Front Page Titles (by Subject) II.: TO CATO. - The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. I (1774-1779)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
II.: TO CATO. - Thomas Paine, The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. I (1774-1779) 
The Writings of Thomas Paine, Collected and Edited by Moncure Daniel Conway (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894). Vol. 1.
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
Before I enter on the more immediate purpose of this letter, I think it necessary, once for all, to endeavour to settle as clearly as I can, the following point, viz: How far personality is concerned in any political debate. The general maxim is, that measures and not men are the thing in question, and the maxim is undeniably just when rightly understood. Cato as a refuge for himself, hath quoted the author of Common Sense who in his preface says, “That the object for attention is the doctrine itself not the man, “that is, not the rank or condition of the man. For whether he is with those whose fortune is already made, or with those whose fortune is yet to make, or among those who seldom think or care whether they make any, is a matter wholly out of the question and entirely confined to himself. But the political characters, political dependencies, and political connections of men, being of a public nature, differ exceedingly from the circumstances of private life; and are in many instances so nearly related to the measures they propose, that to prevent our being deceived by the last, we must be acquainted with the first. A total ignorance of men lays us under the danger of mistaking plausibility for principle. Could the wolf bleat like the lamb the flock would soon be enticed into ruin; wherefore to prevent the mischief, he ought to be seen as well as heard. There never was nor ever will be, nor ever ought to be, any important political debate carried on, in which a total separation in all cases between men and measures could be admitted with sufficient safety. When hypocrisy shall be banished from the earth, the knowledge of men will be unnecessary, because their measures cannot then be fraudulent; but until that time come (which never will come) they ought, under proper limitations, to go together. We have already too much secrecy in some things and too little in others. Were men more known, and measures more concealed, we should have fewer hypocrites and more security.
As the chief design of these letters is to detect and expose the falsehoods and fallacious reasonings of Cato, he must not expect (when detected) to be treated like one who had debated fairly; for I will be bold to say and to prove, that a grosser violation of truth and reason scarcely ever came from the pen of a writer; and the explanations which he hath endeavoured to impose on the passages which he hath quoted from Common Sense, are such as never existed in the mind of the author, nor can they be drawn from the words themselves. Neither must Cato expect to be spared where his carelessness of expression, and visible want of compassion and sentiment, shall give occasion to raise any moral or philosophical reflection thereon. These things being premised, I now proceed to review the latter part of Cato’s second letter.
In this place Cato begins his first attack on Common Sense, but as he only discovers his ill will, and neither offers any arguments against it, nor makes any quotations from it, I should in this place pass him by, were it not for the following strange assertion: “If little notice,” says Cato (little opposition he means) “has yet been taken of the publications concerning Independance, it is neither owing to the popularity of the doctrine, the unanswerable nature of the arguments, nor the fear of opposing them, as the vanity of the author would suggest.” As Cato has given us the negative reasons, he ought to have given us the real ones, for as he positively tells what it was not owing to, he undoubtedly knows what it was owing to that he delayed his answers so long; but instead of telling us that, (which perhaps is not proper to be told) he flies from the argument with the following plump declarations, “Nine tenths of the people of Pennsylvania,” says he, “yet abhor the doctrine.” But stop, Cato! not quite so fast, friend! If this be true, how came they, so late as the second of March last, to elect for a Burgess of this city, a gentleman of known Independant Principles, and one of the very few to whom the author of Common Sense shewed some part thereof while in manuscript.1
Cato is just as unfortunate in the following paragraph. “Those,” says he, “who made the appeal (that is, published the pamphlet) have but little cause to triumph in its success. Of this they seem sensible: and, like true quacks, are constantly pestering us with additional doses till the stomachs of their patients begin wholly to revolt.” It is Cato’s hard fate to be always detected: for perhaps there never was a pamphlet, since the use of letters were known, about which so little pains were taken, and of which so great a number went off in so short a time; I am certain that I am within compass when I say one hundred and twenty thousand. The book was turned upon the world like an orphan to shift for itself; no plan was formed to support it, neither hath the author ever published a syllable on the subject, from that time till after the appearance of Cato’s fourth letter; wherefore what Cato says of additional doses administered by the author is an absolute falsity; besides which, it comes with an ill grace from one, who frequently publishes two letters in a week, and often puts them both into one paper—Cato here, Cato there, look where you will.
