London: T. Woodward, J. Walthoe, J. Peele, T. Longman, T. Shewell, C. Hitch, A. Miller & J. Rivington, 1748. Fifth edition, corrected. Small octavo. Four volumes. Bound in full contemporary brown calf with a single blind-stamped border on the covers and blind-stamped tooling on board edges; spine with raised bands and a single gilt-lettered label; wood-engraved initials and headpieces. Large armorial bookplates of The Marquess of Sligo at Westport House, else fine. Item #22
A remarkably bright and well-preserved collection of the essays by Thomas Gordon (1691–1750) and John Trenchard (1662–1723) that, perhaps more than any other written work, influenced the minds of American colonists in the years leading up to the American Revolution. The 144 essays that are contained in the four volumes were originally published by Gordon and Trenchard in the London Journal between 1720 and 1723 under the pseudonym “Cato,” the relentless opponent of Julius Caesar and committed champion of republican principles. This fifth edition collection was published in 1748 and was among the most popular edition read and circulated throughout pre-revolutionary America—and it was the fifth edition that was found in Thomas Jefferson’s library. In addition to being a seminal work of the eighteenth-century Commonwealthmen—an outspoken movement of British reformers and advocates of republicanism—the publication and circulation of the letters among the Thirteen Colonies decisively influenced the American revolutionary movement. As the late historian Clinton Rossiter observed, it was the Cato essays, more than John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, that shaped the American revolutionary mind—a phenomenon reflected in the newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides of pre-war America. For many colonists, the letters’ emphasis on impartial liberty and the freedoms of speech, conscience, and property spoke to their ambitions as colonists; and the letters’ strident opposition to government tyranny gave voice to their grievances against the Crown. Ultimately, the letters’ call for liberty, accountability, and checks on authority would influence the American constitutional order that emerged after the Revolution. Cato’s Letters represent a seminal work of revolutionary America, and their republican emphases continue to be advanced to this day. An uncommonly fine collection of this monumental work of American and British political thought.