On the Commonwealth, Book II


When he observed all his friends kindled with the desire of hearing him, Scipio thus opened the discussion. “I will commence (said Scipio) with a sentiment of old Cato, whom, as you know, I singularly loved and exceedingly admired, and to whom, both by the judgment of my parents and by my own desire, I was entirely devoted during my youth. Of his discourse, indeed, I could never have enough. He possessed so much experience as a statesman respecting the government which he had so long conducted, both in peace and war with so much success. There was also an admirable propriety in his style of conversation, in which wit was tempered with gravity; a wonderful aptitude for acquiring, and at the same time communicating information,—and all his words were illustrated by his life.

Such was Cato. And he used to say that the government of Rome was superior to that of other states; because in them the great men were mere isolated individuals, who regulated their constitutions [204]according to their own ipse dixits, their own laws, and their own ordinances. Such was Minos in Crete, Lycurgus in Sparta; and in Athens, which experienced so many revolutions, first Theseus, then Draco, then Solon, then Clisthenes, afterwards many others; and lastly, to support the Athenian state in its exhaustion and prostration, that great and wise man, Demetrius Phalereus.

Our Roman constitution, on the contrary, did not spring from the genius of an individual, but of many; and it was established, not in the lifetime of a man, but in the course of ages and centuries. For (added he) there never yet existed a genius so vast and comprehensive as to allow nothing to escape its attention, and all the geniuses in the world united in a single mind, could never, within the limits of a single life, exert a foresight sufficiently extensive to embrace and harmonize all, without the aid of experience and practice.

Thus, according to Cato’s usual habit, I now ascend in my discourse to the “Origin of the Roman Commonwealth,” for I like, when I can, to imitate the style of Cato. I shall also more easily execute my task, if I thus exhibit to you our political constitution in its infancy, progress, and maturity, now so firm and fully established, than if, after the example of Socrates in the books of Plato, I were to delineate a mere imaginary republic.


When all had signified their approbation, Scipio resumed:—What commencement of a political constitution can we conceive more brilliant, or more generally accredited than the foundation of Rome by the hand of Romulus the son of Mars? Let us, therefore, still venerate a tradition, at once so antique and so gravely maintained by our ancestors, that those who have done great service to communities, may enjoy the reputation of having received from the gods, not only their genius, but their very birth.

They relate that soon after the birth of Romulus and his brother Remus, Amulius, King of Alba, fearing that they might one day undermine his authority, ordered that they should be exposed on the banks of the Tiber. That in this situation, the infant Romulus was suckled by a wild beast; that he was afterwards educated by the shepherds, and inured to the hardy labours of the field; and that he acquired, when he grew up, such superiority over the rest by the vigour of his body, and the courage of his soul, that all the people who cultivated the plains in the midst of which Rome now stands, unanimously submitted to his rule and government. It is moreover reported, to come from fables to facts, that when he was placed at the head of these bands, he besieged Alba, then a potent and strong city, and slew its king, Amulius.


Having thus acquired glory, he conceived the design (as they tell us) of founding a new city and constituting a new state. As respected the site of his new constitution, a point which requires the greatest foresight in him who would lay the foundation of a durable Commonwealth, he chose the most convenient possible position for his chief city, Rome. For he did not advance too near the sea, which he might easily have done with the forces under his command, either by entering the territory of the Rutuli and Aborigenes; or by founding his citadel on the embouchure of the Tiber, where many years after, Ancus Martius built Ostia for his colony. But Romulus, with admirable genius and foresight, observed and calculated that sites very near the sea are not the most favourable positions for cities which would attain a durable prosperity. And this, first, because maritime cities are always exposed, not only to many attacks, but to many perils they cannot foresee or provide against. The solid land betrays, by many indications, the regular approaches, and the stolen marches of the enemy. It announces its natural foes by re–echoing the sound of their invasion. There is no adversary who, on an inland territory, can arrive so swiftly, but we may know his approach, and who he is, and where he comes from. But a marine and naval enemy can fall upon a sea coast town before [207]any one suspects his coming; and when he comes, nothing exterior indicates who he is, or whence he comes, or what he wishes; nor can it even be determined on all occasions whether he is a friend or a foe. (Note I.)

Maritime cities are likewise exposed to corrupt influences, and revolutions of manners. Their civilization is more or less adulterated by new languages and customs, and they import not only foreign merchandize, but foreign fashions, which allow no fixation or consolidation in the institution of such cities. Those who inhabit these maritime towns do not remain in their native place, but are urged afar from their homes by winged hope and speculation. And even when they do not desert their country in person, their minds are always expatiating and voyaging round the world.

There was no cause which more deeply undermined Corinth and Carthage, and at last overthrew them both, than this wandering and dispersion of their citizens, whom the passion of commerce and navigation had induced to abandon their agricultural and military interests.

The proximity of the sea likewise administers to maritime cities a multitude of pernicious incentives to luxury, which are acquired by victory or imported by commerce; and the very agreeableness of their position nourishes the expensive [208]and deceitful gratifications of the passions. And what I have spoken of Corinth may be applied, for aught I know, without incorrectness to the whole of Greece. For almost the entire Peloponesus is surrounded by the sea; nor, beside the Phliasians, are there any whose lands do not approach the sea—and beyond the Peloponesus, the Enianes, the Dorians, and the Dolopes, are the only inland peoples. Why should I speak of the Grecian islands, which, girded by the waves, seem as if they were all afloat, together with the institutions and manners of their cities. And these things I have before noticed do not respect ancient Greece only; for all its colonies likewise are washed by the sea, which have expatriated from Greece into Asia, Thracia, Italy, Sicily, and Africa, with the single exception of Magnesia. Thus it seems, as if fragments of the Grecian coasts had been appended to the shores of the barbarians. For among the barbarians themselves none were heretofore maritime, or inclined to navigation, if we except the Carthaginians and Etruscans; one for the sake of commerce, the other of pillage. Here then is one evident reason of the calamities and revolutions of Greece, because she became infected, as I before observed, with the vices which belong to maritime cities. But yet, notwithstanding these vices, they have one great advantage; it is, that all the commodities of foreign [209]nations are thus concentrated in the cities of the sea, and that the inhabitants are enabled in return to export and send abroad the produce of their native lands to any nation they please, which offers them a market for their goods.

