Front Page Titles (by Subject) III.: TO CATO. - The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. I (1774-1779)
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III.: 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.
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Cato’s partizans may call me furious; I regard it not. There are men, too, who have not virtue enough to be angry and that crime perhaps is Cato’s. He who dares not offend cannot be honest. Having thus balanced the charge, I proceed to Cato’s 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th letters, all of which, as they contain but little matter, I shall dismiss with as little trouble and less formality.
His fourth letter is introduced with a punning Soliloquy—Cato’s title to soliloquies is indisputable; because no man cares for his company.∗ However, he disowns the writing it, and assures his readers that it “was really put into his hands.” I always consider this confirming mode of expression as betraying a suspicion of one’s self; and in this place it amounts to just as much as if Cato had said, “you know my failing, Sirs, but what I tell you now is really true.” Well, be it so, Cato; you shall have all the credit you ask for; and as to when or where or how you got it, who was the author, or who the giver, I shall not enquire after; being fully convinced, by the poetical merit of the performance, that tho’ the writer of it may be an Allen,1 he ‘ll never be a Ramsay.† Thus much for the soliloquy; and if this gentle chastisement should be the means of preventing Cato or his colleague from mingling their punning nonsense with subjects of such a serious nature as the present one truly is, it will answer one of the ends it was intended for.
Cato’s fourth, and the greatest part of his fifth letter, are constructed on a false meaning uncivilly imposed on a passage quoted from Common Sense; and for which, the author of that pamphlet hath a right to expect from Cato the usual concessions. I shall quote the passage entire, with Cato’s additional meaning, and the inferences which he draws therefrom. He introduces it with saying, “In my remarks on the pamphlet before me I shall first consider those arguments on which, he (the author) appears to lay his chief stress; and these are collected under four heads in his conclusion, one of which is, ‘It is the custom of nations when any two are at war, for some other powers not engaged in the quarrel, to step in by way of Mediators, and bring about the prelimenaries of a peace; but while America calls herself the subject of Great-Britain, no power, however well disposed she may be, can offer her mediation.’ “The meaning contained in this passage is so exceedingly plain, and expressed in such easy and familiar terms, that it scarcely admits of being made plainer. No one, I think, could have understood it any other wise, than that while we continue to call ourselves British Subjects, the quarrel between us can only be called a family quarrel, in which, it would be just as indelicate for any other nation to advise, or any ways to meddle or make, even with their offers of mediation, as it would be for a third person to interfere in a quarrel between a man and his wife. Whereas were we to make use of that natural right which all other nations have done before us, and erect a government of our own, independant of all the world, the quarrel could then be no longer called a family quarrel, but a regular war between the two powers of Britain and America, in the same manner as one carried on between England and France; and in this state of political separation, the neutral powers might kindly render their mediation, (as hath always been the practice) and bring about the preliminaries of a peace,—not a union, Cato, that is quite another thing. But instead of Cato’s taking it in this easy and natural sense, he flies away on a wrong scent, charges the author with proposing to call in foreign assistance; and under this willful falsehood raises up a mighty cry after nothing at all. He begins his wild and unintelligible comment in the following manner: “Is this,” says he, (meaning the passage already quoted) “common sense, or common nonsense? Surely peace∗ with Great Britain cannot be the object of this writer, after the horrible character he has given of the people of that country, and telling us, that reconciliation with them would be our ruin. The latter part of the paragraph seems to cast some light upon the former, although it contradicts it, for these mediators are not to interfere for making up the quarrel, but to widen it by supporting us in a declaration, That we are not the subjects of Great Britain. A new sort of business truly for mediators. But this,” continues Cato, “leads us directly to the main enquiry—What foreign power is able to give us this support? “What support, Cato? The passage you have quoted neither says a syllable, nor insinuates a hint about support:—It speaks only of neutral powers in the neighbourly character of mediators between those which are at war; and says it is the custom of European courts to do so. Cato hath already raised Commissioners into Ambassadors; but how he could transform mediators into men in arms, and mediation into military alliance, is surpassingly strange. Read the part over again, Cato; if you find I have charged you wrongfully, and will point it out, I will engage that the author of Common Sense shall ask your pardon in the public papers, with his name to it: but if the error be yours, the concession on your part follows as a duty.
Though I am fully persuaded that Cato does not believe one half of what himself has written, he nevertheless takes amazing pains to frighten his readers into a belief of the whole. Tells them of foreign troops (which he supposes we are going to send for) ravaging up and down the country; of their “bloody massacres, unrelenting persecutions, which would harrow up (says he) the very souls of protestants and freemen. “Were they coming, Cato, which no one ever dreamed of but yourself (for thank God, we want them not,) it would be impossible for them to exceed, or even to equal, the cruelties practised by the British army in the East-Indies: The tying men to the mouths of cannon and “blowing them away “was never acted by any but an English General, or approved by any but a British Court.∗ Read the proceedings of the Select Committee on Indian Affairs.
