Mercy Otis Warren's Gendered Melodrama of Revolution*
by Nina Baym

Among the many Massachusetts intellectuals who wrote to support the patriot cause before and during the American Revolution, Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814) was the only woman. [1] She was especially acclaimed in her day for two political plays, The Adulateur (I773) and The Group (1775). Published but apparently not performed, these satires excoriated the Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson and his administration as greedy unprincipled sycophants. Two historical tragedies in blank verse, The Ladies of Castile and The Sack of Rome, appeared in a 1790 volume titled Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous. Both these plays featured republics undermined from within by loss of civic virtue; the theme implies an authorial hope of influencing national politics. And Warren's major work, a three-volume history of the American Revolution running to more than twelve hundred pages, elevated the revolutionary leaders as paragons of republican virtue to be revered and imitated.

This work, called The History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution, Interspersed with Biographical, Political and Moral Observations, had been composed mostly during the I78os, and only its conclusion was left to be written by 1791. [2] Whatever the reasons for the publication delay, when the History finally came out it was unable to hold its own against John Marshall's newly published Life of Washington and David Ramsay's highly readable History of the American Revolution (1789), which had been accepted as the standard account as soon as it appeared. Warren chose to attribute the poor reception of her History to what she deemed its pronounced antifederalism, since its place of publication--Boston--remained a Federalist stronghold throughout Jefferson's administration and after.

After Warren's death her name continued to figure in accounts of the revolutionary era as that of an extraordinary woman; the political content and polemical style of her writings, however, excluded them from any American literary canon whose content was supposed to be transcendent and whose style was supposed to be aesthetic. From the standpoint of a renewed interest in the ideological determinants of history, however, Warren's History becomes a good subject for scholarly inquiry. It has recently been analyzed for its articulation of republican ideology and rhetoric, its mix of historiographical practices (Enlightenment, providential, and exemplary), and its participation in the construction of a national identity as a foundation for patriotism. [3]

Stimulated by the feminist movement in academia, a few students of women's history and writing have also returned to Warren's life and work. They have done so in the expectation that Warren's work would overtly connect patriot ideas of liberty to the emancipation of women, and they hoped to find protofeminist sentiments in her texts. In the main, Warren has disappointed them; there is not much material to work with, and what there is seems to express a gender conservatism that they find distressingly at odds with Warren's own behavior.

Those few of her letters commenting on the status of women endorse a strong version of the "separate spheres" doctrine in which women are restricted to domestic space and subordinated to men. Scholars agree that The Ladies of Castile features women characters who exhibit the freedom Warren assumed publicly to expound and advocate republican principles; but like Warren herself, these characters do not apply republican theory to women. As for women in the History, analysts have found only a few passages wherein Warren refers to herself as a woman historian, and they interpret the tone of these passages as either apologetic or coy. Some critics put the best face on their findings by proposing that Warren sacrificed her gender interests to the goals of nation building. Others try to save her from the charge of hypocrisy by suggesting that she was a canny, duplicitous practitioner of conventional gender politics. [4]

In my view, while the surface and structure of Warren's History are strongly gender-inflected, the work does not show Warren to be a progressive thinker where gender is concerned. The historical narrative is neither a brief for women's emancipation nor a double-voiced, duplicitous women's text. Rather, in its gendered aspect it reinforces, is even inspirited by just that "conservative" view of women's separate sphere articulated in her letters. In a melodramatic combination of sentimentalism and sensationalism, Warren epitomizes the moral difference between the two sides in the war through pathetic, brutal, and eroticized representations of attacks on American women by the English and their mercenary allies.

The converse of this argument, however, is that whatever we may perceive as the disparity between her profession and her practice, for Warren there is no contradiction between the representation of gender in the text and the woman's act of authoring that text. The gendered references to herself as author propose that history-writing as she practices it comports fully with a traditional definition of women's sphere. [5] She all but says that her sympathetic recognition of women's particular vulnerability during the Revolution has significantly shaped her account and made it a better history than other accounts. She even hints that exclusion from the men's world of action may well be to her advantage as a historian, since philosophically informed history--the s crucial to its paranoid and melodramatic style.

Warren's preamble to the History has been read as a pseudo-apology for her gender effrontery or a hypocritical ploy to secure the role of historian for herself by implicitly agreeing that it is not appropriate for other women. I propose to read it rather as an assertion that the rights to formulate and express political views as well as to compose history are thoroughly compatible with the female domestic realm. Warren claims the activities of political thinking and history-writing on behalf of all women by connecting politics and history to women's specifically domestic interests:

The solemnity that covered every countenance, when contemplating the sword uplifted, and the horrors of civil war rushing to habitations not inured to scenes of rapine and misery; even to the quiet cottage, where only concord and affection had reigned; stimulated to observation a mind that had not yielded to the assertion, that all political attentions lay out of the road of female life. [6]

It is true there are certain appropriate duties assigned to each sex; and doubtless it is the more peculiar province of masculine strength, not only to repel the bold invader of the rights of his country and of mankind, but in the nervous style of manly eloquence, to describe the blood-stainedard In the first paragraph Warren says that she had always believed that some forms of political behavior, though presumably not all, were appropriate for women. From the perspective of this belief, in which gender plays an important part, she was stimulated to observation not by the spectacle of regular military operations but by "civil war," a phrase which I do not think denotes internecine conflict (the internecine dimension of the Revolution is muted throughout Warren's account) but rather a mode of warfare that methodically attacks civilians and domestic life. This is the kind of warfare that reaches into "habitations not inured to scenes of rapine and misery; even to the quiet cottage, where only concord and affection had reigned."

