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Cassandra to Cato: Letter 2



Philadelphia, April 13, 1776.

SIR: Though the Common Man' s advice has come rather too late; though his manner of stating the points to be discussed decides to which party he belongs; though he has studiously evaded the main question, and thereby shown the publick that security to our rights forms no share of the debate he wishes to open; and though the manner in which he attempts to expose Cato and Cassandra evidently proves whose faults he is most inclined to conceal, yet I heartily join him in his censure on personal reflections. I thank him, too, for his candour in tacitly informing the publick that you have not come to the point as yet, though you have already published five letters, and heartily close with his proposal of laying aside all personality. I shall therefore proceed to the main point; and if you are willing to enter the lists as a fair antagonist, and meet me on the ground of reason and argument, on that ground will Cassandra meet you: but if, contrary to your own proposal, and the advice of your friend; you continue to amuse your countrymen with declamation and assertion, and study to terrify rather than inform, to address their passions rather than enlighten their understandings, I shall still be personal Your talent lies in strong painting and declamation, and you expect to hold up such a terrifick picture to the imaginations of the people, as will effectually frighten them into submission; but the exhibition of your person at the side of your productions will ever prove a perfect antidote to their poison. Giving you this fair warning, I shall now proceed to your third, fourth, and fifth letters, and nothing which can point out the man shall drop from my pen until Cato gives occasion for it.

I agree with the Common Man thus far, that some propositions he mentions ought, one day, to be discussed; but as there is one point, not only prior to any of them, but of infinitely greater importance than them all, viz: an absolute security for the enjoyment of our liberties, I must and will insist on the discussion of this point first, as not only prior in order, but most essential; and when it shall be fairly proved that our rights can be as effectually secured in a state of dependancy as in an independent state, then, and not before, will be the proper time to examine which would be most to our advantage. We entered the contest with a determination to secure our rights at every hazard. This is, therefore, what we are to provide for. If two ways of equal security should present themselves, then will come on the other question, viz: Which will not only secure our liberties but bring us the greatest advantages besides? Now, when Cato, the Common Man, or any other man, shall exhibit a plan by which we can absolutely secure our liberties and continue dependant, then Cassandra will be ready to enter upon the discussion of this point. But Cassandra assures Cato, the Common Man, and every other man, that no sophistical proposals of any man will turn his eyes from the main object until he sees a way of permanent security to our rights; and he trusts his countrymen, who first armed for this purpose, will still continue of that mind, and then he fears neither the threats nor efforts of Cato and the aristocratical junto, who are straining every nerve to frustrate our virtuous endeavours, and to make the common and middle class of people their beasts of burden. Those freemen who nobly refuse to be ridden by a King, Lords, and Commons, will scarcely be tame enough to take Cato and his party on their backs. I shall therefore proceed. Passing, for the present, those parts of your letters which contain nothing but the most illiberal abuse and scurrilous invectives against Committees, Conventions, &c˙, I shall take up your political creed, and examine, with the greatest freedom, the arguments on which you have founded your faith. You believe "that the true interest of America lies in a reconciliation with Great Britain on constitutional principles; and that you wish it upon none else." Sir, I earnestly entreat you, as you wish not to mislead your dear countrymen, to explain what you understand by a reconciliation on constitutional principles, that I may not mistake your meaning. It will save much writing on both sides to give such definitions of general terms as we are determined to abide by. I wish to see the whole truth laid fairly before the people, that they may coolly consider, and, with the utmost impartiality, weigh every circumstance, and choose that alone which promises the greatest security to their rights


and privileges, and affords them the surest prospect of wealth and happiness. I shall, therefore, cheerfully define every term which Cato may think dubious, or calculated to mislead; and I demand the same of Cato. If he is the honest man he wishes to appear, he will not refuse me. Let us canvass everything to the bottom; and let not dark hints, unproved assertions, or ungenerous inuendoes, against the designs of incorruptible patriots, be hereafter palmed on the people for argument; but when truth is exhibited to them in the fullest and fairest manner, let them judge for themselves. Upon due information, I doubt not, they will judge right; and that judgment I am resolved to abide by.

