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Thomas Paine (1737–1809). The Writings of Thomas Paine. 1906.


The Forester’s Letters

I. To Cato.

TO be nobly wrong is more manly than to be meanly right. Only let the error be disinterested—let it wear not the mask, but the mark of principle, and ’tis pardonable. It is on this large and liberal ground, that we distinguish between men and their tenets, and generously preserve our friendship for the one, while we combat with every prejudice of the other. But let not Cato take this compliment to himself; he stands excluded from the benefit of the distinction; he deserves it not. And if the sincerity of disdain can add a cubit to the stature of my sentiments, it shall not be wanting.

It is indifferent to me who the writer of Cato’s letters is, and sufficient for me to know, that they are gorged with absurdity, confusion, contradiction, and the most notorious and wilful falsehoods. Let Cato and his faction be against Independence and welcome; their consequence will not now turn the scale: But let them have regard to justice, and pay some attention to the plain doctrine of reason. Where these are wanting, the sacred cause of truth applauds our anger, and dignifies it with the name of Virtue.

Four letters have already appeared under the specious name of Cato. What pretensions the writer of them can have to the signature, the public will best determine; while, on my own part, I prophetically content myself with contemplating the similarity of their exits. The first of those letters promised a second, the second a third, the third a fourth; the fourth hath since made its appearance, and still the writer keeps wide of the question. Why doth he thus loiter in the suburbs of the dispute? Why hath he not shewn us what the numerous blessings of reconciliation [with Great Britain] are, and proved them practicable? But he cunningly avoids the point. He cannot but discover the rock he is driving on. The fate of the Roman Cato is before his eyes: And that the public may be prepared for his funeral, and for his funeral oration, I will venture to predict the time and the manner of his exit. The moment he explains his terms of reconciliation the typographical Cato dies. If they be calculated to please the [British] Cabinet they will not go down with the Colonies: and if they be suited to the Colonies they will be rejected by the Cabinet: The line of no-variation is yet unfound; and, like the philosopher’s stone, doth not exist. “I am bold,” says Cato, “to declare and yet hope to make it evident to every honest man, that the true interest of America lies in reconciliation with Great Britain on constitutional principles.”

This is a curious way of lumping the business indeed! And Cato may as well attempt to catch lions in a mousetrap as to hope to allure the public with such general and unexplained expressions. It is now a mere bugbear to talk of reconciliation on constitutional principles unless the terms of the first be produced and the sense of the other be defined; and unless he does this he does nothing.

To follow Cato through every absurdity and falsehood in the compass of a letter is impossible neither is it now necessary. Cassandra (and I thank him) hath saved me much trouble; there is a spirit in his remarks which honesty only can inspire, and a uniformity in the conduct of his letters which the want of principle can never arrive at. Mark that, Cato.

One observation which I cannot help making on Cato’s letters, is that they are addressed “To the People of Pennsylvania” only: In almost any other writer this might have passed unnoticed, but we know it hath mischief in its meaning. The particular circumstance of a convention is undoubtedly Provincial, but the great business of the day is Continental. And he who dares to endeavour to withdraw this province from the glorious union by which all are supported, deserves the reprobation of all men. It is the true interest of the whole to go hand in hand; and dismal in every instance would be the fate of that Colony which should retreat from the protection of the rest.

The first of Cato’s letters is insipid in its stile, language and substance; crowded with personal and private innuendues and directly levelled against “the Majesty of the People of Pennsylvania.” The Committee could only call, propose, or recommend a Convention; but, like all other public measures, it still rested with the people at large, whether they would approve it or not; and Cato’s reasoning on the right or wrong of that choice is contemptible; because, if the body of the people had thought, or should still think that the Assembly (or any of their Delegates in Congress) by setting under the embarrassment of oaths, and entangled with government and Governors, are not so perfectly free as they ought to be, they undoubtedly had and still have both the right and the power to place even the whole authority of the Assembly in any body of men they please; and whoever is hardy enough to say to the contrary is an enemy to mankind. The constitution of Pennsylvania hath been twice changed through the cunning of former Proprietors; surely, the people, whose right, power, and property is greater than that of any single man, may make such alterations in their mode of government as the change of times and things require. Cato is exceedingly fond of impressing us with the importance of our “chartered constitution.” Alas! We are not now, Sir, to be led away by the jingle of a phrase. Had we framed our conduct by the contents of the present charters, we had ere now been in a state of helpless misery. That very assembly you mention hath broken it, and been obliged to break it, in almost every instance of their proceedings. Hold it up to the Public, and it is transparent with holes; pierced with as many deadly wounds as the body of M’Leod. Disturb not its remains, Cato, nor dishonour it with another funeral oration.

There is nothing in Cato’s first letter worthy of notice but the following insinuating falsehood: “Grievous as the least restraint of the press must always be to a people entitled to freedom, it must be the more so, when it is not only unwarranted by those to whom they have committed the care of their liberties but cannot be warranted by them, consistent with liberty itself.” The rude and unscholastical confusion of persons in the above paragraph, though it throws an obscurity on the meaning, still leaves it discoverable. Who, Sir, hath laid any restraint on the liberty of the press? I know of no instance in which the press hath ever been the object of notice in this province, except on account of the tory letter from Kent county, which was first published last spring in the Pennsylvania Ledger, and which it was the duty of every good man to detect because the honesty of the press is as great an object to society as the freedom of it. If this is the restraint you complain of, we know your true character at once; and that it is so, appears evident from the expression which immediately follows the above quotation: your words are, “Nevertheless, we readily submitted to it while the least colourable pretence could be offered for requiring such a submission.” Who submitted, Cato? we Whigs, or we Tories? Until you clear up this, Sir, you must content yourself with being ranked among the rankest of the writing Tories; because no other body of men can have any pretence to complain of want of freedom of the press. It is not your throwing out, now and then, little popular phrases which can protect you from suspicion; they are only the gildings under which the poison is conveyed, and without which you dared not to renew your attempts on the virtue of the people.

