On this day in 1787, an author writing under the pseudonym “Cato” writes his second 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 his first paper, Cato urged his readers to keep an open mind about the Constitution that had been proposed, but he also urges caution. The new system of government that has been proposed should be carefully assessed so its errors might be corrected.
Now he addresses those who are criticizing anti-Federalists such as himself, especially one written under the pseudonym “Caesar.” The language of Caesar, he says, is insulting to a free people. “[H]e redicules your prerogative, power, and majesty,” Cato declares, “he talks of this proferred constitution as the tender mercy of a benevolent sovereign to deluded subjects. . . . he shuts the door of free deliberation and discussion, and declares, that you must receive this government in manner and form as it is proferred.”
Worst of all, Caesar had implied that Americans could either accept George Washington as their first President or as a military dictator! Cato is incensed. A free people, Cato notes, can and must deliberate freely. Shutting down discussion is an insult to freedom of thought and opinion.
“Is not your indignation roused at this absolute, imperious stile?” Cato blasts. “For what did you open the veins of your citizens and expend their treasure?–For what did you throw off the yoke of Britain and call yourselves independent?–Was it from a disposition fond of change, or to procure new masters?”
Cato urges Americans to stand firm in their right to determine their own path forward. “[I]s the power of thinking, on the only subject important to you, to be taken away? and if per chance you should happen to dissent from Cesar, are you to have Caesar’s principles crammed down your throats with an army?–God forbid!”
This, after all, is the right of a free people. “In democratic republics the people collectively are considered as the sovereign,” Cato concludes, “all legislative, judicial, and executive power, is inherent in and derived from them.”
“[T]o call in dispute, at this time, and in the manner Caesar does,” Cato concludes, “the right of free deliberation on this subject, is like a man’s propounding a question to another, and telling him, at the same time, that if he does not answer agreeable to the opinion of the propounder, he will exert force to make him of the same sentiment.”
Come to the “correct” conclusions on any given subject or your opinion will be silenced. Hmm. Sound familiar?