Front Page Titles (by Subject) Freeholder, No. 12 - Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays
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Freeholder, No. 12 - Joseph Addison, Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays 
Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays, ed. by Christine Dunn Henderson and Mark E. Yellin, with a Foreword by Forrest McDonald (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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Freeholder, No. 12
Monday, January 30, 1716
Quapropter, de summâ salute vestrâ, P. C. de vestris conjugibus ac liberis, de aris ac focis, de fanis ac templis, de totius urbis tectis ac sedibus, de imperio, de libertate, de salute patriae, deque universâ republicâ decernite diligenter, ut instituistis, ac fortiter.
This day having been set apart by publick authority to raise in us an abhorrence of the Great Rebellion, which involved this nation in so many calamities, and ended in the murder of their Sovereign; it may not be unseasonable to shew the guilt of rebellion in general, and of that rebellion in particular which is stirred up against his present Majesty.2
That rebellion is one of the most heinous crimes which it is in the power of man to commit, may appear from several considerations. First, as it destroys the end of all government, and the benefits of civil society. Government was instituted for maintaining the peace, safety, and happiness of a people. These great ends are brought about by a general conformity and submission to that frame of laws which is established in every community, for the protection of the innocent, and the punishment of the guilty. As on the one side men are secured in the quiet possession of their lives, properties, and every thing they have a right to: so on the other side, those who offer them any injury in these particulars, are subject to penalties proportioned to their respective offences. Government therefore mitigates the inequality of power among particular persons, and makes an innocent man, though of the lowest rank, a match for the mightiest of his fellow-subjects; since he has the force of the whole community on his side, which is able to controul the insolence or injustice of any private oppressor. Now rebellion disappoints all these ends and benefits of government, by raising a power in opposition to that authority which has been established among a people for their mutual welfare and defence. So that rebellion is as great an evil to society, as government itself is a blessing.
In the next place, rebellion is a violation of those engagements, which every government exacts from such persons as live under it; and consequently, the most base and pernicious instance of treachery and perfidiousness. The guilt of rebellion increases in proportion as these engagements are more solemn and obligatory. Thus if a man makes his way to rebellion through perjury, he gives additional horrors to that crime, which is in itself of the blackest nature.
We may likewise consider rebellion as a greater complication of wickedness than any other crime we can commit. It is big with rapine, sacrilege, and murder. It is dreadful in its mildest effects, as it impoverishes the publick; ruins particular families; begets and perpetuates hatreds among fellow-subjects, friends, and relations; makes a country the seat of war and desolation, and exposes it to the attempts of its foreign enemies. In short, as it is impossible for it to take effect, or to make the smallest progress, but through a continued course of violence and bloodshed; a robber or a murderer looks like an innocent man, when we compare him with a rebel.
I shall only add, that as in the subordination of a government the King is offended by any insults or oppositions to an inferior Magistrate; so the sovereign Ruler of the universe is affronted by a breach of allegiance to those whom he has set over us; Providence having delegated to the supream Magistrate in every country the same power for the good of men, which that supream Magistrate transfers to those several officers and substitutes who act under him, for the preserving of order and justice.
Now if we take a view of the present rebellion which is formed against his Majesty, we shall find in it all the guilt that is naturally inherent in this crime, without any single circumstance to alleviate it. Insurrections among a people to rescue themselves from the most violent and illegal oppressions; to throw off a tyranny that makes property precarious, and life painful; to preserve their laws and their religion to themselves and their posterity; are excused from the necessity of such an undertaking, when no other means are left for the security of every thing that is dear and valuable to reasonable creatures. By the frame of our constitution, the duties of protection and allegiance are reciprocal; and as the safety of a community is the ultimate end and design of government, when this, instead of being preserved, is manifestly destroyed, civil societies are excusable before God and man, if they endeavour to recover themselves out of so miserable a condition. For in such a case government becomes an evil instead of a blessing, and is not at all preferable to a state of anarchy and mutual independence. For these reasons, we have scarce ever yet heard of an insurrection that was not either coloured with grievances of the highest kind, or countenanced by one or more branches of the legislature. But the present rebellion is formed against a King, whose right has been established by frequent Parliaments of all parties, and recognized by the most solemn oaths; who has not been charged with one illegal proceeding; who acts in perfect concert with the Lords and Commons of the realm; who is famed for his equity and goodness, and has already very much advanced the reputation and interest of our country. The guilt therefore of this rebellion has in it all the most aggravating circumstances; which will still appear more plainly, if we consider in the first place the real motives to it.
