again like Manning and Loring) placed the chapter number in the margin of each page; and we have inserted the original page numbers in brackets in the text to mark page breaks. By noting the volume, chapter, and page numbers of the original edition on each page of this one, the reader can tell at a glance exactly how the two correspond. Dates in the margins, intended to remind the reader which year is being discussed, are also preserved from the original.
Second, Manning and Loring’s typography has been modernized. The long “s” has been replaced by the less elegant but more readable standard “s.” Also, where Manning and Loring placed quotation marks down the left margin as well as at the end of lengthy quotations, we have opted to place quotation marks only immediately before and after all quoted passages, except when they were best displayed as extracts, according to standard modern practice, without the marks. We have, in addition, silently corrected obvious misprints. We thought it unnecessary to announce such corrections—inserting a missing “i” in “reconciliation,” for example—when reproducing the original typographical error would bear no significance to a modern reader.
Third, Warren’s “Notes,” contained in appendices at the end of each of her three volumes, have been divided for the sake of convenience. This division affects only the notes appearing in the original volume II, over half of which now appear at the end of the present first volume, the remainder falling at the end of the present second volume. The notes are keyed to the pages in both the original and the present edition.
Warren’s original index, corresponding to the pagination of the 1805 edition, is reprinted here in facsimile. A new index, designed to support modern inquiries, is also provided.
Warren read widely all her life. Rev. Jonathan Russell introduced her to Sir Walter Raleigh’s The History of the World (1614) when she was a youth, and she continued to read history avidly. She knew her native New England through the works of Cotton Mather and Thomas Prince as well as those of later writers, and she was knowledgeable about the history of the other colonies as well. Though she was perfectly placed, as an Otis and a Warren, to have firsthand information about the most recent events, she also scoured the newspapers and magazines. She was familiar with the Massachusetts Historical Society and its recent Collections.
Nor did she confine her readings to America and its affairs. Her footnotes evidence her familiarity with such general works as William Belsham’s Memoirs of the Reign of George III and the Modern Universal History, as well as Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. She kept abreast of English periodicals such as The Annual Register and The Remembrancer, and she maintained a lively interest in Parliamentary debates. She was also remarkably up-to-date on new publications, particularly those concerned with politics and contemporary history and those that contained documents relating to recent events. Her interest in the French Revolution, about which she read in Edmund Burke, Catharine Macaulay, and James Mackintosh, among others, is a case in point.
Many of the quotations in the History represent acts of virtuosity on her part, identifying her as a widely read and well-informed person. She was highly opinionated politically and morally, and she found support for her most cherished views in a great variety of sources. One consequence of her wide-ranging reading habits is that many of her quotations and citations have been difficult, and a few have been impossible, to track down.
To the modern reader, eighteenth-century footnotes are idiosyncratic, to say the least. They are frequently vague, oblique, and insufficient. The reader of Warren’s text will find quotations from and references to “Gibbon on the decline and fall of the Roman empire,” which originally appeared in six volumes; or what appears to be a lengthy quotation from “Mackintosh,” which is accurate enough, but which turns out to be two quotations that are separated by a hundred pages; or citations to the same work under three different titles and an author of a different name; or a quotation from “Montesquieu,” the sense of which is readily found in The Spirit of the Laws, though the quotation is not.
My point is that because Warren sometimes misquoted and sometimes provided inaccurate citations, I cannot be completely confident in all cases that I have found the sources that she used. I have, in preparing this annotated edition of the History, attempted to track down all of Warren’s footnotes. While a few quotations that she did not footnote are scattered through the text, I confined myself to those for which she did provide references. She presupposed that she wrote for a broadly literate audience and that the members of that audience would either know the quotations or, more likely, take them for granted as common fare. It turns out, moreover, that many of her fugitive quotations are tied to a footnote a page or two later. All of Warren’s original footnotes remain in place, indicated, as in the first edition, by asterisks, daggers, and double daggers. In most cases I have supplied a more complete reference, set off by brackets, immediately after her footnote.
Naturally, in providing expanded footnotes I have tried, wherever possible, to cite the specific source that Warren actually used. Failing that, I have cited a source—for instance, a collection such as Force’s American Archives—which contains her specific source. In some cases, particularly when I cannot be sure that I have uncovered the correct document, I suggest a source that reads very much like the one Warren cites. In all such cases, I indicate my lack of surety by introducing the source with “See” or “Probably.”