But why does Cato labour so incessantly to bias his reader by so many and such long and pathetick harangues of the horrors of war, and its powers of desolation? Slavery is certainly a much more terrible evil, in every respect, than war; for the evils of war are both tolerable and temporary; while the miseries of slavery are intolerable and endless. War may cut oft' thousands in the bloom of their youth; but slavery destroys the very seeds of generation, not only in the animal, but vegetable world. How does it look, Cato, in a patriot of your magnitude, to be continually haranguing on the horrors of war, at a time when everything we hold dear and valuable depends on the success of our arms? Were you in your beloved mother country, and the Pretender, with a foreign force, (suppose Russians,) ravaging her coasts, would you harangue on these horrors to discourage resistance? I confess myself at groat uncertainty what part you would act on such an occasion; but I strongly presume that in case you did, you would be accounted a disaffected traitor, and treated accordingly. But I ask pardon, sir; you do not like to be questioned. Surely, were you in the councils of the enemy, your native appetite for peace would soon put an end to their murderous designs! You are not conscientiously scrupulous, neither; for you declare you will turn out against us if there be any attempt to set the French and English by the ears. Take no help! Take no help! Fight alone, Whigs, till you are all cut off; and then we Tories will submit and have the whole. This is the language of Cato. Now, though I am as confident that your publications are intended to reduce us to slavery as you can be that mine propose a continuation of the war; and though I can more easily prove the one than you can the other; yet I have not endeavoured, by alarming descriptions of the miseries of slavery, to prejudice my reader against the arguments of my opponents. Cassandra has no point to carry, and, therefore, detests such shifts. God forbid that I should ever consider my own interest as separate from the general interest of mankind! And with equal fervency of devotion I pray that all who have, may be finally defeated in their attempts against these Colonies. You have filled nearly the one-half of the five letters you have already published with horrible descriptions alone. Do you imagine, Cato, that we are all affected with nervous complaints, and that you can do more for your cause by alarming our fears than informing our judgments? If this be not your design, pray publish as many, as terrible, and as animated descriptions of the miseries of slavery as you have done on the horrors of war, and then leave the people to judge which they would choose. Do not let us throw them into a panick and confusion, and then desire them to examine with coolness and deliberation. There is a dignity in honesty, and a pleasing fortitude in conscious integrity, which I could wish Cato to experience. The subject demands a clear, plain, full, rational, and manly discussion; and it ought to have it. It is certainly worthy of all the labour we can bestow upon it. Liberty or slavery is now the question. Let us but fairly discover to the inhabitants of these Colonies on which side Liberty has erected her banner, and we will leave it to them to determine whether they would choose liberty, though accompanied with war, or slavery, attended by peace.

The present contest is a contest of Constitutions, and the war a war of Legislatures. The common wars of nations are the wars of one crowned head against another, in which the people have little share, and are as little consulted. The crowned head on each side declares war, or negotiates peace, without conferring with them. But this war is a war between the British Parliament and the Colonial Assemblies; it is, in fact, become a war between the People of Great Britain and the People of America; and though both have heretofore acknowledged the same King, (and he, in duty,


ought to have remained neuter,) yet, as he has joined the British Parliament against us, he has become a party in the quarrel. Hence, so far as the present is a contest of Constitutions, the Parliament has evidently won the field; for the whole force of the Legislature of Great Britain has been, from the first day of the controversy, armed against us; but we have, in no one instance, been able to call forth the strength of our Legislatures to oppose. Nay, we have constantly had them against us, ready to join the foe. I ask, how happens this, Cato? Why are you so in love with such a Constitution? As you are not fond of answering silly queries, I will endeavour to answer them myself: it is, because our Legislatures are dependant on our very enemy, and theirs is independent of us. Our constitutional connection with Britain gives her so prodigious an advantage over us, that, if we had strictly adhered to our chartered Constitutions, we would have been enslaved before this time; and it will ever be so as long as we are dependant.

Both the King and Parliament of Great Britain are the choice of the People of Great Britain; but though our Assemblies are our choice, our Governours are not; they are either nominated by the King of Great Britain, or some one of his British subjects, which effectually destroys their utility to us in this, and every such controversy, which has already, or is likely hereafter to happen. Their salaries, though the gift of the people, are evidently no counterpoise to their nomination, if facts can prove any thing — and for this plain reason, that, though we grant the wages, yet it rests in the power of the King whether they shall enjoy it or not, as, after the appointment, the continuance of it depends entirely on him.

The King of Great Britain, though our King, will ever join the Parliament against us as often as a contention happens. The Parliament are his tools; and their illegal claims are only a specious covering for his endeavours after arbitrary power in the first place; and, in the second place, his Crown, his dignity, and his support, depend entirely upon their grants, and not upon ours. He will, therefore, take part with them on every occasion. On the contrary, his Representatives are not so dependant on us as to oblige them to take part with us. This is not all; for in every Province where they had the power, they not only refused to concur in our measures, but also prevented us from making use of our Representatives, that we might not have the shadow of a Legislature to support us; and even in those Provinces where his power has not extended so far, he has constantly gone as far as he could. This is not all yet; for in many they have corrupted the ignorant and illiterate by bribes, set up the Royal standard against us, and obliged us to fight under every disadvantage. Is it not so, Cato?

