Due gratitude and respect

I photographed this statue of Mercy Otis Warren at the Barnstable County Courthouse Cape Cod, Massachusetts, May 2009

I photographed this statue of Mercy Otis Warren at the Barnstable County Courthouse.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts, May 2009

“Thus the hurry of spirits, that ever attends the eager pursuit of fortune and a passion for splendid enjoyment, leads to forgetfulness; and thus the inhabitants of America cease to look back with due gratitude and respect on the fortitude and virtue of their ancestors, who, through difficulties almost insurmountable, planted them in a happy soil.”Mercy Otis Warren

One year ago today, my post featured a favorite quote from Martha Washington.  Only recently did I discover that quote was taken from a personal letter she wrote to one of the women I most admire in American history, Mercy Otis Warren.

Those of us who are fond of history have a sort of private “honor roll” of well-known figures we admire, and among these, there are a few for whom we feel an instant, almost mystical affinity.  Mercy Otis Warren is such a person for me.

She has been called “perhaps the most formidable female intellectual in eighteenth-century America” and “mother of the Bill of Rights.”  This effusive praise may be a bit overblown, but it is beyond question that her influence was extraordinary for any female born into such a male-dominated society as existed in colonial America.  Wife, mother, sister, writer and patriot, she was a friend and confidante to many men and women whose names are far more widely known and recognized.

It’s always amusing to discover words that sound startlingly current despite being written hundreds of years ago.  I have to wonder at what sort of “hurry of spirits” could have been at play in a time when the fastest travel was by horseback, and distant communication was confined to written correspondence that might take months (or even years) to reach its destination.  Yet Warren expresses regret at the haste and forgetfulness that attends the pursuit of “splendid enjoyment.”  She pays tribute to the fortitude and virtue of ancestors whose lot in life was more difficult than her own, grateful for their role in planting her generation “in a happy soil.”

Perhaps this is one more indication that some things never change.  Always there are people who choose gratitude for present circumstances over despair at current difficulties; those who take bold action in uncertain times, rather than cower in fear of what lies ahead.

It’s wise to look at history from many angles, and not to see the past through the rose-colored glasses of uninformed admiration.  Still, I think we tend to underestimate the inspiring character of those who persevered to overcome obstacles that were removed from our paths long ago.  The human story is rich with lessons in courage, strength and triumph.  Spending time with these lessons is a great way to defeat despair.

One year ago today:

The greater part

23 Comments

  1. Good morning, Julia! Is the quote above from her writing, or was it something she said? She worded it so prettily. Most of us nowadays are far more utilitarian in our communication; it’s refreshing to read such a quote.
    Have a beautiful weekend!

    • Susan, this quote was drawn directly from her written history of the American Revolution, which is among the great wealth of online books available FREE to anyone who is interested. The link to the book is here and you can find the quote at the bottom of page 4. (Note: since this is part of the Google digital library, you may need an account of some sort to access it; let me know if the link does not work for you.)

      This is a digitization of the very old book itself. It takes awhile to get accustomed to the use of what we see as the letter “f” instead of “s,” and the language is a bit florid compared to what we read now, but you can read enough to realize how erudite our ancestors were in their writing, when compared to us. Nonetheless, one would expect such from a woman who was a regular correspondent and unofficial though valued adviser to presidents, statesmen and leaders in various positions. She was certainly a strong-minded woman and this sometimes caused problems in her friendships (especially with men such as John Adams, who took exception to her later portrayal of him in her history — it must not have been flattering enough for a man of his admitted vanity! 😀 ), but I am glad she persevered and left this legacy for future generations.

  2. Ann

    Julia, thanks for introducing another fascinating person from our past. I had never heard of her before and will now do some more research on my own.

    Your accompanying commentary always provides ‘food for thought’. The link to last year’s post noted that it was your 300th consecutive daily post and now you have reached 665!

    Continued thanks and appreciation of your efforts😄

    • Ann, thanks so much for your encouraging words, and for noting this milestone of 665 daily posts! That’s a lot of words. I hope I have not worn out too many people with reading them, but the great thing about a blog is that people can ignore it without seeming rude. So it beats talking! Mercy Warren is one of many “founding mothers” who were among the unsung heroes of our country’s early history. I think you will enjoy learning about her. I hope that sometime she will get a PBS mini-series of her own. 😀

  3. singleseatfighterpilot

    Near the top of my honor roll of well known figures is Thomas Worthington Swartz. Despite his many statues throughout the northeast, and the volumes of written material, there are a few Americans who do not give him proper credit. Any serious student of American history should ask himself: “Where would we be today without the profound influence of T.W. Swartz?”

    • Since I was unable to find anything this person (even in Wikipedia!) I have to conclude that this comment is meant as a joke. Although, when it’s this hard to tell, that may not be a good sign. 😀

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        See, I told you there were a few – turns out, quite a few!

        • AT LAST I have found a large group to which I REALLY belong! 😀 😀 😀

          • singleseatfighterpilot

            Actual quote: “Like Henry Adams, we say ‘give me liberty or give me death!’ ” Fidel Castro ca 1960

            • Obviously he was confusing Patrick Henry with Samuel Adams. Or maybe John Adams? That Fidel Castro was almost another Vladimir Stalin!

  4. Well said Julia. I am afraid Mercy was right. Time and technology is making an awful lot of dust. I wonder what we will find if it clears.

    • Patricia, that’s an ominous question indeed. A lot of dystopic novels have written in fairly chilling terms, envisioning what may become apparent when we can see a bit more clearly. Yet another reason we should all SLOW DOWN and THINK. Thanks for being here!

  5. singleseatfighterpilot

    Good one, Comrade Julia!

  6. On a personal note, my great-grandparents came to Canada at the beginning of the last century with almost nothing. I’m very grateful they endured hardships beyond my imagination to enable me to live in a country that’s ‘glorious and free’ * ( *our national anthem). Still, so many immigrants are still escaping tyranny, servitude and war. I wish society today would look close, and recognize the past in today. It’s a different time and place, but so many are struggling with the same hardships. We need to be more welcoming and accepting. After all, we are all born of immigrants (unless you are indigenous to North America) xox K

    • Yes, I think it’s hard for us even to imagine that there still are many people in danger of starvation, torture and genocide. I think it’s so much easier to look back in hindsight and say “we would never allow that” but in reality, a lot of times people disregard what is going on (or are kept in ignorance of it) as happened with the Holocaust and other lesser-known atrocities. We get caught up in our own problems (some of which are trivial in comparison to fighting to survive each day) and really have no clue about what life is like in some parts of the world. Immigration is such a complex issue, though, because if everything descends into lawless anarchy, nobody will win. I don’t envy any of the people involved in the border disputes and fallout from inadequate policies.

  7. raynard

    Julia I promise not to start singing that song Happy.Wait where did that thought about Mary Poppins come from lol be blessed

    • Aw, go ahead and sing it! I am probably the only person on the planet who doesn’t know it yet. I’m told that Grady loves it, though! 😀 Hope you are doing well and having a good week.

  8. Michael

    Didn’t T.W. start string of department stores out of the Chicago area.?

    • Michael, that sounds as believable as anything I can come up with. He’s like Austin Powers — a “man of mystery!”

  9. Michael

    No- he is the brother of they guy who started the toy store chain- F.W. Swartz.

    • I loved that toy store and was really sad to hear it had closed. It was bought out by Toys R Us and the NYC store is open under the original name, but the one in SFO at Union Square is still closed, I think. I have a picture of Jeff and Matt there on this post.

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