Since reading Cokie Roberts' Founding Mothers and Ladies of Liberty, I have wanted to know more about Mercy Otis Warren, who was secretly writing poems and plays for the patriotic cause that were printed anonymously in colonial newspapers. I learned from Roberts that Warren was a friend of Abigail Adams and Martha Washington, wife of a prominent Plymouth patriot, prolific letter writer, and author of an early history of the American Revolution. Finally, I have learned more about her in The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation by Nancy Rubin Stuart.
Warren's pen was not really very secret. John Adams, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, her brother James Otis, and, of course, her husband James Warren knew what she was writing, as did others. In the early days of the American Revolution there was a fellowship of rebels, all wanting to break away from England's rule. These men depended on their wives to run their businesses and families while they met in congresses and fought in battles. They were at the time open to Warren's writings helping their cause. Later, when the war was won and they split on how to run a new country, they were not all so willing to receive advice from a woman. Ironically, Mercy Otis Warren was the first to suggest that the Constitution needed a bill of rights for individuals and states to keep the federal government from becoming dictatorial. She never got credit for this idea in her lifetime.
Warren's friendship and correspondence with John and Abigail Adams is a central thread to the narrative. The friends parted decisively on the issue of the strength of the federal government, and Warren was appalled by Adams' sponsorship of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The thirty-five year effort to write and publish Warren's History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution is another thread. Warren and John Adams exchanged many angry letters over her presentation in her book of his role in the Revolution. The fate of Warren's five sons and her close relationship with her husband are two other subplots. Readers wanting to know more about the role of women in the American Revolution or about how an early American woman dealt with tragedy will enjoy this detailed life story.
Stuart, Nancy Rubin. The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation. Beacon Press, 2008. ISBN 9780807055168