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Cato to the People of Pennsylvania



When I sat down to address you, a resolve or vote of our Committee of Inspection for calling a Convention had alarmed many good friends of the Province, on account of our Charter Constitution; and, therefore, I determined freely to examine the right of the Committee to convene such a body, the necessity of their being convened, the powers which they might assume, and the confusion such a measure must produce. But, in the evening of the same day on which my first letter was published, we were acquainted, "by order and in behalf of the Committee, that they had recalled their former vote;" and therefore, as the resolution for this recall was probably formed before my publication, I shall claim no merit in it. The publick seems willing to ascribe it to motives of prudence, suggested by the general disapprobation of the Convention scheme, the zeal shown among all ranks of people for the support of our ancient Government by Assemblies, and the little prospect that any regard would have been paid to the edicts of a body of men constituted without necessity, even if we could suppose any number of our County Committees willing to unite in assuming powers which were never delegated to them.

But those who correspond in behalf of the Committee give us other reasons than the above. They tell us that they have held a "conference with several Members of Assembly," and have, in behalf of this Province, told them their duty; that the said members have promised all future attention to the same; but that the Committee, watchful for our good, and not willing to trust them too far, still hold the rod over them, and therefore have not annulled their vote, but have only been graciously pleased to forbear, "for the present, the forwarding the letters [or issuing the writs] for calling a Convention."

This is rather spoken in a lordly style, if it be anything more, than the assuming language of the few who correspond in the name of the Committee. But if there be those who think a back door more honourable for a retreat than the front, I would not wound their dignity, nor throw a straw in the way to retard them. It is probable that our Assembly may now be permitted to exercise their own judgment, without further attempts to intimidate them in the discharge of the important trust committed to them by the voice of their country; and therefore, as I would avoid contention at all times, and especially at this dangerous crisis, I shall likewise, for the present, forbear sending to the Press everything which I had prepared in vindication of our injured Representatives, except so far as relates to Independency. But that topic I propose, as occasion offers, to handle at some length; for I find the chief resentment levelled against them, appears to be on account of their instructions to their Delegates. These, in the eyes of some men, stand as an Insurmountable barrier in the way of their destructive purposes, and I trust will continue so to stand till removed by the clear sense of an uncorrupted majority of the good people of this Province. Without full proofs of this, the Assembly can neither consent to any change of our Constitution, or to make the least transfer of our allegiance; and these proofs ought to be more pure than what can flow through the foul pages of interested writers, or strangers intermeddling in our affairs, and avowedly pressing their Republick schemes upon us, at the risk of all we hold valuable. Nor would I be willing to receive these proofs from Committees, as proposed in the Evening Post of the 9th instant, by one who signs himself "A Lover of Order," but should be styled an Author of Confusion.

"It would be proper (says he) that the constituents of


the Congress should declare their sentiments upon that head [Independence] as soon as possible. This may be done by the various Committees and Conventions on the Continent. Their votes and resolves should determine the question in the Congress. The first Congress was nothing but the echo of Committees and Conventions. In the present important question concerning Independence, the Congress should only (as in the former case) echo back the sentiments of that people;" that is, of Committees and Conventions. And thus we may be echoed and re-echoed put of our liberties, our property, our happiness, and plunged deeper and deeper into all the growing horrours of war and bloodshed, without ever being consulted. For I insist upon it; that no Committees were ever entrusted with any authority to speak the sense of the people of Pennsylvania on this question. I have already observed by how few voices our largest Committee of a hundred was chosen; and I know some Counties where the whole Committee was named by six or seven voices only. At this rate, three or four hundred people would take upon them to declare the sense of as many hundred thousands, in a matter of the greatest importance that ever came before us. Can you, my countrymen, acquiesce in such a horrible doctrine? Or does not the bare mention of it still further convince you that your liberties can nowhere be so safe as in the hands of your Representatives in Assembly? "Those who are not inebriated with Independency will certainly allow, that the instructions to their Delegates were dictated by the true spirit of peace, justice, and exalted policy. Who so proper to instruct them as those chosen by yourselves, not in the hour of passion, riot, and confusion, but in the day of peace and tranquil reflection?" These words I borrow from a pamphlet just published, under the title of Plain Truth; which I would recommend to your perusal, as containing many judicious remarks upon the mischievous tenets and palpable absurdities held forth in the pamphlet so falsely called Common Sense.

