Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Trenchard, John (1662-1723)

761470Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 57 — Trenchard, John (1662-1723)1899Alexander Gordon

TRENCHARD, JOHN (1662–1723), political writer, born in 1662, was son of William Trenchard (1640–1710) of Cutteridge (a distant connection of Sir John Trenchard [q. v.]). His mother was Ellen, daughter of Sir George Norton. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where Edward Smith, or Smyth [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Down and Connor, was his tutor. Having been called to the bar, he left the legal profession to become a commissioner of the forfeited estates in Ireland. An uncle's death, and his marriage, placed him in easy circumstances, and he devoted himself to political writing as a constitutional reformer in church and state. His first publication, in conjunction with Walter Moyle [q. v.], was ‘An Argument showing … a Standing Army … inconsistent with a free Government,’ 1697 (thrice reprinted); it was followed by ‘A Short History of Standing Armies in England,’ 1698 (reprinted 1731); much angry controversy ensued. In 1709 he published anonymously ‘The Natural History of Superstition.’ In 1719 began his literary connection with Thomas Gordon (d. 1750) [q. v.], who calls him his ‘first friend’ and ‘the best friend that I ever had.’ They co-operated in the production of ‘The Independent Whig,’ published every Wednesday from 20 Jan. 1720 to 18 June 1721 (to two previous pamphlets they had given the same name), and in the writing of a series of Saturday letters from 5 Nov. 1720 to 27 July 1723, signed ‘Cato.’ The earliest were published in the ‘London Journal,’ later ones in the ‘British Journal.’ The ‘Independent Whig’ was collected into a volume (1721), and swelled by Gordon's additions to 4 volumes (1747). ‘Cato's Letters,’ with six new ones by Gordon, were collected in 4 vols. (1724). Both collections have been often reprinted; in later editions Trenchard's articles are signed ‘T,’ the conjoint articles ‘T and G.’ Some are signed simply ‘G.’ Trenchard, however, as Gordon fully allows, inspired the whole of this joint work by ‘his conversation and strong way of thinking.’

Trenchard was a whig with popular sympathies, but by no means a republican, as his opponents wished to consider him. His unsparing attacks on the high-church party were followed by counter attacks, representing him as a deist, or an enemy of all religion; but he set forth his attachment to Christianity with unequivocal sincerity, and while declaiming against abuses, affirmed his consistent loyalty to the established church. He got into parliament for Taunton, but made no figure in the house.

He died on 17 Dec. 1723, leaving no issue by his wife Anne, daughter of Sir William Blackett. Gordon, who describes him as ‘strong and well set,’ but ‘scarce ever in perfect health,’ draws a vivid picture of his strenuous character and frank disposition, and hints that on his deathbed Trenchard suggested that Gordon should marry his widow—a marriage which came about.

[Burke's Commoners, iv. 79; Gordon's pref. to Cato's Letters, 1724; Gordon's epitaph for Trenchard in Independent Whig, 1732, vol. ii.; Biographia Britannica, 1766; Toulmin's Hist. of Taunton, 1791, p. 81; Notes and Queries, 9th ser. iii. 203.]

A. G.