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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

How Cato’s Letters Can Help You Decide Who to Vote for Today

Cato’s Letters’ defense of private property—the foundation of liberty—which so powerfully influenced our founding, should accompany us as we vote.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Beginning November 5, 1720, Cato’s Letters appeared in the London Journal. Cato—pseudonym for John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon—set out “to maintain and expose the glorious principles of liberty, and to expose the arts of those who would darken or destroy them.”

Collections of Cato’s Letters, reflecting the ideas of John Locke, were widely circulated, admired, and cited in England and the colonies, and they provided common ground and expression for colonists’ claims that England was refusing them their rights. Cato’s Letters’ defense of private property—the foundation of liberty—which so powerfully influenced our founding, should accompany us as we vote.

“The sole end of men’s entering into political societies was mutual protection and defense; and whatever power does not contribute to those purposes is not government, but usurpation.”

“The people…the security of their persons and property is their highest aim.”

“Preservation of [property] is the principal business of government.”

“If the people are suffered to keep their own, it is the most that they desire: But…they are frequently robbed by those whom they pay to protect them.”

“As the preservation of property is the source of national happiness, whoever violates property, or lessens or endangers it…is an enemy.”

“Every plowman knows a good government from a bad one…whether the fruits of his labor be his own, and whether he enjoy them in peace and security.”

“Nor could any man…have a right to violate the property of another…No man therefore could transfer to the magistrate that right which he had not himself.”

“The fruits of a man’s honest industry are the just rewards…as is his title to use them in the manner which he thinks fit…no man living can divest him but by usurpation, or by his own consent.”

“Every man is in nature and reason the judge and disposer of his own domestic affairs …Government being intended to protect men from the injuries of one another, and not to direct them in their own affairs.”

“Let people alone, and they will take care of themselves, and do it best…without the magistrate’s interposition and penalties.”

“The privileges of…doing what we please, and of growing rich as we can, without any other restriction, other than that by all this we hurt not the public, nor one another, are the glorious privileges of liberty; and its effects, to live in freedom, plenty, and safety.”

“The property of the poor will be as sacred as the privileges of the prince…Every man’s honest industry and useful talents, while they are employed for the public, will be employed for himself.”

“Where there is liberty…people labor for themselves, and no one can take from them the acquisitions which they make by their labor.”

“To live securely, happily, and independently, is the end and effect of liberty…property is the best support of that independency.”

“Chose whether you will be freemen or vassals; whether you will spend your own money and estates, or let others worse than you spend them for you.”

“Dominion will always desire increase, and property always to preserve itself…by this struggle liberty is preserved.”

“To prevent the unfair gains and depredations of one another…is indeed the business of the government; viz. to secure to every one his own.”

“The first care which wise governors will always take is…to secure to [citizens] the possession of their property, upon which everything else depends.”

Cato’s Letters reflected John Locke’s ideas of natural rights that were, in turn, reflected in America’s founding. As we enter the voting booth the day after the anniversary of its first installment, we should take its commitment to liberty, and therefore private property, which alone can secure it, with us.

  • Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network.

    In addition to his new book, Pathways to Policy Failures (2020), his books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014), and Apostle of Peace (2013).