The World’s Famous Orations.
Rome (218 B.C.–84 A.D.). 1906.
II. In Opposition to a New Agrarian Law
For, in truth, if you please to recollect, you will find that those new men who have at any time been made consuls without a repulse, have been elected after long toil, and on some critical emergency, having stood for it many years after they had been pretors, and a good deal later than they might have done according to the laws regulating the age of candidates for the office; but that those who stood for it in their regular year were not elected without a repulse; that I am the only one of all the new men whom we can remember who has stood for the consulship the first moment that by law I could,—who has been elected consul the first time that I have stood; so that this honor which you have conferred on me, having been sought by me at the proper time, appears not to have been filched by me on the occasion of some unpopular candidate offering himself,—not to have been gained by long perseverance in asking for it, but to have been fairly earned by my worth and dignity. This, also, is a most honorable thing for me, O Romans, which I mentioned a few minutes ago,—that I am the first new man for many years on whom you have conferred this honor; that you have conferred it on my first application, in my proper year. But yet nothing can be more splendid or more honorable for me than this circumstance,—that at the comitia at which I was elected you delivered not your ballot, the vindication of your silent liberty, but your eager voices as the witnesses of your good will toward and zeal for me. And so it was not the last tribe of the votes, but the very first moment of your meeting—it was not the single voices of the criers, but the whole Roman people with one voice that declared me consul.
I think this eminent and unprecedented kindness of yours, O Romans, of great weight as a reward for my courage, and as a source of joy to me, but still more calculated to impress me with care and anxiety. For, O Romans, many and grave thoughts occupy my mind, which allow me but little rest day or night. First, there is anxiety about discharging the duties of the consulship, which is a difficult and important business to all men, and especially to me above all other men; for if I err, I shall obtain no pardon—if I do well, I shall get but little praise, and that, too, extorted from unwilling people—if I am in doubt, I have no faithful counselors to whom I can apply—if I am in difficulty, I have no sure assistance from the nobles on which I can depend.
For I will speak the truth, O Romans; I can not find fault with the general principle of an agrarian law, for it occurs to my mind that two most illustrious men, two most able men, two men most thoroughly attached to the Roman people, Tiberius and Caius Gracchus, established the people on public domains which had previously been occupied by private individuals. Nor am I a consul of such opinions as to think it wrong, as most men do, to praise the Gracchi, by whose counsels, and wisdom, and laws, I see that many parts of the republic have been greatly strengthened. Therefore, when at the very beginning, I, being the consul-elect, was informed that the tribunes-elect of the people were drawing up an agrarian law, I wished to ascertain what their plans were. In truth, I thought that, since we were both to act as magistrates in the same year, it was right that there should be some union between us, for the purpose of governing the republic wisely and successfully. When I wished to join them familiarly in conversation I was shut out—their projects were concealed from me; and when I assured them that, if the law appeared to me to be advantageous to the Roman people, I would assist them in it and promote it, still they rejected this liberality of mine with scorn, and said that I could not possibly be induced to approve of any liberal measures.
I do assert to you, O Romans, that by this beautiful agrarian law, by this law calculated solely for the good of the people, nothing whatever is given to you, everything is sacrificed to a few particular men; that lands are displayed before the eyes of the Roman people, liberty is taken away from them; that the fortunes of some private individuals are increased, the public wealth is exhausted; and lastly, which is the most scandalous thing of all, that by means of a tribune of the people, whom our ancestors designed to be the protector and guardian of liberty, kings are being established in the city. And when I have shown to you all the grounds for this statement, if they appear to you to be erroneous, I will yield to your authority, I will abandon my own opinion. But if you become aware that plots are laid against your liberty under a pretense of liberality, then do not hesitate, now that you have a consul to assist you, to defend that liberty which was earned by the sweat and blood of your ancestors, and handed down to you, without any trouble on your part.
The first clause in this agrarian law is one by which, as they think, you are a little proved, to see with what feelings you can bear a diminution of your liberty. For it orders “the tribune of the people who has passed this law to create ten decemvirs by the votes of seventeen tribes, so that whomsoever a majority consisting of nine tribes elects, shall be a decemvir.” On this I ask, on what account the framer of this law has commenced his law and his measures in such a manner as to deprive the Roman people of its right of voting? As often as agrarian laws have been passed, commissioners, and triumvirs, and quinquevirs, and decemvirs have been appointed. I ask this tribune of the people, who is so attached to the people, whether they were ever created except by the whole thirty-five tribes? In truth, as it is proper for every power, and every command, and every charge which is committed to any one, to proceed from the entire Roman people, so especially ought those to do so, which are established for any use and advantage of the Roman people; as that is a case in which they all together choose the man who they think will most study the advantage of the Roman people, and in which also each individual among them by his own zeal and his own vote assists to make a road by which he may obtain some individual benefit for himself. This is the tribune to whom it has occurred above all others to deprive the Roman people of their suffrages, and to invite a few tribes, not by any fixed condition of law, but by the kindness of lots drawn, and by chance, to usurp the liberties belonging to all.