From temporal fears Cato proceeds to spiritual ones, and in a hypocritical panic, asks, “To whose share will Pennsylvania fall—that of his most Catholic, or his most Christian King? I confess,” continues he, “that these questions stagger me.” I don’t wonder at it, Cato—I am glad to hear that some kind of remorse hath overtaken you—that you begin to feel that you are “heavy laden.” You have had a long run, and the stoutest heart must fail at last.
Cato perceiving that the falsehoods in his fourth letter past unreproved, ventured boldly on a fifth, in which he continues, enlarging on the same convenient bugbear. “In my last,” says he, “some notice was taken of the dangerous proposition held up by the author of Common Sense, for having recourse to foreign assistance.” When will Cato learn to speak the truth! The assistance which we hope for from France is not armies, (we want them not) but arms and ammunition. We have already received into this province only, near two hundred tons of saltpetre and gunpowder, besides muskets. Surely we may continue to cultivate a useful acquaintance, without such malevolent beings as Cato raising his barbarous slander thereon. At this time it is not only illiberal, but impolitic, and perhaps dangerous to be pouring forth such torrents of abuse, as his fourth and fifth letters contain, against the only power that in articles of defence hath supplied our hasty wants.
Cato, after expending near two letters in beating down an idol which himself only had set up, proudly congratulates himself on the defeat, and marches off to new exploits, leaving behind him the following proclamation: “Having thus,” says Cato, “dispatched his (the author of Common Sense’s) main argument for independence, which he founds on the necessity of calling in foreign assistance, I proceed to examine some other parts of his work.” Not a syllable, Cato, doth any part of the pamphlet in question say of calling in foreign assistance, or even forming military alliances. The dream is wholly your own, and is directly repugnant both to the letter and spirit of every page in the piece. The idea which Common Sense constantly holds up, is to have nothing to do with the political affairs of Europe. “As Europe,” says the pamphlet, “is our market for trade, we ought to form no political connections with any part of it. It is the true interest of America to steer clear of all European contentions.” And where it proposes sending a manifesto to foreign courts (which it is high time to do) it recommends it only for the purpose of announcing to them the impossibility of our living any longer under the British government, and of “assuring such Courts of our peaceable disposition towards them, and of our desire of entering into trade with them. “Learn to be an honest man, Cato, and then thou wilt not be thus exposed.—I have been the more particular in detecting Cato here, because it is on this bubble that his air-built battery against independance is raised—a poor foundation indeed! which even the point of a pin, or a pen, if you please, can demolish with a touch, and bury the formidable Cato beneath the ruins of a vapour.
From this part of his fifth letter to the end of his seventh he entirely deserts the subject of independance, and sets up the proud standard of Kings, in preference to a Republican form of Government. My remarks on this part of the subject will be general and concise.
In this part of the debate Cato shelters himself chiefly in quotations from other authors, without reasoning much on the matter himself;∗ in answer to which, I present him with a string of maxims and reflexions, drawn from the nature of things, without borrowing from any one. Cato may observe, that I scarcely ever quote; the reason is, I always think. But to return.
Government should always be considered as a matter of convenience, not of right. The scripture institutes no particular form of government, but it enters a protest against the monarchical form; and a negation on one thing, where two only are offered, and one must be chosen, amounts to an affirmative on the other. Monarchical government was first set up by the Heathens, and the Almighty permitted it to the Jews as a punishment. “I gave them a King in mine anger.”—Hosea xiii. II. A Republican form of government is pointed out by nature—Kingly governments by an unequality of power. In Republican governments, the leaders of the people, if improper, are removable by vote; Kings only by arms: an unsuccessful vote in the first case, leaves the voter safe; but an unsuccessful attempt in the latter, is death. Strange, that that which is our right in the one, should be our ruin in the other. From which reflexion follows this maxim. That that mode of government in which our right becomes our ruin, cannot be the right one. If all human nature be corrupt, it is needless to strengthen the corruption by establishing a succession of Kings, who, be they ever so base, are still to be obeyed; for the manners of a court will always have an influence over the morals of a people. A Republican government hath more true grandeur in it than a Kingly one. On the part of the public it is more consistent with freemen to appoint their rulers than to have them born; and on the part of those who preside, it is far nobler to be a ruler by the choice of the people, than a King by the chance of birth. Every honest Delegate is more than a Monarch. Disorders will unavoidably happen in all states, but monarchical governments are the most subject thereto, because the balance hangs uneven. “Nineteen rebellions and eight civil wars in England since the conquest. “Whatever commotions are produced in Republican states, are not produced by a Republican spirit, but by those who seek to extinguish it. A Republican state cannot produce its own destruction, it can only suffer it. No nation of people, in their true senses, when seriously reflecting on the rank which God hath given them, and the reasoning faculties he hath blessed them with, would ever, of their own consent, give any one man a negative power over the whole: No man since the fall hath ever been equal to the trust, wherefore ‘tis insanity in us to entrust them with it; and in this sense, all those who have had it have done us right by abusing us into reason. Nature seems sometimes to laugh at mankind, by giving them so many fools for Kings; at other times, she punishes their folly by giving them tyrants; but England must have offended highly to be curst with both in one. Rousseau proposed a plan for establishing a perpetual European peace; which was, for every State in Europe to send Ambassadors to form a General Council, and when any difference happened between any two nations, to refer the matter to arbitration instead of going to arms. This would be forming a kind of European Republic: But the proud and plundering spirit of Kings hath not peace for its object. They look not at the good of mankind. They set not out upon that plan: And if the history of the Creation and the history of Kings be compared together the result will be this—that God hath made a world, and Kings have robbed him of it.