Romulus was admirably successful in achieving all the benefits that could belong to maritime cities, without incurring the dangers to which they are exposed. He built Rome on the bank of an inexhaustible river, whose equal current discharges itself into the sea by a vast embouchure, so that our city can receive all it wants from the sea, and discharge its superabundant commodities by the same channel. It finds, in the same river, a communication by which it receives from the sea all the productions necessary to the conveniences and elegancies of life, and possesses an inland territory beside, which furnishes it with an exuberant supply of provisions. I, therefore, think that Romulus must have divined and anticipated that Rome would one day become the centre and focus of a potent and opulent empire. For, situated in any other part of Italy, no city could maintain so wide a dominion.

As to the natural fortifications of Rome, who is so negligent and unobservant as not to have them depicted and stampt on his memory? Such is the plan and direction of the walls, which, by the prudence of Romulus and his royal successors are [210]supported on all sides by steep and rugged hills. And the only aperture between the Esquiline and Quirinal mountains is enclosed by an immense rampart, and surrounded by a tremendous foss. And as for our fortified citadel, it is so secured by a precipitous barrier and inclosure of rocks, that in that horrible attack and invasion of the Gauls, it remained impregnable and inviolable. The site he selected had also an abundance of fountains, and was sufficiently salubrious, though it was in the midst of a pestilental region; for there are hills which at once create a current of fresh air, and fling an agreeable shade over the vallies. (Locum delegit et fontibus abundantem, et in regione pestilenti salubrem; colles enim sunt, qui cum perflantur ipsi, tum adferunt umbram vallibus.)

These things he effected with wonderful rapidity, and thus established the city, which, from his own name Romulus, he determined to call Rome. And in order to corroborate his new city, he conceived a design singular enough, and even a little barbarous, yet worthy of a great man, and a genius which discerned far away in futurity the means of strengthening his power and his people. The young Sabine females of the best birth, who came to Rome, attracted by the public games and spectacles which Romulus celebrated in the circus during the first anniversary, were suddenly [211]carried off by his orders, and were associated in marriages to the best families in Rome. This cause having brought on Rome the Sabine armies, and the issue of the battle being doubtful and undecided, Romulus made an alliance with Tatius, king of the Sabines, at the intercession of the matrons who had been so abducted. By this compact, he admitted the Sabines into the city, communicated with their religious ceremonies, and divided his power with their king.

After the death of Tatius, the entire government was again vested in the hands of Romulus. This monarch had, however, even during the lifetime of Tatius, formed a royal council or senate of the chief noblemen, who were entitled by the affection of the people Patres, or Patricians. He also formed Comitia, or a house of Commons, by dividing the people into three tribes, nominated after the name of Tatius, his own name, and that of Lucumon his friend, who had fallen in the Sabine war. He likewise made another division of the people into thirty Curiæ, designated by the names of those Sabine virgins, who after being carried off at the festivals, generously offered themselves as the mediators of peace and coalition.

But though these orders were established in the life of Tatius, yet after his death, Romulus reigned in double power by the council and authority of the senate. In this respect, he approved [212]and adopted the principle which Lycurgus, but little before, had applied to the government of Lacedæmon. The principle I allude to, is this, that the monarchical authority, and the royal power, operate best in the government of states, when to this supreme authority is joined the legislative influence of the aristocratic citizens. (Note II.)

Thus supported and corroborated by this council or senate, Romulus conducted many wars with the neighbouring peoples, in a most successful manner, and while he refused to take any portion of the booty to his own palace, he did not hesitate to enrich the citizens. Romulus also cherished the greatest respect for that institution of hierarchical and ecclesiastical ordinances, which we still retain to the great benefit of the Commonwealth; for in the very commencement of his government, he founded the city with religious rites, and in the institution of all public establishments, he was equally careful in attending to these sacred ceremonials, and associated with himself on these solemn occasions, priests that were selected from each of the tribes. He also enacted that the nobles should act as patrons and protectors to the inferior citizens, their natural clients and dependants, in their respective districts; a measure whose utility I shall afterwards notice. The judicial punishments, were mostly fines of sheep [213]and oxen, for the property of the people at that time consisted in their fields and cattle, and this circumstance has given rise to the expressions which still designate real and personal wealth. Thus the people were kept in order, rather by mulctations than by bodily inflictions.

After Romulus had thus reigned thirty–seven years, and established these two great supports of government, the hierarchy and the senate, having disappeared in a sudden eclipse of the sun, he was thought worthy of being added to the number of the gods,—an honour which no mortal man can deserve, but by the glorious pre–eminence of virtue. The Apotheosis of Romulus was the more illustrious, because most of the great men that have been deified, were so exalted to celestial dignities by the people, in periods very little enlightened, when fiction was easy, and ignorance went hand in hand with credulity. But with respect to Romulus, we know that he lived less than six centuries ago, at a time when science and literature were already advanced, and had got rid of many of the ancient errors that had prevailed among less civilized peoples. In fact, if, as we consider proved by the Grecian annals, Rome was founded in the seventh Olympiad, the life of Romulus was contemporary with that period in which Greece already abounded in poets and musicians,—an age [214]when fables, except those handed down from antiquity, received little credit.

