The victory at Yorktown would not have been possible without the Declaration of Independence, and the Continental Congress would not have declared independence if the people did not favor independence. Beginning in 1772 and continuing through the war, Mercy Otis Warren wrote plays, poems and pamphlets that influenced others to support independence from Great Britain and the Revolution.
Mercy Otis Warren was born in September 1728 near Plymouth, Massachusetts. In 1754, Mercy Otis married James Warren, a merchant and farmer, who served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and as Paymaster-General of the Continental Army. Mercy Warren supported her husband’s political activities, and their Plymouth home was often a meeting place for local politicians and revolutionaries, including the Sons of Liberty. After her brother James was brutally beaten by colonial revenue officers in 1769, Mercy Warren was increasingly drawn to political activism and hosted protest meetings at her home.
Early in the revolutionary movement, Mercy Warren wrote two popular anti-British plays that helped kindle the spirit of revolution. Following the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, she wrote a poem celebrating the event – The Squabble of the Sea Nymphs – at the request of John Adams, who had it published on the front page of the Boston Gazette.
After the war began, and victory was not quickly achieved, public support for the revolution ebbed, and Mercy Warren picked up her pen again. She wrote an anonymous political poem, “The Genius of America Weeping the Absurd Follies of the Day,” which appeared in October 1778 in the Boston Gazette. The poem was designed to instill courage into wavering patriots and chastise those who put personal gain above the cause.
Warren was one of the most convincing writers during the Revolution, and her works inspired others to become Patriots. Her work earned the congratulations of numerous prominent leaders of the Revolution, including George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.
Mercy Warren’s plays and other writings helped prepare the people of Massachusetts and the other colonies for independence and the war necessary to achieve it. She was the 18th century equivalent of an “influencer,” convincing others that the country could and should be independent. The people who went to her plays or read her words were inspired to support the patriot cause, to believe that it was a righteous cause, and to endure the sacrifices required to achieve independence. She is rightly known as “the Conscience of the Revolution” and counted among the Founders of the United States.
To learn more about Mercy Otis Warren and see possible discussion questions for your local society meeting, download the Patriots of the Round Table Mercy Otis Warren Fact Sheet.