Cato’s second letter, or the greatest part thereof, is taken up with the reverence due from us to the persons and authority of the Commissioners, whom Cato vainly and ridiculously stiles AMBASSADORS coming to negociate a peace. How came Cato not to be let a little better into the secret? The act of parliament which describes the powers of these men hath been in this city upwards of a month, and in the hands too of Cato’s friends. No, Sir, they are not the Ambassadors of peace, but the distributors of pardons, mischief, and insult. Cato discovers a gross ignorance of the British constitution in supposing that these men can be empowered to act as Ambassadors. To prevent his future errors I will set him right. The present war differs from every other, in this instance, viz. that it is not carried under the prerogative of the crown as other wars have always been, but under the authority of the whole legislative power united; and as the barriers which stand in the way of a negociation are not proclamations but acts of parliament, it evidently follows, that were even the King of England here in person, he could not ratify the terms or conditions of a reconciliation; because, in the single character of King he could not stipulate for the repeal of any acts of parliament, neither can the Parliament stipulate for him. There is no body of men more jealous of their privileges than the Commons: Because they sell them. Mark that, Cato.

I have not the least doubt upon me but that their business (exclusive of granting us pardons) is downright bribery and corruption. It is the machine by which they effect all their plans. We ought to view them as enemies of a most dangerous species, and he who means not to be corrupted by them will enter his protest in time. Are they not the very men who are paid for voting in every measure against us, and ought we not to suspect their designs? Can we view the barbarians as friends? Would it be prudent to trust the viper in our very bosoms? Or to suffer them to ramble at large among us while such doubtful characters as Cato have a being upon the continent? Yet let their persons be safe from injury and outrage—but trust them not. Our business with them is short and explicit, viz.: We are desirous of peace, gentlemen; we are ready to ratify the terms, and will virtuously fulfil the conditions thereof; but we should deserve all and every misery which tyranny can inflict, were we, after suffering such a repetition of savage barbarities, to come under your government again.

Cato, by way of stealing into credit, says, “that the contest we are engaged in is founded on the most noble and virtuous principles which can animate the mind of man. We are contending (says he) against an arbitrary ministry for the rights of Englishmen.” No, Cato, we are now contending against an arbitrary King to get clear of his tyranny. While the dispute rested in words only, it might be called “contending with the ministry,” but since it is broken out into open war, it is high time to have done with such silly and water-gruel definitions. But it suits not Cato to speak the truth. It is his interest to dress up the sceptred savage in the mildest colors. Cato’s patent for a large tract of land is yet unsigned. Alas poor Cato!

Cato proceeds very importantly to tell us, “that the eyes of all Europe are upon us.” This stale and hackneyed phrase hath had a regular descent, from many of the King’s speeches down to several of the speeches in Parliament; from thence it took a turn among the little wits and bucks of St. James’s; till after suffering all the torture of senseless repetition, and being reduced to a state of vagrancy, it was charitably picked up to embellish the second letter of Cato. It is truly of the bug-bear kind, contains no meaning, and the very using it discovers a barrenness of invention. It signifies nothing to tell us “that the eyes of all Europe are upon us,” unless he had likewise told us what they are looking at us for: which as he hath not done, I will. They are looking at us, Cato, in hopes of seeing a final separation between Britain and the Colonies, that they, the lookers-on, may partake of a free and uninterrupted trade with the whole Continent of America. Cato, thou reasonest wrong.

For the present, Sir, farewell. I have seen thy soliloquy and despise it. Remember thou hast thrown me the glove, Cato, and either thee or I must tire. I fear not the field of fair debate, but thou hast stepped aside and made it personal. Thou hast tauntingly called on me by name; and if I cease to hunt thee from every lane and lurking hole of mischief, and bring thee not a trembling culprit before the public bar, then brand me with reproach, by naming me in the list of your confederates.

PHILADELPHIA, March 28, 1776.

II. To Cato.

BEFORE I enter on the more immediate purpose of this letter, I think it necessary, once for all, to endeavour to settle as clearly as I can, the following point, viz: How far personality is concerned in any political debate. The general maxim is, that measures and not men are the thing in question, and the maxim is undeniably just when rightly understood. Cato as a refuge for himself, hath quoted the author of Common Sense who in his preface says, “That the object for attention is the doctrine itself not the man,” that is, not the rank or condition of the man. For whether he is with those whose fortune is already made, or with those whose fortune is yet to make, or among those who seldom think or care whether they make any, is a matter wholly out of the question and entirely confined to himself. But the political characters, political dependencies, and political connections of men, being of a public nature, differ exceedingly from the circumstances of private life; and are in many instances so nearly related to the measures they propose, that to prevent our being deceived by the last, we must be acquainted with the first. A total ignorance of men lays us under the danger of mistaking plausibility for principle. Could the wolf bleat like the lamb the flock would soon be enticed into ruin; wherefore to prevent the mischief, he ought to be seen as well as heard. There never was nor ever will be, nor ever ought to be, any important political debate carried on, in which a total separation in all cases between men and measures could be admitted with sufficient safety. When hypocrisy shall be banished from the earth, the knowledge of men will be unnecessary, because their measures cannot then be fraudulent; but until that time come (which never will come) they ought, under proper limitations, to go together. We have already too much secrecy in some things and too little in others. Were men more known, and measures more concealed, we should have fewer hypocrites and more security.

As the chief design of these letters is to detect and expose the falsehoods and fallacious reasonings of Cato, he must not expect (when detected) to be treated like one who had debated fairly; for I will be bold to say and to prove, that a grosser violation of truth and reason scarcely ever came from the pen of a writer; and the explanations which he hath endeavoured to impose on the passages which he hath quoted from Common Sense, are such as never existed in the mind of the author, nor can they be drawn from the words themselves. Neither must Cato expect to be spared where his carelessness of expression, and visible want of compassion and sentiment, shall give occasion to raise any moral or philosophical reflection thereon. These things being premised, I now proceed to review the latter part of Cato’s second letter.