This is the more evident, because it was one hundred and eight years after the promulgation of the laws of Lycurgus, that the first Olympiad was established, which indeed, through a mistake of names, some authors have supposed constituted by Lycurgus likewise. And Homer himself, according to the best computation, lived at least thirty years before the time of Lycurgus. We must conclude, therefore, that Homer flourished very many years before the date of Romulus. The information, therefore, of men, and the progress of arts and sciences in the days of our first monarch, could have left mere fictions little chance of success. Antiquity indeed has received fables that are sufficiently improbable; but this epoch, so considerably cultivated, would most likely have rejected every fiction that wanted the evidence of testimonies.

We may, therefore, perhaps attach some credit to this story of Romulus’s immortality, since human life was at that time experienced, cultivated, and instructed. And doubtless there was in him such energy of genius and virtue, that it is not altogether impossible to believe the report of Proculus Julius, the husbandman, of that glorification having befallen Romulus, which for many ages, [215]we have denied to less illustrious men. At all events, Proculus is reported to have stated in the council, at the instigation of the senators, who wished to free themselves from all suspicion of having been accessories to the death of Romulus, that he had seen him on that hill which is now called the Quirinal, and that he had commanded him to inform the people, that they should build him a temple on that same hill, and offer him sacrifices, under the name of Quirinus.

You see, therefore, that the genius of this great man did not merely establish the constitution of a new people, and then leave them crying in their cradle, but he still continued to superintend their education till they had arrived at an adult, and well nigh a mature age.


—We now see, my Scipio, what you meant when you said that you would adopt a new method of discussing the science of government, different from any found in the writings of the Greeks. For that prime master of philosophy, whom none ever surpassed in eloquence, I allude to Plato, chose an open plain to build an imaginary city after his own taste, a city admirably conceived, as none can deny, but remote enough from the real life and manners of men. Others, without proposing to themselves any model or type of government whatever, have argued on the constitutions and forms of states. You, on the [216]contrary, appear to unite these two methods, for as far as you have gone, you seem to prefer attributing to others your discoveries, rather than start new theories under your own name and authority, as Socrates has done in the writings of Plato. Thus, in speaking of the site of Rome, you refer to a systematical policy, the acts in the history of Romulus, which were many of them the result of necessity or chance, and you do not allow your discourse to run riot over many states, but you fix and concentrate it on our own commonwealth; proceed then in the course you have adopted, for I see that you intend to examine our other kings, and thus to delineate to us the perfection of our political constitution.


—The senate of Romulus which was composed of nobles, whom the king himself respected so highly that he designated them patres or fathers, and their children patricians, attempted after the death of Romulus, to conduct the government without a king. But this the people would not suffer, and in their regret for Romulus, desisted not from demanding a fresh monarch. The nobles then prudently resolved to establish an interregnum, a new political form, almost unknown to other nations. It was not without its use, however, since during the interval which elapsed before the definitive nomination of the new king, the state was not left without an interrex, [217]nor subjected too long to the same interrex, nor exposed to the fear lest some one by the prolonged exercise of power, should refuse to be deposed from his regency, or collect forces to secure it. Thus, our early Romans discovered a political provision which had escaped the Spartan Lycurgus, who conceived that the monarch ought not to be elective, so far as his opinion went, but that it was better for the Lacedæmonians to acknowledge as their sovereign, the next heir of the race of Hercules, whoever he might be. In fact, our Romans, rude as they were, saw the importance of appointing a king, not for his family, but for his virtue and experience.

Fame having recognized these eminent qualities in Numa Pompilius, the Roman people, without partiality for their own citizens, committed itself by the counsel of the senators, to a king of foreign origin, and summoned this Sabine from the city of Cures to Rome, that he might reign over them. Numa, although the people had proclaimed him king in their Comitia Curiata, or House of Commons, past a law through the Commons respecting his authority; and observing that the institutions of Romulus had too much excited the military propensities of the people, he judged it expedient to recall them from this habit of warfare by other employments.

And first, he divided severally among the citizens, [218]the lands which Romulus had conquered, and taught them that even without the aid of war and pillage, they could by the cultivation of their own territories, procure themselves all kinds of commodities. Thus he inspired them with the love of peace and tranquillity, in which faith and justice are likeliest to flourish, and extended the most powerful protection to the people in the cultivation of their fields, and the fruition of their produce. Pompilius likewise, having created hierarchial institutions of the highest class, added two hierarchs to the old number. He intrusted the superintendence of the sacred rites to five pontiffs, selected from the body of the nobles; and by those laws which we still preserve on our monuments, he mitigated by religious ceremonials the minds that had been too long enflamed by military enthusiasm and enterprize.

He also established the Flaminian and Salian orders of priests and the Vestal Virgins, and regulated all departments of our ecclesiastical policy with the most pious care. In the ordinance of sacrifices, he wished that the ceremonial should be very arduous, and the expenditure very light. He thus appointed many observances, whose knowledge is extremely important, and whose expense far from burdensome. Thus in religious worship he added devotion, and removed costliness. Numa was also the first to introduce [219]markets, games, and the other usual methods of assembling and socializing men. By these establishments, he inclined to benevolence and amiability, spirits whom the passion for war had rendered savage and ferocious. Having thus reigned in the greatest peace and concord thirty–nine years (for in dates we mainly follow our Polybius, who gave the greatest attention to chronological periods), he departed this life, having corroborated the two grand principles of political stability,—religion and clemency, (duabus præclarissimis ad diuturnitatem reipublicæ rebus confirmatis, religione atque clementiâ.)