If the Revolution had been fought exclusively on the battlefield it might have remained beyond women's scope. But since it came home from the start to women, they were virtually obliged to think and speak out about it. Womanly thinking, as Warren exemplifies it, cannot lead to pacifism. The war took its shape from those monsters of moral evil the English, who also started it. Philosophical reflection about the interrelation between morality and political ideology leads to the conclusion that the English could not have fought in any other way, since they were monarchists. Therefore, American women could not do otherwise than support the patriots against the English.

In the second paragraph of the extract, Warren grants that no history of a war can avoid describing formal battles, and concedes that women are not likely to do this well. Nevertheless the attempt must be made, because women's domestic felicity depends on "the unimpaired possession of civil and religious liberty." Therefore, though her female heart "trembled" and her hand "shrunk" at the challenge of the task of describing the battlefield, "the work was not relinquished." Thus Warren's writing of history becomes a display of female heroism in which her strong mind triumphs over her weak body. Rather than muting Warren's gender, this passage exposes and defines it according to an Enlightenment ideal of universal reason. A woman's body is of course weaker than a man's, she holds; her mind is not.

I read this preface, then, as a site where Warren, balancing the shortcomings and strengths that she brings as a woman to the task of writing history, concludes that the strengths predominate. Elsewhere in the preface she refers to her personal connections with many important patriots, thus invoking a filiopietism that is also compatible with her gender. Her woman's vantage point does not produce radical counterhistory, however, because it depends precisely on its location within and valorization of the already prescribed women's sphere. If women are justified in assuming the historians' role by their overriding interest in and responsibility for the domestic realm, it follows that they must write a kind of history that reinforces the value of domesticity. The narrative shows (so do her historical plays) that the values of domesticity and republicanism are inextricably connected. When Warren's History is approached from this perspective--that is, as validating women's political activism in certain forms and on behalf of the domestic sphere--the controlling presence of gender becomes much more evident in its pages. [7]

My argument at this point demands brief reconsideration of the claim that Warren suppressed references to gender because she was interested in creating a patriotic consensus. I am already launched on the argument that she did not suppress gender references, and I would add that the History does not seem to me a conciliatory and consensus-building document. The lone contemporary review of the History observed that it was not a "prudent" work. [8] Indeed, it seems to me that Warren relates gender to politics as a means of dismissing any consensus that deviates from strict republican principles; gender representation becomes a tool to prevent compromise, not encourage it. She has no interest in transcending party sentiment if one party is republican and the other is not.

Those who find Warren's rhetoric suprapartisan point to three aspects of the History: it praises the Constitution (which she had opposed earlier); it refrains from attacking Federalist politicians by name and criticizes them with relative restraint; and it approaches events from an ethical standpoint that inevitably subordinates political to moral questions. Granting that these arguments describe Warren's practice fairly, it does not follow that the History is a brief for consensus. In the 1790s, when the History was completed, adoption of the Constitution was no longer a live issue; the likely readers of Warren's History did not need to have the Federalists named, and would recognize the word monarchist (her most frequently used term for them) as an implicitly hostile representation of their opinions; and having called the Federalists monarchists, defined monarchism as a form of avarice (lust for title, privilege, power), and attributed virtue only to antimonarchists, she had virtually called the Federalists vicious. [9]

Moreover, if we keep in mind the dates of the History's completion (ca. 1791) and publication (1805), we may recall that the chief issue of foreign policy dividing Federalists and Republicans in those two decades was whether to ally with Britain against France, or with France against Britain. In this context, the method of representing the English and the French in the American Revolution would necessarily have partisan implications. Of course no revolutionary history written by an American could ignore the facts that the English were the enemy and France an ally. But from first to last Warren's English are demons, described, or "staged" in Lester Cohen's word, in so extreme and inflammatory a rhetoric that one would imagine the Revolution still to be in progress. And it is this rhetoric, this totalization of the English as monolithically vicious, that justifies seeing Warren's history as melodrama." [10]

Opening the book to the first chapter, one reads almost at once that the New England colonists "fled" to North America because they were "oppressed in Britain by despotic kings, and persecuted by prelatic fury"; of the Stuarts one reads that "the tyranny of the Stuart race has long been proverbial in English story." [11] A long paragraph in chapter 2 informs us that the British administration in America consisted of "prostitutes of power," also described as "swarms of hirelings, sent from Great Britain to ravish from the colonies the rights they claimed both by nature and by compact." The provincial judges were "hard-hearted"; the revenue officers, with "peculation" as their only object, were open to "every species of bribery and corruption" and operated with unchecked "rapacity." All of them--rulers, judges, revenue officers--"were total strangers to all ideas of equity, freedom, or urbanity." [12] Theatrical rhetoric at this pitch characterizes Warren's handling of the English throughout--they are, compositely, the villain of melodrama.

