George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Mercy Otis Warren, 18 May 1790

From Mercy Otis Warren

Plimouth [Mass.] May 18 1790


Though it is my wish to prefix the inclosed dedication to a volume prepared for the press I would not take this liberty without first asking your permission. The work contains two Tragedies and some micellaneous pieces, written several years since a subscription has been advertised & it will be commited to the press as soon as I have the honour of your reply.1

Most unfeignedly sir have your friends at plimouth been affected by hearing of your late severe Illness. God Grant a restoration & perfect Comfirmation of Health to a gentleman on whose life the most important Consequences may depend.2

Mr Warren unites with me in the most Respectful regards to yourself & lady. He has been very Ill since his return as he was during the whole of his residence at new york:3 this circumstance prevented him the pleasure of paying that perticuler attention to Mrs Washington that both friendship & politness dictated. an apology also for myself is due to her: for introducing a son as the bearer of a letter: but an accident impeded his journy to New york & consequently the honour of a personal attendence. Give me leave sir to subscribe most respectfully & sincerly your most obedient

M. Warren


Mercy Otis Warren (1728–1814) was a leading American poet, dramatist, and historian of the Revolutionary era. Through her brother, James Otis, and her husband, James Warren (for an identification, see James Warren to GW, 2 May 1789, source note), Mercy Otis Warren was associated with some of the leading figures in Revolutionary Massachusetts. Deeply interested in politics, she corresponded with John and Abigail Adams, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, among others, and upheld the right of women to be involved in public life. She is perhaps best known for her History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution, published in 1805.

1The enclosure was apparently Mercy Warren’s letter to GW, 1 May 1790: “Ambitious to avoid both the stile and the sentiment of common Dedications more frequently the incense of adulation than the result of truth, I only ask the Illustrious Washington to permit a Lady of his acquaintance to introduce to the publick under his patronage a small Volume written as the amusement of solitude at a period when every active member of society was engaged either in the feild or the cabinet to resist the strong hand of foreign domination.

“The approbation of one who has united all hearts in the feild of Conquest, in the Lap of peace, and at the head of the Government of the United States must for a time give countenance to a Writer who claiming the honour of private friendship hopes for this indulgence. But it must be a bold adventurer in the paths of Literature who dreams of fame in any degree commensurate with the duration of Laurels reaped by an Hero who has led the armies of America to glory, victory and independance.

“This may perhaps be an improper Place to make many Observations on a revolution that may eventually shake the proud Systems of European despotism; yet you Sir (who have born such a distinguish’d and honorable part in the great Conflict till the nations wearied with slaughter listen’d to the voice of nature and providence & gave truce to the miseries of man) will permit me to observe, that connected by consanguinity or friendship with many of the principal Characters who asserted and defended the rights of an injur’d country, the mind has been naturally led to contemplate the magnitude both of the causes and the consequences of a convulsion that has been felt from the Eastern borders of the atlantick to the western wilds.

“Feeling much for the distresses of America in the dark days of her affliction a faithful record has been kept of the most material transactions through a period that has engag’d the attention both of the philosopher & the politician; and if Life is spar’d a just trait of the most distinguish’d Characters either for Valour, Virtue, or Patriotism, for perfidy, intritgue, inconsistency or ingratitude, shall be faithfully transmitted to posterity by one who unites in the general wish that you Sir, may continue to preside in the midst of your Brethren, until nature asks the aid of retirement and repose, to tranquillize the last stages of human Life” (DLC:GW). GW responded on 4 June 1790: “Madam, I did not receive before the last mail the letter wherein you favored me with a copy of the Dedication, which you propose affixing to a Work preparing for publication. Although I have ever wished to avoid being drawn into public view more than was essentually necessary for public purposes; yet, on the present occasion, duly sensible of the merits of the respectable & amiable writer, I shall not hesitate to accept the intended honor.

“With only leisure to thank you for your indulgent sentiments, and to wish that your Work may meet with the encouragement which I have no doubt it deserves; I hasten to present the Compliments of Mrs Washington . . .” (ALS, DSoC).

The text of Mercy Warren’s letter dated 1 May 1790, with minor deviations in capitalization, was published as the dedication to Warren’s Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous (printed by I. Thomas and E. T. Andrews, Boston, 1790), under the heading “To George Washington, President of the United States of America.” The published dedication was dated “Plymouth, Massachusetts, March 20, 1790.” Warren may have intended that the dedication be delivered to GW by James Warren, who left for New York on 25 March. The book consisted of two dramatic works, “The Sack of Rome, a Tragedy,” and “The Ladies of Castile, a Tragedy,” along with eighteen miscellaneous poems. Warren wrote to GW from Plymouth on 12 Sept. 1790: “I have taken the liberty to inclose and ask your acceptance of a Volum which if you sir do the author the honour to read: much more if your taste should be pleased & your judgment approve will she be flattered with an Idea that the work has some real merit” (PHi: Gratz Collection). This copy of Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous, inscribed to GW, is among GW’s books now in the Boston Athenaeum (Griffin, Boston Athenæum Collection, description begins Appleton P. C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends 219, 490). GW replied from Mount Vernon on 4 Nov. 1790: “My engagements since the receipt of your letter of the 12th of Septr, with which I was honored two days ago, have prevented an attentive perusal of the Book that accompanied it—but, from the reputation of its Author—from the parts I have read—and from a general idea of the pieces, I am persuaded of its gracious and distinguished reception by the friends of virtue & science” (ALS [photocopy], ViMtvL).

3James Warren went to New York on 25 Mar. 1790 to settle his accounts as a member of the Continental Navy Board, on which he served from 1776 to 1781 (see Gardiner, A Study in Dissent, description begins C. Harvey Gardiner, ed. A Study in Dissent: The Warren-Gerry Correspondence, 1776–1792. Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill., 1968. description ends esp. 238–240). On 3 April he presented a petition to Congress, seeking settlement of a claim against the United States. This petition was referred to the secretary of the treasury, who reported against paying Warren’s claim (Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 6:309, 362–64). A motion to pay Warren $384.92 was defeated in the House of Representatives on 23 April 1790 (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 3:377). Shortly afterwards, Warren applied to GW for a federal appointment (see James Warren to GW, 10 June 1790).

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