March is Women’s History Month. But virtually ignored is one woman who played a central role in American history—Mercy Otis Warren—who died 200 years ago this October.
Termed “The Conscience of the American Revolution” and called a genius by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, Mercy Warren was a leading force behind our freedom. Sister of James Otis and wife of James Warren, both revolutionary leaders, Committees of Correspondence were born in her house and she hosted groups including the Sons of Liberty. However, her writing—pro-independence plays, poetry, and correspondence, objections that the U.S. Constitution omitted a bill of rights and a three-volume eyewitness account of the revolution–made her someone we should heed, along with our founding fathers.
[O]nce aroused to a consciousness of the native freedom and equal rights of man, every one revolts at the idea of servitude.
The game of deception is played over and over…that mankind in general are incapable of the enjoyment of that liberty which nature seems to prescribe…
Mankind may amuse themselves with theoretic systems of liberty…but we can only discern its true value by the practical and wretched effects of slavery…
[T]he perfectibility of man…may be left to the dreaming socialist…while that rational liberty, to which all have a right, [must] be exhibited and defended by men of principle and heroism who better understand the laws of social order.
[G]overnment is instituted for the protection, safety and happiness of the people…[who] have an incontestable right to check the creatures of their own creation…to guard the life, liberty and property of the community.
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.
[E]very domestic enjoyment depends on…the right of personal liberty, which everyone justly claims…
[W]hen the first rudiments of society have been established, the right of private property has been held sacred.
[A] sacred regard to personal liberty and the protection of private property were opinions embraced by all who had any just ideas of government, law, equity, or morals. These were the rights of men…
America has fought for the boon of liberty…guard it on every side that it might not be sported away by the folly of the people or the intrigue or deception of their rulers.
It is necessary to guard at every point against the intrigues of artful or ambitious men who may subvert the [constitutional] system…most conducive to the general happiness of society.
Any attempt [to]…subvert the Constitution, or undermine the just principles which wrought out the American Revolution, cannot be too severely censured…The principles of the Revolution ought ever to be the polestar of the statesmen, respected by the rising generation…the advantages bestowed by Providence should never be lost by negligence, indiscretion, or guilt.
It is necessary for every American…to rescue and save their civil and religious rights from the outstretched arm of tyranny, which may appear under any mode of government.
[T]here are still many among us who revere [Liberty’s] name too much to relinquish the rights of man for the dignity of government.
[America’s] principles…may finally…spread universal liberty and peace as far at least as is compatible with the present state of human nature.
Mercy Otis Warren believed that we should “rejoice in the prospect of liberty,” and held high hopes of the continued freedom and prosperity of America. She was highly esteemed by our founding fathers and was an important influence in supporting and spreading American ideals. As John Adams wrote her husband, “God Almighty has entrusted her with the Powers for the good of the World which…he bestows on few of the human race.” Her stirring commitment to liberty as one of our most influential founders still has a great deal to teach us.
(Gary Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University in Malibu.)