There is, therefore, a capital defect in our chartered Constitutions; a defect which makes an essential difference between the present state of our liberties and that secured to Englishmen by Magna Charta; a defect which, if not effectually removed, will oblige us ever to hold our liberties at the point of our swords, or by that most precarious of all tenures — will and pleasure. The immortal Barons were too wise to be duped by fair promises. They drew their swords, determined to obtain absolute security; and they did obtain it. They obtained, by Magna Charta, the constitutional right of levying war against the King as often as he should attempt to infringe upon the liberties of the people. Were our Governours the choice of the people, and dependant on them for their salaries, WE would, in the present case, be able to make a constitutional resistance to oppression — to oppose Constitution to Constitution. But this not being the case, the Parliament has plainly the advantage. It is necessary, therefore, to our security to have our Governours as much dependant on the people of America as the King is on those of Great Britain, before our Constitutions can be of any service to us against British encroachments; or that, when our Governours refuse their concurrence, our Representatives shall have the privilege of setting them aside, and acting legislatively without them. This is a clause as essential to the security of America as the clause which grants to the people of Great Britain the right of declaring war against the King when he attempts to disturb their privileges. Will Cato stand it out till this is obtained?

But as the contest is between us and the Parliament, we ought now to inquire how we can be secured against Parliamentary


encroachments? The Constitution of Great Britain is such, that what this Parliament does, the next can undo. And it is impossible for one Parliament to pass a bill which will not be liable to a repeal by any future one, without destroying the very essence of its own Constitution. Is there any remedy against this defect, Cato? Let us see the constitutional dependant principles, if you are a friend to liberty, which will give absolute and permanent security to our liberties, and not leave us at the mercy of our enemy; and then we will talk further on the subject. We have gone too far, and have too much sense to rest our future safety on the probability of her letting us alone for tile future.

Our constitutional connection with Great Britain is the very plea alleged by Great Britain for her attempts to enslave us. Now, if this Constitution is the very foundation of her claims; if she, in consequence thereof, had declared us Rebels, which she could not, unless she supposed we violated the Constitution by our resistance; and if it was not in our power to make effectual opposition, in strict conformity to the Constitutions she gave us, why is Cato so fond of reconciling us on these principles, and on no other? This looks not like honesty, Cato. If you love America, and if your attachment to the cause is real, answer to these things. A lover of truth and liberty will be afraid of no queries whatever. You say you have viewed the ground on which you stand, and are not afraid to tread it in the sight of the most vigilant son of liberty. Hero it is. Come forth, then; here I wish to find you. But, I beseech you, examine it thoroughly first; explore its hidden recesses; for I am well assured it contains a secret mine, which, if once sprung, will either blow up you and your party, or our liberties.

This Continent has had a twelve years' constant experience that the Constitution of the Colonies could not protect them from British oppression. Can you deny it, Cato However it be against your present designs, yet this you must acknowledge. Can you tell the first day a Committee existed on this Continent? Did not that day tell the world we had no Constitution that could withstand British oppression? Can you remember the time our Assemblies were first dissolved for attempting to correspond with one another on the subject of our, grievances? Did not that time convince even Cato himself that our Constitutions were not equal to the task of protecting themselves? Do you recollect the hour our worthy Governour refused to call our Assembly to consult on ways and means to preserve our liberties? Did not that hour inform you that the chartered Constitution of Pennsylvania could do nothing for us? Now, if after so long and so severe a trial of their defects, we should still take up with them on the recommendation of Cato, might not the world, particularly that part of it which you say is looking at us, laugh at our stupidity and folly?

Your first argument in support of your creed is, that "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." I forbear to point out your constant endeavour to separate the interest of the Middle Colonies from the rest, as if the wealth of the whole arose not from the same sources; or as if your description of one or two would not answer for all. I also forbear to mention the care of your party to have your letters, though addressed to the People of Pennsylvania, reprinted in New-York and Maryland papers. When you have gone through the demonstration, how we can have effectual security to our liberties under so defective Constitutions, then, and not till then, I shall call upon you to prove that agriculture and commerce would decay, if tile whole world were our market instead of the British Islands, and a few foreign ports to which we are most graciously permitted to export a few articles. I will also call on you to convince us that a severe restraint on our trade in many instances, and in some a total prohibition, tends to enrich us. And here it may not be amiss to show how poor the Hollanders have grown since they became independent, and were obliged to support all the expenses the Common Man has mentioned.