In this place Cato begins his first attack on Common Sense, but as he only discovers his ill will, and neither offers any arguments against it, nor makes any quotations from it, I should in this place pass him by, were it not for the following strange assertion: “If little notice,” says Cato (little opposition he means) “has yet been taken of the publications concerning Independance, it is neither owing to the popularity of the doctrine, the unanswerable nature of the arguments, nor the fear of opposing them, as the vanity of the author would suggest.” As Cato has given us the negative reasons, he ought to have given us the real ones, for as he positively tells what it was not owing to, he undoubtedly knows what it was owing to that he delayed his answers so long; but instead of telling us that, (which perhaps is not proper to be told) he flies from the argument with the following plump declarations, “Nine tenths of the people of Pennsylvania,” says he, “yet abhor the doctrine.” But stop, Cato! not quite so fast, friend! If this be true, how came they, so late as the second of March last, to elect for a Burgess of this city, a gentleman of known Independant Principles, and one of the very few to whom the author of Common Sense shewed some part thereof while in manuscript.

Cato is just as unfortunate in the following paragraph. “Those,” says he, “who made the appeal (that is, published the pamphlet) have but little cause to triumph in its success. Of this they seem sensible: and, like true quacks, are constantly pestering us with additional doses till the stomachs of their patients begin wholly to revolt.” It is Cato’s hard fate to be always detected: for perhaps there never was a pamphlet, since the use of letters were known, about which so little pains were taken, and of which so great a number went off in so short a time; I am certain that I am within compass when I say one hundred and twenty thousand. The book was turned upon the world like an orphan to shift for itself; no plan was formed to support it, neither hath the author ever published a syllable on the subject, from that time till after the appearance of Cato’s fourth letter; wherefore what Cato says of additional doses administered by the author is an absolute falsity; besides which, it comes with an ill grace from one, who frequently publishes two letters in a week, and often puts them both into one paper—Cato here, Cato there, look where you will.

At the distance of a few lines from the above quotations, Cato presents us with a retrospective view of our former state, in which, says he, “we considered our connection with Great Britain as our chief happiness—we flourished, grew rich, and populous to a degree not to be paralleled in history.” This assertion is truly of the legerdemain kind, appearing at once both right and wrong. All writers on Cato’s side have used the same argument and conceived themselves invincible; nevertheless, a single expression properly placed dissolves the charm, for the cheat lies in putting the time for the cause. For the cheat lies in putting the consequence for the cause; for had we not flourished the connection had never existed or never been regarded, and this is fully proved by the neglect shewn to the first settlers who had every difficulty to struggle with, unnoticed and unassisted by the British Court.

Cato proceeds very industriously to sum up the former declarations of Congress and other public bodies, some of which were made upwards of a year ago, to prove, that the doctrine of Independance hath no sanction from them. To this I shall give Cato one general answer which is, that had he produced a thousand more such authorities they would now amount to nothing, they are out of date; times and things are altered; the true character of the King was but little known among the body of the people of America a year ago; willing to believe him good, they fondly called him so, but have since found that Cato’s Royal Sovereign, is a Royal Savage.

Cato hath introduced the above-mentioned long quotation of authorities against independance, with the following curious preface. “Nor have many weeks,” says he, “yet elapsed since the first open proposition for independance was published to the world. By what men of consequence this scheme is supported or whether by any, may possibly be the subject of future enquiry. Certainly it hath no countenance from the Congress, to whose sentiments we look up with reverence. On the contrary, it is directly repugnant to every declaration of that respectable body.” Now Cato, thou hast nailed thyself with a witness! Directly repugnant to every declaration of that respectable body! Mind that, Cato, and mark what follows. It appears by an extract from the resolves of the Congress, printed in the front of the oration delivered by Dr. Smith, in honor of that brave man General Montgomery, that he, the Doctor, was appointed by that honorable body to compose and deliver the same; in the execution of which, the orator exclaimed loudly against the doctrine of independance; but when a motion was afterwards made in Congress, (according to former usage) to return the orator thanks, and request a copy for the press, the motion was rejected from every part of the house and thrown out without a division.

I now proceed to Cato’s third letter, in the opening of which he deserts the subject of independance, and renews his attack on the Committee. Cato’s manner of writing has as much order in it as the motion of a squirrel. He frequently writes as if he knew not what to write next, just as the other jumps about, only because it cannot stand still. Though I am sometimes angry with him for his unprincipled method of writing and reasoning, I cannot help laughing at other times for his want of ingenuity: One instance of which he gives us in kindly warning us against “the foul pages of interested writers, and strangers intermedling in our affairs.” Were I to reply seriously my answer would be this: Thou seemest then ignorant, Cato, of that ancient and numerous order which are related to each other in all and every part of the globe—with whom the kindred is not formed by place or accident, but in principle and sentiment. A freeman, Cato, is a stranger nowhere—a slave, everywhere. But were I disposed to answer merrily, I should tell him, that as his notions of friendship were so very narrow and local, he obliges me to understand, that when he addresses the people with the tender title of “my dear countrymen” which frequently occurs in his letters, he particularly means the long list of Macs published in Donald M’Donald’s Commission.

In this letter Cato recommends the pamphlet called Plain Truth, a performance which hath withered away like a sickly unnoticed weed, and which even its advocates are displeased at, and the author ashamed to own. About the middle of this third letter, Cato gives notice of his being ready to take the field. “I now proceed,” says he, “to give my reasons.” How Cato hath managed the attack we are now to examine; and the first remark I shall offer on his conduct is, that he hath most unluckily entered the list on the wrong side, and discharged his first fire among the tories.

In order to prove this, I shall give the paragraph entire:—“AGRICULTURE and COMMERCE,” says Cato, “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.” The reader cannot help perceiving that through this whole paragraph our connexion with Britain is left entirely out of the question, and our present greatness attributed to external causes, agriculture and commerce. This is a strange way, Cato, of overturning Common Sense, which says, “I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation, to shew a single advantage which this continent can reap by being connected with Great-Britain; I repeat,” says he, “the challenge: not a single advantage is derived. Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe; and our imported goods must be paid for, buy them where we will.” Cato introduces his next paragraph with saying, “that much of our former felicity was owing to the protection of England is not to be denied.” Yes, Cato, I deny it wholly, and for the following clear and simple reasons, viz., that our being connected with, and submitting to be protected by her, made, and will still make, all her enemies, our enemies, or as Common Sense says, “sets us at variance with nations who would otherwise seek our friendship, and against whom we have neither anger nor complaint.”