When Scipio had concluded these remarks,—What think you (said Manilius) of the current tradition that our King Numa was a disciple of Pythagoras, or that at least he was a Pythagorean in his doctrines. This I have often heard from our old men, and we know that it is the popular opinion; but it does not seem to be clearly proved by the testimony of our public annals.


—The supposition is false, my Manilius; it is not merely a fiction, but a fiction of the grossest absurdity, and we should not tolerate those statements, even in fiction, relating to facts which not only did not happen, but which never could have happened. It was not till the fourth year of the reign of Tarquinius Superbus, that Pythagoras came to Sybaris, Crotona, and this part of [220]Italy. The 62d Olympiad is the common date of the elevation of Tarquin to the throne, and of the visit of Pythagoras. Whence it appears, when we calculate the duration of the reigns, that about 140 years must have elapsed after the death of Numa, before Pythagoras first arrived in Italy. And this fact in the minds of men who have carefully studied the annals of time, has never been at all doubted.


—Immortal gods! how deep and how inveterate is error in the minds of men! However, it costs me no effort to concede that our Roman sciences were not imported from beyond the seas, but that they sprung from our own indigenous and domestic virtues.


—You will become still more convinced of this fact, when tracing the progress of our Commonwealth, as it gradually developed to its best and maturest condition. And you will find yet further occasion to admire the wisdom of our ancestors, since you will perceive that even those things which they borrowed from foreigners received a much higher improvement among us than they possesed in their native source and original residence; and you will learn that the Roman people was aggrandized, not by chance or hazard, but rather by counsel and discipline, to which fortune indeed, was by no means unfavourable.

After the death of Numa, the people, on the [221]proposal of an interregnum, chose Tullus Hostilius for their king, in the Comitia Curiata, or House of Commons; and Tullus, after Numa’s example, consulted the deputies of the people respecting the measures of his government. His excellence chiefly appeared in his military glory and great achievements in war. He likewise constructed the House of Comitia, or Commons, and the Senate House, and decorated them with the triumphal spoils. He also settled the rights of war, and proclamations of hostilities, and he consecrated their equitable administration by the religious sanction of the Fecial priesthood, so that every war which was not duly announced and declared, might be adjudged illegitimate, unjust, and impious. And observe how wisely our kings at that time respected the rights of the people, of which we shall hereafter discourse. Tullus did not assume the ensigns of royalty without the approbation of the people, and when he appointed twelve lictors with their axes to go before him, it was not without the consent of the citizens.


—This Commonwealth of Rome you are so eloquently describing, did not creep toward perfection: it rather flew at once to the maturity of its grandeur.


—After Tullus, Ancus Martius, a descendant of Numa by his daughter, was appointed king by the people. He also passed a law through [222]the Commons respecting his government. This king having conquered the Latins, admitted them to the rights of citizens of Rome. He attached to the city, the Aventine and Cælian hills. He distributed the lands he had taken in war; he bestowed on the public all the maritime forests he had acquired, and he built the city Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber, and colonized it. When he had thus reigned twenty–three years, he died.


— Doubtless this king deserves our praises, but the Roman history is obscure. We possess indeed the name of this monarch’s mother, but we know nothing of his father.


—It is so; but in those ages, little more than the names of the kings were recorded.

For the first time at this period, Rome appears to have become studious of foreign literature. It was no longer a little rivulet, flowing from Greece towards the walls of our city; but an overflowing river of Grecian sciences and arts. This is attributed by many to Demaratus, a Corinthian, the first man of his country in reputation, honour, and wealth, who not being able to bear the despotism of Cypselus, tyrant of Corinth, fled with his accumulated treasures, and arrived at Tarquinii, a flourishing city in Etruria. There, understanding that the domination of Cypselus was becoming more and more severe, like a free and bold–hearted man, he renounced his enslaved [223]country, and was admitted into the number of the citizens of Tarquinii, and fixed his residence at this town. Here, having married a woman of the city, he instructed his two sons, according to the method of Greek education, in all kinds of sciences and arts.

One of these sons was hospitably received at Rome, and by the politeness of his conversation and manners he became a favourite of our king Ancus, so that he was thought to be a participator in all his counsels, and well nigh his associate in the government. He besides possessed wonderful affability, and was profuse in his offers of assistance, protection, and pecuniary largesses.

When, therefore, Ancus died, the people by their suffrages, chose for their king, this Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, (for he had thus transformed the Greek name of his family, that he might seem in all respects to imitate the modes of his adopted citizens). Lucius, when he had passed a law respecting his authority, commenced his reign by doubling the original number of the senators. The ancient senators, he called Patricians of the major families (patres majorum gentium) who had the right to the first judgment. And those new senators whom he added, he entitled, Patricians of minor families. After having settled this scale of major and minor nobility, he established the order of knighthood, on the plan which we maintain [224]to this day. He would not, however, change the denomination of the Tatian, Rhamnensian, and Lucerian orders, though he wished to do so, because Attus Nævius, an augur of the highest reputation, would not sanction it. We cannot be surprized, at the care of Lucius for the order of knighthood, for the Corinthians were remarkably attentive to provide for the maintenance and promotion of their cavalry, by taxes levied on the inheritance of widows and orphans. To the first equestrian orders, Lucius also added new ones, composing a body of three hundred knights. And this number he doubled, after having conquered the Æquicoli, a large and ferocious people, and dangerous enemies of the Roman state. Having likewise repulsed from our walls an invasion of the Sabines, he routed them by the aid of his cavalry, and subdued them. Lucius also first instituted the grand games, which are now called the Roman games. He fulfilled his vow to build a temple to Jupiter, the best and greatest, in the capitol—a vow which he made during a battle in the Sabine war, and died after a reign of thirty–eight years.