I have, in my second letter, freely declared my political creed, viz: "That the true interest of America lies in reconciliation with Great Britain upon constitutional principles, and that I wish it upon none else," I now proceed to give my reasons for this declaration. It is fit, in so great a question, that you should weigh both sides well, and exercise that good sense for which the inhabitants of these Colonies have been hitherto distinguished; and then I shall be under no apprehensions concerning the pernicious, though specious plans, which are every day published in our newspapers and pamphlets. The people generally judge right, when the whole truth is plainly laid before them; but through inattention in some, and fondness for novelty in others, when but one side of a proposition is agitated and persevered in, they may gradually deceive themselves, and adopt what cooler reflection and future dear-bought experience may prove to be ruinous.

Agriculture and commerce 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.

That much of our former felicity was owing to the protection, of England is not to be denied; and that we might still derive great advantages from her protection and friendship, if not valued at too high a price, is equally certain; nor is it worth inquiring whether that protection was afforded us more for her own sake than ours. That the former was the case, more especially since the Colonies grew into consequence, I have not the least doubt; but that this is a reason for our rejecting any future connection with her I must utterly deny. Although I consider her as having, in her late conduct towards us, acted the part of a cruel step-dame, and not of a fostering parent; I would not therefore quarrel with the benefits I may reap from a connection with her, and can expect to reap nowhere else. If, by her fleets and armies, every nation on the globe is deterred from invading our properties, either on the high-seas, in


foreign countries, or on our own coasts, ought we not, in sound policy, to profit by her strength; and, without regarding the motives of her conduct, embrace the opportunity of becoming rich and powerful in her friendship, at an expense far less than it would cost us merely to exist in alliance with any other power?

If our present differences can be accommodated, there is scarce a probability that she will ever renew the late fatal system of policy, or attempt to employ a force against us. But should she be so infatuated, 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 that 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. It was on this ground, and not for the purpose of trying new forms of Government, or erecting separate independent States, "that America embarked in the present glorious contest." On this ground, and upon none else, the Continental Union is formed. On this ground we have a powerful support among the true sons of liberty in Great Britain; and lastly, upon this ground, we have the utmost assurance of obtaining a full redress of our grievances, and an ample security against any future violation of our just rights. And if hereafter, in the fulness of time, it shall be necessary to separate from the land that gave birth to our ancestors, it will be in our state of perfect manhood, when we can fully wield our own arms, and protect our commerce and coasts by our own fleets, without looking to any nation upon earth for assistance.

This, I say, was our ground, and these our views, universally declared, from the origin of this contest till within a few weeks ago, when some gleams of reconciliation began first to break in upon us. If we now mean to change this ground, and reject all propositions of peace, from that moment we are deserted by every advocate of our cause in Great Britain; we falsify every declaration which the Congress hath heretofore held forth in our behalf; we abandon all prospect of preserving our importance by trade and agriculture — the ancient, sure, and experienced road to wealth and happiness.

In short, if thus contradicting all our former publick professions, we should now affect Independency as our own act, before it appears clearly to the world to have been forced upon us by the cruel hand of the parent state, we could neither hope for union nor success in the attempt. 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. On the contrary, every convulsion attendant upon revolutions and innovations of Government, untimely attempted or finally defeated, might be our portion; added to the loss of trade for want of protection; the consequent decay of husbandry; bloodshed and desolation; with an exchange of the easy and nourishing condition of farmers and merchants, for a life, at best, of hardy poverty as soldiers or hunters.

