Constitution Sunday: Cato III

Cato III

New York Journal, October 25, 1787

Following are excerpts from Cato III’s article in the New York Journal:

“The governments of Europe have taken their limits and form from adventitious circumstances, and nothing can be argued on the motive of agreement from them; but these adventitious political principles, have nevertheless produced effects that have attracted the attention of philosophy, which has established axioms in the science of politics therefrom, as irrefragable as any in Euclid. It is natural, says Montesquieu, to a republic to have only a small territory, otherwise it cannot long subsist: in a large one, there are men of large fortunes, and consequently of less moderation; there are too great deposits to intrust in the hands of a single subject, an ambitious person soon becomes sensible that he may be happy, great, and glorious by oppressing his fellow citizens, and that he might raise himself to grandeur, on the ruins of his country. In large republics, the public good is sacrificed to a thousand views; in a small one the interest of the public is easily perceived, better understood, and more within the reach of every citizen; abuses have a less extent, and of course are less protected—he also shews you, that the duration of the republic of Sparta, was owing to its having continued with the same extent of territory after all its wars; and that the ambition of Athens and Lacedemon to command and direct th eunion, lost from their liberties, and gave them a monarchy.”

The author, who used the pen name Cato, sought to explain why America must remain a small republic. If it was large, it would inevitably fail just as other large republics had failed. Interestingly, Cato theorized that larger republics were more prone to have men of large fortunes, less moderation, and a concentration of power in one subject. It is difficult to see a basis for this being a universal rule.

Regardless, Cato was advocating for what many Anti-Federalists felt at the time: a large, expansive government only presented more problems than a small, austere republic. Cato also argued that a large republic would lead to the majority drowning out the voice of the minority. As a general matter, this was a legitimate concern, particularly as early Americans were principally concerned with preventing and stopping any semblance of tyranny or monarchy. While Cato may have been satisfied that the American republic was not as extensive as the British Empire at that time, he would have been disconcerted by the rate at which America would expand in the coming decades. While some would see that as increasing the prosperity of the country, Cato would interpret it as spelling doom for America.

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