Dr. Morillo ENG579


Cato's Politics (1703-1713): A Fundamental Political Question and its Repercussions in the Play that premiered in April 1713.

Treaty of Utrecht was also finished April 1713.


Senators must decide what to do about Caesar. Join him? Fight him? Negotiate Peace with him?

Both parties in England spent a decade pondering what to do about Louis XIV, not just in 1713, but from 1703 through 1713, for virtually the whole reign of Queen Anne and 10 of the 20-year War of Spanish Succession. In 1712-3, however, the issue of whether/how to negotiate peace with Louis and end that war the MOST critical political issue. Second most critical was how to ensure a peaceful transition of power to a new monarch should Queen Anne die (she did a year after the play), and avoid repeating the strife over succession that created the Whig/Tory split in 1679-81.

For Rome = France, there’s no good match for an anti-Louis faction in France, but a better match with Caesar as sign for “Rome” and for the religious politics that were key to the whole war--will a Catholic Bourbon King in France AND Spain make ROME (always political shorthand for Catholicism and the Papacy) the greatest power in Europe and make Protestant England even more embattled?

One can map each question onto not just 2, but 3 English political factions. Join Louis=Jacobite answer; Fight him=Whig answer; Negotiate peace with him=Tory answer. Already Cato aligns best with the English Whigs, Addison's party.


Caesar's imperial power grows via wars, conquest and increasingly autocratic control.  This causes a series of factions to develop within and without Rome as Roman "civil discord" spreads like an infection to polarize the empire.

 France aims to build its power in Europe (1703-13). The issue of how England counters France's imperial-dynastic war doesn't create the 2 party politics in Britain's version of a senate, Parliament, but it polarizes Whig and Tory more than ever, ensuring homeland "civil discord" with the Whigs as the anti-Louis pro-war party, and John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough as their military hero and political symbol. Addison's first big poem, The Campaign, celebrates Marlborough's victories at Blenheim and earns Addison Whig patronage. Until 1708, riding Marlborough’s success abroad, Whigs were in power in Parliament, led by Sidney Godolphin, and Addison worked for his government ministry.


First repercussion of Caesar’s power: in the years before the play's action, the Roman senate splits into the Caesarians (Caesar, Octavian) and the opposition (Pompey, Antony, Lepidus,) representing values of republican Rome.

Assume the Roman senate= British Parliament.  First Parliament splits into Whig and Tory factions over the power of "Rome" as the Catholic question in 1679-81, the issue of excluding James II from power, and then keeping James' son "James III/the Pretender" out of power to avoid the awful paradox of a Catholic English king sworn to uphold the Protestant Anglican Church. 


Then the Romans most opposed to Caesar coalesce around Cato in  N. Africa, but the divisive power of Caesar splits the Utican "Little Senate" into is own factions for Caesar (Sempronius) and against Caesar (Cato, Lucius, Marcus, Portius, Marcia, Lucia).  Most dangerous of all is Sempronius for ambition and self-interest, and selling others out to Caesar's interest.

If in this reading Rome=France and Caesar=Louis XIV, then the Utican senate, more so than the “rump” senate left in Rome becomes the British Parliament. The anti-Caesar faction is thus anti-Louis. But aren't both English parties anti-Louis?


Not according to the Whigs. The party holding power in Parliament in the year leading up to the play was the Tory party. The Queen favored the Tories so much that Anne created 12 new Tory peers in 1712 to stack the House of Lords for that party's interest, especially to get the vote to end the war. The clearly dangerous Sempronius articulates the most Tory-sounding political principles of passive obedience, deference to Crown. (A blind officious zeal to serve my king / The ruling principle (2.1.435) A Sempronius-like figure, driven by ambition to side with "Caesar" at the ultimate cost to both parties, Whig and Tory, and to England's political stability = Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke, a Tory secretary of state. His strong ambition was clear, as was his ability to become catalyst of further factionalism, seen in his power struggle with Robert Harley, Lord Oxford, Sec. of Treasury. This struggle to lead the party already in power was always at the top of the domestic political news in London 1712. It pitted two powerful Tories against each other for the control of that party. More civil discord.