Who passed the law? Rullus. Who prevented the greater portion of the people from having a vote? Rullus. Who presided over the comitia? Who summoned to the election whatever tribes he pleased, having drawn the lots for them without any witness being present to see fair play? Who appointed whatever decemvirs he chose? This same Rullus. Whom did he appoint chief of the decemvirs? Rullus. I hardly believe that he could induce his own slaves to approve of this; much less you, who are the masters of all nations. Therefore, the most excellent laws will be repealed by this law without the least suspicion of the fact. He will seek for a commission for himself by virtue of his own law; he will hold comitia, tho the greater portion of the people is stripped of their votes; he will appoint whomsoever he pleases, and himself among them; and forsooth he will not reject his own colleags—the backers of this agrarian law; by whom the first place in the unpopularity which may possibly arise from drawing the law, and from having his name at the head of it, has indeed been conceded to him, but the profit from the whole business, they, who in the hope of it are placed in this position, reserve to themselves in equal shares with him.
But now take notice of the diligence of the man, if indeed you think that Rullus contrived this, or that it is a thing which could possibly have occurred to Rullus. Those men who first projected these measures saw, that, if you had the power of making your selection out of the whole people, whatever the matter might be in which good faith, integrity, virtue, and authority, were required, you would beyond all question entrust it to Cnæus Pompeius as the chief manager. In truth, after you had chosen one man out of all the citizens, and appointed him to conduct all your wars against all nations by land and sea, they saw plainly that it was most natural that, when you were appointing decemvirs, whether it was to be looked on as committing a trust to, or conferring an honor on a man, you would commit the business to him, and most reasonable that he should have this compliment paid him. Therefore, an exception is made by this law, mentioning not youth, nor any legal impediment, nor any command or magistracy, which might be encumbered with obstacles arising either from the business with which it was already loaded, or from the laws. There is not even an exception made in the case of any convicted person, to prevent his being made a decemvir. Cnæus Pompeius is excepted and disabled from being elected a colleag of Publius Rullus (for I say nothing of the rest). For he has worded the law so that only those who are present can stand for the office—a clause which was never yet found in any other law, not even in the laws concerning those magistrates who are periodically elected. But this clause was inserted, in order that if the law passed you might not be able to give him a colleag who would be a guardian over him, and a check upon his covetousness.
Here, since I see that you are moved by the dignity of the man, and by the insult put upon him by this law, I will return to the assertion that I made at the beginning, that a kingly power is being erected, and your liberties entirely taken away by this law. Did you think, otherwise, that when a few men had cast the eyes of covetousness on all your possessions, they would not in the very first place take care that Cnæus Pompeius should be removed from all power of protecting your liberty, from all power to promote, from all commission to watch over, and from all means of protecting your interests? They saw, and they see still, that if, through your own imprudence and my negligence, you adopt this law, without understanding its effect, you would afterward, when you were creating decemvirs, think it expedient to oppose Cnæus Pompeius as your defense against all defects and wickednesses in the law. And is this a slight argument to you, that these are men by whom dominion and power over everything is sought, when you see that he, whom they see will surely be the protector of your liberty, is the only one to whom that dignity is denied?
Besides all this, he gives the decemvirs authority pretorian in name, but kingly in reality. He describes their power, as a power for five years; but he makes it perpetual. For he strengthens it with such bulwarks and defenses that it will be quite impossible to deprive them of it against their own consent. Then he adorns them with apparitors, and secretaries, and clerks, and criers, and architects; besides that, with mules, and tents, and centuries, and all sorts of furniture; he draws money for their expenses from the treasury; he supplies them with more money from the allies; he appoints them two hundred surveyors from the equestrian body every year as their personal attendants, and also as ministers and satellites of their power. You have now, O Romans, the form and very appearance of tyrants; you see all the ensigns of power, but not yet the power itself. For, perhaps, some one may say, “Well, what harm do all those men, secretary, lictor, crier, and chicken-feeder do me?” I will tell you. These things are of such a nature that the man who has them without their being conferred by your vote, must seem either a monarch with intolerable power, or if he assumes them as a private individual, a madman.
Just see what great authority they are invested with, and you will say that it is not the insanity of private individuals, but the immoderate arrogance of kings. First of all, they are entrusted with boundless power of acquiring enormous sums of money out of your revenues, not by farming them, but by alienating them. In the next place, they are allowed to pursue an inquiry into the conduct of every country and of every nation, without any bench of judges; to punish without any right of appeal being allowed; and to condemn without there being any means of procuring a reversal of their sentence. They will be able for five years to sit in judgment on the consuls, or even on the tribunes of the people themselves; but all that time no one will be able to sit in judgment on them. They will be allowed to fill magisterial offices; but they will not be allowed to be prosecuted. They will have power to purchase lands, from whomsoever they choose, whatever they choose, and at whatever price they choose. They are allowed to establish new colonies, to recruit old ones, to till all Italy with their colonists; they have absolute authority for visiting every province, for depriving free people of their lands, for giving or taking away kingdoms, whenever they please. They may be at Rome when it is convenient to them; but they have a right also to wander about wherever they like with supreme command, and with a power of sitting in judgment on everything. They are allowed to put an end to all criminal trials; to remove from the tribunals whoever they think fit; to decide by themselves on the most important matters; to delegate their power to a questor; to send about surveyors; and to ratify whatever the surveyor has reported to that single decemvir by whom he has been sent.