She published “The Adulateur” in 1772, “The Defeat” in 1773, and “The Group” in 1775. “The Sack of Rome” and “The Ladies of Castille” appeared in her Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous in 1790. Her authorship of “The Blockheads: or, The Affrighted Officers” (1776) and “The Motley Assembly” (1779) is a matter of some controversy, though she very likely wrote neither. There is no reason to believe that she wrote “Sans Souci, alias Free and Easy; or, An Evening’s Peep into a Polite Circle” (1785), which she referred to as a “little indigested farrago” in a letter to her son George. See Franklin, Introduction; Fritz, pp. 226–227.
MOW to Winslow Warren, November 20, 1780 and September 1785, MOWLB, pp. 254–257, 313–316.
See Walter J. Meserve, An Emerging Entertainment: The Drama of the American People to 1828 (Bloomington, Ind., 1977); Gerald Weales, “ ‘The Adulateur’ and How It Grew,” Library Chronicles, 43 (1979), pp. 103–133; Edmund M. Hayes, ed., “Mercy Otis Warren: ‘The Defeat,’ ” NEQ, 49 (September 1976), pp. 440–458; Cheryl Z. Oreovicz, “Mercy Otis Warren and ‘Freedom’s Genius,’ ” University of Mississippi Studies in English, new series, 5 (August 1987).
Warren published the three satires between 1772 and 1775, when popular agitation against the Crown, stimulated by the Boston Massacre (March 5, 1770), had deflated into sullen resentment by the failure of the nonimportation movement, then surged toward a crescendo with Parliament’s passage of the Coercive Acts in May, 1774. In 1773 the long-suspected conspiracy between British administration and high Massachusetts officials—notably Governor Thomas Hutchinson and his brother-in-law, Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver—appeared to be exposed. The Hutchinsons and the Olivers had become fixtures in numerous lucrative political offices in Massachusetts, giving rise to James Otis, Jr.’s protests against plural office-holding. And letters that Hutchinson and Oliver had written to England were discovered and published in Boston. What exquisite personal satisfaction Warren must have felt in revealing the deceitful characters of “Rapatio” (Hutchinson) and “Limput” (Oliver), when it was they (it was commonly, if erroneously, believed) who had blocked James Otis, Sr.’s succession as chief justice of the Superior Court when Samuel Sewall died in 1760! See Waters, 118–125; Bernard Bailyn, The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson (Cambridge, Mass., 1974); Ellen E. Brennan, Plural Office-Holding in Massachusetts, 1760–1780: Its Relation to the “Separation” of Departments of Government (Chapel Hill, 1945).
See Emily Stipes Watts, The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945 (Austin, Tex., 1977). Watts argues that “In whatever literary form Warren wrote, she had but one theme: liberty. In her farces and history, it was national and political freedom. In her poems, it was intellectual freedom. In her anti-Federalist pamphlet, it was individual freedom” (p. 39). See also Patti Cowell, ed., Women Poets in Pre-Revolutionary America, 1650–1775. An Anthology (Troy, N.Y., 1981); Edmund M. Hayes, ed., “The Private Poems of Mercy Otis Warren,” NEQ, 54 (June 1981), pp. 199–224; Oreovicz, “Mercy Warren and ‘Freedom’s Genius.’ ”
See my “Mercy Otis Warren: The Politics of Language and the Aesthetics of Self,” AQ, 35 (Winter 1983), pp. 481–498.
History, I: 2 (p. 3 of this edition); MOW to John Adams, December 1786, in MOWLB, p. 197; History, I: 216 (p. 118 of this edition).
MOW to Hannah Winthrop, 1774, in MOWLB, p. 70; History, I: 227, 147 (pp. 124, 81 of this edition).
MOW to Janet Montgomery, November 25, 1777, and MOW to John Adams, August 2, 1775, in MOWLB, pp. 41–42, 153; History, III: 399 (p. 678 of this edition). See my “Explaining the Revolution: Ideology and Ethics in Mercy Otis Warren’s Historical Theory,” WMQ, third series, 37 (April 1980), pp. 200–218.