—All that you have been relating corroborates the saying of Cato, that the constitution of the Roman Commonwealth is not the work of one man, or one age, for we can clearly see that the progress of excellent and useful discoveries, [225]was continued through a succession of many reigns. But we are now arrived at the reign of a monarch, who appears to me to have had grander views of political government than any of the rest.


—So it appears to me; for after Tarquinius Priscus, comes Servius Tullius Sulpicius, who reigned without an order from the people. He is supposed to have been the son of a female slave at Tarquinii, by one of the soldiers or clients of king Priscus. Educated among the servants of this prince, and waiting on him at table, the king soon observed the fire of his genius, which shone forth even from his childhood, so skilful was he in all his words and actions. Priscus, therefore, whose own children were then very young, so loved Servius, that he was generally esteemed as his son, and he instructed him with the greatest care in all the sciences with which he was acquainted, according to the most exact discipline of the Greeks.

When Tarquinius Priscus perished by the plots of the sons of Ancus, Servius (as I have said) began to reign, not by the order, but yet with the good–will and consent of the citizens. It being falsely reported that Priscus was recovering from his wounds, Servius in the royal robes, delivered judgment, freed the debtors at his own expense, and exhibiting the greatest affability, announced [226]that he delivered judgment at the command of Priscus, without committing himself to the senate. But when Priscus was buried, he consulted the people respecting his authority, and being thus authorized to assume the dominion, he passed a law through the Commons, confirming his government.

He then, in the first place, avenged the injuries of the Etruscans by arms. He appointed eighteen centuries of knights of the first order. Afterwards having created a great number of knights, separate from the common mass of the people, he divided the rest of the people into five classes, distinguishing between the seniors and the juniors. These he so constituted as to place the suffrages, not in the hands of the multitude, but in the power of the men of property. And he took care to make it a rule of our government, that the greatest number, should not have the greatest weight, (ne plurimum valeant plurimi). You are well acquainted with this institution, otherwise I would explain it to you; but you are familiar with the whole system. The former centuries of knights, with six suffrages, and the first class, comprizing eighty centuries, besides one century of artificers, on account of their utility, produce eighty–nine centuries. Add thereto eight superior centuries, taken from the one hundred and four centuries which remain, you have one hundred and ninety three centuries, the entire [227]force of the state. The far more numerous multitude, which is distributed through the ninety–six last centuries, is not deprived of a right of suffrage by a haughty exclusion, nor yet on the other hand, permitted to exert a dangerous preponderance in the government.

In this arrangement Servius was very cautious in his choice of terms and denominations. He called the rich, the assiduous classes, because they afforded pecuniary succour to the state. As to those whose fortune did not exceed 1500 pence, or those who had nothing but their labour, he called them the proletarious classes, as if the state should expect from them a hardy progeny and population.

Even a single one of the ninety–six last centuries contained numerically more citizens than the entire first class. Thus no one was excluded from his right of voting, yet the preponderance of votes was secured to them who had the deepest stake in the welfare of the state.

A similar institution prevailed at Carthage which was sixty–five years more ancient than Rome, since it was founded thirty–nine years before the first Olympiad. Lycurgus likewise established the same political constitution in Lacedæmon. Thus this system of regular subordination, and this mixture of the three principal forms of government, appear to me common alike to us and them. But [228]there is a peculiar advantage in our commonwealth, than which nothing can be more excellent, which I shall endeavour to describe as acurately as possible, because nothing analogous can be discovered in ancient states. The political elements I have noticed were at first united in the constitutions of Rome, of Sparta, and of Carthage, without being counterbalanced by any modifying power. For in a state in which one man is invested with a perpetual domination, especially of the monarchical character, although there be a senate in it, as in Rome under her kings; and in Sparta, by the laws of Lycurgus, or even where the people exercise a sort of jurisdiction, as they used in the days of our monarchy; the title of King must still be pre–eminent, nor can such a state avoid being, and being called a kingdom. And this kind of government is subject to frequent revolutions, because the fault of a single individual is sufficient to precipitate it into the most pernicious disasters.

In itself, however, royalty is not only not a reprehensible form of government, but I should conceive far preferable to all other simple constitutions, if I approved of any simple constitution whatever. But this preference applies to royalty so long only as it maintains its appropriate character; and this character provides that a monarch’s perpetual power and justice, and universal experience, should regulate the safety, equality, [229]and tranquillity of the whole people. But many privileges must be wanting to communities that live under a king of a different character; and in the first place, liberty, which does not consist in slavery to a just master, but in slavery to no master at all

Let us now pass on to the reign of the seventh and last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus. This unjust and cruel master had good fortune for his companion for some time in all his enterprizes. He subdued all Latium; he captured Pometia, a powerful and wealthy city, and possest of an immense spoil of gold and silver, he accomplished his ancestor’s vow by the edification of the Capitol. He formed colonies, and, faithful to the institutions of those from whom he sprung, he sent magnificent presents as tokens of gratitude for his victories, to Apollo at Delphi.

Here begins the revolution of our political system of government, and I must beg your attention to its natural course and progression. For the grand point of political science, the object of our discourses, is to know the march and the deviations of governments, that when we are acquainted with the particular inclinations and proclivities of constitutions, we may be able to restrain them from their fatal tendencies, and oppose appropriate obstacles to their decline and fall.


