Dr. Joseph Warren: Architect of the Revolution


Editor’s note: In honor of Veterans Day and the heroes who have defended liberty, we’re publishing early the story of a little-known veteran and American founder, Dr. Joseph Warren. We’re also making this article accessible for free through Monday, November 12. (The essay is from the Winter 2018–2019 issue of  The Objective Standard, which will be published on November 20. Read his fascinating story below, and share this article with friends—and especially any vets—while it’s accessible for free.

Now is no time for any of America’s children to shrink from any hazard. I will set her free or die. —Dr. Joseph Warren1

Writing about America’s founding fathers, philosopher Ayn Rand said, “as a political group, they were a phenomenon unprecedented in history: they were thinkers who were also men of action.”2

Nobody embodied that description better than Dr. Joseph Warren. Not only was he an able doctor, but Warren was a rare patriot leader who possessed the brilliance and eloquence of a Thomas Jefferson combined with the leadership qualities and physical courage of a George Washington. As John Adams said of him, “Warren was a young man whom nature had adorned with grace and manly beauty, and a courage that would have been rash absurdity, had it not been tempered by self-control.”3 These qualities prompted British General Howe to claim that Warren’s life was equal to five hundred ordinary colonials. Lord Rawdon, a British commander, called him “the greatest incendiary in all America.”4 President Ronald Reagan quoted Warren in his first inaugural address and said he “might have been among the greatest of America’s founding fathers” had he not fallen in battle at Bunker Hill.5

Although America’s founders generally are well known, and everyone knows of Paul Revere’s “midnight ride,” few know the pivotal role that Joseph Warren played in the decade leading up to the decisive day of April 19, 1775—a role that included the decision to send Revere on his famous ride. Warren was an architect of the rebellion and was involved in every major insurrectionary act and event in Boston in his day. His prolific writing included the Suffolk Resolves, which united the colonies against Britain and inspired the Declaration of Independence. From the fall of 1774 to the spring of 1775, Warren almost single-handedly directed the patriots’ efforts in Boston while other leaders such as Samuel Adams and John Hancock were away at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

Warren not only talked the talk; he helped to build, lead, and fight in America’s newborn military. He fought in the nation’s first two major Revolutionary War battles, and he was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, at the age of thirty-four. A few weeks after the battle, George Washington—nine years Warren’s senior—arrived in Boston to take command. When he surveyed the spot where Warren fell, he told the Boston patriots, “this is where you lost your Commander-In-Chief.”6 . . .

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Endnotes

1. John Laurence Blake, The American Revolution (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1860), 52.

2. Ayn Rand, “For the New Intellectual,” For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (New York: Penguin Group USA, 1963), 25.

3. Richard Frothingham, The Life and Times of Joseph Warren (Boston: Little, Brown, 1865), 26.

4. Richard Ketchum, “The Decisive Day Is Come,” American Heritage Magazine, August 1962.

5. “Reagan’s First Inaugural,” History.com, https://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/reagans-first-inaugural-address-video (accessed October 17, 2018).

6. James Spear Loring, One Hundred Boston Orators (Cleveland: John P. Jewett & Company, 1852) 65.

7. After witnessing the devastation that the deadly disease of smallpox caused, which included his own four-year-old son Franky, Benjamin Franklin set out to do something about it. In 1759, he sought out the prominent Doctor William Heberdeen of London for advice. Together, Heberdeen and Franklin sought to systematize the process of inoculation so that it would scale to large numbers of people. Warren followed their regimen with great success at Castle William.

8. Joseph Warren, Boston Gazette and Country Journal, October 7, 1765.

9. Warren, Boston Gazette, March 14, 1768.

10. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 2, 111.

