"A PROFOUND INFLUENCE ON REVOLUTIONARY IDEOLOGY": MAJOR 1748 EDITION OF TRENCHARD AND GORDON'S CATO'S LETTERS, "A CLASSIC FOR MANY AMERICANS" AND A POWERFUL INFLUENCE ON THE FOUNDING FATHERS
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) (GORDON, Thomas) (TRENCHARD, John). Cato's Letters: Or Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and other important Subjects. No place: no publisher, 1754. Four volumes. Small octavo, contemporary full brown speckled calf rebacked, red morocco spine label, marbled endpapers. $6200.
1754 edition of Trenchard and Gordon's famed essays, a major influence on the American Revolution—"ranked with the treatises of Locke as the most authoritative statement on the nature of political liberty and above Locke as an exposition of the social sources of the threats it faced" (Bailyn). A direct and important influence on many of the founding fathers and major writings of the American Revolution, including writers such as Franklin, Dickinson, Livingstone, John Adams and Zenger, and such seminal works as the Federalist, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.
"Trenchard and Gordon were the most important disseminators of ideas to Americans in the pre-revolutionary generations" (Nash, Urban Crucible, 348). They first issued their "Cato's Letters" in the London Journal and British Journal from November 1720 through December 1723. In these 144 essays, they developed revolutionary ideas of liberty with arguments that liberty was plagued by conspiracies of power-seekers and that executive political power and standing armies were pernicious. "It was Trenchard and Gordon who first gave unreserved endorsement to free speech as being indispensable to 'Liberty, Property, true Religion, Arts, Sciences, Learning [and] Knowledge" (McDonald, 47). Their view of the history of liberty 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" (Sallust, quoted in no. 18). 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" (Bailyn, 138). These important and influential essays "had a profound impact on Revolutionary ideology" in America (Library of Congress 3922).
The Cato essays "were a classic for many Americans" (Maier, From Resistance to Revolution, 27). Issued in colonial newspapers, they were 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 (Bailyn, 44). They directly influenced many of the founding fathers and the important writings of the American Revolution, including Franklin's Silence Dogood, John Dickinson's Letters from a Farmer, William Livingstone's Independent Reflector, John Adam's Novanglus, John Peter Zenger's landmark defense against libel, the concept of "power" employed in The Federalist, and the popular vision of an agrarian republic. Their influence is also palpable in the rhetoric of conspiracy in the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson owned the 1748 edition), the restrictions on national power and definition of individual rights in the Articles 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 18th century, Trenchard and Gordon were "the most important… spokesmen for extreme libertarianism" (Bailyn, 35). "In the history of political liberty as well as freedom of speech and press, no 18th-century work exerted more influence than Cato's Letters" (Fellow, American Media History, 11). This 1754 edition, with no publisher or place of publication, falls between the London, 1748 fifth edition and the London, 1755 sixth; the lack of place of publication and publisher name likely indicates that this edition was produced in Ireland or on the Continent, without license, to meet demand for this perennially popular work. The first complete volume of Cato essays appeared soon after Trenchard's death in December 1723, and all of the early editions are rare. From 1721 to 1776 colonial newspapers printed Cato essays "on over 115 occasions… Pennsylvania newspapers reprinted more of Tenchard and Gordon's works than any other colonial newspapers." Yet the essays "were not printed in their entirety in the colonies during the 18th century… Most of Trenchard and Gordon's works that were in book form were brought from Europe, specifically from London" (Barry, Dress Rehearsal for Revolution, 27-41). "Trenchard's articles are signed 'T,' the conjoint articles 'T and G.' Some are simply signed 'G" (DNB). See Sowerby 2738 (1748 fifth edition). Lowndes, 392. CBEL II:662.
Text generally quite clean; light expert restoration to extremities. An exceptionally good copy in nicely restored contemporary calf.