At the distance of a few lines from the above quotations, Cato presents us with a retrospective view of our former state, in which, says he, “we considered our connection with Great Britain as our chief happiness—we flourished, grew rich, and populous to a degree not to be paralleled in history.” This assertion is truly of the legerdemain kind, appearing at once both right and wrong. All writers on Cato’s side have used the same argument and conceived themselves invincible; nevertheless, a single expression properly placed dissolves the charm, for the cheat lies in putting the time for the cause. For the cheat lies in putting the consequence for the cause; for had we not flourished the connection had never existed or never been regarded, and this is fully proved by the neglect shewn to the first settlers who had every difficulty to struggle with, unnoticed and unassisted by the British Court.
Cato proceeds very industriously to sum up the former declarations of Congress and other public bodies, some of which were made upwards of a year ago, to prove, that the doctrine of Independance hath no sanction from them. To this I shall give Cato one general answer which is, that had he produced a thousand more such authorities they would now amount to nothing, they are out of date; times and things are altered; the true character of the King was but little known among the body of the poeple of America a year ago; willing to believe him good, they fondly called him so, but have since found that Cato’s Royal Sovereign, is a Royal Savage.
Cato hath introduced the above-mentioned long quotation of authorities against independance, with the following curious preface. “Nor have many weeks,” says he, “yet elapsed since the first open proposition for independance was published to the world. By what men of consequence this scheme is supported or whether by any, may possibly be the subject of future enquiry. Certainly it hath no countenance from the Congress, to whose sentiments we look up with reverence. On the contrary, it is directly repugnant to every declaration of that respectable body.” Now Cato, thou hast nailed thyself with a witness! Directly repugnant to every declaration of that respectable body! Mind that, Cato, and mark what follows. It appears by an extract from the resolves of the Congress, printed in the front of the oration delivered by Dr. Smith, in honor of that brave man General Montgomery, that he, the Doctor, was appointed by that honorable body to compose and deliver the same; in the execution of which, the orator exclaimed loudly against the doctrine of independance; but when a motion was afterwards made in Congress, (according to former usage) to return the orator thanks, and request a copy for the press, the motion was rejected from every part of the house and thrown out without a division.1
I now proceed to Cato’s third letter, in the opening of which he deserts the subject of independance, and renews his attack on the Committee.1 Cato’s manner of writing has as much order in it as the motion of a squirrel. He frequently writes as if he knew not what to write next, just as the other jumps about, only because it cannot stand still. Though I am sometimes angry with him for his unprincipled method of writing and reasoning, I cannot help laughing at other times for his want of ingenuity: One instance of which he gives us in kindly warning us against “the foul pages of interested writers, and strangers intermedling in our affairs. “Were I to reply seriously my answer would be this: Thou seemest then ignorant, Cato, of that ancient and numerous order which are related to each other in all and every part of the globe—with whom the kindred is not formed by place or accident, but in principle and sentiment. A freeman, Cato, is a stranger nowhere—a slave, everywhere. But were I disposed to answer merrily, I should tell him, that as his notions of friendship were so very narrow and local, he obliges me to understand, that when he addresses the people with the tender title of “my dear countrymen “which frequently occurs in his letters, he particularly means the long list of Macs published in Donald M’Donald’s Commission.2
In this letter Cato recommends the pamphlet called Plain Truth, a performance which hath withered away like a sickly unnoticed weed, and which even its advocates are displeased at, and the author ashamed to own.3 About the middle of this third letter, Cato gives notice of his being ready to take the field. “I now proceed,” says he, “to give my reasons.” How Cato hath managed the attack we are now to examine; and the first remark I shall offer on his conduct is, that he hath most unluckily entered the list on the wrong side, and discharged his first fire among the tories.
In order to prove this, I shall give the paragraph entire:—“AGRICULTURE and COMMERCE,” says Cato, “have hitherto been the happy employments, by which these middle colonies have risen into wealth and importance. By them the face of the country has been changed from a barren wilderness, into the hospitable abodes of peace and plenty. Without them we had either never existed as Americans, or existed only as savages. The oaks would still have possessed their native spots of earth, and never have appeared in the form of ships and houses. What are now well cultivated fields, or flourishing cities, would have remained only the solitary haunts of wild beasts or of men equally wild.” The reader cannot help perceiving that through this whole paragraph our connexion with Britain is left entirely out of the question, and our present greatness attributed to external causes, agriculture and commerce. This is a strange way, Cato, of overturning Common Sense, which says, “I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation, to shew a single advantage which this continent can reap by being connected with Great-Britain; I repeat,” says he, “the challenge: not a single advantage is derived. Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe; and our imported goods must be paid for, buy them where we will. “Cato introduces his next paragraph with saying, “that much of our former felicity was owing to the protection of England is not to be denied. “Yes, Cato, I deny it wholly, and for the following clear and simple reasons, viz., that our being connected with, and submitting to be protected by her, made, and will still make, all her enemies, our enemies, or as Common Sense says, “sets us at variance with nations who would otherwise seek our friendship, and against whom we have neither anger nor complaint.”
