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CATO, A TRAGEDY

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Compiled by Jim Moyer 2/19/2019, updated 2/19/2020, 2/21/2020

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Statue of Cato the Younger in the Louvre Museum. He is about to kill himself while reading the Phaedo, a dialogue of Plato which describes the death of Socrates. The statue was begun by Jean-Baptiste Roman (Paris, 1792–1835) using white Carrara marble. It was finished by François Rude (Dijon, 1784 – Paris, 1855).

Roman history has influenced our founders.

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But it is this play that brought Roman history alive to the elite and to the masses.

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This play heavily influenced

George Washington

in the days of the

French and Indian War,

long before the

War for Independence

from England.

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This play, Cato A Tragedy, by Addison easily had a popular run

for over a 100 years.

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Our founders

remembered

lines from this play

like they knew the Bible.

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Like a writer on a deserted island sending a letter in a bottle out to a great sea,  not knowing who will read it,  so too was Addison  to Washington.

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CATO, A TRAGEDY –

THIS PLAY’S INFLUENCE ON

GEORGE WASHINGTON


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Read what is considered the most profoundly influential play of more than a century. Touch or Click to enlarge. See link to read this play.

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Cato, a Tragedy 

is a play written by Joseph Addison in 1712, first performed 14 April 1713.

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This is about Cato the Younger (95-46 BC), particularly his last days, facing suicide.

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The themes are of a  Stoic 

facing the tyranny of Julius Caesar,

debating logic vs emotion,

debating republicanism vs monarchy,

holding strong under pressure,

arguing the dilemna of suicide.

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Prologue to this play is by Alexander Pope and an epilogue by Samuel Garth.

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Here are the 5 acts of the play itself.

Here is another and better link to the play itself.

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Frederick County VA

connection

to this play


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Portrait of Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751) by Jean-Etienne Liotard, Turkish in 1754, three years after Frederick’s death in 1751. A pastel on vellum.

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Frederick, Prince of Wales had this play performed at Leicester House on 4 January 1749.

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Frederick County Virginia is named after this Frederick, Prince of Wales.  And Leicester is a street in Winchester VA.

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Frederick was the first son and was to succeed King George II, but he dies from complications stemming from playing Cricket.

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Frederick’s son who is  King George II‘s grandson then succeeds to the throne.

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“The cast featured four of Frederick’s children, including the future George III, who spoke a specially-written prologue, which included the line “What, tho’ a boy? it may with pride be said / A boy in England born, in England bred”  to contrast to George II’s German birthplace[1].”  – per wikipedia.

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Famous Quotes

And Influence


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Patrick Henry

“Give me Liberty or give me death!”

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Read the play here. Touch or Click to Enlarge.

This quote was actually popularized by William Wirt,  who probably knew very well the play, Cato, A Tragedy.

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Incidentally, we have William Wirt’s Skull.

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Wirt  interviewed Judge St. George Tucker who heard the actual speech of Patrick Henry.

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Tucker’s son Henry St. George Tucker Sr. ran the state’s biggest law school in Virginia in Winchester VA.

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In Addison’s Cato, A Tragedy, see Act II, Scene 4:

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“It is not now

time to talk of

aught But chains

or conquest,

liberty or death.”

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It is no longer time to talk of anything else, but “chains or conquest, liberty or death.”

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Jon Kukla in his Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty alleges “Henry plunged an ivory letter opener towards his chest in imitation of the Roman patriot Cato the Younger. “

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Nathan Hale

“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

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See the story on this quote.

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In Addison’s Cato, A Tragedy, see  Act IV, Scene 4: “What a pity it is / That we can die but once to serve our country.”

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George Washington

In 1775 GW wrote to Benedict Arnold

to commend his heroism in the ill-fated Quebec expedition:

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“It is not in the power of any man to command success; but you have done more—you have deserved it.”

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In Act 1, scene 2, Cato’s son says, “’Tis not in mortals to command success. But we’ll do more, Sempronius, we’ll deserve it.”

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Thomas Jefferson

About the Jay Treaty

Thomas Jefferson wrote to Madison 27 March 1796:

‘ I wish that his honesty and his political errors may not furnish a second occasion to exclaim ‘curse on his virtues, they’ve undone his country.’2

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He quoted a famous line from Joseph Addison’s Cato, Washington’s favorite play, and applied it to
Washington himself: ‘a curse on his virtues, they have undone his country.’”  which is Act IV Scene IV.

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Cato said this of Julius Ceasar.  Thus Jefferson was likening Washington to the first Ceasar – Julius Ceasar. This was only modified by the first part of Jefferson’s sentence,  I wish that his honesty…”

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Source of Jefferson Letter:

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-16-02-0185

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More analysis on Jefferson’s quote of Cato:

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Lucius, a fellow senator, is urging Cato to submit to Caesar and not lay down his life because Cato is such a valuable man to all of society. The full exchange is as follows: 

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Lucius – “The Victor never will impose on Cato ungenerous terms. His Enemies confess the virtues of humanity are Casar’s.”

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Cato – “Curse on his virtues! they’ve undone his Country. Such popular humanity is Treason.” 15

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So Jefferson is really equating Washington with Caesar, a dictator who ruined the Roman republic. It is a very harsh, but literary, criticism that would be naked to the present-day eye untrained to the Addison’s play.

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Source:

http://www.georgewashingtonmythsymbolandreality.org/Gubera.pdf

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John Philip Kemble (1 February 1757 – 26 February 1823) is the actor portraying Cato. Picture painted 1812.

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Edmund Burke

In his Letter to Charles-Jean-Francois Depont,  and expanded the following year into Reflections on the Revolution in France:

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“The French may be yet to go through more trans-migrations. They may pass, as one of our poets says, ‘through many varieties of untried being,’ before their state obtains its final form.”

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The poet in reference is, of course, Addison and the passage Burke quoted is from Cato (V.i. II): “Through what variety of untried being,/Through what new scenes and changes must we pass!”[1].

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Benjamin Franklin

as a young and aspiring writer, committed long passages from it to memory and then attempted to write them out, in hopes that Addison’s writing style would rub off on him.  See Source.

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Silver denarius of Cato 47/46 BCE, minted under his opponent, Julius Ceasar the year he allegedly died.  Source is wikipedia. Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (/ˈkeɪtoʊ/; 95 BC – April 46 BC), The Uticensis means the city of Uitica.

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George Washington

This quote is found often in his writing.

One of Cato’s most quoted sentiments was “‘When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,’ the post of honor is a private station.”   – Act IV Scene IV of Cato, A Tragedy.

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A common Stoic idea; compare Spectator 219. Washington quoted that thought to  David Humphreys (June 12, 1796) and to Thomas Pickering (July 27, 1795), and to Alexander Hamilton in 1796 opening the correspondence through which the two wrote the renowned Farewell Address.

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It is A common Stoic idea; compare Spectator 219, also written by AddisonSaturday, November 10, 1711.

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Allegedly At Valley Forge, he had THE PLAY performed for his troops to inspire them … despite a congress condemning stage performances as contrary to republican principles.   We could find no other source to confirm this claim except this Source: Stanley Elkins & Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800, p. 48.

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Vice President George Clinton

To both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Twentieth-century historian Herbert Storing identifies Clinton as “Cato”, thpseudonymous author of the Anti-Federalist essays which appeared in New York newspapers during the ratification debates. However, the authorship of the essays is disputed.   Source – wikipedia.

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Charles Thomson,

a Patriot leader from Pennsylvania whom John Adams once described as “the Sam  Adams  of Philadelphia,” paraphrased a passage from Cato in a letter to Benjamin Franklin about Parliament’s violations of the freedoms of the colonists.  – Source wikipedia.

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Thomson wrote, “I am ready to ask with the poet [referring to Joseph Addison] ‘Are there not some chosen thunders in the stores of heaven armed with uncommon wrath to blast those Men, who by their cursed schemes of policy are dragging friends and brothers into the horrors of civil War and involving their country in ruin?’ Even yet the wounds may be healed and peace and love restored; But we are on the very edge of the precipice.” Thomson paraphrased Cato Act I: Scene 1 Verses:21 – 24.

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  • Oh, Portius! is there not some chosen curse,

  • Some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven,

  • Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the man

  • Who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin?

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That last line, “Who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin?”  you will see often quoted.

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Countless examples are available.

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Here are the 5 acts of the play itself.

Here is another and better link to the play itself.

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Popularity


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You would be looking at over a 100 years of influence and of performances.

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They would far outnumber any Broadway Play.

