Friday, April 7, 2017

The Greatest Founding Mother: Mercy Otis Warren (Part I)

To some, the criteria to be a founding mother is to be a spouse of a founding father. If that is the case, strong arguments for the greatest founding mother can be made for Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Deborah Franklin. All three were strong women who ran the family farms or businesses as their husbands ventured overseas. Deborah Franklin even did Ben’s job: Postmaster General of the United States. Of these three women, to me, the clear choice as the greatest founding mother would be Abigail Adams. Abigail was John’s best and probably only advisor when he was President. One of John’s biggest mistakes was keeping most of Washington’s cabinet choices in his administration. No chemistry formed with any of these cabinet members and he therefore consulted his wife for all his tough decisions. Abigail supported many of John’s best decisions such as working out a peace treaty with France to avoid war (something many of his cabinet members disagreed with) and of course she was active in some of his worst decisions such as the passing of the Aliens and Seditions Act (of course Congress passed it so it was not just a bad decision by John and Abigail). In many regards, our second president was not John, but Abigail Adams.

That being said, it seems ridiculous to limit our founding mothers options to spouses of founding fathers. Independent women also made a huge impact during the Revolutionary War and Constitutional era. For this reason, the woman that made the biggest impact on the Revolutionary War and the drafting of our Constitution is without doubt Mercy Otis Warren. Like Abigail, Mercy was born and bred in Massachusetts. She was a correspondent and advisor to many key political figures including Sam Adams, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams, and of course Abigail Adams. Before 1790 most of her work was published under surnames to hide her identity since women mingling in politics was mostly considered taboo. She published many poems and plays that were propaganda used to promote the anti-British and anti-Loyalist agenda during the Revolutionary War. She was regarded as among the most influential writers of the Revolutionary War. In 1772 she published a satire play called The Adulateur; in 1775: The Group; in 1776: The Blockheads; and 1779: The Motley Assembly. After the War she published several more plays in 1790: The Sack of Rome and The Ladies of Castille. Also in 1790 she published a book of poems called “Poems, Dramatic, and Miscellaneous”. In 1805, she published one of the first histories of the American Revolution in three volumes entitled: History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution. Interestingly, Warren did not portray John Adams very favorably in these books and that led to a temporary falling out between her and the Adams family. Of course Adams was a Federalist and Mercy Otis Warren was an anti-Federalist.

Mercy Otis Warren’s biggest contribution to history was her anti-Federalist writing entitled: “Observations on the New Constitution, and on the Federal and State Conventions” in 1788. It was written under the surname “a Columbian Patriot” and it included her reasons as to why the recently drafted Constitution was bad for America. She hoped her writings and those of several other patriots would lead to the failure of ratifying the Constitution by at least 9 of the original 13 colonies. Some would argue, why would I chose as the greatest founding mother a women who was against our Constitution? The reason is simple. First, since the Constitution is vague at best, her writings forced Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to write the 85 Federalist Papers (500 pages of new information explaining the intent of the Constitution and its framers) to counter those points made by anti-Federalist such as Warren. Secondly, anti-federalist writings led to the Bill of Rights and the first ten Amendments to the Constitution. And finally, many of the fears that Warren discusses about the Constitution and the newly proposed federal government have come to fruition and can be observed through our present day government.

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