The following passage is so glaringly absurd that I shall make but a short comment upon it. “And if hereafter,” says Cato, “in the fulness of time, it shall be necessary to separate from the land that gave birth to [some of] our ancestors, it will be in a state of perfect manhood, when we can fully wield our own arms, and protect our commerce and coasts by our own fleets.” But how are we to come by fleets, Cato, while Britain hath the government of the Continent? Unless we are to suppose, as you have hinted in the former paragraph, that our oaks are to grow into ships, and be launched self-built from their “native spots of earth.” It is Cato’s misfortune as a writer, not to distinguish justly between magic and imagination; while on the other hand there are many passages in his letters so seriously and deliberately false, that nothing but the most hardened effrontery, and a cast of mind bordering upon impiety, would have uttered. He frequently forces me out of the common track of civil language, in order to do him justice; moderation and temper being really unequal to the task of exposing him.

Cato, unless he meant to destroy the ground he stood upon, ought not to have let the following paragraph be seen. “If our present differences,” says he, “can be accommodated, there is scarce a probability that Britain will ever renew her late fatal system of policy, or attempt again to employ force against us.” How came Cato to admit the probability of our being brought again into the same bloody and expensive situation? But it is worth remarking, that those who write without principle, cannot help sometimes blundering upon truth. Then there is no real security, Cato, in this reconciliation of yours on constitutional principles? It still amounts to nothing; and after all this expence of life and wealth, we are to rest at last upon hope, hazard, and uncertainty. Why then, by all that is sacred, “it is time to part.”

But Cato, after admitting the probability of our being brought again into the same situation, proceeds to tell us how we are to conduct ourselves in the second quarrel; and that is, by the very same methods we have done the present one, viz., to expend millions of treasure, and thousands of lives, in order to patch up a second union, that the way may be open for a third quarrel; and in this endless and chequered round of blood and treacherous peace, hath Cato disposed of the Continent of America. That I may not be thought to do Cato injustice, I have quoted the whole passage: “But should Britain be so infatuated,” says he, “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 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.”—Come hither, ye little ones, whom the poisonous hand of Cato is rearing for destruction, and remember the page that warns ye of your ruin.

Cato, in many of his expressions, discovers all that calm command over the passions and feelings which always distinguishes the man who hath expelled them from his heart. Of this careless kind is the before mentioned phrase, “our present differences,” and the same unpardonable negligence is conveyed in the following one: “Although I consider her,” says he, “as having in her late conduct toward us, acted the part of a cruel stepdame.” Wonderful sensibility indeed! All the havoc and desolation of unnatural war; the destruction of thousands; the burning and depopulating of towns and cities; the ruin and separation of friends and families, are just sufficient to extort from Cato, this one callous confession. But the cold and creeping soul of Cato is a stranger to the manly powers of sympathetic sorrow. He moves not, nor can he move in so pure an element. Accustomed to lick the hand that hath made him visible, and to breathe the gross atmosphere of servile and sordid dependence, his soul would now starve on virtue, and suffocate in the clear region of disinterested friendship.

Surely when Cato sat down to write, he either did not expect to be called to an account, or was totally regardless of reputation, otherwise he would not have endeavoured to persuade the public that the doctrine of Independance was broached in a kind of seditious manner, at a time “when,” says he, “some gleams of reconciliation began first to break in upon us.” Come forth, Cato, and prove the assertion! Where do these gleams of reconciliation spring from? Are they to be found in the King’s speech, in the address of either House of Parliament, or in the act which lets loose a whole kennel of pirates upon our property, and commissions another set to insult with pardons the very men whom their own measures had sought to ruin? Either prove the assertion, Cato, or take the reward of it, for it is the part of an incendiary to endeavour with specious falsehoods to mislead the credulity of unwary readers. Cato likewise says, that, while we continue united, and renounce all thoughts of Independance, “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.” If Cato means to insinuate that we have received such an assurance, let him read the conclusion of the preceeding paragraph again. The same answer will serve for both.

Perhaps when we recollect the long and unabated cruelty of the British court towards us, and remember the many prayers which we have put up both to them and for them, the following piece of declamation of Cato can hardly be equalled either for absurdity or insanity: “If we now effect independance,” says he, “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.” Art thou mad, Cato, or art thou foolish—or art thou both—or art thou worse than both? In this passage thou hast fairly gone beyond me. I have not language to bring thee back. Thou art safely intrenched indeed! Rest therefore in thy stronghold till He who fortified thee in it shall come and fetch thee out.

Cato seems to be possessed of that jesuitical cunning which always endeavours to disgrace what it cannot disprove; and this he sometimes effects, by unfairly introducing our terms into his arguments, and thereby begets a monster which he sends round the country for a show, and tells the good people that the name of it is independance. Of this character are several passages in his fourth and fifth letters, particularly when he quotes the term “foreign assistance,” which he ungenerously explains into a surrender of the Continent to France and Spain. Such an unfair and sophistical reasoner doth not deserve the civility of good manners. He creates, likewise, the same confusion by frequently using the word peace for union, and thereby charges us falsely by representing us as being determined to “reject all proposition of peace.” Whereas, our wish is peace but not re-union; and though we would gladly listen to the former, we are determined to resist every proposal for the latter, come from where it will; being fully persuaded, that in the present state of affairs separation of governments is the only and best thing that can be done for both countries.

The following case is unjustly put. “There never was a war,” says Cato, “so implacable, even among states naturally rivals and enemies, or among savages themselves, as not to have peace for its object as well as the end.” But was there ever a war, Cato, which had union for its object? No. What Cato means by states naturally rivals and enemies, I shall not enquire into, but this I know (for myself at least) that it was not in the power of France or Spain, or all the other powers in Europe, to have given such a wound, or raised us to such a mortal hatred as Britain hath done. We feel the same kind of undescribed anger at her conduct, as we would at the sight of an animal devouring its young; and this particular species of anger is not generated in the transitory temper of the man, but in the chaste and undefiled womb of nature.

Cato, towards the conclusion of his third letter, (at which place I shall leave him for the present,) compares the state of Britain and America to the quarrels of lovers, and from thence infers a probability, that our affections will be renewed thereby. This I cannot help looking on as one of the most unnatural and distorted similes that can be drawn. Come hither ye that are lovers, or ye that have been lovers, and decide the controversy between us! What comparison is there between the soft murmurs of an heart mourning in secret, and the loud horrors of war—between the silent tears of pensive sorrow, and rivers of wasted blood—between the sweet strife of affection, and the bitter strife of death—between the curable calamities of pettish lovers, and the sad sight of a thousand slain! “Get thee behind me,” Cato, for thou hast not the feelings of a man.