11. William Wells, The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams (Boston: Little, Brown, 1865), 122.

12. Joseph Warren, Boston Massacre Oration, March 1772.

13. Joseph Warren and Samuel Adams, “A Report of The Committee of the Town of Boston,” March 1770.

14. Warren and Adams, “Report of The Committee of the Town of Boston.”

15. Frothingham, Life and Times of Joseph Warren, 154.

16. Samuel Forman, Dr. Joseph Warren: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty, 160.

17. Warren, Boston Massacre Oration, March 1772.

18. Warren, Boston Massacre Oration, March 1772.

19. Warren, Boston Massacre Oration, March 1772.

20. Warren, Boston Massacre Oration, March 1772.

21. Forman, Dr. Joseph Warren, 166.

22. Frothingham, Life and Times of Joseph Warren, 256.

23. Forman, Dr. Joseph Warren, 173.

24. Forman, Dr. Joseph Warren, 176.

25. Forman, Dr. Joseph Warren, 177.

26. Frothingham, Life and Times of Joseph Warren, 357.

27. Milton Historical Society, The Story of The Suffolk Resolves (Milton, MA: Milton Historical Society, 1973).

28. Joseph Warren, The Suffolk Resolves, NPS.Gov, https://www.nps.gov/mima/learn/education/upload/the%20suffolk%20resolves.pdf (accessed October 18, 2018).

29. John Adams, The Diary of John Adams, September 17, 1774, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/01-02-02-0004-0006-0018.

30. Duncan Knox, “The Suffolk Resolves: A Neglected Catalyst of the American Revolution,” Crius: Angelo State University Research Journal, May 2015, 111.

31. Edmund Burke, “Speech on Conciliation with America,” Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5655?msg=welcome_stranger (accessed October 18, 2018).

32. Forman, Dr. Joseph Warren, 260.

33. Journal of The First Provincial Congress, October 26, 1774.

34. Joseph Warren to Josiah Quincy Jr., November 21, 1771, American Archives, Northern Illinois University, http://amarch.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A90521.

35. Derek W. Beck, Igniting the American Revolution, 1773–1775 (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2015), 63.

36. Much of the material in this section comes from my earlier article, “Act Worthy of Yourselves: Joseph Warren on Defending Liberty,” The Objective Standard 13, no. 2 (Summer 2018). I repeat it here because it is essential for understanding Warren’s achievements.

37. Cato, a Tragedy, written by Joseph Addison in 1712, tells the story of Cato the younger, who resisted the tyranny of Julius Caesar and thus became a symbol of republicanism and liberty.

38. Joseph Warren, “Boston Massacre Oration,” March 6, 1775, http://ahp.gatech.edu/boston_mass_orat_1775.html.

39. Warren, “Boston Massacre Oration,” 1775.

40. Warren, “Boston Massacre Oration,” 1775.

41. Warren, “Boston Massacre Oration,” 1775.

42. Warren, “Boston Massacre Oration,” 1775.

43. Warren, “Boston Massacre Oration,” 1775.

44. In late June of 1775, a letter from Benjamin Church to Thomas Gage was intercepted and reported to George Washington. Washington had Church arrested and tried for treason. He was court-martialed, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.

45. Beck, Igniting the American Revolution, 104.

46. Beck, Igniting the American Revolution, 112.

47. Forman, Dr. Joseph Warren, 267.

48. Beck, Igniting the American Revolution, 202.

49. Joseph Warren, “To the Inhabitants of Great Britain,” April 26, 1775, http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/active_learning/explorations/revolution/account6_lexington.cfm.

50. Frothingham, Life and Times of Joseph Warren, 509.

51. Frothingham, Life and Times of Joseph Warren, 505.

52. “The Battle of Bunker Hill and the Death of General Warren,” Tioga Eagle (Wellsboro, Pennsylvania), August 21, 1839.

53. General John Burgoyne to Lord Stanley, 1775, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/32690/32690-h/32690-h.htm.

54. Frothingham, Life and Times of Joseph Warren, 515.

55. Frothingham, Life and Times of Joseph Warren, 515.

56. John Williams Austin to John Adams, July 7, 1775, Papers of John Adams, ser. 3, vol. 3.

57. Frothingham, Life and Times of Joseph Warren, 517.

58. This account was from theMorning Chronicle, London, July 29, 1775, based on a letter from a British officer who was a witness.This account is consistent with recent forensic analysis showing that Warren was shot in the face at close range, as outlined in appendix 3 of Samuel Forman’s biography of Warren.

59. Forman, Dr. Joseph Warren, 306.

60. Abigail Adams to John Adams, July 18, 1775, https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17750618aa.

61. John Adams to Ezekiel Niles, February 13, 1818, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-6854.

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