Texas Tech University


Publication Date: 1724

"Written by John Trenchard & Thomas Gordon. Rare first edition of this extremely influential work, ranked with the treatises of Locke as the most authoritative statement of the nature of political liberty and above Locke as an exposition of the social sources of the threats it faced.

Trenchard and Gordon published their weekly "Cato's Letters" in the London Journal and later the British Journal from November 1720 through December 1723. In these 144 essays, the authors explored and popularized the philosophical and revolutionary ideas of personal and political liberty. They believed that liberty was constantly plagued by conspiracies of power-seekers and best protected by broad-based property ownership; that executive political power and standing armies were pernicious; and that luxury corrupted virtue. Furthermore, it was Trenchard and Gordon who first gave unreserved endorsement to free speech as being indispensable to Liberty, Property, true Religion, Arts, Sciences, Learning, Knowledge and who were willing to extend the privilege to all, including those who disagreed with them. Their view of the history led them to conclude that contemporary England was as corrupt as Rome on the eve of its decline and fall: "a venal city, ripe for destruction, if it can only find a purchaser". The analogue of decadent Rome was embraced by the Founding Fathers and gave a radical new meaning to their claims," transforming them from constitutional arguments to expressions of a world regenerative creed. These important and influential essays had a profound impact on Revolutionary ideology in America.
In America, "Cato's Letters" were promptly reprinted and so widely distributed, plagiarized, and imitated that they gave rise to what might be called a "Catonic" image, central to the political theory of the time, best exemplified by Washington's public displays of virtue. Their influence is also palpable in the rhetoric of conspiracy in the Declaration of Independence, the restrictions on national power and definition of individual rights in the Article of Confederation and the Constitution, as well as the desire to use the public domain to create a nation of yeoman farmers. In the course of American political development during the eighteenth century, Trenchard and Gordon were the most important spokesmen for extreme libertarianism.

This is the first complete collection of "Cato's Letters," issued soon after Trenchard's death in December 1723." #0052-0055


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