A Liberal Republican “Cato”


  • Annie Mitchell

  • The author thanks anonymous reviewers for useful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Annie Mitchell earned her Ph.D. in history of political thought from University College London and is currently working as an independent scholar (anniecmitchell@yahoo.co.uk).


In recent years the polarized debate surrounding the relative influence of the liberal and classical republican traditions on the political thought of the Founding Fathers has abated somewhat. Trenchard and Gordon'sCato's Letters, however, seen predominantly as a classical republican text, continues to be misread, resulting in a misinterpretation of the way in which it may have been read by the Revolutionary era generation. This article presents, evaluates, and subsequently rejects the arguments in favor of viewing the work of Trenchard and Gordon within the framework of either a classical republican or a neo-roman tradition. It argues instead that the authors fall squarely within a liberal republican tradition, embracing Locke, Mandeville, Hume, and Smith and suggests that it was in this vein that they were read by the Founding Fathers.