To see America reduced to such a situation may be the choice of adventurers who have nothing to lose, or of men exalted by the present confusions into lucrative offices, which they can hold no longer than the continuance of the publick calamities. But can it be the wish of all that great and valuable body of people in America, who, by honest industry, have acquired a competency, and have experienced a happier life? Can it be their wish, I say, for such considerations, to have destruction continually before their eyes; and to have enormous debts entailed upon them and their posterity, till at length they have nothing left which they can truly call their own?

I know the answers which will be given to these questions, and am prepared to reply to them, with that temper and gravity which so Serious a subject requires. It will be asserted — indeed it has already been asserted — that the animosities between Great Britain and the Colonies are now advanced to such a height that reconciliation is impossible. But assertions are nothing, when opposed to the nature of things, the truth of history, and all past experience. The quarrels of nations, being neither personal or private, cannot


stir up mutual hatred among individuals. There never was a war so implacable, even among States naturally rivals and enemies, or among savages themselves, as not to have peace for its object as well as end. And among people naturally friends, and connected by every dearer tie, who knows not that their quarrels (as those of lovers) are often but a stronger renewal of love? In such cases, the tide of affection, reverting to its course, is like that of water long pent back, which, at length bursting the opposing mounds, breaks forward through its native channel, and flows with redoubled vigour and increased velocity, to mix itself with its parent main.

It has been further asserted, that we are able, with our land forces, to defend ourselves against the whole world; that if commerce be an advantage, we may command what foreign alliances we please; that the moment we declare ourselves an independent people, there are nations ready to face the British thunder, and become the carriers of our commodities for the sake of enriching themselves; that if this were not the case, we can soon build navies to force and protect a trade; that a confederacy of the Colonies into one great Republick is preferable to Kingly Government, which is the appointment of the Devil, or at least reprobated by God; that those denominated wise men in our own and foreign countries, who have been so lavish of their encomiums upon the English Constitution, were but egregious fools; that it is nothing better than a bungling piece of machinery, standing in need of constant checks to regulate and continue its motions; that the nation itself is but one mass of corruption, having at its head a Royal brute, a hardened Pharaoh, delighting in blood; that we never can enjoy liberty in connection with such a country; and, therefore, all the hardships mentioned above, and a thousand times more, if necessary, are to be endured for the preservation of our rights.

If these things had been as fully proved as they are boldly asserted by the authors of what is called Common Sense, I should here drop my pen, and, through the short remainder of life, take my chance of whatever miseries Providence may have in reserve for this land, as I know of none else to which I can retire. But as these doctrines contradict everything which we have hitherto been taught to believe respecting Government, I hope you, my dear countrymen, have yet kept one ear open to hear what answer may be given in my future letters,



Cato to Tiberius, greeting. — Questions civilly proposed deserve a civil answer, which shall be speedily given to those of Tiberius. Urbanity becomes us Romans; and Cato is proud to correspond with one assuming that character, although he is not fond of the imperial name. He has no quarrel with our Committee as a publick body, and regards many of the members as fit to fill any station to which they may be called by their country. If he cannot support his charges against the individuals who projected the Convention scheme, he will cheerfully acknowledge his mistake. He never expected to finish these letters without opposition. The question is, whether the liberty and happiness of America can be best secured by a constitutional reconciliation with Great Britain, or by a total separation from it? Cato is willing to be judged by his countrymen, when the whole of his arguments shall be submitted to them. Whatever may be insinuated before that time, he will scarce think worthy of regard; and it was rather unbecoming Tiberius, so early in the dispute to suggest that "the sentiments (in the letters) may resemble a modern, more than an ancient, Cato, who will consent to live a slave rather than to die free." The inaccuracy of expression, in making sentiments resemble men, may be passed over; for where a person' s meaning can be picked out, in such a contest as this, Cato despises a war about words.

N˙ B˙ The twelve queries in the Evening Post are, In substance, the same as the questions of Tiberius, and the same answer will serve for both.