MOW to John Adams, December 28, 1780; to Winslow Warren, December 18, 1782; to John Adams, December 1786; to Catharine Macaulay, August 2, 1787, in MOWLB, pp. 183; 279–281; 195; 22.
See my “Explaining the Revolution” and “Mercy Otis Warren: The Politics of Language and the Aesthetics of Self.”
Bolingbroke quoted in Isaac Kramnick, ed., Lord Bolingbroke: Historical Writings (Chicago, 1972), p. xvi. Warren evidently read Bolingbroke. See MOW to Winslow Warren, December 24, 1779, in MOWLB, pp. 242–243.
On the exemplary theory, see George H. Nadel, “Philosophy of History Before Historicism,” History and Theory, III (1964), pp. 291–315; Lester H. Cohen, The Revolutionary Histories: Contemporary Narratives of the American Revolution (Ithaca, N.Y., 1980), pp. 188–192.
See my “Creating a Useable Future: The Revolutionary Historians and the National Past,” in Jack P. Greene, ed., The American Revolution: The Unfinished Agenda (forthcoming).
History, III: 336–337 (pp. 645–646 of this edition).
For Otis family history, I have relied on Waters, Fritz, and Mary Elizabeth Regan, “Pundit and Prophet of the Old Republic: The Life and Times of Mercy Otis Warren, 1728–1814” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, 1984); for Warren family history, I have used, among others, Mrs. Washington A. Roebling, Richard Warren of the Mayflower and Some of His Descendants (Boston, 1901), as well as such sources as Sibley’s Harvard Graduates.
Abigail Adams to MOW, November 1775, WAL, I: 179; John Adams to MOW, December 25, 1787, WAL, II: 301.
MOW to Elbridge Gerry, March 29, 1791, Elbridge Gerry Papers, I, Box 1 (1775–1805) and MOW to Elbridge Gerry, February 21, 1806, Knight-Gerry Papers, Box 3 (1798–1812).
Duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, Travels Through the United States of North America, The Country of the Iroquois, and Upper Canada, in the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797 (4 vols., London, 1799), I: 485.
Judith Sargent Murray to MOW, June 1, 1805, WAL, II: 346.
David Ramsay also delayed the publication of his History of the American Revolution, which appeared in 1789, because “The revolution cannot be said to be compleated [sic] until [the Constitution] or something equivalent is established.” Ramsay to Benjamin Rush, February 17, 1788, in Robert L. Brunhouse, ed., David Ramsay, 1749–1815: Selections from his Writings, American Philosophical Society, Transactions, new series, 55 (1965), p. 119.
Freeman to MOW, February 22, 1803, MOWP, 1790–1806.
Freeman to MOW, October 13, 1803, MOWP, 1790–1806. Freeman wrote in some detail and offered a rare glimpse into the printing business. If the printer used small pica, labor would cost $16.50 per sheet; if he used large pica (which presumably Warren wanted) labor costs would be $13.50 per sheet. (A sheet would generate sixteen pages.) Freeman and the printers projected 400 pages per volume, or perhaps as many as 1,300 pages; hence the cost of eighty-two sheets would be $1,107. Fifteen hundred copies of each volume would require 265 reams of paper. Five dollars per ream for good-quality paper would run $1,325. Binding would cost ten cents per volume. Three times 1,500 volumes totalled 4,500 volumes and thus a cost of $450 for binding. The total cost of publication: $1,107 for printing; $1,325 for paper; $450 for binding—$2,882. To break even, the History would have to sell at sixty-four cents per volume, $1.92 the set. Freeman prudently suggested selling each set for $2.00.
Freeman to MOW, February 20, 1805, MOWP, 1790–1806.
Freeman to MOW, January 17, 1806, MOWP, 1790–1806.
The Panoplist (January-February 1807), pp. 380–384, 429–432. Emphasis added.
John Adams excoriated Warren in a virulent, if uncharacteristic, set of letters written after publication of the History. See Charles Francis Adams, ed., Correspondence Between John Adams and Mercy Warren, Relating to her “History of the American Revolution,” MHS, Collections, fifth series, IV (Boston, 1878).