Collection of All the Political Letters in the London Journal

John TRENCHARD   |   Thomas GORDON

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"RANKED WITH THE TREATISES OF LOCKE… ON THE NATURE OF POLITICAL LIBERTY" AND "A PROFOUND INFLUENCE ON REVOLUTIONARY IDEOLOGY": EARLY COLLECTION OF POLITICAL LETTERS IN THE LONDON JOURNAL, 1721, INCLUDING 14 BY "CATO"

(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) (CATO) [GORDON, Thomas and TRENCHARD, John]. A Collection of All the Political Letters in the London Journal. BOUND WITH: A Continuation of the Political Letters… to Jan. 28, 1720-21. BOUND WITH: The Political Letters… Continued to the End of March, 1721. BOUND WITH: A Supplement to the London Journal. BOUND WITH: Three Political Letters… BOUND WITH: A Supplemental Letter. London: J. Roberts, 1721. Octavo, 20th-century half calf, marbled boards. $1600.

First editions of several early reprints of political essays published in the London Journal and bound together into one volume—including 14 which appeared under Thomas Gordon and John Trenchard's pseudonym "Cato," whose essays "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" (Bailyn, 36), and whose thought proved an extremely important early influence on the American Revolution.

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" (McDonald, 47). They chose 'Cato' as their pseudonym after the Roman Senator Cato the Younger, a critic of Julius Caesar and a champion of republican principles.

These important and influential essays "had a profound impact on Revolutionary ideology" in America (Library of Congress 3922). "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." They directly influenced many of the founding fathers, and their influence is also palpable in the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence, 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. This early sammelband collection of political letters in the London Journal includes 14 letters signed "Cato," as well as other letters signed "Britannicus," "Timoleon," "Cicero," "Brutus," "Atticus," "Coriolanus," et al., as well as others left anonymous. Three Political Letters with "second edition corrected" stated on title page, title page to A Supplemental Letter with imprint excised; all other works are first editions. The first collected edition of Cato's Letters appeared in 1724.

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