John Trenchard (writer)

John Trenchard (1662 – 17 December 1723) was an English writer and Commonwealthman. He is best known for writing a series of 144 essays with Thomas Gordon entitled Cato's Letters (1720–23), condemning corruption and lack of morality within the British political system and warning against tyranny.



Trenchard belonged to the same Dorset family as the Secretary of State Sir John Trenchard. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and became a lawyer. From 1722 until his death Trenchard was also a member of Parliament for Taunton. He died on 17 December 1723.



As he inherited considerable wealth, Trenchard was able to devote the greater part of his life to writing on political subjects,

His approach was that of a Whig and an opponent of the High Church party.[1] With Walter Moyle he wrote An Argument, Shewing that a Standing Army is Inconsistent with a Free Government (1697) and A Short History of Standing Armies in England (1698 and 1731).

He developed anticlerical lines of argument in The Natural History of Superstition (1709), and The Independent Whig, a weekly periodical published in 1720–21 with Thomas Gordon.[2]

Cato's Letters


From 1720 to 1723, Trenchard, again with Thomas Gordon, wrote a series of 144 weekly essays entitled Cato's Letters, condemning corruption and lack of morality within the British political system and warning against tyranny. The essays were published as Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, first in the London Journal and then in the British Journal. These essays became a cornerstone of the Commonwealthmen tradition.

See also



  1. ^   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Trenchard, Sir John s.v. John Trenchard". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 245.
  2. ^ The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Political Thought, ed. Mark Goldie & Robert Wokler, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 780

Further reading

  • Jonathan Harris, 'The Grecian coffee house and political debate in London, 1688–1714', The London Journal 25 (2000), 1–13
  • Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans (London, 1981)
  • Caroline Robbins, The Eighteenth Century Commonwealthman. Studies in the Transmission, Development and Circumstance of English Liberal Thought from the Restoration of Charles II until the War with the Thirteen Colonies (Cambridge MA, 1959)
  • Lois G. Schwoerer, 'No Standing Armies!' The Antiarmy Ideology in Seventeenth-Century England (Baltimore and London, 1974)
  • Lois G. Schwoerer, 'The Literature of the Standing Army Controversy', Huntington Library Quarterly, 28 (1965), 189–212
  • Giovanni Tarantino, Republicanism, Sinophilia, and Historical Writing Thomas Gordon (c. 1691–1750) and his 'History of England' (Brepols Publishers, 2012)
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Taunton
With: James Smith
Succeeded by