The melodrama's hero is constructed by Warren through her characterizations of American patriot leaders. "The people" or their representatives are not heroic; notwithstanding her supposed postwar adherence to the Democratic-Republican party, Warren is no democrat. She frequently contrasts the excitable and turbulent multitude to the enlightened and prudent few so as to distinguish the well-born heroes from the mob, as in the following example:

As soon as this intelligence was transmitted to America, an universal murmur succeeded; and while the judicious and penetrating thought it time to make a resolute stand against the encroachments of power, the resentments of the lower classes broke out into such excesses of riot and tumult, as prevented the operation of the favorite project." [13]

The virtue of the American multitude, which emerges slowly in response to ever-more provocation by the British, consists in a deferential willingness to be guided by virtuous leaders. These leaders are limned and hymned as individuals from elite backgrounds who combine remarkable talents with extraordinary virtue. Her brother James Otis is one of them:

This gentleman, whose birth and education was [sic] equal to any in the province, possessed an easy fortune, independent principles, a comprehensive genius, strong mind, retentive memory, and great penetration. To these endowments may be added that extensive professional knowledge, which at once forms the character of the complete civilian and the able statesman.

In his public speeches, the sire of eloquence, the acumen of argument, and the lively sallies of wit, at once warmed the bosom of the stoic and commanded the admiration of his enemies. To his probity and generosity in the public walks were added the charms of affability and improving converse in private life. His humanity was conspicuous, his sincerity acknowledged, his integrity unimpeached, his honor unblemished, and his patriotism marked with the disinterestedness of the Spartan. [14]

Similar encomiums are scattered through the History, attached especially to those New England patriots who represent the flowering of republican virtue. Four settler types are distinguished and morally differentiated: liberty lovers in New England, comfort lovers in the middle colonies, status lovers in the South, and riot lovers on the borders. Because the New England character alone is admirable, Warren gives little praise to leaders from other regions. She even treats George Washington coolly (notwithstanding that she had dedicated her 1790 Poems to him), attributing many of his victories to Providence, many of his defeats to temperamental apathy. And she is outraged at his support for the Order of Cincinnatus, the military meritocratic association which she blasts for insinuating crypto-monarchial principles into the fabric of the new nation.

The villain and hero of melodrama are brought into narrative relation through the intervention of a third term, the helpless victim who is threatened by the villain, defended and (we hope) rescued by the hero. It could be theorized that this third term will be gendered feminine in every case by the overdetermined structure of melodramatic narrative; those who fight are male, those who are fought over are female. Accordingly, the threatened ideal Liberty, who must be rescued from threatened violation by Monarchism and safely installed in a Republic--was typically represented as a woman in revolutionary propaganda." [15] But in Warren's narrative, the third term is also exemplified in real women who were historically at risk. Driven from their homes and abused by the English military, they were protected and finally restored to their rightful domain by the American patriot. Very quickly in the History the real and the ideal coalesce; the threat to American liberties becomes one with the threat to women and is enacted literally in rapes and murders.

This thematics, if common in revolutionary America, is particularly striking in Warren's narrative, as one may see by comparing it to other histories. For an example, I compare relevant parts of Ramsay's treatment of the Battle of Lexington to hers. Note in the extract from Ramsay: the matter-of-fact tone of reportage, the focus on patriot fighting tactics, and the assessment of the event's significance in terms of its effect on the English army.

The King's troops having done their business, began their retreat towards Boston. This was conducted with expedition, for the adjacent inhabitants had assembled in arms, and began to attack them in every direction. In their return to Lexington they were exceedingly annoyed, both by those who pressed on their rear, and others, who pouring in on all sides, fired from behind stone walls, and such like coverts, which supplied the place of lines and redoubts. At Lexington the regulars were joined by a detachment of 900 men, under Lord Percy, which had been sent out by General Gage to support Lieutenant-colonel Smith. This reinforcement having two pieces of cannon awed the provincials, and kept them at a greater distance, but they continued a constant, though irregular and scattering fire, which did great execution. The close firing from behind the walls by good marksmen, put the regular troops in no small confusion, but they nevertheless kept up a brisk retreating fire on the militia and minute men. A little after sunset the regulars reached Bunker's Hill, worn down with excessive fatigue, having marched that day between thirty and forty miles. On the next day they crossed Charlestown ferry, and returned to Boston." [16]

Warren's account of the same segment of the action virtually ignores the achievement of the American soldiery; one would not even know that they were deemed to have "won" the engagement. It demonizes the British commanding officer and concentrates on British atrocities that Ramsay does not mention:

The adjacent villagers collected, and prepared to cut off their retreat; but a dispatch had been sent by colonel Smith to inform general Gage, that the country was arming, and his troops in danger. A battalion under the command of lord Percy was sent to succour him, and arrived in time to save Smith's corps. A son of the duke of Northumberland, previous to this day's work, was viewed by Americans with a favorable eye; though more from a partiality to the father, than from any remarkable personal qualities discoverable in the son. Lord Percy came up with the routed corps near the fields of Menotomy; where barbarities were committed by the king's armies, which might have been expected only from a tribe of savages. They entered, rifled, plundered, and burnt several houses; and in some instances, the aged and infirm fell under the sword of the ruffian; women, with their new-born infants, were obliged to fly naked, to escape the fury of the flames in which their houses were enwrapped. [17]