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The actor John Kemble in the role of Cato in Addison’s play, which he revived at Covent Garden in 1816, drawn by George Cruikshank. – source is wikipedia

The Virginia Gazette for September 10, 1736, contained this advertisement:

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This evening will be performed at the Theatre

by the young gentlemen of the College 

[William and Mary College]

the Tragedy of Cato,

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and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday will be acted the following comedies by the young Gentlemen and Ladies of the country–The Busybody,  and The Recruiting Officer and The Beaux Stratagem.

A contemporary letter written September 17, 1736, only a week after the above advertisement appeared in the Virginia Gazette seems to point conclusively to this being the case. One Colonel Thomas Jones writes to his wife in the country:

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You may tell Betty Pratt there has been but two plays acted since she went, which is Cato, by the Young Gentlemen of the College, as they call themselves, and The Busybody by the Company on Wednesday night last, and I believe there will be another to Night …

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Source:

http://www.theatrehistory.com/american/hornblow01.html

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We don’t have proof the play Cato, The Tragedy was performed here.  But we include this tavern holding plays because it was during Washington’s time and in the area of his travels.

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What is Washington doing

when he writes the letter

referring to this play

in 1758 ?


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Multi Tasking

Colonel George Washington is multi tasking.

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He is still monitoring the construction of Fort Loudoun 1756-1758 in Winchester VA.

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He runs for election and wins.

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In July 24, 1758 GW wins election to represent the Winchester area.

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He is doing all this while at Fort Cumberland, preparing for the Forbes Expedition.

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Soon he is at Ray’s Town  (spelled also as Rae’s Town and later known as Fort Bedford) on this Forbes Expedition.

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While there he writes a letter to Sally Cary Fairfax.

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In that letter are references to the play written by Addison.  This play, Cato, A Tragedy, has a popularity that lasts almost a century.

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The famous quotes by the heroes of the War for Independence really originate from this play.

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Twenty some years before the Revolution, George Washington refers to this play in his letter to “Sally” Sarah Cary Fairfax.

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About Sally


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Source unknown

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Sally is her nickname for Sara.

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You will see many references to her as Sally Fairfax.

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Her name is  Sarah Cary Fairfax.

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See all correspondence between George Washington and Sarah Cary Fairfax.

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She is wife to George William Fairfax.

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Washington’s letter itself,

referring to the play,

Cato, A Tragedy


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Colonel Washington gives an account of Grant’s attack and loss at the hill overlooking Fort Duquesne.  And mentions William Henry Fairfax, the husband of “Sally” Sara Cary Fairfax, in his escaping any injury in the Seige of Fortress Louisbourg.

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We skip those references for now, to concentrate on  Colonel Washington’s references to the play.

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Apparently Colonel George Washington saw the play and read the play that included the love scenes. This 1764 edition sells itself as a version without the Love Scenes. Touch or Click to Enlarge.

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To Sarah Cary Fairfax

Camp at Rays Town 25th Septr 1758

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I shoud th⟨ink⟩ my time more agreable spent believe me, in playing a part in Cato with the Company you mention, & myself doubly happy in being the Juba to such a Marcia as you must make.

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In the play, Marcia was the daughter of Cato, and Juba was the Prince of Numidia who had to hide his unacceptable love for Marcia.

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Source:

http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-06-02-0033

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Founders Online Footnote

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5Joseph Addison’s Cato, a tragedy in five acts written in blank verse and first performed at Drury Lane in 1713, was greatly admired in Britain’s American colonies before the Revolution. Marcia was the daughter of Cato, and Juba was the Prince of Numidia who had to hide his unacceptable love for Marcia. Marcia and Juba have two scenes together in the play. In the first (act 1, scene 5) Marcia sends Juba to war against Caesar, and in the second (act 4, scene 3) Marcia, believing Juba to be dead, declares her love for him in his hearing. In the first of these scenes, Juba at one point says:

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O Marcia, let me hope thy kind Concerns

And gentle Wishes follow me to Battle!

The Thought will give new Vigour to my Arms,

Add Strength and Weight to my descending Sword,

And drive it in a Tempest on the Foe.

And he ends his final speech in the second of these scenes with this couplet:

Juba will never at his Fate repine;

Let Cæsar have the World, if Marcia’s mine.

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The quotation is taken from a 1750 edition printed in London.

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Source:

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-06-02-0033#GEWN-02-06-02-0033-fn-0005

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A side note

Colonel Washington references another Fairfax family member.

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At the same time in July 1758 Colonel George Washington wins his election, a William Henry Fairfax ,  is participating in the successful reduction of Fortress Louisbourg.

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 William Henry Fairfax , is the son of George William Fairfax’s father’s 2nd wife.  

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Many streets of Winchester are named after the heroes of this Seige of Fortress Louisbourg.

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James Wood applies to the House of Burgesses to name these streets after these heroes of July in September 1758, around the same time GW writes this letter to Sally Fairfax referencing one of the Fairfaxes in that battle.

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William Henry Fairfax held a commission in Col. Philip Bragg’s 28th Regiment of Foot, which took part in the Cape Breton operation of this Seige of Fortress Louisbourg.   Lt William Henry “Billy” Fairfax died of wounds in the battle of Quebec in fall 1759. 

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One Lesson of this play


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Act II Scene II of the play, Cato, A Tragedy by Addison.

No Hope

At first blush, Cato would scarcely seem to offer much consolation to Americans in their efforts to establish a durable republic.

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The story recounts Cato’s noble but vain efforts to save the remnants of the Roman republican Senate from the usurping arms of the all-conquering Caesar, “who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin.”

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In the end, Cato commits suicide, and the republic perishes as well.

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Hope

Yet one of the subplots of the drama offered a ray of hope, at least for the more sanguine of the founders, for it provided a means of escaping a dilemma.

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Both classical and modern theorists of republics held that their actuating principle was public virtue—virtue in the sense of selfless, full-time, manly devotion to the public weal.

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Many Americans had been governed by such public spiritedness during the war and made great sacrifices for the cause of independence, but in normal times people were too individualistic and too avaricious to sustain that level of commitment.

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Original Sin

Besides, Americans believed in original sin, which in eighteenth-century terms meant that they believed men were driven by their “passions”—drives for self-gratification—and that the “ruling” passions of most public men were ambition and avarice, the love of power and the love of money.

Source:

https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/addison-cato-a-tragedy-and-selected-essays

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Notes

for later followup


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Resignation

Washington’s ‘Circular to the State Governments,’ Newburgh, June 8, 1783:

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“…it is yet to be decided, whether the Revolution must ultimately be  considered as a blessing or a curse…not to the present age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn Millions be involved.” 

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https://www.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/gna/Quellensammlung/02/02_circulartothestates_1783.htm

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Newburgh Mutiny

1783, when Washington’s officers at Newburgh, New York, threatened to mutiny—as Cato’s troops had done in the play— Washington appeared before them giving this speech, called the Newburgh Address.  \

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See Act III Scene V.

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One Version of the Reaction:

There before them stood their bespectacled and still beloved commander. He had suffered right along side them and like Cato, the renowned Roman hero so much admired by American republicans, he refused to sacrifice virtue and propriety on the altar of personal attainment. The same could not be said of Gates and the other co-conspirators, willing to wring power from the pain and frustration of the soldiers.

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Source:

https://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/history/item/17859-the-ides-of-march-george-washington-and-the-newburgh-conspiracy

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Another version of the reaction:

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Post-note: This speech was not very well received by his men. Washington then took out a letter from a member of Congress explaining the financial difficulties of the government.

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After reading a portion of the letter with his eyes squinting at the small writing, Washington suddenly stopped. His officers stared at him, wondering. Washington then reached into his coat pocket and took out a pair of reading glasses. Few of them knew he wore glasses, and were surprised.

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“Gentlemen,” said Washington, “you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

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In that single moment of sheer vulnerability, Washington’s men were deeply moved, even shamed, and many were quickly in tears, now looking with great affection at this aging man who had led them through so much. Washington read the remainder of the letter, then left without saying another word, realizing their sentiments.

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His officers then cast a unanimous vote, essentially agreeing to the rule of Congress. Thus, the civilian government was preserved and the experiment of democracy in America continued.

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Source:

https://www.historyplace.com/speeches/washington.htm

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Theatre before and after George Washington’s time in VA

13181 Hanover Courthouse Road Hanover, Virginia 23069

longitude latitude 37.76244, -77.36748

Navigate Google Car around parking lot to theartre to the right of this starting view.

https://goo.gl/maps/9vjE1VuFyRK2

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History

The Tavern is one of the oldest taverns in the United States. The first tavern was licensed at the site beginning in 1733. When the Tavern was purchased by the editor of the Virginia Gazette in 1743, it was part of the plantation grounds at the courthouse, and it went on to serve as lodgings to those with appointments before the court.

