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The Anti-Federalist Papers: Cato V

On this day in 1787, an author writing under the pseudonym “Cato” writes his fifth contribution to the anti-Federalist Papers. These papers argued against the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.

Cato is worried that portions of the Constitution are too vague: Indeed, “inexplicitness seems to pervade this whole political fabric.” He is unimpressed by claims that Americans will always prevent encroachments upon their liberty. “[Y]ou must recollect,” he says, “that opinion and manners are mutable, and may not always be a permanent obstruction against the encroachments of government.”

Americans can’t rely on a “general presumption that rulers will govern well.” To the contrary, they must set limits upon their government if they are to fulfill their obligations to future generations.

Do not assume, Cato concludes, that an American cannot be a tyrant. “Americans are like other men in similar situations . . . great power connected with ambition, luxury, and flattery, will as readily produce a Caesar, Caligula, Nero, and Domitian in America, as the same causes did in the Roman empire.”

Finally, Cato has a (very) long list of grievances about the composition and powers of Congress! Elections should be once every year, not once every two years. Giving each state an equal vote in the Senate is inappropriate. He dislikes the fact that Congress has so much power over the “time, place, and manner of holding elections for representatives.” He thinks it is dangerous to give Congress power to establish a standing army. He dislikes the fact that Congress lacks the power to abolish slavery.

He seems especially upset that the number of representatives is so few. How can such a small number “resist the influence of corruption, and the temptation to treachery, against which all governments ought to take precautions”? He wants a larger number. “[T]he more complete it is,” he concludes, “the better will your interests be preserved, and the greater the opportunity you will have to participate in government, one of the principal securities of a free people.”


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