The striking differences are attributable in part but by no means entirely to different source materials. (Of course the choice of source materials involves authorial decision as well.) Ramsay is known to have depended on the English Annual Register much more than Warren, a source not likely to dwell on atrocities committed by English soldiers. Warren's sources have not been studied, but she obviously depended on the Narrative of the Excursion and Ravages of the Kinq's Troops under the Command of General Gaqe, on the Nineteenth of April 1775 compiled and published by order of the Provincial Congress soon after the battle. This document accuses the British of the "plundering and burning of dwelling-houses and other buildings, driving into the street women in child-bed, killing old men in their houses unarmed." It appends to its brief narrative summary some two dozen affidavits supporting particulars of the narrative. One of these, by Benjamin and Rachel Cooper, describes the murders of "two aged gentlemen" and another by Hannah Adams, wife of Deacon Joseph Adams, tells how three soldiers

broke into the room in which I then was, laid on my bed, being scarcely able to walk from my bed to the fire, not having been to my chamber door from my being delivered in child-birth to that time. One of said soldiers immediately opened my curtain with his bayonet fixed, pointing the same to my breast. I immediately cried out for the Lord's sake do not kill me, he replied, damn you, one that stood near said, we will not hurt the woman, if she will go out of the house, but we will surely burn it. I immediately arose, threw a blanket over me, went out, and crauled [sic] into a corn-house near the door, with my infant in my arms, where I remained until they were gone, they immediately set the house on fire, in which I had left five children and no other person, but the fire was happily extinguished, when the house was in the utmost danger of being consumed." [18]

Although the depositions repeatedly describe the English looting and burning of houses, these are the only depositions citing attacks on civilians, and also the only ones given by women." [19] Warren's enumeration of "barbarities" committed under Percy's command and presumably with his consent may be seen as a literal replication of her source, but I would suggest that it is an attempt to present a record that reflects women's experiences of and perspectives on events. Neither Warren nor Ramsay give an account that is absolutely true (even assuming that such an account could be given); each selects from the available material according to a gendered sense of priorities. Ramsay writes about military strategy and the winning of battles, Warren about atrocities perpetrated on civilians and the destroying of homes.

To further her theme, Warren melodramatizes her source by multiplying the number of women victims and arranging events so that they culminate in an eroticized scene where naked women with newborn babies are driven from their homes. Hannah Adams testified that she covered herself with a blanket before ducking out of the door into a nearby corn-house. Warren's unhoused women are also uncovered. This exaggeration identifies women with their sexualized, eroticized bodies as the source did not, and insinuates that it is these female bodies that make it inappropriate for women to appear (to be seen) in public. Home is the envelope that protects the bodies of these women and hence allows the women to exist, paradoxically, as something more or other than their bodies.

The uncovered woman in the open air is an erotic spectacle; the reader is forced-with all the connotations that the word conveys--to envision a scene in which unclad young women are in effect assaulted by an English peer through the permitted actions of his army. Warren's exaggeration becomes a rhetorical means of bringing out the truth about the English. By gendering their victims as women, she makes the Revolution itself a gendered event. And throughout the History Warren brings women into the record of the American Revolution and makes the American Revolution into women's record by introducing similarly gendered spectacles:

Every favorable impression was erased, and every idea of submission annihilated, by the indiscriminate ravages of the Hessian and British soldiery in their route through the Jersies. The elegant houses of some of their own most devoted partisans were burnt: their wives and daughters pursued and ravished in the woods to which they had fled for shelter. Many unfortunate fathers, in the stupor of grief, beheld the misery of their female connexions, without being able to relieve them, and heard the shrieks of infant innocence, subjected to the brutal lust of British grenadiers." [20]

This spectacle of female brutalization, according to Warren, was in historical fact the agency for opening the eyes of the whole citizenry to the truth about the English that New England leaders had recognized from the start and that her melodramatic restaging of events is recreating.

Another factually gratuitous yet rhetorically functional detail in Warren's account of the Battle of Lexington is its linking of the English and the Indians: "Barbarities were committed by the king's armies, which might have been expected only from a tribe of savages." Her source may have suggested the passage: "Such scenes of desolation would be a reproach to the perpetrators, even if comitted by the most barbarous nations, how much more when done by Britons famed for humanity and tenderness." [21] But Warren substitutes a tribe of savages for a barbarous nation, and hence specifies Indians; and she does not say that these events would be a reproach to the Indians. Just the contrary: she says it would be expected of them. Warren's dehumanizing tactic is clear. She regularly offers the English-Indian alliance along with Indian attacks on women and domesticity as evidence of English inhumanity, taking the inhumanity of the Indians for granted.

Ramsay, meditating on the alliance of the English with Indians, writes that "as terror was one of the engines by which Great Britain intended to enforce the submission of the Colonies, nothing could be more conducive to the excitement of this passion, than the cooperation of the Indians. Policy, not cruelty, led to the adoption of this expedient." [22] Warren explains this alliance in precisely the melodramatic terms that Ramsay rejects, taking the English deployment of the cruel Indians as evidence of their own cruelty.