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Patrick Henry’s father-in-law purchased the tavern in 1750, and Patrick Henry lived at the Tavern for several years. Other memorable visitors include George Washington, Lord Cornwallis, Chief Justice John Marshall, and Edgar Allen Poe. Several slaves from the Tavern took part in Gabriel’s Great Slave Rebellion of 1800.

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In 1953, six actors from New York moved into what had become a historic ruin, and founded Central Virginia’s first professional theatre, Barksdale Theatre. During the first six years, four of the original founders moved on, leaving Pete Kilgore, Muriel McAuley and newcomer (and newly-wed) Nancy Kilgore in charge. They produced Greater Richmond’s first professional productions of plays by Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, George Bernard Shaw, Noel Coward, Thornton Wilder, William Inge and Edward Albee.

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http://va-rep.org/hanover_tavern.html

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Cato: A Tragedy, and Selected Essays – Joseph Addison 1712

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http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/addison-cato-a-tragedy-and-selected-essays

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cato,_a_Tragedy

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_longest-running_Broadway_shows

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barton_Booth

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The Virginia Gazette for September 10, 1736, contained this advertisement:

This evening will be performed at the Theatre by the young gentlemen of the College the Tragedy of Cato, and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday will be acted the following comedies by the young Gentlemen and Ladies of the country–The Busybody, [14] and The Recruiting Officer and The Beaux Stratagem. [15]

A contemporary letter written September 17, 1736, only a week after the above advertisement appeared in the Virginia Gazette seems to point conclusively to this being the case. One Colonel Thomas Jones [16] writes to his wife in the country:

You may tell Betty Pratt there has been but two plays acted since she went, which is Cato, by the Young Gentlemen of the College, as they call themselves, and The Busybody by the Company on Wednesday night last, and I believe there will be another to Night …

http://www.theatrehistory.com/american/hornblow01.html

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add this place to map

http://www.wohlfahrthaus.com/history.html

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Addison

During this period, Addison began his career as a popular essayist, ultimately becoming the acknowledged master of what was then a relatively new form. He contributed to the Whig Examiner (1710), which responded to the Tory paper Examiner, and worked with his boyhood friend Richard Steele on the Tatler (1709–11). From there, Addison and Steele joined forces on the paper that truly cemented [xiii] Addison’s reputation, the Spectator (1711–1712, 1714). After his run with the Spectator, Addison penned the final act to the four acts he had already written for Cato, A Tragedy; during Cato’s initial London staging, Addison continued producing essays, working with Steele on the Guardian (1713) and composing several pieces that dealt explicitly with themes from Cato. Addison struck out on his own for the Freeholder (1715–16) essays, which took a decidedly more political tone. His last set of essays, in The Old Whig (1718), was marred by a personal break with his longtime collaborator Steele over matters of public policy. Addison was a prolific author; in addition to his coffeehouse essays and Cato, he composed poetry in both Latin and English, hymns, an opera, another play, literary criticism, and a variety of translations of classical authors. Joseph Addison died in 1719 at the age of 47.

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Addison was born into a world that had recently witnessed the tumult of the English Civil War and the beheading of Charles I, followed by Cromwell’s Puritan commonwealth. Britain’s political instability continued in Addison’s early life, with the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which another king—James II—was forced by Parliament to flee the country. The mature Addison’s writing career spanned the period of British history marked by the conclusion of Queen Anne’s reign in 1714 and the inauguration of the Hanoverian succession. This was a time of political upheaval and uncertainty, filled with resistance and uprisings by Jacobites who retained loyalty to the Stuart family line. Disturbances of this nature were a challenge to the very legitimacy of the Hanoverian succession. These years were characterized by intense factional conflict between Whigs and Tories over political control, with 1710–14 being the final years of Tory control before the extended period of Whig dominance that began with the accession of George I to the throne in 1714

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Addison himself was politically associated with the Whigs, yet Cato is remarkable for the manner in which both Whigs and Tories embraced it as sympathetic to their causes; leaders of both parties were present at the opening performance, and Alexander Pope’s account of the premiere describes Whigs and Tories competing to appropriate the play to their own causes.

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During the [xiv] first performance, Whigs loudly applauded each mention of “liberty,” and between acts, the Tory Bolingbroke publicly gave Barton Booth—the actor who played Cato—fifty guineas, for defending the cause of liberty against a perpetual dictator.

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That Addison himself wanted the message of the play to transcend party politics can be seen in his commissioning a Tory, Pope, to write the play’s Prologue and a Whig, Sir Samuel Garth, to compose the Epilogue.

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Addison’s Cato, A Tragedy is based on the final days of Cato the Younger (95–46 b.c.), also known as Cato of Utica. Cato the Younger was one member of a patrician family who were historically strong supporters of Roman republicanism and traditions.

Most noteworthy among his ancestors was his great-grandfather, Cato the Elder or Cato the Censor (234–149 b.c.), famous for his oft-repeated refrain of “Carthago delenda est” (“Carthage must be destroyed”) and for upholding a simple life of agrarian virtue.

Like his great-grandfather, Cato the Younger epitomized a commitment both to liberty and to the republic, and he came to exemplify virtue in late Roman republican politics. Cato’s reputation for stern virtue and unwavering principle was widely known.

“It is said of Cato,” wrote Plutarch in his Life of Cato the Younger, “that even from his infancy, in his speech, his countenance, and all his childish pastimes, he discovered an inflexible temper, unmoved by any passion, and firm in everything . . . to go through with what he undertook.” The mature Cato was also known for his austerity in personal habits, eating simply and frequently refusing to wear a tunic under his toga or to wear shoes. He was widely regarded as the embodiment of the Stoic virtues of self-control and stern discipline, as well as an inflexible adherent to principles of justice.

According to Sallust, Cato “preferred to be, rather than to seem, virtuous; hence, the less he sought fame, the more it pursued him” (The War with Catiline, LIV.6).

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Sunday Word

CATO

Some scholars, including historian David McCullough—author of 1776—believe that several famous quotations from the American Revolution came from, or were inspired by, Cato. These include:

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Patrick Henry‘s famous ultimatum: “Give me Liberty or give me death!”

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(Supposed reference to Act II, Scene 4: “It is not now time to talk of aught/But chains or conquest, liberty or death.”)

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Nathan Hale‘s valediction: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

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(Supposed reference to Act IV, Scene 4: “What a pity it is/That we can die but once to serve our country.”).

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Washington’s praise for Benedict Arnold in a letter to him: “It is not in the power of any man to command success; but you have done more—you have deserved it.”

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(Clear reference to Act I, Scene 2: “‘Tis not in mortals to command success; but we’ll do more, Sempronius, we’ll deserve it.”).

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Not long after the American Revolution, Edmund Burke quotes the play as well in his Letter to Charles-Jean-Francois Depont, expanded the following year into Reflections on the Revolution in France: “The French may be yet to go through more transmigrations. They may pass, as one of our poets says, ‘through many varieties of untried being,’ before their state obtains its final form.” The poet in reference is, of course, Addison and the passage Burke quoted is from Cato (V.i. II): “Through what variety of untried being,/Through what new scenes and changes must we pass!”[1]

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The actor John Kemble in the role of Cato in Addison’s play, which he revived at Covent Garden in 1816, drawn by George Cruikshank.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cato,_a_Tragedy

That most of the founding generation read it or saw it or both is unquestionable, and that it stuck in their memories is abundantly evident.

Benjamin Franklin, as a young and aspiring writer, committed long passages from it to memory and then attempted to write them out, in hopes that Addison’s writing style would rub off on him.

Mercy Otis Warren based her own play, “The Sack of Rome,” directly on Cato.

Patrick Henry adapted his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech directly from lines in Cato.

Nathan Hale’s celebrated last words, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” echoes a remark by Cato, “What a pity it is that we can die but once to save our country.”http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229

Cato was the favorite play of George Washington, who saw it many times and quoted or paraphrased lines from it in his correspondence over the course of four decades.

The first known occasion when he cited it was when he identified himself with one of its characters in a letter to Mrs. George William Fairfax in 1758.

In 1775 he wrote to Benedict Arnold to commend his heroism in the ill-fated Quebec expedition: “It is not in the power of any man to command success; but you have done more—you have deserved it.” In Act 1, scene 2, Cato’s son says, “’Tis not in mortals to command success. But we’ll do more, Sempronius, we’ll deserve it.”