This Tarquinius Superbus, of whom I am speaking, being, even before the commencement of his reign, stained with the blood of his admirable predecessor on the throne, could not be a man of sound conscience and mind; and fearing himself the severest punishment for his enormous crime, he sought his protection in making himself feared. Thus in the glory of his victories and his treasures, he exulted in insolent pride, and could neither regulate his own manners nor the passions of his courtiers.

When, therefore, his eldest son, having offered violence to Lucretia, daughter of Tricipitinus and wife of Collatinus; and this chaste and noble lady having stabbed herself to death on account of the injury she could not survive—a man eminent for his genius and virtue, Lucius Junius Brutus dashed from his fellow–citizens this unjust yoke of an odious servitude. Born of royal ancestry, though a private man, he sustained the government of the entire Commonwealth, and was the first that maintained in Rome that no one should be a private man when the preservation of our liberties was concerned. Beneath his authority and command our city rose against tyranny, and, stirred by the recent grief of the father and relatives of Lucretia, and with the recollections of Tarquin’s cruelty, and the numberless [231]crimes of himself and his sons, they pronounced sentence of banishment against him and his children, and the whole race of the Tarquins.

You may here remark how the king sometimes degenerates into the despot, and how, by the fault of a monarch, a form of government originally good, is abused to the worst of purposes. Here is a specimen of that despot over the people, whom the Greeks denominate a tyrant. For, according to them, a king is he who, like a father, consults the interests of his people, and who preserves those whom he is set over in the very best condition of life. (Regem illum volunt esse qui consulit ut parens populo, conservatque eos quibus est præpositus quam optimâ in conditione vivendi.) This indeed is, as I have said, an excellent form of government, yet still inclined, and as it were, biassed, to a pernicious abuse. For as soon as a king assumes an unjust and despotic power, he instantly becomes a tyrant, than which there can be nothing baser, fouler—no imaginable animal can be more detestable to gods or men—for though in form a man, he surpasses the most savage monsters in infernal cruelty. Who indeed can justly call him human, who admits not between himself and his fellow–countrymen, between himself and the whole human race, any communication of justice,—any association of kindness? But we shall find some fitter occasion of speaking [232]of the evils of tyranny, when the subject itself prompts us to declare against them, who, even in a state already liberated, have affected these despotic insolencies.

Such is the first origin and rise of tyranny. By this name, tyrant, the Greeks intended to designate a wicked king; and by the title king, our Romans understand every man who exercises over the people a perpetual and undivided domination. Thus Spurius, Cassius, Manlius, and Mælius are said to have sought the investiture of royalty, and Tiberius Gracchus incurred the same accusation.

Lycurgus in Sparta, formed under the name of Geronts, or Senators, a small council consisting of twenty eight members only; to these he allotted the highest legislative authority, while the king held the highest dominative authority. Our Romans, emulating his example, and translating his terms, entitled those whom he had called Geronts, senators, which, as we have said, was done by Romulus in reference to the elect patricians. In this constitution, however, the power, the influence, and name of the king, will still be pre–eminent. You may distribute indeed, some show of power to the people, but you inflame them with the thirst of liberty by allowing them even the slightest taste of its sweetness, and still their hearts will be overcast with alarm, lest their king, as often [233]happens, should become unjust. The prosperity of the people, therefore, can be little better than fragile, when placed at the disposal of any absolute monarch whatever, and subjected to his will and caprices.

Thus the first example, prototype, and original of tyranny may be clearly illustrated by the history of our own Roman state, so religiously founded by Romulus, without applying to the theoretical Commonwealth which, according to Plato’s recital, Socrates was accustomed to describe in his peripatetic dialogues. We have observed Tarquin, not by the usurpation of any new power, but by the unjust abuse of the power he already possessed, overturn the whole system of our monarchical constitution.

Let us oppose to this example of the tyrant that of the virtuous king—wise, experienced, and well informed respecting the true interest and dignity of the citizens—a tutor and superintendent of the Commonwealth, as every ruler and governor of a state ought to be. This man it behoves us to seek for and promote to dignity, for he is the man who, by counsel and exertion, can best protect the nation. As the name of this man has not yet been mentioned in our discourse, and as the character of such a man must be often alluded to in our future conversations, I shall take an early opportunity of describing it.


Plato has chosen to suppose a territory and establishments of citizens, whose fortunes were precisely equal. His city, rather to be desired than expected, he imagines built within narrow boundaries. He has described a political government, not such as could actually be carried into execution, but such as afforded a theoretical model of what he conceived to be the best civil constitution. But for me, if I can in any way accomplish it, while I adopt the same general principles as Plato, I seek to reduce them to experience and practice, not in the shadow and picture of a state, but in a real and actual Commonwealth, of unrivalled amplitude and power. It is here, I would seek to point out, with the most graphic precision, the causes of every political good and social evil.

After Rome had flourished more than 240 years under her kings and interreges, and Tarquin was sent into banishment, the Roman people conceived as much detestation of the name of king as they had once experienced regret at the death, or rather disappearance, of Romulus. As in the first instance, they could hardly bear the idea of losing a king; so in the latter, after the expulsion of Tarquin, they could not endure the notion of restoring a king, and thus the monarchical constitution of Rome was thrown into ruin.

In this humour, our ancestors banished Collatinus, [235]in spite of his innocence, because of the suspicion that attached to his family, and the hatred of the people for the rest of the Tarquins. In the same humour, Valerius Publicola was the first to lower the fasces before the people when he spoke in public. He also had the materials of his house conveyed to the foot of Mount Velia, having observed that the commencement of his edifice on the summit of this hill, where King Tullius had once dwelt, excited the suspicions of the people.