But Cato has given uncommon proofs of his attachment to trade, by declaring that he will arm against us as soon as we form any alliance with such powers as are able and


willing to draw off the British fleets from blocking up our ports. Our ports are now effectually shut by the fleets of Great Britain, and there is a total stop put to our exports. We hare not yet a fleet which can open them. Our grain is spoiling, and the powers of Europe longing for an opportunity of taking it off our hands. All this can be removed by the alliance proposed. But Cato sees this would eternally frustrate the designs of his party. He has therefore laboured, by every artifice of cunning, to prevent our taking any step of the kind. He hopes the country will, by this means, be brought to submit, and he will triumph in our folly. But where is the real danger to our liberties, Cato, in accepting the assistance of our neighbouring fleet until we have time to fit out one for the purpose? Were we to do this, would not agriculture and commerce flourish as usual?

"That much of our former felicity was owing to the protection of England, is not to be denied; and that we might still derive greater advantages from her protection and friendship, if not valued at too high a price, is equally certain," says Cato. I could pardon a few Israelitish murmurings and hankerings for the onions of Egypt; but to be incessantly called back to what we enjoyed while Joseph lived, when behold a Pharaoh now reigns who knew him not, is insult not to be endured. Cato cannot pretend ignorance of the price of the friendship he so strongly urges us to court. If he does, he is certainly a very dangerous guide for the good people to whom his letters are addressed. Cassandra affirms that the price, is no less than an absolute surrender of all our rights, liberties, and property; and these once given up, he would gladly be informed what more is left for any power to invade. All animals, under absolute domination, are nursed only to be fleeced. However problematical may be the question of nursing the Colonies, we have had the fleecing demonstrated with a vengeance.

Cato adds: "If the 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 force against us." Two reasons induce me to think the mode of attack would indeed be altered; for, obstinate as the author of our oppression is, he cannot longer flatter himself of our falling an easy prey to his force, if now incessantly continued. His clemency would then certainly dispose him most graciously to enslave us by his experienced and much more successful method of intrigue. But as Cato allows it is not altogether improbable that his force may be employed against us in some future day, Cassandra would gladly be informed by what means we can be secured from that force, when, by the treaty of protection, we are cut off from the right of establishing a force of our own.

Conscious that this poor contrivance is prodigious stale, a thousand times repeated, and as often refuted by most stubborn arguments, founded on twelve years' Invariable procedure, and really despairing to hold the people long in expectation of "former protection," or any more than a mere delusive change of the mode of attack, and that change as ill disguised as any that have preceded it, Cato adds, (as if all were one connected proposition,) "If they will not make up on constitutional principles, we have arms in our hands, and virtue enough to use them." As to corruption, Cato would have us believe there is hardly a man on the Continent in danger from that quarter. Would to God we had abundant evidence of this universal integrity. Respecting the arms, Cato, with much devotion I praise the Director of human affairs that we have them in our hands; and I pray and confide in His overruling providence, that we may there keep them till our rights are placed on a firmer foundation than the mere grace of a conniver at the destruction of millions on one side the globe, and contriver of the devastations now daily committing on the other. Well might Cato tell us of our arms, for he clearly foresaw that no wise man could conceive himself safe in reconcilement on his principles, without holding them in his hands continually.

This paragraph, after flourishing away on the original ground of the contest, concludes: "And if, hereafter, in fullness of time, it should be thought necessary to separate from the land that gave birth to our ancestors, it will be in our perfect state of manhood, when we can wield our arms, and protect our commerce and coasts by our own fleets, without looking to any nation on earth for assistance." Well


said, Cato. Here we agree for once. But now that we are on good terms with each other, let me ask you, in a friendly manner, how we are to become masters of this fine fleet? Does Cato propose to insist upon it, as a term of constitutional reconciliation with the Ambassadors, that we shall be allowed to build such a fleet? Or does he conceive that when we arrive at just twenty-one years of age, and about to commence as house-keepers, our dear mother country will make us a present of such a fleet to set up with? I confess myself greatly Incredulous of either. If Cato can clear up my doubts on these important heads, I will be much obliged to him.

"It has been asserted," says Cato, "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 alliance we please; that the moment we declare ourselves an independent people, there are nations ready to face the British thunder, and become carriers of our commodities to enrich themselves; and if this were not the case, we can soon build navies to force and protect a trade," &c. Of this, Cato here intimates his suspicion, "because," says he, "it is not fully proved." Cassandra will prove the first assertion from unquestionable authority, for Cato, in his fourth letter, says: "I will even go beyond him in expressing my good opinion of our situation. He thinks foreign assistance necessary to us. I think otherwise. We are able to defend our own rights, and to frustrate the attempt of any nation upon earth to govern us by force." Cassandra hopes, in a short time, to prove every assertion of Common Sense from the same authority. He wishes every position of Cato was equally consistent with Common Sense.


P˙ S. As the Common Man has called us to a fair discussion of the point, we once for all request every printer on the Continent, who publishes Gate' s Letters, to publish our replies, and particularly Mr˙ Sowers, of Germantown, that the subject may not only have a full diffusion, but a fair hearing.