One of Cato’s most quoted sentiments was “‘When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,’ the post of honor is a private station.” Washington expressed that thought on numerous occasions, including the letter he wrote to Alexander Hamilton in 1796 opening the correspondence through which the two wrote the renowned Farewell Address.http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229

Introductory Note: To George Washington, [10 May 1796]

Introductory Note: To George Washington

[New York, May 10, 1796]

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-20-02-0105-0001

(No. 125) Against Factions and “the Malice of Parties”

https://spectator300.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/no-125-against-factions-and-furious-party-spirit/

The Spectator, Volumes 1, 2 and 3 by Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12030?msg=welcome_stranger#section125

When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,’ the post of honor is a private station.”

https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004798045.0001.000/60:8.1?page=root;size=100;view=text

http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/mcdonald-on-washington-s-favorite-play-cato

he had written an influential essay on “the Malice of Parties.” It’s worth quoting at length: “There cannot a greater judgment befall a country than a dreadful spirit of division as rends a government into two distinct people, and makes them greater strangers, and more averse to one another, than if they were actually two different nations.

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/01/washingtons-farewell-address-warned-us-about-hyper-partisanship-214616

http://www.constitution.org/addison/cato_play.htm

The post of honor is a private station.

https://www.enotes.com/topics/cato/quotes/post-honor-private-station

The impact of the play upon Washington and others is illustrated by the fact that, during the dreadful winter at Valley Forge, he had it performed for his troops to inspire them with determination, despite a congressional resolution condemning stage performances as contrary to republican principles.

Moreover, in 1783, when his officers encamped at Newburgh, New York, threatened to mutiny—as Cato’s troops had done in the play—Washington appeared before them and quite self-consciously shamed them into abandoning the enterprise essentially by rehashing Cato’s speech.

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At first blush, Cato would scarcely seem to offer much consolation to Americans in their efforts to establish a durable republic. The story recounts Cato’s noble but vain efforts to save the remnants of the Roman republican Senate from the usurping arms of the all-conquering Caesar, “who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin.” In the end, Cato commits suicide, and the republic perishes as well.http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229

Yet one of the subplots of the drama offered a ray of hope, at least for the more sanguine of the founders, for it provided a means of escaping a dilemma. Both classical and modern theorists of republics held that their actuating principle was public virtue—virtue in the sense of selfless, full-time, manly devotion to the public weal. Many Americans had been governed by such public spiritedness during the war and made great sacrifices for the cause of independence, but in normal times people were too individualistic and too avaricious to sustain that level of commitment. Besides, Americans believed in original sin, which in eighteenth-century terms meant that they believed men were driven by their “passions”—drives for self-gratification—and that the “ruling” passions of most public men were ambition and avarice, the love of power and the love of money.http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229

One of the characters in Cato provides a way around that human frailty. Juba, a young Numidian in Cato’s camp (who incidentally was the character with whom Washington identified in his early letter), is concerned that he may have incurred Cato’s displeasure by being preoccupied with his love of Cato’s daughter at such an inappropriate time. He says, “I’d rather have that man approve my deeds, than worlds for my admirers.” Just before, he had recited what were famous lines about honor, “the noble mind’s distinguishing perfection / that aids and strengthens virtue where it meets her, / and imitates her actions, where she is not.” Honor in these verses is a substitute for virtue: a preoccupation with earning “the esteem of wise and good men.” Addison thought the point so important that he wrote an essay in The Guardian explaining and elaborating it. Genuine virtue, he declared, was exceedingly rare, but all could aspire to honor. To put it differently, Addison, through Juba, advises people to follow the opposite course from what Shakespeare’s Polonius recommends in Hamlet. Polonius says to his son Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, [x] thou canst not then be false to any man.” Shakespeare put the words in the mouth of a prattling fool, and Addison tells us that they are indeed foolish words. Rather, he says, be true to the wise and the virtuous, and then thou cannot be false to thyself.http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229

In his public life, Washington followed Addison’s advice, and so did Hamilton, and so did a host of other founders; and in the doing they overcame their private shortcomings and behaved virtuously enough in public to establish a regime of liberty that would perdure.

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http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/addison-cato-a-tragedy-and-selected-essays

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To Sarah Cary Fairfax

Camp at Rays Town 25th Septr 1758

I shoud th⟨ink⟩ my time more agreable spent believe me, in playing a part in Cato with the Company you mention, & myself doubly happy in being the Juba to such a Marcia as you must make.5

  1. 5. Joseph Addison’s Cato, a tragedy in five acts written in blank verse and first performed at Drury Lane in 1713, was greatly admired in Britain’s American colonies before the Revolution. Marcia was the daughter of Cato, and Juba was the Prince of Numidia who had to hide his unacceptable love for Marcia. Marcia and Juba have two scenes together in the play. In the first (act 1, scene 5) Marcia sends Juba to war against Caesar, and in the second (act 4, scene 3) Marcia, believing Juba to be dead, declares her love for him in his hearing. In the first of these scenes, Juba at one point says:

O Marcia, let me hope thy kind Concerns

And gentle Wishes follow me to Battle!

The Thought will give new Vigour to my Arms,

Add Strength and Weight to my descending Sword,

And drive it in a Tempest on the Foe.

And he ends his final speech in the second of these scenes with this couplet:

Juba will never at his Fate repine;

Let Cæsar have the World, if Marcia’s mine.

The quotation is taken from a 1750 edition printed in London.

  1. 6. As it happened, Hannah Fairfax (1742–1804) married, in 1764, GW’s first cousin Warner Washington (1722–1790), not Lord Fairfax’s nephew Thomas Bryan Martin. Elizabeth Cary did become a Fairfax when she married Bryan Fairfax the next year. Nancy Gist did not marry Capt. Thomas Cocke of GW’s regiment or anyone else, but in 1759 after the death of her father, Christopher Gist, she left Belvoir where she had been living with the Fairfaxes and went to live with one of her brothers.

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http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-06-02-0033