PHILADELPHIA, April 8, 1776.

III. To Cato.

CATO’S partizans may call me furious; I regard it not. There are men, too, who have not virtue enough to be angry and that crime perhaps is Cato’s. He who dares not offend cannot be honest. Having thus balanced the charge, I proceed to Cato’s 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th letters, all of which, as they contain but little matter, I shall dismiss with as little trouble and less formality.

His fourth letter is introduced with a punning Soliloquy—Cato’s title to soliloquies is indisputable; because no man cares for his company. However, he disowns the writing it, and assures his readers that it “was really put into his hands.” I always consider this confirming mode of expression as betraying a suspicion of one’s self; and in this place it amounts to just as much as if Cato had said, “you know my failing, Sirs, but what I tell you now is really true.” Well, be it so, Cato; you shall have all the credit you ask for; and as to when or where or how you got it, who was the author, or who the giver, I shall not enquire after; being fully convinced, by the poetical merit of the performance, that tho’ the writer of it may be an Allen, he ’ll never be a Ramsay. Thus much for the soliloquy; and if this gentle chastisement should be the means of preventing Cato or his colleague from mingling their punning nonsense with subjects of such a serious nature as the present one truly is, it will answer one of the ends it was intended for.

Cato’s fourth, and the greatest part of his fifth letter, are constructed on a false meaning uncivilly imposed on a passage quoted from Common Sense; and for which, the author of that pamphlet hath a right to expect from Cato the usual concessions. I shall quote the passage entire, with Cato’s additional meaning, and the inferences which he draws therefrom. He introduces it with saying, “In my remarks on the pamphlet before me I shall first consider those arguments on which, he (the author) appears to lay his chief stress; and these are collected under four heads in his conclusion, one of which is, ‘It is the custom of nations when any two are at war, for some other powers not engaged in the quarrel, to step in by way of Mediators, and bring about the prelimenaries of a peace; but while America calls herself the subject of Great-Britain, no power, however well disposed she may be, can offer her mediation.’” The meaning contained in this passage is so exceedingly plain, and expressed in such easy and familiar terms, that it scarcely admits of being made plainer. No one, I think, could have understood it any other wise, than that while we continue to call ourselves British Subjects, the quarrel between us can only be called a family quarrel, in which, it would be just as indelicate for any other nation to advise, or any ways to meddle or make, even with their offers of mediation, as it would be for a third person to interfere in a quarrel between a man and his wife. Whereas were we to make use of that natural right which all other nations have done before us, and erect a government of our own, independant of all the world, the quarrel could then be no longer called a family quarrel, but a regular war between the two powers of Britain and America, in the same manner as one carried on between England and France; and in this state of political separation, the neutral powers might kindly render their mediation, (as hath always been the practice) and bring about the preliminaries of a peace,—not a union, Cato, that is quite another thing. But instead of Cato’s taking it in this easy and natural sense, he flies away on a wrong scent, charges the author with proposing to call in foreign assistance; and under this willful falsehood raises up a mighty cry after nothing at all. He begins his wild and unintelligible comment in the following manner: “Is this,” says he, (meaning the passage already quoted) “common sense, or common nonsense? Surely peace with Great Britain cannot be the object of this writer, after the horrible character he has given of the people of that country, and telling us, that reconciliation with them would be our ruin. The latter part of the paragraph seems to cast some light upon the former, although it contradicts it, for these mediators are not to interfere for making up the quarrel, but to widen it by supporting us in a declaration, That we are not the subjects of Great Britain. A new sort of business truly for mediators. But this,” continues Cato, “leads us directly to the main enquiry—What foreign power is able to give us this support?” What support, Cato? The passage you have quoted neither says a syllable, nor insinuates a hint about support:—It speaks only of neutral powers in the neighbourly character of mediators between those which are at war; and says it is the custom of European courts to do so. Cato hath already raised Commissioners into Ambassadors; but how he could transform mediators into men in arms, and mediation into military alliance, is surpassingly strange. Read the part over again, Cato; if you find I have charged you wrongfully, and will point it out, I will engage that the author of Common Sense shall ask your pardon in the public papers, with his name to it: but if the error be yours, the concession on your part follows as a duty.

Though I am fully persuaded that Cato does not believe one half of what himself has written, he nevertheless takes amazing pains to frighten his readers into a belief of the whole. Tells them of foreign troops (which he supposes we are going to send for) ravaging up and down the country; of their “bloody massacres, unrelenting persecutions, which would harrow up (says he) the very souls of protestants and freemen.” Were they coming, Cato, which no one ever dreamed of but yourself (for thank God, we want them not,) it would be impossible for them to exceed, or even to equal, the cruelties practised by the British army in the East-Indies: The tying men to the mouths of cannon and “blowing them away” was never acted by any but an English General, or approved by any but a British Court. Read the proceedings of the Select Committee on Indian Affairs.

From temporal fears Cato proceeds to spiritual ones, and in a hypocritical panic, asks, “To whose share will Pennsylvania fall—that of his most Catholic, or his most Christian King? I confess,” continues he, “that these questions stagger me.” I don’t wonder at it, Cato—I am glad to hear that some kind of remorse hath overtaken you—that you begin to feel that you are “heavy laden.” You have had a long run, and the stoutest heart must fail at last.

Cato perceiving that the falsehoods in his fourth letter past unreproved, ventured boldly on a fifth, in which he continues, enlarging on the same convenient bugbear. “In my last,” says he, “some notice was taken of the dangerous proposition held up by the author of Common Sense, for having recourse to foreign assistance.” When will Cato learn to speak the truth! The assistance which we hope for from France is not armies, (we want them not) but arms and ammunition. We have already received into this province only, near two hundred tons of saltpetre and gunpowder, besides muskets. Surely we may continue to cultivate a useful acquaintance, without such malevolent beings as Cato raising his barbarous slander thereon. At this time it is not only illiberal, but impolitic, and perhaps dangerous to be pouring forth such torrents of abuse, as his fourth and fifth letters contain, against the only power that in articles of defence hath supplied our hasty wants.