Ramsay's and Warren's comparative treatment of the murder of Jane McCrea is especially noteworthy here. This killing, said to have taken place on 27 July 1777, was a notorious incident in the early part of the war and circulated in countless versions. I have found it recounted in American history textbooks in use after the Civil War. The presently accepted account is that McCrea, on her way to Fort Edward to meet her Loyalist fiance who was an officer in Burgoyne's army, was taken captive by a party of Indians from Burgoyne's advance guard. The Indians quarreled among themselves, shot and scalped McCrea, and took the scalp to Fort Edward where her fiance recognized it. Burgoyne intended to execute the murderer, but was persuaded not to do so by the argument of one of his officers that all the Indians would desert if he did." [23]

Ramsay explains that the event was used by patriot leaders "to inflame the populace, and to blacken the royal cause. The cruelties of the Indians, and the cause in which they were engaged, were associated together, and presented in one view to the alarmed inhabitants. Those whose interest it was to draw the militia in support of American independence, strongly expressed their execrations of the army which submitted to accept of Indian aid." [24] Ramsay describes Jane McCrea as a "young lady, in the innocence of youth, and the bloom of beauty"; he writes of the killing that "she was on the very day of her intended nuptials, massacred by the savage auxiliaries attached to the British army" and adds circumstantial detail in a footnote beginning "this, though true, was no premeditated barbarity." [25] Especially in the footnote, he presents himself as a reliable narrator who can be trusted to find and extract the core of truth from a piece of propaganda. While readily acknowledging the inherent pathos of the event, he subordinates this real pathos to the event's aptness for pathetic representation, and demonstrates his ability to resist its pathetic appeal. The event is only significant because it was made significant by patriot propaganda. (Indeed, to the extent that McCrea is written about in twentieth-century histories of the Revolution, this is still the significance that is attached to it.)

Warren's account would be, from Ramsay's perspective, an example of patriot propaganda. From Warren's point of view, however, her rhetoric simply highlights the true significance of the event, which is the fate of the woman and her domestic prospects.

This beautiful young lady, dressed in her bridal habiliments, in order to be married the same evening to an officer of character in Burgoyne's own regiment, while her heart glowed in expectation of a speedy union with the beloved object of her affections, was induced to leave a house near fort Edward, with the idea of being escorted to the present residence of her intended husband, and was massacred on the way, in all the cold-blooded ferocity of savage manners.... The best coloring that could be given the affecting tale was, that two of the principal warriors, under a pretence of guarding her person, had in a mad quarrel between themselves, which was best entitled to the prize, or to the honor of the escort, made the blooming beauty, shivering in the distress of innocence, youth, and despair, the victim of their fury. The helpless maid was butchered and scalped, and her bleeding corpse left in the woods, to excite the tear of every beholder. [26]

For an anonymous bleeding corpse abandoned in the woods to excite the tears of many beholders, that corpse needs to be put on display and given a pathetic history, which is what Warren does for it. As the blooming beauty in the fullness of her prenuptial expectations--expectations both domestic and sexual-is transformed into the grisly spectacle of a butchered, bleeding, scalped corpse, it is precisely the sado-erotic additions to the scene that excite the beholders' tears. Warren then links Indian fury to the English military command by dwelling on General Burgoyne's pardon of the guilty Indian, thereby making the British into savages. And this is not allegory: the British, the Indians, and the murdered woman stand exactly for themselves, and it is this self-identity of the representation and its meaning that gives the melodrama its monolithic force and its homogeneous simplicity.

With few exceptions, Warren presents Indians as demons, associating them with animals and the wilderness in a conventional image that invokes a long tradition of captivity narratives and signifies the farthest extreme from domesticity. There are no Indian women in the History, and an early passage reflecting on Indian claims to land on the basis of prior ownership appears to assess the Indian wish to keep land and the English wish to acquire it as equally avaricious." [27] One exceptional passage, occurring near the end of the text in a section about the peace treaty, is worth particular consideration because it appears to introduce a more sympathetic view of Indians." [28]

The American claims to a vast uncultivated tract of wilderness, which neither Great Britain, France, or America, had any right to invade, may ultimately prove a most unfortunate circumstance to the Atlantic states, unless the primary objects of the American government should be, to civilize and soften the habits of savage life. But if the lust of domination, which takes hold of the ambitious and the powerful in all ages and nations, should be indulged by the authority of the United States, and those simple tribes of men, contented with the gifts of nature, that had filled their forests with game sufficient for their subsistence, should be invaded, it will probably be a source of most cruel warfare and bloodshed, until the extermination of the original possessors. In such a result, the mountains and the plains will perhaps be filled with a fierce, independent race of European and American emigrants, too hostile to the borderers on the seas to submit willingly to their laws and government, and perhaps too distant, numerous, and powerful, to subdue by arms." [29]

Without denying that in this extract Warren's savage demons have suddenly become simple men contented with nature's gifts, I attribute this rhetorical shift to her focus here on American territorial expansion, which she profoundly opposed. The historical record, as presented, for example, in her own blank verse historical tragedies, linked territorial expansion to empire and the death of republics. Any republic that embarks on a program of territorial expansion must evolve into an empire and thereby destroy itself as a republic; the empire then goes on to destroy those republics whose territory it occupies. In the specific historical instance of the United States, a vast territory peopled by temperamentally unruly men would be ungovernable and the central government would have to change its political form. Thus Warren preferred Indians (especially Indians free of English influence) outside the national borders to ruffians within them. She shows no interest in preserving the Indians and their ways of life either as a matter of moral principle or for the Indians' own sake. And she discloses no sign of a feeling that women and Indians shared common ground in their subjugation to a Eurocentric patriarchy.