But that which sufficiently establishes the Republican mode of government, in preference to a Kingly one, even when all other arguments are left out, is this simple truth, that all men are Republicans by nature, and Royalists only by fashion. And this is fully proved by that passionate adoration which all men shew to that great and almost only remaining bulwark of natural rights, trial by juries, which is founded on a pure Republican basis. Here the power of Kings is shut out. No Royal negative can enter this Court. The Jury, which is here supreme, is a Republic, a body of Judges chosen from among the people.
The charter which secures this freedom in England, was formed, not in the senate, but in the field; and insisted on by the people, not granted by the crown; the crown in that instance granted nothing, but only renounced its former tyrannies, and bound itself over to its future good behaviour. It was the compromise, by which the wearer of it made his peace with the people, and the condition on which he was suffered to reign.
Here ends my reply to all the letters which have at present appeared under the signature of Cato, being at this time seven in number. I have made no particular remarks on his last two, which treat only of the mode of government, but answered them generally. In one place I observe, he accuses the writer of Common Sense with inconsistency in having declared, “That no man was a warmer wisher for reconciliation than himself, before the fatal 19th of April, 1775” 1 ; “that is,” (says Cato) reconciliation to monarchical government.” To which I reply that war ought to be no man’s wish, neither ought any man to perplex a state, already formed, with his private opinions; “the mode of government being a proper consideration for those countries” only “which have their governments yet to form.” (Common Sense).
On a review of the ground which I have gone over in Cato’s letters, (exclusive of what I have omitted) I find the following material charges against him:
First. He hath accused the Committee with crimes generally; stated none, nor proved, nor attempted to prove any.
N. B. The pretence of charging the acts of a body of men on individuals, is too slender to be admitted.∗
Secondly. He hath falsely complained to the public of the restraint of the press.
Thirdly. He hath wickedly asserted that “gleams of reconciliation hath lately broken in upon us,” thereby grossly deceiving the people.
Fourthly. He hath insinuated, as if he wished the public to believe, that we had received “the utmost assurance of having all our grievances redressed, and an ample security against any future violation of our just rights.”
Fifthly. He hath spread false alarms of calling in foreign troops.
Sixthly. He hath turned the scripture into a jest. Ez. 35.
These falsehoods, if uncontradicted, might have passed for truths, and the minds of persons remote from better intelligence might have been greatly embarrassed thereby. Let our opinions be what they will, truth as to facts should be strictly adhered to. It was this affecting consideration that drew out the Forester (a perfect volunteer) to the painful task of writing three long letters, and occasioned to the public the trouble of reading them.
Having for the present closed my correspondence with Cato, I shall conclude this letter with a well meant affectionate address
[∗]As this piece may possibly fall into the hands of some who are not acquainted with the word Soliloquy, for their information the sense of it is given, viz. “talking to one’s self.”—Author.
Allen was a prominent opponent of Independence in Philadelphia.—Editor.
[†]Allan Ramsay a famous Scotch poet of genuine with and humour.—Author.
[∗]It is a strange thing that Cato cannot be taught to distinguish between peace and union.—Author.
[∗]Lord Clive, the chief of Eastern plunderers, received the thanks of Parliament for “his honourable conduct in the East-Indies.—Author.
[∗]The following is an instance of Cato’s method of conducting an argument: “If hereditary succession, says Common Sense, (meaning succession of monarchial governments) did ensure a race of good and wise men, it would have the seal of divine authority; ““thus we find him,” says Cato, “with his own hand affixing the seal of heaven to what he before told us the Devil invented and the Almighty entered his protest against.” Cato’s 7th letter.—This is a strange argument indeed, Cato, or rather it is no argument at all, for hereditary succession does not ensure a race of good and wise men, consequently has not the seal of divine authority.”—Author.
The “Massacre at Lexington,” as it was generally called.—Editor.
[∗]Cato and I differ materially in our opinion of Committees; I consider them as the only constitutional bodies at present in this province, and that for the following reason; they were duly elected by the people, and chearfully do the service for which they were elected. The House of Assembly were likewise elected by the people, but do the business for which they were not elected. Their authority is truly unconstitutional, being self-created. My charge is as a body, and not as individuals.—Author. The Committee referred to is that mentioned in a note to the Forester’s first letter, p. 129.—Editor.