Cato, after expending near two letters in beating down an idol which himself only had set up, proudly congratulates himself on the defeat, and marches off to new exploits, leaving behind him the following proclamation: “Having thus,” says Cato, “dispatched his (the author of Common Sense’s) main argument for independence, which he founds on the necessity of calling in foreign assistance, I proceed to examine some other parts of his work.” Not a syllable, Cato, doth any part of the pamphlet in question say of calling in foreign assistance, or even forming military alliances. The dream is wholly your own, and is directly repugnant both to the letter and spirit of every page in the piece. The idea which Common Sense constantly holds up, is to have nothing to do with the political affairs of Europe. “As Europe,” says the pamphlet, “is our market for trade, we ought to form no political connections with any part of it. It is the true interest of America to steer clear of all European contentions.” And where it proposes sending a manifesto to foreign courts (which it is high time to do) it recommends it only for the purpose of announcing to them the impossibility of our living any longer under the British government, and of “assuring such Courts of our peaceable disposition towards them, and of our desire of entering into trade with them.” Learn to be an honest man, Cato, and then thou wilt not be thus exposed.—I have been the more particular in detecting Cato here, because it is on this bubble that his air-built battery against independance is raised—a poor foundation indeed! which even the point of a pin, or a pen, if you please, can demolish with a touch, and bury the formidable Cato beneath the ruins of a vapour.

From this part of his fifth letter to the end of his seventh he entirely deserts the subject of independance, and sets up the proud standard of Kings, in preference to a Republican form of Government. My remarks on this part of the subject will be general and concise.

In this part of the debate Cato shelters himself chiefly in quotations from other authors, without reasoning much on the matter himself; in answer to which, I present him with a string of maxims and reflexions, drawn from the nature of things, without borrowing from any one. Cato may observe, that I scarcely ever quote; the reason is, I always think. But to return.

Government should always be considered as a matter of convenience, not of right. The scripture institutes no particular form of government, but it enters a protest against the monarchical form; and a negation on one thing, where two only are offered, and one must be chosen, amounts to an affirmative on the other. Monarchical government was first set up by the Heathens, and the Almighty permitted it to the Jews as a punishment. “I gave them a King in mine anger.”—Hosea xiii. 11. A Republican form of government is pointed out by nature—Kingly governments by an unequality of power. In Republican governments, the leaders of the people, if improper, are removable by vote; Kings only by arms: an unsuccessful vote in the first case, leaves the voter safe; but an unsuccessful attempt in the latter, is death. Strange, that that which is our right in the one, should be our ruin in the other. From which reflexion follows this maxim. That that mode of government in which our right becomes our ruin, cannot be the right one. If all human nature be corrupt, it is needless to strengthen the corruption by establishing a succession of Kings, who, be they ever so base, are still to be obeyed; for the manners of a court will always have an influence over the morals of a people. A Republican government hath more true grandeur in it than a Kingly one. On the part of the public it is more consistent with freemen to appoint their rulers than to have them born; and on the part of those who preside, it is far nobler to be a ruler by the choice of the people, than a King by the chance of birth. Every honest Delegate is more than a Monarch. Disorders will unavoidably happen in all states, but monarchical governments are the most subject thereto, because the balance hangs uneven. “Nineteen rebellions and eight civil wars in England since the conquest.” Whatever commotions are produced in Republican states, are not produced by a Republican spirit, but by those who seek to extinguish it. A Republican state cannot produce its own destruction, it can only suffer it. No nation of people, in their true senses, when seriously reflecting on the rank which God hath given them, and the reasoning faculties he hath blessed them with, would ever, of their own consent, give any one man a negative power over the whole: No man since the fall hath ever been equal to the trust, wherefore ’tis insanity in us to entrust them with it; and in this sense, all those who have had it have done us right by abusing us into reason. Nature seems sometimes to laugh at mankind, by giving them so many fools for Kings; at other times, she punishes their folly by giving them tyrants; but England must have offended highly to be curst with both in one. Rousseau proposed a plan for establishing a perpetual European peace; which was, for every State in Europe to send Ambassadors to form a General Council, and when any difference happened between any two nations, to refer the matter to arbitration instead of going to arms. This would be forming a kind of European Republic: But the proud and plundering spirit of Kings hath not peace for its object. They look not at the good of mankind. They set not out upon that plan: And if the history of the Creation and the history of Kings be compared together the result will be this—that God hath made a world, and Kings have robbed him of it.

But that which sufficiently establishes the Republican mode of government, in preference to a Kingly one, even when all other arguments are left out, is this simple truth, that all men are Republicans by nature, and Royalists only by fashion. And this is fully proved by that passionate adoration which all men shew to that great and almost only remaining bulwark of natural rights, trial by juries, which is founded on a pure Republican basis. Here the power of Kings is shut out. No Royal negative can enter this Court. The Jury, which is here supreme, is a Republic, a body of Judges chosen from among the people.

The charter which secures this freedom in England, was formed, not in the senate, but in the field; and insisted on by the people, not granted by the crown; the crown in that instance granted nothing, but only renounced its former tyrannies, and bound itself over to its future good behaviour. It was the compromise, by which the wearer of it made his peace with the people, and the condition on which he was suffered to reign.

Here ends my reply to all the letters which have at present appeared under the signature of Cato, being at this time seven in number. I have made no particular remarks on his last two, which treat only of the mode of government, but answered them generally. In one place I observe, he accuses the writer of Common Sense with inconsistency in having declared, “That no man was a warmer wisher for reconciliation than himself, before the fatal 19th of April, 1775”; “that is,” (says Cato) reconciliation to monarchical government.” To which I reply that war ought to be no man’s wish, neither ought any man to perplex a state, already formed, with his private opinions; “the mode of government being a proper consideration for those countries” only “which have their governments yet to form.” (Common Sense).

On a review of the ground which I have gone over in Cato’s letters, (exclusive of what I have omitted) I find the following material charges against him:

First. He hath accused the Committee with crimes generally; stated none, nor proved, nor attempted to prove any.