Nor, it may be added, is she any more proleptically enlightened about American blacks. She writes, absolutely without irony, that Lord Dunsmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, "had the inhumanity early to intimate his designs if opposition ran high, to declare freedom to the blacks, and on any appearance of hostile resistance to the king's authority, to arm them against their masters." [30]

Warren did not make the possible connection between her own situation and that of Indians and blacks for several reasons. Her way of abstracting the category "Woman" from the human field involves a biological and physiological specificity that keeps her from combining it with any other category. Whether or not the physiological facts of women's existence would be properly called "oppressive" in her view, she would not hold men responsible for them. God is responsible; and since God is good, women's tasks are to accept their situation and support those men who do not take advantage of their weakness. The fact that it is only men of republican principle who support domesticity and therefore honor women is a virtual proof that republicanism is the divinely sanctioned form of government.

Not the least interesting aspect of Warren's gendering of her History, then, is its demonstration of republican attitudes toward women through vignettes wherein women attached to the English side appeal successfully to the domestic principles of republican heroes. The English Major Ackland is mentioned twice by name in Ramsay: "Major Ackland, at the head of the British grenadiers, sustained [the American attack] with great firmness"; "Majors Williams and Ackland were taken, and the latter wounded." [31] Warren, citing Burgoyne's memoirs as her source, gives two pages and an appendix, not to Ackland, but to his wife Lady Ackland, who left the English camp, traveled through the wilderness to the American lines "through a dark and cold night, far advanced in a state that always requires peculiar tenderness to the sex," and was required by the sentry to wait until morning to be announced to General Gates. "With a heart full of anxiety for her wounded husband, she was obliged to submit, and in this perilous situation, to reflect until the dawn of the morning, on her own wretched condition, and the uncertainty of what reception she should meet from strangers in hostile array, flushed with victory, and eager to complete the triumph of the preceding day." But never fear; these strangers in hostile array are Americans. "When general Gates in the morning was made acquainted with the situation and request of lady Ackland, she was immediately permitted to visit her husband, under a safe escort. The American commander himself treated her with the tenderness of a parent, and gave orders that every attention should be paid due to her rank, her sex, her character, and the delicacy of her person and circumstances." [32]

A second example: an English prisoner, Captain Asgill, was condemned to death by lot because the English refused to hand over the murderers of an American named Huddy. The prudent Ramsay writes that "General Washington received a letter from the Count de Vergennes, interceding for Capt. Asgill, which was also accompanied with a very pathetic one from his mother, Mrs. Asgill, to the Count. Copies of these several letters were forwarded to Congress, and soon after they resolved, 'that the commander in chief be directed to set Capt. Asgill at liberty'. The lover of humanity rejoiced that the necessity for retaliation was superseded, by the known humanity of the new commander in chief, and still more by the well-founded prospect of a speedy peace." [33]

In Warren's handling of this episode, the mother, Lady Asgill, and her pathetic letter take center stage. If Warren's fondness for the titled Lady Ackland and Lady Asgill comports poorly with her republicanism, it is supported by a gender system that makes women vulnerable and valuable in proportion to their refinement, both physical and mental. Captain Asgill

remained a prisoner under the sentence of death, although execution was delayed, until every compassionate heart was relieved by the interference of maternal tenderness. The address of Lady Asgill his mother, whose heart was wrung with agonizing fears for the fate of an only son, procured his release.

After the first pangs of grief and agitation, on the news of his critical and hazardous situation, had subsided, she wrote in the most pathetic terms to the count de Vergennes; urging that his influence with general Washington and the American congress might be exerted, to save an innocent and virtuous youth from an ignominious death, and restore the destined victim to the bosom of his mother. This letter, fraught with sentiments that discovered a delicate mind, an improved understanding, and a sensibility of heart, under the diction of polished style, and replete with strong epithets of affection, the French minister shewed to the king and queen of France, as a piece of elegant composition....

The king of France and his royal partner were touched by the distress of this unhappy mother, and lent their interest for the liberation of her son. The count de Vergennes was directed to send the letter to general Washington; which he did, accompanied with the observations of the king and queen, and combined with his own request in favor of young Asgill." [34]

In both of these pathos-creating vignettes, the women are not passive or vacuous; they display initiative and courage, but do so within limits clearly circumscribed by their gender and in such a way as to call attention to themselves as women.

In sum, gender is an essential constituent in the plot of Warren's History which, in its stark contrasts of virtue and vice, of power and powerlessness, falls well within the generic shape of melodrama. A particularly compelling example of how Warren drags young women into the action to make her narrative erotic and melodramatic occurs in the second of two long interpolations about British tyranny in India. During an English assault on Annapaur, "the [Indian] women, unwilling to be separated from their relations, or exposed to the brutal licentiousness of the soldiery, threw themselves in multitudes into the moats with which the fort was surrounded. Four hundred beautiful young women, pierced with the bayonet, and expiring in each other's arms, were in this situation treated by the British with every kind of outrage." [35] What does this incident have to do with the American Revolution? In a literal sense, nothing; in terms of the meaning of the American Revolution for women, everything.

From one point of view, the gendering that I have tried to establish in Warren's History has no necessary connection with the gender of its author. Gendered melodramas of rapine and pillage, while obviously claiming to be devoted to women's interests, are common to patriot propaganda in wartime throughout history; they do not imply a woman's signature. But it is Warren herself who associates her History with her gender. She asks the reader to keep in mind that a woman has written this particular history and to identify her storytelling mode as female. From her point of view, then, the violated, powerless women's bodies in the historical story pose no contradiction to the stance taken by the powerful woman's voice in which the story is told. This is because to Warren mind and body are not one entity: a woman's mind is not shaped or controlled by its material container.