It was the same man who, in this respect preeminently deserved the name of Publicola, who carried in favour of the people, the first law received in the Comitia Centuriata, or Commons of Deputies, that no magistrate should sentence to death or stripes, a Roman citizen who appealed from his authority to the people. The pontifical books attest indeed that the right of appeal had existed, even against the decision of the kings. Our augural books affirm the same thing. And the Twelve Tables evince, by a multitude of laws, that there was a right of appeal from every judgment and penalty. Besides, the historical fact that the Decemviri who compiled the laws were created with the privilege of judging without appeal, sufficiently proves that the other magistrates had not the same power. Lucius Valerius and Marcus Horatius—men justly popular for promoting union and concord—sanctioned a law [236]under their consulship, that no magistrate should thenceforth be appointed with authority to judge without appeal; and the Portian laws, the work of three citizens of the name of Portius, as you are aware, added nothing new to this edict but a penal sanction.

Publicola having promulgated this law in favour of appeal to the people, immediately ordered the axes to be removed from the fasces, which the lictors carried before the consuls, and the next day appointed Spurius Lucretius for his colleague. The new consul being the oldest of the two, Publicola sent him his lictors, and he was the first to establish the rule that each of the consuls should be preceded by the lictors in alternate months, that there should be no greater appearance of imperial insignia among the free people than they had witnessed in the days of their kings. Thus, in my opinion, he proved himself no ordinary man, when, by so granting the people a moderate degree of liberty, he more easily maintained the authority of the nobles.

I would not, without cause, have related to you these antique and almost obsolete events. I hasten to treat of more illustrious persons and times, and those notices of men and measures to which the rest of my discourse directs me.

At that period, then, the senate preserved the Commonwealth in such a condition that though [237]the people were really free, yet few acts were passed by the people, but almost all, on the contrary, by the authority, customs, and traditions of the senate. And over all the consuls exercised a power, in time, indeed, only annual, but in nature and prerogative truly royal. (Genere ipso ac jure regiam.)

The consuls maintained, with the greatest energy, that rule which so much conduces to the power of our nobles and great men, that the acts of the Commons of the people shall not be binding, unless the authority of the patricians has approved them. (Populi Comitia ne essent rata, nisi ea patrum approbavisset auctoritas.) About the same period, and scarcely ten years after the first consuls, we find the appointment of the Dictator in the person of Titus Lartius, a. u. 253. And this new kind of power, namely, the dictatorship, appears exceedingly similar to a reproduction of the monarchical royalty. All his power, however, was vested in the supreme authority of the senate, to which the people deferred; and in these times the greatest exploits were performed in war by brave men invested with supreme domination, whether dictators or consuls.

But as the nature of things necessarily induced that the people, once freed from its kings, should arrogate to itself more and more authority, we observe in a short interval, only sixteen years [238]after, under the consulship of Cominius and Spurius Cassius, they attained their object. They could probably give no reason for this proceeding, but the nature of political agitations pretty often gives reason the lie. For you recollect what I said in commencing our discourse, if there exists not in the state a just distribution and subordination of rights, offices, and prerogatives, so as to give sufficient domination to the chiefs, sufficient authority to the counsel of the senators, and sufficient liberty to the people, the form of the government cannot be durable.

Thus among us Romans, the excessive debts of the citizens having thrown the state into disorder, the people first retired to Mount Sacer, and next occupied Mount Aventine. The rigid discipline of Lycurgus did not restrain the commotions of the Greeks. In Sparta itself, under the reign of Theopompus, the five magistrates whom they term Ephori; and in Crete, ten whom they entitle Cosmi, were established in opposition to the royal power, just as tribunes were added among us to counterbalance the consular authority.

There might have been a method indeed by which our ancestors could have relieved the pressure of the public debt, a method which Solon was acquainted with at no very remote period, and which our senate did not neglect when, in the indignation which the odious avarice of a [239]financier excited, all the bonds of the citizens were cancelled, and the right of arrest for a while suspended. In the same way, when the plebæans were oppressed by the weight of the expences occasioned by public misfortunes, a cure and remedy were sought for the sake of public security. The senate, however, having forgot their former decision, gave an advantage to the democracy; for, by the creation of two tribunes to appease the sedition of the people, the power of the senate was diminished. Still, however it remained dignified and august, it was still composed of the wisest and bravest men, who protected their country in peace and war. Still, their authority was strong and flourishing, because in honour they were as superior to their fellow–citizens, as they were inferior in luxuriousness and extravagant expenditure. Their public virtues were the more agreeable to the people, because even in private interests they were ready to serve every citizen by their exertions and counsels.

Such was the situation of the Commonwealth when Spurius Cassius, emboldened by the excessive favour of the people, endeavoured to restore the monarchy and occupy the royalty. The quæstor accused him, and as you are aware, his father himself, when he found his son proved guilty of this design, condemned him to death at the instance of the people. About 54 years after the [240]first consulate, Tarpeius and Aternius very much gratified the people by proposing in the Commons the substitution of fines, instead of corporal punishments. Twenty years afterwards, Papirius and Pinarius, the censors, having by a strict levy of the fines confiscated to the state the entire flocks and herds of many private individuals, a light tax on the cattle was substituted for the law of fines in the consulship of Julius and Papirius.

But, some years previous to this, at a period when the senate possessed great influence, and the people were submissive and obedient, a new system was adopted. At that time both the consuls and tribunes of the people abdicated their magistracies, and the decemviri were appointed, who were invested with great and unappealable authority, so as to exercise the chief domination, and to compile the laws. After having composed, with much wisdom and equity, the Ten Tables of laws, they nominated as their successors in the ensuing year other decemviri, whose integrity and justice do not deserve equal praise. One member of this college, however, merits our highest commendation. I allude to Julius, who declared respecting the nobleman Sestius, in whose chamber a dead body had been exhumed under his own eyes, that though as decemvir he held the highest power without appeal, he required further bail, because he was unwilling to neglect that [241]admirable law whieh permitted no court but the Comitia Centuriata, to pronounce final sentence on the life of a Roman citizen.