N. B. The pretence of charging the acts of a body of men on individuals, is too slender to be admitted.

Secondly. He hath falsely complained to the public of the restraint of the press.

Thirdly. He hath wickedly asserted that “gleams of reconciliation hath lately broken in upon us,” thereby grossly deceiving the people.

Fourthly. He hath insinuated, as if he wished the public to believe, that we had received “the utmost assurance of having all our grievances redressed, and an ample security against any future violation of our just rights.”

Fifthly. He hath spread false alarms of calling in foreign troops.

Sixthly. He hath turned the scripture into a jest. Ez. 35.

These falsehoods, if uncontradicted, might have passed for truths, and the minds of persons remote from better intelligence might have been greatly embarrassed thereby. Let our opinions be what they will, truth as to facts should be strictly adhered to. It was this affecting consideration that drew out the Forester (a perfect volunteer) to the painful task of writing three long letters, and occasioned to the public the trouble of reading them.

Having for the present closed my correspondence with Cato, I shall conclude this letter with a well meant affectionate address

To the People.

It is not a time to trifle. Men, who know they deserve nothing from their country, and whose hope is on the arm that hath fought to enslave ye, may hold out to you, as Cato hath done, the false light of reconciliation. There is no such thing. ’Tis gone! ’Tis past! The grave hath parted us—and death, in the persons of the slain, hath cut the thread of life between Britain and America.

Conquest, and not reconciliation is the plan of Britain. But admitting even the last hope of the Tories to happen, which is, that our enemies after a long succession of losses, wearied and disabled, should despairingly throw down their arms and propose a re-union; in that case, what is to be done? Are defeated and disappointed tyrants to be considered like mistaken and converted friends? Or would it be right, to receive those for Governors, who, had they been conquerors, would have hung us up for traitors? Certainly not. Reject the offer then, and propose another; which is, we will make peace with you as with enemies, but we will never re-unite with you as friends. This effected, and ye secure to yourselves the pleasing prospect of an eternal peace. America, remote from all the wrangling world, may live at ease. Bounded by the ocean, and backed by the wilderness, who hath she to fear, but her GOD?

Be not deceived. It is not a little that is at stake. Reconciliation will not now go down, even if it were offered. ’Tis a dangerous question; for the eyes of all men begin to open. There is now no secret in the matter; there ought to be none. It is a case that concerns every man, and every man ought to lay it to heart. He that is here and he that was born here are alike concerned. It is needless, too, to split the business into a thousand parts, and perplex it with endless and fruitless investigations, in the manner that a writer signed a Common Man hath done. This unparalleled contention of nations is not to be settled like a schoolboy’s task of pounds, shillings, pence, and fractions. That writer, though he may mean well, is strangely below the mark: for the first and great question, and that which involves every other in it, and from which every other will flow, is happiness. Can this continent be happy under the government of Great Britain or not? Secondly, Can she be happy under a government of our own? To live beneath the authority of those whom we cannot love, is misery, slavery, or what name you please. In that case, there will never be peace. Security will be a thing unknown, because a treacherous friend in power is the most dangerous of enemies. The answer to the second question, Can America be happy under a government of her own, is short and simple, viz. As happy as she please; she hath a blank sheet to write upon. Put it not off too long.

Painful as the task of speaking truth must sometimes be, yet I cannot avoid giving the following hint, because much, nay almost every thing depends upon it; and that is, a thorough knowledge of the persons whom we trust. It is the duty of the public, at this time, to scrutinize closely into the conduct of their Committee Members, Members of Assembly, and Delegates in Congress; to know what they do, and their motives for so doing. Without doing this, we shall never know who to confide in; but shall constantly mistake friends for enemies, and enemies for friends, till in the confusion of persons we sacrifice the cause. I am led to this reflexion by the following circumstance. That the Gentleman to whom the unwise and arbitrary instructions to the Delegates of this province owe their being, and who hath bestowed all his power to support them, is said to be the same person who, when the ships now on the stocks were wanting timber, refused to sell it, and thus by preventing our strength to cry out of our insufficiency.—But his hour of fame is past—he is hastening to his political exit.



WHOEVER will take the trouble of attending to the progress and changeability of times and things, and the conduct of mankind thereon, will find, that extraordinary circumstances do sometimes arise before us, of a species, either so purely natural or so perfectly original, that none but the man of nature can understand them. When precedents fail to spirit us, we must return to the first principles of things for information; and think, as if we were the first men that thought. And this is the true reason that, in the present state of affairs, the wise are become foolish, and the foolish wise. I am led to this reflexion by not being able to account for the conduct of the Quakers on any other: for although they do not seem to perceive it themselves, yet it is amazing to hear with what unanswerable ignorance many of that body, wise in other matters, will discourse on the present one. Did they hold places or commissions under the King, were they Governors of provinces, or had they any interest apparently distinct from us, the mystery would cease; but as they have not, their folly is best attributed to that superabundance of worldly knowledge which in original matters is too cunning to be wise. Back to the first plain path of nature, friends, and begin anew: for in this business your first footsteps were wrong. You have now travelled to the summit of inconsistency, and that with such accelerated rapidity as to acquire autumnal ripeness by the first of May. Now your resting time comes on. You have done your utmost and must abide the consequences. Yet who can reflect on such conduct without feeling concern! Who can look, unaffected, on a body of thoughtful men, undoing in one rash hour the labour of seventy years: Or what can be said in their excuse, more, than that they have arrived at their second childhood, the infancy of threescore and ten.

But my chief design, in this letter, is to set forth the inconsistency, partiality, and injustice of the dependant faction, and like an honest man, who courts no favor, to shew to them the dangerous ground they stand upon; in order to do which, I must refer to the business, event, and probable consequences of the late election.