In the first of the two passages on India, Warren, as though recognizing how far afield from its subject her discourse seems to have wandered, comments that

observations on the moral conduct of man, on religious opinion or persecutions, and the motives by which mankind are actuated in their various pursuits, will not be censured when occasionally introduced. They are more congenial to the taste, inclination, and sex of the writer, than a detail of the rough and terrific scenes of war. Nor will a serious or philosophic mind be displeased with such an interlude, which may serve as a temporary resting-post to the weary traveller, who has trodden over the field of carnage, until the soul is sickened by a view of the absurdity and cruelty of his own species." [36]

Warren seems to say that the narration is gendered at the discursive level by the authorial refusal to rest content with mere facts, by her evinced desire to go beyond simple notation of event through reflective and judgmental commentary. An untheorized linear narration of facts might be appropriate for a man, so to speak, but not for the woman historian. Warren seems to be claiming that her narration is gender-marked by an intellectual seriousness that leads her to move from the scene of carnage to a commentary on the scene's meaning, from narrative to didacticism. Woman, then, is in her essence mind, as man is essentially body.

Melodrama, of course, is a didactic genre par excellence. And while it may seem almost perverse from our post-structuralist moment to attempt to square this mentalized representation of the woman historian with the exposed and eroticized woman's body that has dominated her factual account, this incompatibility may be taken as the very point. To Warren, woman's domain obviously cannot be the material world of action; in that world she is destined to be wholly identified with her vulnerable body. If she could be sequestered from that world in some protected space, however, woman might become what she inherently is: a mind. And in that space, from that space, her mind can contribute to the polity. While men are busy doing in the world, women may be busy thinking about the world. Men in their highest development are statesmen and generals, women in their highest development are philosophers and teachers.

We may see here an early trace of that strategic move by which nineteenth-century Protestant American women constructed themselves as guardians of morality and tradition, as educators of the young, as ethical inspirers of their husbands and brothers and, in this roundabout way, gave themselves a role to play in the public world that they could not enter "in person." Warren's two ways of gendering women--as powerless public bodies and as powerful private minds--can be seen as compatible with each other and with a doctrine of separate spheres in which the material, physical, and biological differences between men and women put women at a truly fatal disadvantage when they are forced into the man's world . [37]

To the extent that Warren believed that the republican form of government was the only political system that valued women, her view of sexual difference and her commitment to enunciating republican principles converged and reinforced each other. The idea that women had no stake in politics and government was, from her perspective, absurd. Their lives depended on the kind of government they lived under. Women fortunate enough to live in a republic had every obligation to serve it as best they could. If the republic were to decline from its original principles, women had a patriotic obligation to attempt to reverse the trend. And it seems fair to say that Warren would agree that if the republic were overthrown, women would have a moral obligation to join the opposition. Although these beliefs do not seem to challenge the sexual politics of everyday life, they underwrote Warren's vociferous contributions to the public sphere not as a unique individual, but as a generic woman.


1 There is no up-to-date biography of Warren; the best biographical source, is Maud Macdonald Hutcheson, "Mercy Warren, 1728-1814," William and Mary Quarterly 10 (1953): 378-402.

2 Mercy Otis Warren, The History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution, Interspersed with Biographical, Political and Moral Observations, ed. Lester H. Cohen (Indianapolis, 1989).

3 For discussion of Warren's History and revolutionary historiography, see Lester Cohen's introduction to the History (n. 2) and his "Explaining the Revolution: Ideology and Ethics in Mercy Otis Warren's Historical Theory," William and Mary Quarterly 37 (1980): 200-218; The Revolutionary Historians: Contemporary Narratives of the American Revolution (Ithaca, 1980); "Mercy Otis Warren: The Politics of Language and the Aesthetics of Self," American Quarterly 35 (1983): 418-89; and "Creating a Usable Future: The Revolutionary Historians," in The American Revolution: Its Character and Limits, ed. Jack Greene (New York, 1987), 309-27. See also William Raymond Smith, History as Argument: Three Patriot Historians of the American Revolution (The Hague, 1966); Lawrence J. Friedman, Inventors of the Promised Land (New York, 1975); Lawrence J. Friedman and Arthur H. Shaffer, "Mercy Otis Warren and the Politics of Historical Nationalism," New England Quarterly 48 (1975): 194-215; Arthur H. Shaffer, The Politics of History: Writing the History of the American Revolution (Chicago, 1975); and Cheryl Z. Oreovicz, "Mercy Warren and 'Freedom's Genius,"' University of Mississippi Studies in Egqlish 5 (1987): 215-30.

4 See Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill, 1980); Mary Beth Norton, Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Woman, 1750-1800 (Boston, 1980); and Joan Hoff Wilson and Sharon L. Billinger, "Mercy Otis Warren: Playwright, Poet, and Historian of the American Revolution," in Female Scholars: A Tradition of Learned Women Before 1800, ed. J. R. Brink (Montreal, 1980), 161-82. These readers concur that Warren was likely the most emancipated woman of her day. Friedman and Shaffer, independently and together, are the critics who see a contrast between Warren's behavior and her expressed view of women as sign of feminine game playing. Cohen, in "Politics of Language," argues that Warren was simply unaware of her own best gender interests. Emily Stipes Watts, in The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945 (Austin, 1977), is the only critic to hold that Warren applies republican concepts of liberty to women.

