Constitution Day
ATT: Dinah Zeiger
JAMM - University of Idaho
P.O. Box 443178
Moscow, ID 83844-3178

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III. Cato (John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon)

A. British intellectuals and collaborators on a series of articles, “The Independent Whig”, published in book form in 1720. Advocates for freedom of religion for Protestant dissenters.

For more in-depth research, read “Communicating Liberty: The Newspapers of the British Empire as a Matrix for the American Revolution,” William Warner.

i. This is an open-use site; you can download the pdf without copyright infringement.

C. Trenchard and Gordon wrote 138 essays, constituting Cato’s Letters, first published in London newspapers (1720-1723). Defenders of constitutional government. Among their most famous essays, and one reprinted in numerous colonial newspapers was, “Of Freedom of Speech: That the same is inseparable from publick Liberty.”

i. Of Freedom of Speech: That the same is inseparable from publick Liberty.

Also available at this site are No. 33, “Cautions Against the Encroachments of Power”; and No. 38, “The Right and Capacity of the People to judge of Government.” Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and Other Important Subjects

D. Cato was probably “the most popular, quoted and esteemed source of political ideas in the colonial period,” Levy, 110 (quoting historian Clinton Rossiter).

Discussion Questions

1. What does Cato mean in the “Freedom of Speech” essay that speech is “a bulwark of liberty”?
2. How can speech defend liberty if some speech offends or incites some people? What are the dangers inherent in stifling unpopular speech?
3. Why might Cato’s letters have been more popular in America than in Britain?
4. To what extent and in what ways was colonial government more democratic than British government?

Adapted from the National Humanities Center