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THE FIRST AMERICAN THEATRE
This document was written by Arthur Hornblow and originally published in A History of the Theatre in America, Vol. 1. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1919. pp. 21-40.
The history of the theatre in America begins early in the Eighteenth Century, about the time the first rumblings were heard of the storm which was to break the ties still holding the Colonies to the mother country.William Dunlap, the earliest historian of the American stage, tells us that the drama was first introduced in this country by the Hallams in the year 1752 when they brought over a company from London and presented The Merchant of Venice at Williamsburg, then the capital of Virginia, in a building arranged for that purpose. “This,” says Dunlap, “was the first theatre opened in America by a company of regular comedians.” This singularly misleading statement is perhaps the most conspicuous of a number of similar erroneous assertions which mar an otherwise valuable and interesting work. [1] Dunlap ignored or was uninformed of a number of well authenticated dramatic performances which had been given in different parts of the Colonies many years before the arrival of the Hallams. Apparently, he knew nothing of the theatre built in Williamsburg, VA., in 1716. He had no knowledge of the theatre opened in New York in 1732. He makes no mention of the opening of the Playhouse in Dock Street, Charleston, S.C., in 1736. [2] He had never heard of Thomas Kean who acted Richard III at the First Nassau Street Theatre, New York, March 5, 1750.Even so careful an historian as Joseph N. Ireland falls into the error of taking it for granted that no earlier records existed because he had not happened to stumble upon them. In his Records of the New York Stage, [3] referring to an advertisement in Bradford’s Gazette of October, 1733, which mentions George Talbot’s store as being “next door to the Playhouse,” he says, “No other reference has been found respecting it (the Playhouse) and any conjecture as to its proprietors, its performers, or the plays presented therein would be vain and fruitless.”How little “vain and fruitless” may be judged from that fact that today we not only know what play was performed in this New York theatre of 1732, but also who some of the players were.Virginia has some claim to be considered the cradle of the native American theatre, but 1752 was not the date of the drama’s birth in this country. There were theatrical performances in Williamsburg and acting in New York by professional players many years earlier than that. We know that a regular theatre was built in Williamsburg and performances given as early as 1716. We also know that Murray and Kean’s troupe of professional players acted Richard III iin Williamsburg some time before the Hallams arrived and presented The Merchant of Venice. In fact, the Hallams used the same theatre that the Murray-Kean company had recently occupied.In view of the more than scant information regarding plays and players in the pre-Revolutionary newspapers and chronicles of the time, it would be an impossible task to attempt to ascertain when or where the first theatrical performance took place on the North American continent. It is likely that there were scattered dramatic performances of a sort in all the Colonies many years before we have any records of them, particularly in the South where the prejudice against the stage was less violent than in the North, but singularly enough it is in the Puritanical New England provinces that we find the first actual records of public theatricals, and in Quaker Philadelphia that the drama first found a permanent home.That so little should be known of the early beginnings of the acted drama in America is not surprising when one considers the intolerance of the age against the theatre and the player. In face of the almost general condemnation of the playhouse the journals of the day were not encouraged to give much, if any, space in their slender columns to the doings of player-folk. It was also the custom at that time for the actors themselves to distribute handbills at the houses of prospective theatre goers, and thus stir up interest in the coming performance, instead of depending solely on newspaper advertising as is the modern practice. These reasons, perhaps, sufficiently explain the almost total absence of theatrical news in the pre-Revolutionary newspapers, a fact which has rendered exceedingly difficult the researches of the historian.In the South the Colonists had imported a taste for the drama together with their other English customs, but in the North the playhouse was still considered the highway to hell and was everywhere fiercely condemned if not actually forbidden under the severest penalties. In 1750 the General Court of Massachusetts passed an act prohibiting stage plays and theatrical entertainments of any kind. On May 31, 1759, the House of Representatives in the Colony of Pennsylvania passed a law forbidding the showing and acting of plays under a penalty of £500. In 1761 Rhode Island passen “an act to Prevent Stage Plays and other Theatrical Entertainments within this Colony,” and the following year the New Hampshire House of Representatives refused a troupe of actors admission to Portsmouth on the ground that plays had a “peculiar influence on the minds of young people and greatly endanger their morals by giving them a taste for intriguing, amusement and pleasure.” In 1824 President Dwight of Yale College in his “Essay on the Stage” declared that “to indulge a taste for playgoing means nothing more or less than the loss of that most valuable treasure the immortal soul.” Even as late as 1856, when the city of Brooklyn could boast of only one theatre and the citizens were gravely contemplating the erection of another, there was considerable opposition to the word “theatre,” a compromise being finally reached by calling it an Academy of Music. Judge Daly [4] tells an amusing anecdote connected with the preliminary planning of this new house. There was a warm argument among the building committee over the questions of stage and scenery, a determined stand being taken against a curtain. “A curtain,” exclaimed one solemn-faced objector, “is intended to conceal something and concealment suggests impropriety.” So little versed in the lore of the theatre was this worthy city father that it was necessary to explain to him that stage plays were usually divided into sections, commonly called “acts,” and that the curtain was lowered simply to mark the intervals.Yet in spite of this hostile and uncompromising attitude toward the theatre, stage performances were occasionally, if not frequently, given, usually by special permission of the local authorities. The probability is that the laws forbidding play-acting remained a dead letter in many of the large towns at least, the regulations governing the players being introduced more to placate public opinion at the moment than with any serious intention of suppressing the player altogether as a public nuisance. How else can we account for the theatrical performances in New York in 1702 and again in 1732 or for the performances given in 1714 in Boston and Philadelphia?It must not be forgotten that while the great majority of the Northern Colonists were bitterly opposed to the playhouse on religious and moral grounds, there was a large and growing class in the important centres who were burdened with no such scruples–people of means and leisure who had only recently crossed the Atlantic and who, when seeking recreation, naturally turned to a form of amusement highly popular at home. It is not unreasonable, then, to presume that as the Colonies grew in importance, and communication between America and Europe became more frequent, the old spirit of irreconcilable intolerance which put a ban on all secular amusements, was considerably modified, especially in the important towns. The citizens of these communities, in their moments of leisure, no doubt often longed for the pleasures of the theatre, glowing accounts of which arrived from London by every ship.The drama in England had gradually risen from the depths into which it had sunk after the Restoration. Under the leadership of Addison, Pope, Steele and Swift began the so-called “Augustan age” of English literature. Dryden, hailed as a new Shakespeare, had already given the stage the vigor and brilliancy of his genius, while Thomas Otway’s tragedy Venus Preserved had earned for him the title of “Euripides of the English Stage.” Addison, producing his Cato, the finest English example of classical tragedy, at a moment of great political excitement, met with extraordinary success, calling forth praise even from the cynical Voltaire. Wycherley had made all London laugh with his masterpieces The Country Wife and The Plain Dealer; Congreve, the greatest English master of pure comedy, had produced his crowning triumph Love for Love. Colley Cibber had written his best play, The Careless Husband, and adapted Shakespeare. George Farquhar, leader among the comic dramatists, amused thousands with his sprightly farces The Recruiting Sergeant and The Beaux Stratagem. Sir Richard Steele, catering to the new public taste for sentimental comedy, had won immediate success with The Conscious Lovers. The most famous men in England wrote plays and attended their performance. The pit of the theatre was the resort of wit and learning; while fashion, beauty, taste and refinement, the proud and exclusive aristocracy of the land, took their places in the boxes, surrounding the assemblage of poets and critics below.The acting of the day was the finest. Thomas Betterton, the great Shakespearean actor, and all the famous players of the Restoration were long past their maturity, but a new generation–Wilks, Cibber, Mrs. Porter, Peg Woffington and others, equally as celebrated–was rising to take their places. Barton Booth, the tragedian of the day, was so popular that he had been admitted to the Patent, while Ann Oldfield, the barmaid who became the associate of duchesses, was the reigning attraction at Drury Lane. Macklin, departing from tradition, had thrilled London by playing Shylock for the first time as a tragic character. In the same year David Garrick, the foremost actor of his age, made his début in Goodman’s Fields as Richard III.While the American Colonies were growing in wealth and energy, the times were not without their anxieties. There was increasing unrest at the burdens and vexations put on the provinces by the English Parliament and threats of the Colonists to throw off the yoke of the mother country were heard on every hand. The encroachments of the French on the Ohio also created concern, and two years after the Hallams landed in America and made their first bow to Williamsburg audiences Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia dispatched a young officer to the nearest posts to find out what the French were doing. The name of the young officer was George Washington. The French proving obstinate in their claims, the squabble was followed by the Fourth Intercolonial war, which was ended by the taking of Quebec and the conquest of Canada by the British.The population of the Colonies, at the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, was about six-hundred and fifty thousand. Newport, the metropolis of Rhode Island, had a population of five thousand, including Indians and negroes. Virginia had a population of sixty thousand, of whom about one-half were slaves. Massachusetts mustered about seventy or eighty thousand.Means of travel in those days were so few and difficult that the cities were practically isolated. Coaches were slow and uncertain. It took a day to go from Philadelphia to New York and three days to go from New York to Boston. The great West was still an unexplored wilderness inhabited by marauding savages. The most popular mode of travel was by water. Hallam and his players selected the ocean route when they went North from Virginia in 1753. As an instance of the difficulties of communication between American cities, even as late as the year 1823, manager W.B. Wood [5] relates how the celebrated star Thomas Abthorpe Cooper one wintry night was unable to fill an important theatre engagement in Philadelphia because he found it impossible to reach that city from New York owing to an ice jam in the Hudson!New York in 1700 had thirty thousand inhabitants, including seven thousand slaves. By 1732 the population had more than doubled, and it was rapidly becoming a gay and cosmopolitan town. Although not so important as Philadelphia, it grew larger and more prosperous year by year. Commerce thrived, stately ships left its docks for all ports of the world, beautiful homes rose on each side of “Hudson’s River.” The people were industrious and sociable. There still remained among them some influence of the old Dutch burghers’ manners and habits, but the predominating tastes were English and French. There were weekly evening clubs and in the winter balls and concerts under the patronage of the new governor. It is only reasonable to presume that among these diversions theatre-going formed a part. The governor, almost invariably a member of the English aristocracy, was usually a man of culture whose taste for literature and art would naturally incline him to encourage rather than frown upon any attempt made to present plays in his jurisdiction, no matter what the local ordinances said to the contrary.Exactly when the first dramatic performance was given in America it is, of course, impossible to say. There are records in Virginia of a play being acted in that colony [6] and the players summoned to court in consequence as early as 1665, but this was evidently only an amateur effort and need not detain us here. In 1690 Harvard students gave a performance at Cambridge, Mass., of Benjamin Colman’s tragedy Gustavus Vasa, the first play written by an American acted in America, of which we have any knowledge. We also know that there were dramatic performances by professional actors in New York at the opening of, if not before, the Eighteenth Century. Anthony Aston, a well-known English actor-adventurer, says he acted in New York about 1702, and there is no reason to doubt his word. What he acted or where we do not know. But the fact that he was able to follow his profession at all, would seem to indicate not only that theatrical performances at the time of his visit were not taboo, but that they were already a popular feature of New York life.Anthony Aston, sometimes known as “Mat Medley,” was born in England and educated as an attorney. He became an actor towards the end of the reign of William III, presenting a musical and dramatic entertainment written by himself entitled “The Medley.” In this he toured the English provinces and in 1717 performed at the Globe and Marlborough taverns in Fleet Street, London. Chetwood in his history (1749) speaks of Aston as “travelling still and as well known as the post horse that carries the mail.” He was the author of a Supplement to the “Apology” of Colley Cibber and of several plays including The Fool’s Opera. This piece, printed in London about the year 1731, is prefaced by “a sketch of the author’s life and a frontispiece giving a scene from the play.” A bad wood-cut portrait of Aston himself is in the upper left-hand corner. The title page runs as follows:

The Fool’s Opera, or the Taste of the Age. Written by Mat Medley and Performed by his Company at Oxford: to which is prefixed a Sketch of the Author’s Life Written by Himself. London (Circa 1731).