The business of that day was to do what? Why, to elect four burgesses to assist those already elected, in conducting the military proceedings of this province, against the power of that crown by whose authority they pretend to sit: and those gentlemen when elected, are according to the rules of that House (as the rest have done) to take an oath of allegiance to serve the same King against whom this province, with themselves at the head thereof, are at war: and a necessary qualification required of many voters was, that they likewise should swear allegiance to the same King against whose power the same house of assembly had just before obliged them either to fine or take up arms. Did ever national hypocrisy arise to such a pitch as this! Under the pretence of moderation we are running into the most damnable sins. It is now the duty of every man from the pulpit and from the press, in his family and in the street to cry out against it. Good God! Have we no remembrance of duty left to the King of Heaven! No conscientious awe to restrain this sacrifice of sacred things? Is this our chartered privilege? This our boasted constitution, that we can sin and feel it not? The clergy of the English church, of which I profess myself a member, complain of their situation, and wish relief; in short, every thinking man must feel distress. Yet, to the credit of the people be it spoken, the sin lies not at their door. We can trace the iniquity in this province to the fountain head, and see by what delusions it has imposed on others. The guilt centres in a few, and flows from the same source, that a few years ago avariciously suffered the frontiers of this province to be deluged in blood; and though the vengeance of Heaven hath slept since, it may awake too soon for their repose.

A motion was sometime ago made to elect a convention to take into consideration the state of the province. A more judicious proposal could not be thought of. Our present condition is alarming. We are worse off then other provinces, and such an enquiry is highly necessary. The House of Assembly in its present form is disqualified for such business, because it is a branch from that power against whom we are contending. Besides, they are in intercourse with the King’s representative, and the members which compose the house have, as members thereof taken an oath to discover to the King of England the very business which, in that inquiry, would unavoidably come before them. Their minds too are warped and prejudiced by the provincial instructions they have arbitrarily and without right issued forth. They are again improper because the enquiry would necessarily extend to them as a body, to see how far it is proper to trust men with such unlimited power as they have lately assumed. In times like these, we must trace to the root and origin of things; It being the only way to become right, when we are got systematically wrong. The motion for a Convention alarmed the crown and proprietary dependants; but, to every man of reflexion, it had a cordial and restorative quality. The case is, first, we are got wrong—Secondly, how shall we get right? Not by a House of Assembly; because they cannot sit as Judges, in a case, where their own existence under their present form and authority is to be judged of. However, the objectors found out a way, as they thought, to supercede the necessity of a Convention, by promoting a bill for augmenting the number of representatives; not perceiving at the same time that such an augmentation would encrease the necessity of a Convention; because, the more any power is augmented, which derives it’s authority from our enemies, the more unsafe and dangerous it becomes to us. Far be it from the writer of this to censure the individuals which compose that House; his aim being only against the chartered authority under which it acts. However, the bill passed into a law, (which shews, that in Pennsylvania, as well as in England, there is no constitution, but only a temporary form of government.) While, in order to show the inconsistency of the House in its present state, the motion for a convention was postponed, and four conscientious independent gentlemen were proposed as candidates, on the augmentation, who, had they been elected would not have taken the oaths necessary to admit a person as member of that Assembly. And in that case, the house would have had neither one kind of authority or another, while the old part remained sworn to divulge to the King what the new part thought it their duty to declare against him. Thus matters stood on the morning of election.

On our side we had to sustain the loss of those good citizens who are now before the walls of Quebec, and other parts of the continent; while the tories by never stirring out remain at home to take the advantage of elections; and this evil prevails more or less from the Congress down to the Committees. A numerous body of Germans of property, zealots in the cause of freedom, were likewise excluded for non-allegiance. Notwithstanding which, the tory non-conformists, that is those who are advertised as enemies to their country, were admitted to vote on the other side. A strange contradiction indeed! To which were added the testimonizing Quakers, who, after suffering themselves to be duped by the meanest of all passions, religious spleen, endeavour in a vague uncharitable manner to possess the Roman Catholics of the same disease. These parties, with such others as they could influence, were headed by the proprietary dependants to support the British and Proprietary power against the public. They had pompously given out that nine tenths of the people were on their side. A vast majority truly! But it so happened that, notwithstanding the disadvantages we laid under of having many of our votes rejected, others disqualified for non-allegiance, with the great loss sustained by absentees, the manœuvre of shutting up the doors between seven and eight o’clock, and circulating the report of adjourning, and finishing the next morning, by which several were deceived,—it so happened, I say, that on casting up the tickets, the first in numbers on the dependant side, and the first on the independant side, viz. Clymer and Allen, were a tye: 923 each.

To the description which I have already given of those who are against us, I may add, that they have neither associated nor assisted, or but very few of them; that they are a collection of different bodies blended by accident, having no natural relation to each other; that they have agreed rather out of spite than right; and that, as they met by chance, they will dissolve away again for the want of a cement.

On our side, our object was single, our cause was one; wherefore, we cannot separate, neither will we separate. We have stood the experiment of the election, for the sake of knowing the men who were against us. Alas, what are they? One half of them ought to be now asking public pardon for their former offences; and the other half may think themselves well off that they are let alone. When the enemy enters the country, can they defend themselves? Or will they defend themselves? And if not, are they so foolish as to think that, in times like these, when it is our duty to search the corrupted wound to the bottom, that we, with ten times their strength and number (if the question were put to the people at large) will submit to be governed by cowards and tories?

He that is wise will reflect, that the safest asylum, especially in times of general convulsion when no settled form of government prevails, is, the love of the people. All property is safe under their protection. Even in countries where the lowest and most licentious of them have risen into outrage they have never departed from the path of natural honor. Volunteers unto death in defence of the person or fortune of those who had served or defended them, division of property never entered the mind of the populace. It is incompatible with that spirit which impels them into action. An avaricious mob was never heard of; nay, even a miser pausing in the midst of them, and catching their spirit, would from that instant cease to be covetous.

I shall conclude this letter with remarking, that the English fleet and army have of late gone upon a different plan of operation to what they first set out with; for instead of going against those Colonies where independence prevails most, they go against those only where they suppose it prevails least. They have quitted Massachusetts-Bay and gone to North-Carolina, supposing they had many friends there. Why are they expected at New-York? But because they imagine the inhabitants are not generally independents, (yet that province hath a large share of virtue, notwithstanding the odium which its House of Assembly brought upon it.) From which I argue that the electing the King’s Attorney for a Burgess of this city, is a fair invitation for them to come here; and in that case, will those who have invited them turn out to repulse them? I suppose not, for in their 923 votes there will not be found more than sixty armed men, perhaps not so many. Wherefore, should such an event happen, which probably will, I here give my first vote to levy the expence attending the expedition against them, on the estates of those who have invited them.