Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cato's Letters

Benjamin Martin: May I sit with you?
Charlotte Selton: It's a free country. Or at least it will be.
--The Patriot

In the 1720s, wealthy Englishman John Trenchard and his young protege Thomas Gordon penned Cato's Letters, a series of essays that radicalized libertarian principles put forth by John Locke and others by applying them to concrete, contemporary problems of government.

Cato argued that government is always and everwhere the potential or actual aggressor against the rights and liberties of the people. Power stands ever ready to conspire against liberty. To counter the threat, people must strictly limit government scope, and be ever vigilant and hostile to the inevitable tendencies of government to encroach upon liberty.

Liberty was "the power which every man has over his own actions, and his right to enjoy the fruits of his labour, art, and industry, as far as by it he hurts not the society, or any members in it, by taking from any member, or by hindering him from enjoying what he himself enjoys. The fruits of a man's honest industry are the just rewards of it, ascertained to him by natural and eternal equity, as is his title to use them in the manner which he things fit: And thus, with the above limitations, every man is sole lord and arbiter of his own private actions and property."

Cato also made clear that the rights and liberties were individual and not those of the majority. The despotism of the majority can be as bad as the tyranny of the few. "It is a mistaken notion in government, that the interest of the majority is only to be consulted, since in society every man has the right to everyman's assistance in the enjoyment and defense of his private property; otherwise the greater number may sell the lesser, and divide their estates amongst themselves; and so, instead of a society, where all peaceable men are protected, become a conspiracy of the many against a minority."

American colonists of the 1700s eagerly devoured Cato's thoughts. Demand for Cato and other like publications impressed the value of a free press upon the colonists as well.

They would apply these lessons in the second half of the 18th century.


Trenchard, J. & Gordon, T. 1965. Cato's letters. In D.L. Jacobson (ed), The English libertarian heritage. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co.

1 comment:

dgeorge12358 said...

The Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of men. It has God for its author; salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture for its matter. It is all pure.
~John Locke