In the quaintly worded preface Aston speaks of his voyage to America many years earlier (1701 is believed to be the exact date) and his acting in New York. He begins thus:

My merry hearts, you are to know me as a gentleman, lawyer, poet, actor, soldier, sailer, exciseman, publican, in England, Scotland, Ireland, New York, East and West Jersey, Maryland, Virginia (on both sides Cheesapeek), North and South Carolina, South Florida, Bahamas, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and often a coaster by all the same. . . . After many vicissitudes I arrived at Charles Towne (Charleston, S.C.) full of lice, shame, poverty, nakedness and hunger–turned player and poet and wrote one play on the subject of the country.

After leaving Charleston, Aston proceeded North by ship. When nearly at the mouth of New York harbor the ship was blown to the Virginia Capes. After some delay he arrived in New York by way of Elizabeth. He continues:

There I lighted on my old acquaintance, Jack Charlton, Fencing Master and Counsellor Reignieur, sometimes of Lincoln’s Inn (who) supply’d me with business (work?) till I had the honour of being acquainted with that brave, honest, unfortunate gentleman, Capt. Henry Pullein, whose ship (The Fame) was burnt in the Bermudas; he (to the best of his ability) assisted me, so that after acting, writing, courting, fighting that winter (1702?) my kind Captain Davies, in his sloop built at Rhode, gave me free passage to Virginia.

There is nothing in this account to warrant Mr. Oscar Wegelin’s [7] assumption that Aston was the first professional player to act in New York. The very fact that the English adventurer makes nothing of his appearance, but announces the fact in the most commonplace way, would seem to indicate that he found other actors here when he reached New York. Otherwise, if acting had been unknown here, he would surely have had something to say of the sensation which such a novelty must have been to New Yorkers, unaccustomed to anything of the sort. The chief interest in Aston’s sketch is the positive statement that there was acting in New York at the time of his visit. This being the very earliest information we have regarding theatricals in New York, the account of his visit is of great historic interest and value.

It is to be surmised from Aston’s own statement that wherever he acted or in whatever play he acted, the occasion did not bring him much remuneration, or he would not have had to apply to his friend, the captain, to assist him with a free passage. After leaving New York, he went to London where he married and we hear no more of him.

After Aston’s departure there was no mention of theatricals in the Colonies for many years. The first American newspaper had not yet made its appearance (the earliest public journal, the Boston News Letter, was not published until 1704) nor did any of the correspondence of the time, until 1714, make the slightest reference to plays or players. In that year, however, Justice Samuel Sewall, [8] of Massachusetts, wrote a letter in which he protests against the acting of a play in the Council Chamber of Boston, affirming that even the Romans, fond as they were of plays, were not “so far set upon them as to turn their Senate House into a Playhouse.” “Let not Christian Boston,” he continues, “goe beyond Heathen Rome in the practice of Shamefull vanities.”

There is no further trace of the proposed performance. Owing to the judge’s protest, it probably was not given in the Council Chamber. Possibly the promoters found some other quarters more suitable, for it will be noted that Judge Sewall merely protests. He does not invoke the law to prohibit the performance altogether.

A couple of decades later–1750 to be exact–a performance of Thomas Otway’s tragedy The Orphan [9] was given in a coffee house in State Street, Boston, by local amateurs, assisted by two professional players recently arrived from England. The affair was such a novelty and the curiosity of the Boston public to see the play so keen, that the doors of the coffee house were besieged and an incipient riot took place. This disturbance caused such a scandal that the authorities were compelled to take notice, and the General Court at once enacted a law not only forbidding acting within the Commonwealth, but even rendering the spectators liable to a fine.

Yet Boston, early in the Eighteenth Century, was not quite such a place of gloom and solemn visages as New England tradition would lead us to think. This one can readily believe after reading a description, recorded by Spencer, of one of the principal residences of that town:

There was a great hall ornamented with pictures and a great lantern and a velvet cushion in the window-seat that looked into the garden. In the hall was placed a large bowl of punch from which visitors might help themselves as they entered. On either side was a large parlor, a little parlor or a study. These were furnished with mirrors, oriental rugs, window curtains and valance, pictures, a brass clock, red leather back chair, and a pair of huge brass andirons. The bedrooms were well supplied with feather beds, warming pans, and every other article that would now be thought necessary for comfort or display. The pantry was well filled with substantial fare and delicacies. Silver tankards, wine cups and other articles were not uncommon. Very many families employed servants, and in one we see a Scotch boy valued among the property and invoiced at £14. [10]

Even before this period in the matter of dress certain of the ladies were eager to copy the London and Paris fashions, so much so that a writer of the time complained, “Methinks it should break the heart of Englishmen to see so many goodly English women imprisoned in French cages peering out of their hood holes for some men of mercy to help them with a little wit.”

The distinction of having erected what is believed to be the first theatre in America belongs to Williamsburg, Va. Research has not brought to light any playhouse in the Colonies of earlier origin than the one built in the then capital of Virginia in 1716, the year that Governor Spotswood crossed the Blue Ridge, the first white man, as far as known, to enter the Great Valley.

The theatre was erected by one William Levingston, who “for some time previous,” says Dr. Tyler in his interesting book on Williamsburg, [11] “had been managing in New Kent County a peripatetic dancing school, in which the star dancers were Charles Stagg and his wife Mary. There is a contract recorded at Yorktown dated July 11, 1716, by which William Levingston, merchant, agrees with Charles and Mary Stagg, his wife, actors, to build a theatre in Williamsburg and to provide actors, scenery and music out of England for the enacting of comedies and tragedies in the said city. On November 21, 1716, Mr. Levingston purchased three and one-half acre lots and erected thereon a dwelling house, kitchen and stable. He laid out also a bowling alley and built a theatre.”

That this is the same “Playhouse” mentioned by Hugh Jones in his now very scarce work The Present State of Virginia, [12] published in London in 1724, there can be little doubt. It is also probable that on the stage of this theatre was acted the play mentioned by Governor Spotswood in a letter written June 24, 1718. In this letter the governor refers to eight members of the House of Assembly who slighted an invitation to his house to witness a play. He writes:

In order to the solemnizing His Majesty’s birthday, I gave a public entertainment at my home and all gentlemen that would come were admitted. These eight gentlemen would neither come to my house nor go to the play which was acted on the occasion, but, on the contrary, these eight committeemen got together all the turbulent and disappointed burghers to an entertainment of their own in the House of Burgesses and invited the mob and plentifully supplied it with liquor to drink the same health as was drunk in the governor’s house, taking no more notice of the government than if there had been none in the place. [13]

No records exist as to what plays were presented at this theatre built by William Levingston in 1716. There was no newspaper in Virginia until 1732 when the Virginia Gazette first made its appearance. The house does not appear to have prospered, for in 1723 its mortgage was foreclosed and Dr. Archibald Blair, the mortgagee, took possession of the property. Charles Stagg died in Williamsburg in 1735, and after his death Mary Stagg earned a living holding “dancing assemblies.”

In 1735 and 1736 the theatre was utilized for amateur productions, the students of William and Mary College giving performances. It is also believed that a company of professional players acted regularly there. The Virginia Gazette for September 10, 1736, contained this advertisement:

This evening will be performed at the Theatre by the young gentlemen of the College the Tragedy of Cato, and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday will be acted the following comedies by the young Gentlemen and Ladies of the country–The Busybody, [14] and The Recruiting Officer and The Beaux Stratagem. [15]

There is some doubt as to the exact meaning of this announcement. Some writers believe that it refers only to amateur performances. It is quite plain that it was the students who were to present Cato, but it is not equally certain that amateurs were to appear in the comedies mentioned. The expression “young Gentlemen and Ladies of the country” might well mean persons of both sexes belonging to the Colony who had organized themselves into a company of professional players. Some authorities give it this interpretation. The students were to perform Cato on that particular night, and on other nights the comedies would be presented by the organized theatrical company then performing regularly in the theatre.

