Blog Contest Winning Submission: "Mercy Otis Warren, An Undervalued Voice in History" by Ella Heiss
Updated: Mar 23, 2022
Mercy Otis Warren is the epitome of being overlooked in the historical field simply due to her gender. Warren published a three-volume history of the American Revolution in addition to plays, pamphlets, letters, and poems about the structure of the American government. She was amongst the first women in America to publish a non-fiction book with her major 1805 work: A History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution. Her work was undervalued and ignored by formally trained historians as she never received any official education, and she was a woman. Interestingly, Warren understood the limitations of her gender’s role, yet she took full advantage of her family’s political connections to sway politics in the direction she desired.[i] Warren emphasized the importance of a strong republican government that protected the individual. She was an anti-federalist who used the popularity of pamphlets to spread her beliefs that the Constitution gave too much power to the government as outlined in her 1778 pamphlet Observations on the New Constitution and on the Federal and State Conventions. In this pamphlet, she wrote: “The origin of all power is in the people, and they have an incontestable right to check the creatures of their own creation.”[ii]Reading Warren’s work gives insight into what the common citizen’s viewpoint was on the formation of the new American government and her anti-federalist stance showed the opposing side of the argument. Warren’s plays: The Adulter (1772), The Defeat (1773), and The Group (1775) were anti-British propaganda pieces that used satire to denounce prominent Loyalists in the colonies and rally Patriots.[iii] Unfortunately, her artistic work has not been credited as a valid source of historical writing as it has not been formally researched or backed by valid sources. Warren’s art did, however, still represent the ideals of a society; therefore, her poems and plays should be seen as acceptable for historical reference. Warren’s work should still be read today as it commemorated the building of a new republic when no other country had the same system. In terms of female historiography, her work can be seen as the beginning of female voices in American politics. Warren as an example of the power of female influence over society. Her work greatly impacted prominent politicians at the time, such as John Adams, and the formation of the early American republic. Finally, her work articulated critical views of anti-federalists, which has contributed to modern-day historians' better understanding of the views on the side of a minority.
[i] Janis L McDonald, “The Need for Contextual ReVision: Mercy Otis Warren, a Case in Point,” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 5, no. 1 (1992): pp. 183-216. [ii] Mercy Otis Warren and Elbridge Gerry, “Observations on the new Constitution, and on the federal and state conventions. By a Columbian patriot.” Sic transit gloria Americana. [Boston ]: s.n, . Eighteenth Century Collections Online [iii] Joe Wolverton, “Formidable Female (Mercy Otis Warren),” Shibboleth authentication request (American Opinion Publishing, Inc., June 19, 2017).
American OpinionPublishing, Inc., June 19, 2017.
McDonald, Janis L. “The Need for Contextual ReVision: Mercy Otis Warren, a Case in Point.”
Yale Journalof Law and Feminism 5, no. 1 (1992):183–216.
Warren, Mercy Otis and Elbridge Gerry. Observations on the new Constitution, and on the
federal and state conventions. By a Columbian patriot. Sic transit gloria Americana.
Boston: s.n, 1788. Eighteenth Century Collections Online.
Wolverton, Joe. “Formidable Female (Mercy Otis Warren).” Shibboleth authentication request.