The Anti-Federalist Papers: Cato I

On this day in 1787, an author writing under the pseudonym “Cato” writes his first contribution to the anti-Federalist Papers. As a whole, these papers argued against the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states. In this particular paper, however, Cato is still keeping an open mind about the Constitution. He urges his readers to do the same—but he also urges them to be very careful. The decision to ratify or not to ratify the Constitution will be the most important one that they will ever make.

After all, if a wrong decision be made, the “ambitious and despotic will entrap you in their toils, and bind you with the cord of power from which you, and your posterity, may never be freed . . . .”

Cato notes just how far Americans have come and how much they have accomplished. The Patriot victory in the American Revolution was “astonishing.” Even more amazingly, Americans moved on from that victory, peacefully setting up a government for themselves. When that government proved inadequate, Americans arranged for a convention to propose something new. Such experiences, Cato observes, are “heretofore unknown in the formation of the governments of the world.” After coming so far, Americans should be extra careful in deliberating their next steps. “Your fate, and that of your posterity, depends on your present conduct,” Cato concludes.

Cato wraps up his letter with one last warning: “Beware of those who wish to influence your passions, and to make you dupes to their resentments and little interests . . . . Attach yourselves to measures, not to men.”

In short? Don’t let your emotions fool you into thinking something is wise when it is not.