The following passage is so glaringly absurd that I shall make but a short comment upon it. “And if hereafter,” says Cato, “in the fulness of time, it shall be necessary to separate from the land that gave birth to [some of] our ancestors, it will be in a state of perfect manhood, when we can fully wield our own arms, and protect our commerce and coasts by our own fleets. “But how are we to come by fleets, Cato, while Britain hath the government of the Continent? Unless we are to suppose, as you have hinted in the former paragraph, that our oaks are to grow into ships, and be launched self-built from their “native spots of earth.” It is Cato’s misfortune as a writer, not to distinguish justly between magic and imagination; while on the other hand there are many passages in his letters so seriously and deliberately false, that nothing but the most hardened effrontery, and a cast of mind bordering upon impiety, would have uttered. He frequently forces me out of the common track of civil language, in order to do him justice; moderation and temper being really unequal to the task of exposing him.
Cato, unless he meant to destroy the ground he stood upon, ought not to have let the following paragraph be seen. “If our present differences, “says he, “can be accommodated, there is scarce a probability that Britain will ever renew her late fatal system of policy, or attempt again to employ force against us.” How came Cato to admit the probability of our being brought again into the same bloody and expensive situation? But it is worth remarking, that those who write without principle, cannot help sometimes blundering upon truth. Then there is no real security, Cato, in this reconciliation of yours on constitutional principles? It still amounts to nothing; and after all this expence of life and wealth, we are to rest at last upon hope, hazard, and uncertainty. Why then, by all that is sacred, “it is time to part.“
But Cato, after admitting the probability of our being brought again into the same situation, proceeds to tell us how we are to conduct ourselves in the second quarrel; and that is, by the very same methods we have done the present one, viz., to expend millions of treasure, and thousands of lives, in order to patch up a second union, that the way may be open for a third quarrel; and in this endless and chequered round of blood and treacherous peace, hath Cato disposed of the Continent of America. That I may not be thought to do Cato injustice, I have quoted the whole passage: “But should Britain be so infatuated,” says he, “at any future period, as to think of subjugating us, either by the arts of corruption, or oppressive exertions of power, can we entertain a doubt but we shall AGAIN, with a virtue equal to the present and with the weapons of defence in our hands (when necessary) convince her that we are willing by a constitutional connection with her, to afford and receive reciprocal benefits; but although subjects of the same King, we will not consent to be her slaves.”—Come hither, ye little ones, whom the poisonous hand of Cato is rearing for destruction, and remember the page that warns ye of your ruin.
Cato, in many of his expressions, discovers all that calm command over the passions and feelings which always distinguishes the man who hath expelled them from his heart. Of this careless kind is the before mentioned phrase, “our present differences,” and the same unpardonable negligence is conveyed in the following one: “Although I consider her,” says he, “as having in her late conduct toward us, acted the part of a cruel stepdame.” Wonderful sensibility indeed! All the havoc and desolation of unnatural war; the destruction of thousands; the burning and depopulating of towns and cities; the ruin and separation of friends and families, are just sufficient to extort from Cato, this one callous confession. But the cold and creeping soul of Cato is a stranger to the manly powers of sympathetic sorrow. He moves not, nor can he move in so pure an element. Accustomed to lick the hand that hath made him visible, and to breathe the gross atmosphere of servile and sordid dependence, his soul would now starve on virtue, and suffocate in the clear region of disinterested friendship.
Surely when Cato sat down to write, he either did not expect to be called to an account, or was totally regardless of reputation, otherwise he would not have endeavoured to persuade the public that the doctrine of Independance was broached in a kind of seditious manner, at a time “when, “ says he, “some gleams of reconciliation began first to break in upon us. “Come forth, Cato, and prove the assertion! Where do these gleams of reconciliation spring from? Are they to be found in the King’s speech, in the address of either House of Parliament, or in the act which lets loose a whole kennel of pirates upon our property, and commissions another set to insult with pardons the very men whom their own measures had sought to ruin? Either prove the assertion, Cato, or take the reward of it, for it is the part of an incendiary to endeavour with specious falsehoods to mislead the credulity of unwary readers. Cato likewise says, that, while we continue united, and renounce all thoughts of Independance, “we have the utmost assurance of obtaining a full redress of our grievances, and an ample security against and future violation of our just rights. “If Cato means to insinuate that we have received such an assurance, let him read the conclusion of the preceeding paragraph again. The same answer will serve for both.
