Phantoms of History: Mercy Otis Warren and The Minority of One

Ever heard the name Mercy Otis Warren? No, I thought not. She penned the first history of the American Revolutionary War—as it happened, and with heavy correspondence from many of the men involved. Men like Sam Adams, John Hancock, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton and other early leaders.

All names you HAVE heard, I’m sure.

Frankly, I’m surprised we don’t hear more of her in our history classes in school. I found her name in a short article on a website called Learn Liberty.

Mercy’s History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution took thirty years to reach publication, from 1775 to 1805. It spans the whole of the Revolution, by a woman who lived it, and you can still buy copies of it. Isn’t this a wonderful nation?

Mrs. Warren is one of history’s Phantoms. The individual lost in the muddle of great works and cultural viewpoints. We forget more than we remember, after all. It’s how the mind works.

A Phantom of History

History rises from the deep.

Our lady historian Mercy Otis Warren is only one of a number of individuals that likely changed the course of the Revolution and the events following, even without our remembering of her name in our recitation of facts about the Founders in school. Some of them we find digging through the muck of new historical texts updated yearly for university courses. Some we’ve forgotten entirely.

Often we forget we are likely the next generation’s historical Phantoms. Who is Kim Kardashian’s greatest inspiration? Name the childhood best friend of any current major politician.

You know what? Pop quiz! Three questions. I’m not grading you. Feel free to use Google.

Name a politician whose name doesn’t rhyme with lump or linton.

Name the House Representatives of one neighboring state.

Name a philosopher or scientist who’s won the Nobel Prize in the last five years.

How many did you have to Google?

Okay, before you go having an anxiety attack about being ill-informed and drown yourself in evening news, C-SPAN, and gallon tubs of [your flavor of choice] ice cream, that’s not why I did this.

If you can’t remember them now, because you’re busy living, why would our nation’s kids or grandkids or great-grandkids remember them either?

Yet these people, in some small way, have shaped and changed the course of human history and events. Why? Because of the choices they made. Yes, changing history is that simple. You can’t rewrite history, because we’re ALWAYS writing history.

History in the making? It’s called current events. And right now, it’s a mess. Which is, basically, business as usual.

You: The Smallest Minority

Even among groups of like minds, there’s only one you.

War, revolution, racism, genocide, poverty, exploitation. One word encompasses them all. Tragedy. Much as I’d love to believe that some benevolent body of law-makers could solve all these problems, I’m not convinced we’re any wiser than our ancestors in that regard. To a government, we’re all invisible.

It’s why our Founders fought so hard to keep the governing body from interfering in individual choice. They understood the great paradox of choice. It’s easier for us to let others make our choices, yet when we claim the freedom to make them for ourselves, we have the power to shape the course of the world itself.

After all, how can we possibly have the power to change anything when we can’t choose the direction to set our feet?

This is why the current activist struggles all over the news don’t call to me. Each of them in some way miss the smallest minority of all.


The individual.

Perhaps you want a simple life. A job. A roof over you. Transportation.

You don’t want to change the world.

That’s okay.

Perhaps you do. You want to be the next Kim Kardashian. You want to be the Bill Gates of robotics. Perhaps you want to be the J. R. R. Tolkien of the twenty-first century.

Of those three, I’d like to be known as the third, but that’s just me.

The point is, we don’t know how we change history. Mercy probably didn’t know when she wrote her history book that President Thomas Jefferson would buy a copy for every member of his Cabinet and make them read it. She fought with the power of her choice and her conscience in her pamphelet, the Columbian Patriot, that the Constitution was incomplete without a Bill of Rights.

Can anyone say how much influence this woman had in the course of the Founding Documents of the United States of America? Probably not. Let’s not forget her, or any other Phantoms of History. And if you know of any, drop their names in the comments. I plan to feature more of our history’s Phantoms on Mondays.

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