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The Literary Play of the American Revolution

George Washington is not yet born, but the British play that debuts this year will become central to the American Revolution. It is entitled "Cato, a Tragedy". (Pronounced, KAY-toe). The play portrays the famous Roman Senator, Cato the Younger, in his dramatic opposition to the tyranny of Julius Caesar. It is a wildly successful play on stage but it has a second quality. Before there was television, people would gather in parlors to read plays. Each person would be assigned a part. Some would read their part while sitting. Others would stand but the focus would be on the words... not on the performance. This play has great words and people will be reading these words well into the 1770s, including Patrick Henry who will paraphrase a line from the play as he shouts, "Give me liberty or give me death!" And Nathan Hale will remember this play as he declares, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." And in 1778, General George Washington will have his troops perform this play at Valley Forge to build up their morale. It will become the inspiration for the American Revolution. [1] [2] [3] [4]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
As a young man, George Washington's favorite character in the play was Juba who loved Cato's daughter, Marcia. Washington could read Juba's lines to the young ladies such as lovely Sally Cary. But some quotes from Juba sound like the mission statement for the building of a nation... [5]

A Roman soul is bent on higher views:
To civilize the rude, unpolished world,
And lay it under the restraint of laws;
To make man mild, and sociable to man;
To cultivate the wild, licentious savage
With wisdom, discipline, and liberal arts--
The embellishments of life; virtues like these
Make human nature shine, reform the soul,
And break our fierce barbarians into men.
-- Cato, A Tragedy, Juba, Act 1, Scene 4 [6]

The X-Prize for Longitude

Navigation at sea is hit or miss and a miss can cost a lot in money, time and especially lives when the supplies run out. Sir Issac Newton thinks that it is impossible to determine a ship's position at sea using the stars because clocks are not sufficiently accurate. To use the stars to determine your exact position requires knowledge of the angle of a known star as it travels through the night sky and time at which a known angle will be achieved. By calculation or by table, one can determine at what longitude one is positioned if only he can make a sufficiently accurate measure of the time. Thus Great Britain sets up the Longitude Board to offer prize money for the first person to demonstrate a sufficiently accurate method of navigation to solve this problem. Even though the smartest guy on the planet says that it can't be done, the stubbornest guy on the planet, John Harrison, will solve this problem by creating the mariner's clock and later the mariner's watch. The grand prize for navigating longitude to within half of a degree is 20,000 pounds which is the modern equivalent of a million dollars. He will be awarded the prize money in 1773. [7] [8]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The Board of Longitude really jerked that poor inventor, John Harrison, around by changing the rules on him. It took King George the 3rd to intervene to make sure he got his money. The Board of Longitude remained in existence until 1828 which proves that government agencies can re-purpose themselves long after their original goals are met, and often do. In the United States the Rural Electrification Administration was formed in 1935 by the FDR Administration. It remained in existence until 1998, long after rural areas had been electrified. Then it was reorganized into the Rural Utilities Service and remains in existence as of January 2016. As Ronald Reagan once said, "Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" [9]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1713, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 326-327. “Joseph Addison: 'Cato,' classical tragedy” 
  2. Cato, a Tragedy - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 19 January 2016. “The play was a success throughout England and her possessions in the New World, as well as Ireland. It continued to grow in popularity, especially in the American colonies, for several generations. Indeed, it was almost certainly a literary inspiration for the American Revolution, being well known to many of the Founding Fathers. In fact, George Washington had it performed for the Continental Army while they were encamped at Valley Forge.”
  3. Cato - On Life, Liberty and Other Quotable Matters - Masterpiece by John J. Miller - WSJ. Wall Street Journal (July 2, 2011). Retrieved on 19 January 2016. “'Cato' may be one of the most quotable plays ever written. The text overflows with aphorisms on everything from fate ('The ways of heaven are dark and intricate / Puzzled in mazes, and perplexed with errors') to freedom ('A day, an hour, of virtuous liberty / Is worth a whole eternity in bondage').”
  4. Cato. George Washington's Mount Vernon (2016). Retrieved on 19 January 2016. “In May 1778, Colonel William Bradford, Jr. wrote to his sister from Valley Forge: 'The Camp could now afford you some entertainment: the manouvering of the Army is in itself a sight that would charm. —Besides these, the Theatre is opened—Last Monday Cato was performed before a very numerous & splendid audience.' At the end of the hard winter at Valley Forge, General George Washington defied a congressional ban on theatrical productions and entertained his men with a production of Joseph Addison's 1713 tragedy Cato.”
  5. Sally Cary Fairfax - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 19 January 2016. “In another letter, he makes an allusion to the literary characters Juba, prince of Numidia, who loves Cato's daughter Marcia, in the play Cato, by Joseph Addison. This ambiguity makes the question of the relationship’s consummation frustrating to historians, and the answer is still unknown. (Because actual textual evidence of an affair between Sally Fairfax and George Washington is slim, there are skeptics who doubt the truth in all the gossip. Yet the letters prove that a strong relationship between the two most surely existed.)”
  6. Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays. Online Library of Liberty (2016). Retrieved on 19 January 2016.
  7. Board of Longitude - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 20 January 2016. “The Commissioners for the Discovery of the Longitude at Sea, or more popularly Board of Longitude, was a British government body formed in 1714 to administer a scheme of prizes intended to encourage innovators to solve the problem of finding longitude at sea.”
  8. Dava Sobel. Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. Walker & Company. ISBN 9780802715296. 
  9. Rural Utilities Service - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 20 January 2016. “RUS traces its roots to the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), one of the New Deal agencies created under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The REA was created on May 11, 1935, with the primary goal of promoting rural electrification.”

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