A contemporary letter written September 17, 1736, only a week after the above advertisement appeared in the Virginia Gazette seems to point conclusively to this being the case. One Colonel Thomas Jones [16] writes to his wife in the country:

You may tell Betty Pratt there has been but two plays acted since she went, which is Cato, by the Young Gentlemen of the College, as they call themselves, and The Busybody by the Company on Wednesday night last, and I believe there will be another to Night …

Additional color to the belief that competent players were acting in Williamsburg at that time, is given by a letter written by Colonol William Byrd of “Westover” to his good friend Sir John Randolph of Williamsburg. The colonel, evidently familiar with The Busybody (presented for the first time in London in 1709 with Ann Oldfield as Isabinda), is interested to learn how the play was received in Williamsburg. He writes:

Which of your actors shone most in the play, next to Isabinda who, I take it for granted, is the Oldfield of the theatre? How came Squire Marplot off? With many a clap, I suppose, though I fancy he would have acted more to the life in the comedy called The Sham Doctor. But not a word of this for fear in case of sickness he might poison you. [17]

This last bit of facetiousness evidently points to the rôle of Marplot being played by the Colonel’s physician, which again would give support to the amateur theory.

That the drama should have taken root in Virginia earlier than anywhere else in America is not surprising. The Virginians, a gay, pleasure-loving people, had nothing in common with the more sober Puritans of New England. “They were,” says Bancroft, “a continuation of English society, who were attached to the monarchy, with a deep reverence for the English church, and a love for England and English institutions.” Descendants of the old cavaliers, their philosophy was to enjoy life while they could, rather than spend their days making gloomy preparations for death. Far from having prejudices against play-acting, they welcomed the thespian with open arms. Virginia and Maryland are, in fact, the only American colonies which never had laws prohibiting play-acting.

Williamsburg about that period was the most aristocratic and prosperous town on the continent. It was the seat of the Upper House and the House of Burgesses and the governor’s official residence. The Law Courts were there; and the public buildings, chief of which was the College, were as fine as any in England. The women dressed fashionably and most of the leading families kept their coach. The shops were stocked with rich merchandise and it was the custom of the wealthy plantation owners and country gentry to run into the town for their shopping and amusements. Cooke, in his History of the People of Virginia, gives an interesting description of Williamsburg in those early days:

It was the habit of the planters to go there with their families at this season to enjoy the pleasures of the capital and one of the highways, Gloucester, was an animated spectacle of coaches and four containing the nabobs and their dames, Maidens in silk and lace, with high-heeled shoes and clocked stockings. All these people were engaged in attending the assemblies at the Palace, in dancing at the Apollo, in snatching the pleasures of the moment and enjoying life under a regime that seemed mad for enjoyment. The violins seemed to be ever playing for the diversion of the youths and maidens; cocks were fighting, horsemen riding, students mingled in the throng in their academic dress, and his Serene Excellency went to open the House of Burgesses in his coach drawn by six milk-white horses. It was a scene full of gaiety and abandon.

Just the place, it might seem, to support a theatre, yet in Williamsburg, as elsewhere, it was not the wealthy who were the best patrons of the drama. “The Virginia planter,” Seilhamer reminds us, “was a fox hunting squire with the airs of an English duke. In the cities the first families were scarcely less haughty than the royalty itself. The rich were too mighty to patronize the theatre at home.” Support of the playhouse came not from the class which could best afford the luxury, but from that large and ever-growing intelligent middle class which was quick to demand all the intellectual pleasures the Old World was enjoying–the same citizens to whose devotion and patriotism was due a little later the establishment of the Republic and who still to-day remain the principal factors in the development of our national drama.

After 1736 the theatre in Williamsburg seems to have languished, for we do not hear of any more performances. In 1745 the playhouse, which had not been put to any use for several years, was bought by a number of prominent men of the Colony and presented to Williamsburg as a town hall.

This ended the career, and is all we know, of the first theatre in America.

Purchase Books about American Theatre

FURTHER STUDIES:

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A History of the American Theatre. By William Dunlap, New York, 1832.
2 George O. Seilhamer, another historian of the American Theatre, also appears to have been unaware of the existence of Charleston’s earliest playhouse.
Records Of The New York Stage. By Joseph N. Ireland, vol. 1, page 2.
Life of Augustin Daly. By Joseph Francis Daly. Macmillan.
Personal Recollections of the Stage. By William B. Wood.
Early History of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. By J.C. Wise.
The Beginning of the Drama in America. By Oscar L. Wegelin.
8 “This early opponent of the American drama,” says Judge Charles P. Daly in his First Theatre in America, “was an interesting character. As a judge he took part in the Salem Witchcraft Trials and is said to have been the only one of the judges who publicly confessed his error. In 1697, five years after these trials, he prepared a written confession which was read to the congregation of the old South Church in Boston by the minister, the judge, during the reading, standing up in his place.”
9 This piece, which later became immensely popular with early American theatregoers, was founded on a novel called English Adventures. It was one of the two plays (the other being Venice Preserved) which gained for Thomas Otway the high rank he holds among the tragic poets of the Restoration. Notwithstanding his success, the author ended his days in the most abject poverty. The story goes that he almost choked to death while ravenously swallowing a crust of bread thrown to him by a passing stranger.
10 History of the United States. By J.A. Spencer.
11 Williamsburg, the old Virginia Capital. By Lyon G. Tyler.
12 One of the rarest books relating to Virginia published in the eighteenth century. The author was a Professor at William and Mary College, Williamsburg. After describing the situation and plan of Williamsburg College, the State house, the church, he continues: “Next there is a large octagon Tower which is the Magazine or Repositary of Arms and Ammunition, standing far from any house except Jamestown Court House, for the town is half in Jamestown County and half in York County. Not far from hence is a large area for a Market Place, near which is a Play House, and good Bowling Green.”
13 Spotswoods Letters. Collections of the Virginia Historical Society, vol. ii, p. 284.
14 Comedy by Susanna Centlivre (1667-1723), an English writer who married Queen Anne’s cook. She was the author of many popular pieces, each noted for its liveliness. Other plays by this dramatist, seen on the American stage, are The Wonder and A Bold Stroke for a Wife.
15 Farce by Farquhar, author of The Recruiting Officer. This piece, which long held its place on our boards, is said to have been written in six weeks while the author lay on his death bed.
16 Colonial Virginia: It’s People and Customs. By Mary Newton Standard.
17 Va. Mag. Hist. Biog., 240, 241.

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Introductory Note: To George Washington, [10 May 1796]

Introductory Note: To George Washington

[New York, May 10, 1796]

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-20-02-0105-0001

(No. 125) Against Factions and “the Malice of Parties”

https://spectator300.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/no-125-against-factions-and-furious-party-spirit/

As a young man, Washington devoured the popular early-eighteenth century essays of Joseph Addison in the Spectator of London. Addison was the author of his favorite play, Cato, and while reflecting on the sources of England’s bloody civil war in the 1640s, he had written an influential essay on “the Malice of Parties.” It’s worth quoting at length: “There cannot a greater judgment befall a country than a dreadful spirit of division as rends a government into two distinct people, and makes them greater strangers, and more averse to one another, than if they were actually two different nations. The effects of such a division are pernicious to the last degree, not only with regard to those advantages which they give the common enemy, but to those private evils which they produce in the heart of almost every particular person. This influence is very fatal both to men’s morals and their understandings; it sinks the virtue of a nation, and not only so, but destroys even common sense. A furious party spirit, when it rages in its full violence, exerts itself in civil war and bloodshed; and when it is under its greatest restraints, naturally breaks out in falsehood, detraction, calumny, and a partial administration of justice. In a word, it fills a nation with spleen and rancor, and extinguishes all the seeds of good nature, compassion and humanity.”

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/01/washingtons-farewell-address-warned-us-about-hyper-partisanship-214616

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The Spectator, Volumes 1, 2 and 3 by Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12030?msg=welcome_stranger#section125

When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,’ the post of honor is a private station.”

http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/mcdonald-on-washington-s-favorite-play-cato

he had written an influential essay on “the Malice of Parties.” It’s worth quoting at length: “There cannot a greater judgment befall a country than a dreadful spirit of division as rends a government into two distinct people, and makes them greater strangers, and more averse to one another, than if they were actually two different nations.

