Cato’s Letters (1720-1723)

9 12 2006

These articles, written under the name “Cato,” were the work of John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, a pair of uppity English Whigs who, writing in the immediate aftermath of one of histories’ great corporate scandals, produced what is, without question, some of the best liberal writing ever published in a popular format. In the course of 144 articles, published over a three-year period in the
London Journal and British Journal, few subjects are left unbroached. Some of those subjects, of course, relate to then-contemporary matters, and are of little interest to modern readers, but others present remarkable parallels with contemporary politics. The letters are very well argued, the writing straightforward, concise, and quite hard-hitting; delightful and inspiring reading that became one of the major sources of American revolutionary thought. “No one,” notes historian Clinton Rossiter, “can spend any time in the newspapers, library inventories, and pamphlets of colonial
America without realizing that Cato’s Letters rather than Locke’s Civil Government was the most popular, quotable, esteemed source of political ideas in the colonial period.”