Did Bolingbroke connive for Caesar's/Louis' interest? The crippling blow he dealt his own party, according to Holmes, came when he appeared in public with the Pretender, the presumptive James III. The big Whig fear was that some/most Tories were really Jacobites in disguise, and here that fear was realized when Bolingbroke was caught unmasked. (After Anne died in Aug. 1714 Bolingbroke fled and DID join the Pretender in France). The worst pro-Caesar/pro-Louis ‘Sempronian faction’ matches best with the Jacobite Tories. In fact, BOTH Bolingbroke and Oxford had secretly negotiated with James “III” to try to restore him to the throne, as part of a larger plan to end the war with France. This identification of the most dangerous faction in the play with the Jacobites also fits well with the fact that Tory party and two-party split of 1681 was born as a group that supported James II and even Catholic Stuarts, because the Stuarts were in direct blood line to the throne.


A Cato figure to counter the ambitious, unprincipled expediency of Sempronius/Bolingbroke and represent the Whigs could indeed be Marlborough, the most prominent Whig leader while the Whigs were in opposition (1708-1714). But "Cato" is really more a name for the Whig political principles of 1688.


The play’s political argument may be: while the Tories feared that Marlborough was the real tyrant within England, Addison may use the play to reply from the Whig side that the far more dangerous threat lay not with Marlborough, but with the Tories from their inception as a party; that if they should they regress from conservativism to reactionism, follow Bolingbroke, turn Jacobite, restore James III, they would destroy all of the constitutional gains for law, liberty and country won by the Whigs first in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution.


Then other countries fall under the threat of Caesar and replicate the splits. Numidia in Africa splits pro-Caesar (Syphax) and anit-Caesar pro-Cato (Juba)

The most topical political moment for connecting the action to English Parliamentary politics in 1712-3 comes with the way Addison describes the political situation in Numidia. Keeping Juba on his side is crucial to Cato's political survival, but Juba is not yet more than a prince: "Numidia's crown hangs doubtful yet whose head it shall enclose." (2.1.396). Such was the state of Spain in the power struggle for European political/religious dominance between France and England. The pro-Caesar/Louis faction here could be the Spanish who favored the Bourbon French prince; the pro-Cato/Whig interests would be those Spanish who instead supported the Habsburg Austrian prince. The most famous rallying cry for the Whigs refusal to negotiate peace with Louis at the grave expense of putting his family on the throne of Spain was, "No Peace without Spain."  Note the parallel: that if the Uticans sue for peace with Caesar, Numidia will be lost, absorbed into the growing empire of Rome. Cato could well reply to Caesar's envoys, "no peace without Numidia." If Spain stayed non-Bourbon it would help England's national/religious cause as leader of Protestant Europe, much as Juba with Cato would help the cause to preserve the true Roman/Whig principles of liberty and country.


Yet another crown whose next wearer was yet unknown in 1713 was England's own. Who would rule after Anne? George, a Hanoverian German 58 blood-steps away from direct hereditary succession to the crown? Not a good fit with Spain as colonial pawn in a power game, since here Numidia needs to stand for England itself, but an intriguing fit with a key fear of civil discord. What if the Bolingbroke-led Jacobites retake the crown after Anne dies? They did, in fact, try to in the 1715 Jacobite invasion, but were crushed.


Play exposes the naked ambition and unprincipled power of Caesar, Sempronius, Syphax. Caesar and all his supporters clearly corrupt all higher political ideals.

If Caesar is plausibly Louis, Sempronious a Bolingbroke-type Tory, Syphax would need to be a Spanish ally of Louis, and a General, scheming to deliver Spain to him. Any candidates?



Ending shows Cato faction losing politically in the present, but establishing through the dynastic marriage of Juba/Numidia and Marcia/Republican Roman values some possible hope for the political future.

Mary the fate of Spain in the War to Whig values, refuse to cave to Louis' Bourbon dynasty, and help preserve England. Loss in present as death of true England via death of its "real" political principles could be the loss suffered by Whigs while the Tories ran the country, controlled its foreign policy, and --according to Whigs--acted out of self-interest, ambition, expediency.  Such "policy" could lead to handing France (and thus indirectly Papal Rome) even more power and, more dangerous yet might lead to a Jacobite takeover, restoring the Pretender, reversing all of the political gains from the Glorious Whig Revolution of 1688 on, and plunging England back into the worst civil discord possible--a new civil war driven by fanatical zeal for fundamental principles that do the country no political good in the present (principles like maintaining direct hereditary succession even if the succeeding monarch is Catholic) rather than the sober rule of law.