The rebellion, which was one of the most flagitious3 in itself, and described with the most horror by historians, is that of Catiline and his associates. The motives to it are displayed at large by the Roman writers, in order to inspire the Reader with the utmost detestation of it. Catiline, the chief of the rebellion, had been disappointed in his competition for one of the first offices in the government, and had involved himself in such private debts and difficulties, as nothing could extricate him out of, but the ruin of an administration that would not entrust him with posts of honour or profit. His principal accomplices were men of the same character, and animated by the same incentives. They complained that power was lodged in the hands of the worst, to the oppression of the best; and that places were conferred on unworthy men, to the exclusion of themselves and their friends. Many of them were afraid of publick justice for past crimes, and some of them stood actually condemned as traytors to their country. These were joined by men of desperate fortunes, who hoped to find their account in the confusions of their country, were applauded by the meanest of the rabble, who always delighted in change, and privately abetted by persons of a considerable figure, who aimed at those honours and preferments which were in the possession of their rivals. These are the motives with which Catiline’s rebellion is branded in history, and which are expresly mentioned by Sallust.4 I shall leave it to every unprejudiced Reader to compare them with the motives which have kindled the present rebellion in his Majesty’s dominions.
As this Rebellion is of the most criminal nature from its motives, so it is likewise if we consider its consequences. Should it succeed, (a supposition which, God be thanked, is very extravagant) what must be the natural effects of it upon our Religion! What could we expect from an army, blest by the Pope, headed by a zealous Roman-Catholick, encouraged by the most bigotted Princes of the Church of Rome, supported by contributions not only from these several Potentates, but from the wealthiest of their convents, and officered by Irish Papists and out-laws! Can we imagine that the Roman-Catholicks of our own nation would so heartily embark in an enterprize, to the visible hazard of their lives and fortunes, did they only hope to enjoy their Religion under those laws which are now in force? In short, the danger to the Protestant cause is so manifest, that it would be an affront to the understanding of the reader to endeavour farther to prove it.
Arbitrary power is so interwoven with Popery, and so necessary to introduce it, so agreeable to the education of the Pretender, so conformable to the principles of his adherents, and so natural to the insolence of conquerors, that should our invader gain the sovereign power by violence, there is no doubt but he would preserve it by tyranny. I shall leave to the Reader’s own consideration, the change of property in general, and the utter extinction of it in our national funds, the inundation of Nobles without estates, Prelates without bishopricks, officers civil and military without places; and in short, the several occasions of rapine and revenge, which would necessarily ensue upon such a fatal Revolution. But by the blessing of Providence, and the wisdom of his Majesty’s administration, this melancholy prospect is as distant as it is dreadful.
These are the consequences which would necessarily attend the success of the present Rebellion. But we will now suppose that the event of it should for some time remain doubtful. In this case we are to expect all the miseries of a civil war: Nay, the armies of the greatest foreign Princes would be subsisted, and all the battels of Europe fought in England. The Rebels have already shewn us, that they want no inclination to promote their cause by fire and sword, where they have an opportunity of practising their barbarities. Should such a fierce and rapacious Host of men, as that which is now in the Highlands, fall down into our countrey, that is so well peopled, adorned and cultivated, how would their march be distinguished by ravage and devastation! might not we say of them in the sublime and beautiful words of the Prophet, describing the progress of an enraged army from the North; Before them is as the garden of Eden, and behind them as the desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.5
What then can we think of a party, who would plunge their native countrey into such evils as these; when the only avowed motive for their proceedings is a point of Theory, that has been already determined by those who are proper judges, and in whose determination we have so many years acquiesced. If the calamities of the nation in general can make no impression on them, let them at least, in pity to themselves, their friends and dependents, forbear all open and secret methods of encouraging a Rebellion, so destructive, and so unprovoked. All human probabilities are against them; and they cannot expect success, but from a miraculous interposition of the Almighty. And this we may with all Christian humility hope, will not turn against us, who observe those oaths which we have made in his presence; who are zealous for the safety of that Religion, which we think most acceptable in his sight; and who endeavour to preserve that constitution which is most conducive to the happiness of our countrey.
[1. ]“With the care, therefore, and the courage that you have displayed from the beginning, take your decision upon the salvation of yourselves and of the Roman people, upon your wives and children, your altars and hearths, your shrines and temples, the buildings and homes of the entire city, your dominion and your freedom, the safety of Italy and upon the whole Republic.” Cicero In Catilinam IV.24.
[2. ]January 30 is the anniversary of the execution of Charles I in 1649.
[3. ]Extremely wicked or criminal.
[4. ]See Sallust’s The War with Catiline.
[5. ]Joel 2:3.