In her works Warren put to use a set of powerful and unique rhetorical modes for incorporating and merging America and the classical world.
Revolutionaries referred to the venerated ancients in their private moments and in their public performances.
They appealed to the classics for consolation, justification, and validation, as they experienced an intense intellectual and emotional relationship with the narratives and heroes of antiquity.
Dans ses écrits, Warren a recours à des procédés rhétoriques originaux et efficaces qui lui offrent la possibilité de confondre l’Amérique et le monde classique.
Le paradigme culturel qui lui permet d’ériger ses proches en autant de Brutus ou de Cassius et de faire de l’histoire américaine une répétition des annales romaines rend possible une meilleure compréhension des modes de pensée et d’action qui servirent de moteur à la révolution américaine.
Students of American history are aware of Greece and Rome’s immense influence on the ideology and political thought of the Founding Era, while scholars of women studies acknowledge Mercy Otis Warren’s importance as a “Founding Mother” of the American republic.
This essay focuses on Warren’s remarkable use of the classics in her popular, if now forgotten revolutionary dramas, and in her magisterial history of the Revolution written years later.Invoking the inspiring examples of ancient republics was a vital tool in the hands of American orators and writers, who provided the of the virtuous ancients and emphasized their relevance to the American situation.The classics encouraged and roused the Americans collectively before crossing the Rubicon of Independence, and consoled them in private at times when war tried their souls.Focusing on Warren’s rich classicization of revolutionary America offers, then, new perspectives for explaining the meanings that patriots and the citizens of the young United States ascribed to their revolutionary deeds and their young republic.The historical consciousness that underlies Warren’s literary work suggests that at moments the American Revolution was presented and seen, and should thus be understood, as a Roman revolution.Charles Lee, the revolutionary general, an Englishman who rallied to the American cause, asserted that Plutarch converted him into an “enthusiastick [Revolutionaries found the classics so appealing because they perceived the ancient republics as the origin and embodiment of some of the most powerful ideals they cherished, namely the ideological bundle modern scholarship understood under the common framework of “the republican synthesis.” Indeed, many revolutionaries envisioned a society and government based on virtue and disinterested citizenship, the main sources of classical republicanism.Unsurprisingly, a powerful ideal of many of the Revolution’s leaders and their followers was not a democracy (a government still associated with the rule of the mob), but rather an organic hierarchy led by patricians who would embody the classical virtues.Other Romans, Junius and Portius, joined their compatriots Brutus and Cassius, helping them to plan how to stop tyranny. It was not ancient freedoms, however, that the classicized protagonists protected.Remarkably, the revolution they participated in, in Mercy Otis Warren’s drama (1772), did not belong to Roman annals.The classics were, as this essay demonstrates, a major element in Mercy Otis Warren’s literary rhetoric, and more broadly were imperative to the shaping of revolutionary modes of thought.Nevertheless, we still lack an understanding of the modes of thought and action through which revolutionaries made the world of ancient Greece and Rome meaningful to their political endeavors.