A third year followed under the authority of the same decemvirs, and still they were not disposed to appoint their successors. In a situation of the Commonwealth like this, which, as I have often repeated, could not be durable, because there was no regular subordination among the citizens, the whole public power was lodged in the hands of the chiefs and decemvirs of the highest nobility, without the counterbalancing authority of the tribunes of the people, without the sanction of any other magistracies, and without appeal to the people from the infliction of death and stripes.

Thus the injustice of these men suddenly produced a great revolution, and changed the entire condition of the government. They added two tables of very tyrannical laws, and though matrimonial alliances had always been permitted, even with foreigners, they forbad, by the most abominable and inhuman edict, that any marriages should take place between the nobles and the commons, an order which was afterwards abrogated by the decree of Canuleius. Besides, they introduced into all their political measures, corruption, cruelty, and avarice. And indeed the story is well known, and celebrated in many [242]literary compositions, that a certain Decimus Virginius was obliged, on account of the libidinous violence of one of these decemvirs, to stab his virgin daughter in the midst of the Forum. Then in his desperation, having fled to the Roman army which was encamped on Mount Algidum, the soldiers abandoned the war in which they were engaged, and took possession of Mount Sacer, as they had done before on a similar occasion, and next invested Mount Aventine with their arms. Thus, methinks our ancestors knew how to prove all political experiments, and wisely they retained what they found most excellent. (Majores nostros et probavisse maxime, et retinuisse sapientissime judico.)

Scipio having thus spoken, all his friends awaited in silence the rest of his discourse. Then said Tubero:—Since my seniors are so mute, my Scipio, and make no fresh demands on you, I shall take the liberty to tell you what I particularly wish you would explain in your subsequent remarks.


—With the greatest pleasure, I will try to obey you.


—You appear to me to have spoken a panegyric on our Commonwealth of Rome exclusively, though Lælius requested your views not only of the government of our own state, but of the policy of states in general. I have not, therefore, [243]yet sufficiently learned from your discourse, with respect to that mixed form of government you most approve, by what discipline, moral and legal, it may be best constituted and maintained.


—I think we shall soon find an occasion better adapted to the discussion you have proposed respecting the constitution and conservatism of states. As to the best form of government, I think on this point I have sufficiently answered the question of Lælius. For in answering him, I specifically noticed the three simple forms of government—monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy—and the three mal–constitutions into which they often degenerate. I said that none of these forms, taken separately, was absolutely good; and I described as preferable to either of them that mixed government which shall be composed of a proper amalgamation of these simple ingredients. If I have since depicted our own Roman constitution as an example, it was not in order to define the very best form of government, for that may be understood without an example. But I wished, in the exhibition of our mighty Commonwealth, to render distinct and visible, what reason and discourse would vainly attempt to display without the assistance of experimental illustration: yet, if you still require me to describe the best form of government, independent of all particular examples, we must consult that exactly proportioned [244]and graduated image of government which nature herself presents to her investigators. This is the true model of the commonwealth you are seeking, a model which I also am searching after, and earnestly desire to attain.


—You mean the model that would be approved by the truly accomplished politician?


—The same.


—You have plenty of fair patterns even now before you, if you would but begin to pourtray them.


—I wish I could find even one such, even in the entire senate. For the politician should resemble the man, who, as we have often seen in Africa, seated on a huge and unsightly elephant, can guide and rule the monster, and turn him whichever way he likes by a mere sign, without any violence.


—I recollect, when I was your lieutenant, I often saw one of these drivers.


—Thus an Indian or Carthaginian regulates one of these huge animals, and renders him docile and familiar with human manners. But the genius which resides in the mind of man, by whatever name it may be called, is required to rein and tame a monster far more multiform and intractable, whenever it can accomplish it, which indeed is seldom. It is necessary to hold in with a strong hand that ferocious beast denominated the mob, which thirsts after blood, and exults in [245]all kinds of cruelty, and rages insatiably after the most hideous massacres of men.


—I now see the sort of politician you require, on whom you would impose the office and task of government.


—He must be a very choice and distinguished individual, for the task I set him comprises all others. He must never cease from cultivating and studying himself, that he may excite others to imitate him, and become, through the splendor of his talents and enterprizes, a living mirror to his countrymen. For even in flutes and harps, and in all vocal performances, a certain consent and harmony must be preserved amid the distinctive tones, which cannot be broken or violated without offending practical ears; and this concord and delicious harmony is produced by the exact gradation and modulation of dissimilar notes. Even so, from the just apportionment of the highest, middle, and lower classes, the state is maintained in concord and peace by the harmonic subordination of its discordant elements. And thus, that which is by musicians called harmony in song, answers and corresponds to what we call concord in the state:—Concord, the strongest and loveliest bond of security in every Commonwealth, being always accompanied by Justice and Equity. (Note III.)


—Is it necessary that absolute justice [246]and strict equity should be maintained in all political affairs?


—I certainly think so. And I declare to you, that I consider that all I have spoken respecting the government of the state is worth nothing, and that it will be useless to proceed further, unless I can prove that it is a false assertion that political business cannot be conducted without injustice and corruption; and, on the other hand, evince as a most indisputable fact, that honesty is the best policy, and that without the strictest justice, no government whatever can last long.

But with your permission, I would hint that we have had discussion enough for the day. The rest, and much remains for our consideration, we will defer till to–morrow. When they had all agreed to this, the debate of the day was closed.