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Cato, to the People of Pennsylvania, No. I: In defence of the Assembly, and against electing a Convention. [1776-03-08] Anonymous. [S4-V5-p0125] [Document Details][Complete Volume]


Cato, to the People of Pennsylvania

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TO THE PEOPLE OF PENNSYLVANIA. — LETTER I.

MY DEAR COUNTRYMEN: The wisdom of some nations has been greatly commended, because they never enacted any new law, nor suffered any innovation in their ancient Constitutions, without first proposing the matter to the people, and giving them a full opportunity to express their approbation or dislike. It is true, we have never come up to the perfection of this rule; yet in the former happy days of the Province, it was a good and salutary custom among us, freely to discuss and examine, all publick affairs, in conversation as well as writing, when occasion required. And although since the commencement of our present troubles, this rule could not always be observed, yet every unnecessary deviation from it has but added to the affliction of many real friends of America.

Grievous as the least restraint upon 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. Nevertheless we readily submitted to it, while any colourable pretext could be offered for requiring such a submission. Nay, we have done more — we have too quietly yielded to a few who have been claiming one power after another, till at length, encouraged by their success, and prostituting the cry of publick necessity to cloak an ambition which needs as much to be checked in the lowest as the highest, they have now the astonishing boldness to aim at a total destruction of our charter Constitution, and seizing into their own hands our whole domestick police, with Legislative as well as Executive authority.

To prepare the way for effecting this most ruinous design, the majesty of the people of Pennsylvania has been grievously wounded in the persons of their legal Representatives, by repeated attempts to intimidate them in the discharge of the great trust committed to them by the voice of their country, and the most scurrilous misrepresentation of patriotick exertions, which have not been exceeded by any other body upon the Continent.

Since the press is at length become so free that such publications are thought tolerable on one side, it cannot but be judged reasonable that it should be equally free on the other side also, especially where charges are to be answered and innocence defended. At all risks I am determined to make the experiment, and to offer one appeal to the remainder of our ancient virtue. Nor need any persons be alarmed; for an indecent or angry expression shall not dishonour my pen, nor yet a single sentiment, which is not calculated to cement all parties in the Province, upon safe and popular grounds, more firmly than ever, in executing the resolves of Congress, and maintaining American liberty. So far as our Committees confine themselves to the purposes of their appointment, which are merely executive; so far as they are exerting themselves to effect what is well expressed in the Evening Post of last Thursday, to have been their original design, viz: "a faithful execution of the Association entered into by the Continental Congress, relieving and assisting those who may suffer by the suspension of trade; promoting reconciliation upon constitutional principles between Great Britain and her Colonies; the encouraging the manufactory of such articles as are necessary

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for our existence, clothing, defence; the preventing manufacturers or venders of goods and merchandise from selling the same at unusual or extravagant profit;" and holding up transgressors of every rank to publick censure, without fear or affection — so far, I say, they ought to have the thanks of their country, for generously bestowing their time and attention to its service, and ought to be supported by all good men. In this view they deserve the greatest commendation for their late vigorous endeavours to rescue their injured fellow-citizens from the avaricious gripe of engrossers and forestallers.

But if, instead of being confined to such purposes as these, any individuals of our Committees, who, I trust, will never amount to a majority, should, by the bait of power thrown out to them by designing men of this or any other Province, be led our of their line, to interfere in matters foreign to their appointment, I am persuaded, that when they seriously consider what may be offered on this head, they will perceive that such a conduct (as it never can be submitted to by the people of this Province) would give a more effectual stab to our domestick harmony, and to the publick cause, than all the efforts of all the disaffected persons in America can give.

In carrying on our great controversy with England, Pennsylvania has no need either to make the least sacrifice of its Constitution, nor yet to yield in zeal to the foremost of the Colonies. It has been our singular happiness from the beginning, that we have been able to grant, and have actually granted, as large sums for the common service as, any of our neighbours, in proportion. to our numbers; and that these grants, have been made in a way to which the people were accustomed, and to which they have given their sanction, by re-electing the same men, since the contest with England had advanced into open war; thereby pledging themselves to submit to whatever mode may be adopted by future Assemblies for sinking the immense sums with which the Province is charged, as well as signifying the fullest approbation of the measures which have been concerted for our defence.

This great privilege which we enjoy, of giving our free unbiased voice annually In the choice of an Assembly, who, from that moment, by charter, become a constitutional body, vested with the authority of the people, and can meet when they please, and sit as long as they judge necessary — this privilege, I say, and the ease and quiet with which our publick business has been transacted during the present contest, have been the envy and admiration of our neighbours, who, enjoying no such perfection in their civil Constitutions, have been driven into the measure of Conventions, and forced to hazard the emission of money, and other acts of state, under disadvantages which need not be mentioned here, as we are yet happily free from them. Would any wise people, enjoying such a Constitution, ever think of destroying it with their own hands? Or does any other Colony, whose Assemblies can exercise their authority, ever think of committing the conduct of affairs to Conventions?

But suppose, our Assembly really chargeable with any other culpable neglect of duty, with what face could those of our present Committee, who are so loud in their clamours against them, pretend to step into their seats ? Were they chosen for that purpose? No! They were considered as chosen for the purposes already mentioned; and although they consist of a hundred members, they had not two hundred votes. Few people gave themselves, any concern about the election, being well satisfied that any number of respectable citizens who would take the trouble of a Committee of Inspection, should be thankfully indulged with the office. But would this have been the case, had it been imagined that any among them would ever aspire at the powers vested in an Assembly, fairly and constitutionally elected, to represent two or three hundred thousand people? For, whatever may be pretended about the necessity of a Convention, it is certain, that if such a body were to meet, and could succeed in assuming the powers of Government, they must all at length be vested, for the sake of execution, in the hands of a few men, who consider themselves, as leaders in the city of Philadelphia; and the Province in general have but little to say in the matter.

These are very serious and alarming considerations to many; and, therefore, after discussing a certain point of

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equal importance in my second letter, I will proceed in the succeeding ones to inquire into the justice of such complaints as have been made against the Assembly, In some instances, probably, these complaints may appear to be well founded. Where they are so, I shall be ready to confess it; and as perfection is not to be expected in the first hasty essays of any publick bodies, providing for new and unprecedented cases, I doubt not they will readily make such amendments as may appear necessary to themselves, or be suggested by reasonable men. In some instances, I shall show that they deserve publick thanks, for refusing to comply with some requisitions formerly made; and that others are now made, which they cannot assent to, without a manifest violation of our Constitution; such as blending the military and civil power, and giving Field-Officers, who may hold their places for life, the power of determining appeals, and discharging assessments, which is now safely lodged in the constitutional way, with Commissioners chosen by the people.

CATO.


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Cato, to the People of Pennsylvania, No. I: In defence of the Assembly, and against electing a Convention. [1776-03-08] Anonymous. [S4-V5-p0125] [Document Details][Complete Volume]



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