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/01/washingtons-farewell-address-warned-us-about-hyper-partisanship-214616

http://www.constitution.org/addison/cato_play.htm

The post of honor is a private station.

https://www.enotes.com/topics/cato/quotes/post-honor-private-station

The impact of the play upon Washington and others is illustrated by the fact that, during the dreadful winter at Valley Forge, he had it performed for his troops to inspire them with determination, despite a congressional resolution condemning stage performances as contrary to republican principles.

Moreover, in 1783, when his officers encamped at Newburgh, New York, threatened to mutiny—as Cato’s troops had done in the play—Washington appeared before them and quite self-consciously shamed them into abandoning the enterprise essentially by rehashing Cato’s speech.

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At first blush, Cato would scarcely seem to offer much consolation to Americans in their efforts to establish a durable republic. The story recounts Cato’s noble but vain efforts to save the remnants of the Roman republican Senate from the usurping arms of the all-conquering Caesar, “who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin.” In the end, Cato commits suicide, and the republic perishes as well.http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229

Yet one of the subplots of the drama offered a ray of hope, at least for the more sanguine of the founders, for it provided a means of escaping a dilemma. Both classical and modern theorists of republics held that their actuating principle was public virtue—virtue in the sense of selfless, full-time, manly devotion to the public weal. Many Americans had been governed by such public spiritedness during the war and made great sacrifices for the cause of independence, but in normal times people were too individualistic and too avaricious to sustain that level of commitment. Besides, Americans believed in original sin, which in eighteenth-century terms meant that they believed men were driven by their “passions”—drives for self-gratification—and that the “ruling” passions of most public men were ambition and avarice, the love of power and the love of money.http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229

One of the characters in Cato provides a way around that human frailty. Juba, a young Numidian in Cato’s camp (who incidentally was the character with whom Washington identified in his early letter), is concerned that he may have incurred Cato’s displeasure by being preoccupied with his love of Cato’s daughter at such an inappropriate time. He says, “I’d rather have that man approve my deeds, than worlds for my admirers.” Just before, he had recited what were famous lines about honor, “the noble mind’s distinguishing perfection / that aids and strengthens virtue where it meets her, / and imitates her actions, where she is not.” Honor in these verses is a substitute for virtue: a preoccupation with earning “the esteem of wise and good men.” Addison thought the point so important that he wrote an essay in The Guardian explaining and elaborating it. Genuine virtue, he declared, was exceedingly rare, but all could aspire to honor. To put it differently, Addison, through Juba, advises people to follow the opposite course from what Shakespeare’s Polonius recommends in Hamlet. Polonius says to his son Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, [x] thou canst not then be false to any man.” Shakespeare put the words in the mouth of a prattling fool, and Addison tells us that they are indeed foolish words. Rather, he says, be true to the wise and the virtuous, and then thou cannot be false to thyself.http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1229

In his public life, Washington followed Addison’s advice, and so did Hamilton, and so did a host of other founders; and in the doing they overcame their private shortcomings and behaved virtuously enough in public to establish a regime of liberty that would perdure.

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http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/addison-cato-a-tragedy-and-selected-essay

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The Queen’s Men and Their Plays

By Scott McMillin, Sally-Beth MacLean 1580s

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https://books.google.com/books?id=nzPkStIQP7cC&pg=PA20&lpg=PA20&dq=plays+performed+at+leicester+house&source=bl&ots=BlMfrUWwMZ&sig=ACfU3U1MiU5zdn9B88jJR_-IlMPwkzAdJw&hl=en&ppis=_c&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi3_OS1y-PnAhWTtXEKHXb7BvMQ6AEwAXoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=plays%20performed%20at%20leicester%20house&f=false

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Jay Treat in reference to Jefferson’s quoting of Cato

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There is no record of what the weather was like in Easton the day the body of Samuel Sitgreaves was laid to rest in the cemetery of Trinity Episcopal Church, a church he helped found.

But if Hollywood was trying to film the scene, movie moguls might have made it gray and overcast with just a grave digger and undertaker on hand to mark the former congressman’s passing. In reality, with the passage of time, the very location of Sitgreaves’ grave in the churchyard has been forgotten.

As it was, the 63-year-old Sitgreaves, who died on April 4, 1827, was once among the brightest lights of the Federalist Party. But he passed from the world a political pariah who had not held public office for many years, a victim of the partisan, no-holds-barred political warfare of the 1790s.

Born in Philadelphia in 1764, the son of a prominent merchant, Sitgreaves’ early life was surrounded by the birth of a new nation. He would have been 12 in 1776 and could very well have been among the crowd that gathered behind Independence Hall to first hear the Declaration of Independence read aloud.

Somewhere between 1783 and 1786 Sitgreaves decided on law as a career. There were no law schools in America at that time so he probably “read law,” as the saying was, in an attorney’s office and followed him to court. But in 1786, the nation’s capital of Philadelphia was almost certainly a place filled with many ambitious young lawyers- all hoping to make a name for themselves. Although it is impossible to know for sure, this may have been the reason why he left for Easton, where there was less competition.

Hanging out his shingle in Easton, Sitgreaves began to attract clients. The personable 22-year-old soon decided to enter politics. In 1789 he was selected to be the delegate from Northampton County to the state constitutional convention meeting that year.

Pennsylvania’s first state constitution was passed in 1776. By 1789, political differences and the general inefficient nature of the 1776 document led for calls that it be replaced. The Federalist Party, of which Sitgreaves was a member, led the charge for change.

In 1792 Sitgreaves hoped to be elected to Congress but was beaten for that seat by fellow Federalist Daniel Hiester. Finally in 1795 his chance came. That year he was elected from a congressional district that included Northampton (which then included what would become Lehigh and many other counties) and northern parts of Bucks and Montgomery counties, a huge slice of eastern Pennsylvania.

Sitgreaves had every reason to be pleased with his future. But what some regarded as the nation’s first major political battle was already brewing, even before he was sworn into office. A new political faction that called themselves the Democratic-Republicans were on the rise. Anger at the “elitist” Federalist Party was boiling over the Jay Treaty.

This treaty with former foe England was called a sellout, and John Jay, who negotiated the treaty, was accused of a cover up. The Washington administration was under siege by a Congress that demanded to see the background documents behind the treaty. Sitgreaves was among those Federalists leading the charge to keep the Democratic-Republicans from getting them.

Soon the controversy gave the United States its first political slogan. “Damn John Jay! Damn Every One Who Won’t Damn John Jay! Damn Every One That Won’t Put Candles in the Window and Sit Up All Night Damning John Jay,” was soon being heard at torch light rallies around the country. But Washington and Hamilton successful fought off the attack and the treaty passed the Senate.

The year 1797 was a very good one for Sitgreaves. He led the impeachment trial against Tennessee U. S. Senator William Blount, who was engaged in a conspiracy with agents of Great Britain to help seize the Louisiana and Florida territories from Spain and- for a large sum of money-turn them over to Britain.

When newspaper accounts of secret dealings between Blount and the British ambassador were printed, the Senator was expelled from the Senate. Sitgreaves was hailed as a hero and as the government’s expert on treason.

But in 1799, Sitgreaves’ expertise on treason put him on a collision course with many of his constituents. He was named as prosecutor of John Fries and his fellow tax rebels for treason against the U.S.

But what Sitgreaves saw as “levying war against the United States,” many in his largely Pennsylvania German district saw as protesting for their constitutional rights and being unjustly charged for it. Although a jury found Sitgreaves correct, the court of public opinion did not. President John Adams pardoned Fries and the others, but the pardon came too late for two of them who had died while in prison of yellow fever.

Once the trial was over, Sitgreaves was sent to England to help iron out disputes on debts English merchants had owed to them since the Revolution. While he was there a presidential election swept the Democratic- Republicans into office.

On his return in June1801, Sitgreaves found that the Jefferson administration had no time for him. In fact, they even refused to pay for his expenses while England. It was not until 1830 that his heirs were finally reimbursed by an act of Congress.

The Federalist Party would never occupy the White House again and Sitgreaves would never run for office again.

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https://www.wfmz.com/features/historys-headlines/history-s-headlines-the-most-hated-man-in-the-lehigh/article_7a4dfc62-5317-5484-9d3b-56324b895848.html

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A  libertarian think tank, The Cato Institute was inspired by the story of Cato, and no doubt this play by Addison kept the story of Cato alive for generations.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cato_Institute

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