5 It is important to separate the general concept of the "separate spheres" from the particular instantiation of women's sphere described by Barbara Welter in 1966 and named "the cult of true womanhood." This cult is an abstraction from advice books published from the Jacksonian era onward; it cannot be taken as descriptive of any nontextual reality nor retroactively applied even as a rhetorical construct to the earlier period. At best, it is only one of many ways in which women were being rhetorically constituted in the antebellum era within a separate sphere whose content was fluid and contested. Linda K. Kerber, in "Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman's Place: The Rhetoric of Women's History," Journal of American History 75 (1988): 9-39, shows that the spheres were never fixed and never fully real, but always in flux and always as much prescriptive as descriptive. The dominant phrase for the ideology of women's sphere in the revolutionary and immediate postrevolutionary periods is probably "republican motherhood," not "true womanhood," but this phrase, too, refers to a concept that is both rhetorical and unstable. See also n. 37.

6 Warren, History. xli-xlii.

7 The interpretation I advance here is analogous to, although historically differentiated from, interpretations of contemporary new-right women by Andrea Dworkin, Right-wing Women (New York, 1983) and Rebecca E. Klatch, Women of the New Right (Philadelphia, i987). Dworkin argues that male violence against women may produce a need among them for a conservative ideology; Klatch claims that new-right women act on behalf of what they perceive as their group interests as women. For these women, as for Warren, the reality of male violence leads to a search for male protectors; the dominance of men on the basis of superior physical strength is taken for granted and women's task is to differentiate good men from bad ones. See also Jean Bethke Elshtain, Women and War (New York, 1987); and Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation, ed. Helen M. Cooper, Adrienne Auslander Munich, and Susan Merrill Squier (Chapel Hill, 1989).

8 Cohen, Introduction to Warren's History, xxvi.

9 The linkage of politics to ethics in republican rhetoric has been influentially studied by Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1967); Gordon A. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill, 1969); and J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, 1975). For good bibliographical surveys of the vast and proliferating literature on republican ideology, see Linda K. Kerber, "The Republican Ideology of the Revolutionary Generation," American Quarterly 37 (1985): 474-95; Joyce Appleby, "Republicanism in Old and New Contexts," William and Mary Quarterly 43 (1986): 20-34; and Lance Banning, "Jeffersonian Ideology Revisited: Liberal and Classical Ideas in the New American Republic," William and Mary Quarterly 43 (1986): 5-19.

10 In "Creating a Usable Future," Cohen uses the word "staged" in connection with the mode of "exemplary history" that he finds operating in all the patriot histories. This mode, committed to Bolingbroke's proposition that "history is philosophy teaching by examples," requires frequent intrusions by the historian to emphasize the moral shape of events and bring out the moral message. See also George H. Nadel, "Philosophy of History Before Historicism," History and Theory 3 (1964): 291-315.

11 Warren, History, 2: 5.

12 Ibid., 1: 23.

13 Ibid., 1: I7.

14 Ibid., 1: 49.

15 Kenneth Silverman calls attention to ubiquitous rape allusions in revolutionary republican rhetoric and connects them to other images in a configuration that he names "Whig Sentimentality" in A Cultural History of the American Revolution (New York, 1976). Although he remarks that the image of Liberty is necessarily feminized in these representations, he does not connect the image to "real" women.

16 David Ramsay, History of the American Revolution (New York, 1968), 1: 188-89.

17 Warren, History, 1: 102-3. Warren footnotes this passage with description and praise of the duke of Northumberland's responses to American patriot demands.

18 A Narrative of the Excursion and Ravages of the King's Troops under the Command of General Gage, on the Nineteenth of April 1775; Together with the Depositions Taken by Order of Congress, to Support the Truth of It (New York, 1968), 4, 21, 20.

19 The fullest study of the Battle of Lexington, by Frank Warren Coburn, The Battle of April 19, 1775 (Lexington, 1922), turns up no other instance of abuse of women.

20 Warren, History, 1: 191.

21 Narrative of the Excursion and Ravages, 4.

22 Ramsay, History of the American Revolution, 2: 138.

23 My summary follows Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, ed. John Richard Alden (New York, 1952), 2: 496. Ward continues to be consulted as a reliable source by contemporary historians of the American Revolution.

24 Ramsay, History of the American Revolution, 2: 37.

25 Ibid.

26 Warren, History, 1: 233-34.

27 Ibid., 1: 12-I3.

28 Wilson and Billinger's "Mercy Otis Warren: Playwright, Poet, Historian" repeats Judith B. Markowitz's claim in "Radical and Feminist: Mercy Otis Warren and the Historiographers," Peace and Change 4 (1977):15-19, that Warren had a feminist sympathy for Indians based on recognition of shared oppression by a white male patriarchy.

29 Warren, History, 2: 579.

30 Ibid., 1: 110.

31 Ramsay, History of the American Revolution, 2: 47-48.

32 Warren, History, 1: 237.

33 Ramsay, History of the American Revolution, 2: 290.

34 Warren, History, 2: 584.

35 Ibid., 2: 597.

36 Ibid., I: 339.

37 This is not identical to the concept of republican motherhood described by Kerber (see n. 4) because it does give women a role outside the home, through the circulation of print rather than the person.

* Slightly revised from original publication in the South Atlantic Quarterly, 90 (1991): 531-54.