Perhaps when we recollect the long and unabated cruelty of the British court towards us, and remember the many prayers which we have put up both to them and for them, the following piece of declamation of Cato can hardly be equalled either for absurdity or insanity: “If we now effect independance,” says he, “we must be considered as a faithless people in the sight of all mankind, and could scarcely expect the confidence of any nation upon earth, or look up to Heaven for its approving sentence. “Art thou mad, Cato, or art thou foolish—or art thou both—or art thou worse than both? In this passage thou hast fairly gone beyond me. I have not language to bring thee back. Thou art safely intrenched indeed! Rest therefore in thy stronghold till He who fortified thee in it shall come and fetch thee out.
Cato seems to be possessed of that jesuitical cunning which always endeavours to disgrace what it cannot disprove; and this he sometimes effects, by unfairly introducing our terms into his arguments, and thereby begets a monster which he sends round the country for a show, and tells the good people that the name of it is independance. Of this character are several passages in his fourth and fifth letters, particularly when he quotes the term “foreign assistance, “which he ungenerously explains into a surrender of the Continent to France and Spain. Such an unfair and sophistical reasoner doth not deserve the civility of good manners. He creates, likewise, the same confusion by frequently using the word peace for union, and thereby charges us falsely by representing us as being determined to “reject all proposition of peace. “Whereas, our wish is peace but not re-union; and though we would gladly listen to the former, we are determined to resist every proposal for the latter, come from where it will; being fully persuaded, that in the present state of affairs separation of governments is the only and best thing that can be done for both countries.
The following case is unjustly put. “There never was a war,” says Cato, “so implacable, even among states naturally rivals and enemies, or among savages themselves, as not to have peace for its object as well as the end.” But was there ever a war, Cato, which had union for its object? No. What Cato means by states naturally rivals and enemies, I shall not enquire into, but this I know (for myself at least) that it was not in the power of France or Spain, or all the other powers in Europe, to have given such a wound, or raised us to such a mortal hatred as Britain hath done. We feel the same kind of undescribed anger at her conduct, as we would at the sight of an animal devouring its young; and this particular species of anger is not generated in the transitory temper of the man, but in the chaste and undefiled womb of nature.
Cato, towards the conclusion of his third letter,(at which place I shall leave him for the present,) compares the state of Britain and America to the quarrels of lovers, and from thence infers a probability, that our affections will be renewed thereby. This I cannot help looking on as one of the most unnatural and distorted similes that can be drawn. Come hither ye that are lovers, or ye that have been lovers, and decide the controversy between us! What comparison is there between the soft murmurs of an heart mourning in secret, and the loud horrors of war—between the silent tears of pensive sorrow, and rivers of wasted blood—between the sweet strife of affection, and the bitter strife of death—between the curable calamities of pettish lovers, and the sad sight of a thousand slain! “Get thee behind me,” Cato, for thou hast not the feelings of a man.
April 8, 1776.
David Rittenhouse, elected in the place of Franklin, who had left for France.—Editor.
“An Oration in memory of General Montgomery, and of the Officers who fell with him, December 31, 1775, before Quebec; drawn up (and delivered February 19th, 1776,) at the desire of the Honourable Continental Congress. By William Smith, D.D., Provost of the College and Academy of Philadelphia. Philadelphia, printed: London, reprinted for J. Almon, opposite Burlington-house, Picadilly. MDCCLXXVI.” On p. 24 Dr. Smith quotes the petition of Congress “for a ‘restoration of the former harmony between Great Britain and these Colonies’ etc.” In a footnote Dr. Smith refers to the censures of this passage, and adds that since the petition the situation had changed. It was well known that Dr. Smith was “Cato,” and Paine’s reference to the resentment of Congress was an especially severe thrust, because “Cato” in his second letter (dated March 11) had repeated his offence, recapitulating all the conciliatory efforts of Congress at an earlier period.—Editor.
See note in the preceding letter, p. 129.—Editor.
M’Donald was Brigadier-General of the Highlanders who were defeated by the North Carolinians on February 27, 1776, at Moore’s Creek Bridge. M’Donald being ill on that day the command devolved on M’Leod, who fell, as mentioned in the preceding letter. Dr. William Smith, a pronounced Scotchman, in alluding to Paine as a “stranger,” could hardly have been aware that his identity with “Cato” was known.—Editor.
“Plain Truth: addressed to the Inhabitants of America, containing Remarks on a late Pamphlet, intitled Common Sense etc. Written by CANDIDUS. Will ye turn from Flattery and attend to this Side?” This pamphlet of 37 pages, published in Philadelphia and London, was the most elaborate of many replies to “Common Sense.” It was dull, however, and was out of date almost as soon as it appeared.—Editor.