It is a defect in my language, O Romans, when I call this power a kingly power. For in truth, it is something much more considerable; for there never was any kingly power that, if it was not defined by some express law, was not at least understood to be subject to certain limitations. But this power is absolutely unbounded; it is one within which all kingly powers, and your own imperial authority, which is of such wide extent, and all other powers, whether freely exercised by your permission, or existing only by your tacit countenance, are, by express permission of the law, comprehended.
You have now seen how many things and what valuable things the decemvirs are likely to sell with the sanction of the law. That is not enough. When they have sated themselves with the blood of the allies, and of foreign nations, and of kings, they will then cut the sinews of the Roman people; they will lay hands on your revenues; they will break into your treasury. For a clause follows, in which he is not content with permitting, if by chance any money should be wanting (which, however, can be amassed in such quantities from the effect of the previous clauses, that it ought not to be wanting), but which actually (as if that was likely to be the salvation of you all) orders and compels the decemvirs to sell all your revenues, naming each item separately. And do you now read to me in regular order, the catalog of the property of the Roman people which is for sale according to the written provisions of this law. A catalog which I think, in truth, will be miserable and grievous to the very crier himself. He is as prodigal a spendthrift with regard to the property of the republic, as a private individual is with regard to his own estate, who sells his woods, before he sells his vineyards. You have gone all through Italy, now go on into Sicily. There is nothing in that province which your ancestors have left to you as your own property, either in the towns or in the fields, which he does not order to be sold. All that property, which, having been gained by their recent victory, your ancestors left to you in the cities and territories of the allies, as both a bond of peace and a monument of war, will you now, tho you received it from them, sell it at this man’s instigation?
Here for a moment I seem, O Romans, to move your feelings, while I make plain to you the plots which they think have escaped every one’s notice, as having been laid by them against the dignity of Cnæus Pompeius. And, I beseech you, pardon me if I am forced to make frequent mention of that man’s name. You, O Romans, imposed this character on me, two years ago, in this very same place, and bound me to share with you in the protection of his dignity during his absence, in whatever manner I could. I have hitherto done all that I could, not because I was persuaded to it by my intimacy with him, nor from any hope of honor, or of any most honorable dignity; which I have gained by your means, in his absence, tho no doubt with his perfect good will. Wherefore, when I perceive that nearly the whole of this law is made ready, as if it were an engine for the object of overthrowing his power, I will both resist the designs of the men who have contrived it, and I will enable you not only to perceive, but to be entire masters of the whole plot which I now see in preparation.
But I beg you now, O Romans, to take notice how Rullus is planning to besiege and occupy all Italy with his garrison. He permits the decemvirs to lead colonists, whomsoever he may choose to select, into every municipality and into every colony in all Italy; and he orders lands to be assigned to those colonists. Is there any obscurity here in the way in which greater powers and greater defenses than your liberty can tolerate are sought after? Is there any obscurity here in the manner in which kingly power is established? Is there any disguise about your liberty being wholly destroyed? For when it is one and the same body of men who with their resources lay siege, as it were, to all the riches and all the population—that is to say, to all Italy—and who propose to hold all your liberties in blockade by their garrisons and colonies,—what hope, aye, what possibility even is left to you of ever recovering your liberty? But the Campanian district, the most fertile section of the whole world, is to be divided in accordance with the provisions of this law; and a colony is to be led to Capua, a most honorable and beautiful city. But what can we say to this?
For this is what I say,—if the Campanian land be divided, the common people are driven out of and banished from the lands, not settled and established in them. For the whole of the Campanian district is cultivated and occupied by the common people, and by a most virtuous and moderate common people. And that race of men of most virtuous habits, that race of excellent farmers and excellent soldiers, is wholly driven out by this tribune who is so devoted to the people. And these miserable men, born and brought up on those lands, practised in tilling the ground, will have no place to which, when so suddenly driven out, they can betake themselves. The entire possession of the Campanian district will be given over to these robust, vigorous, and audacious satellites of the decemvirs. And, as you now say of your ancestors, “Our ancestors left us these lands,” so your posterity will say of you, “Our ancestors received these lands from their ancestors, but lost them.”
I think, indeed, that if the Campus Martius were to be divided, and if every one of you had two feet of standing ground allotted to him in it, still you would prefer to enjoy the whole of it together, than for each individual to have a small portion for his own private property. Wherefore, even if some portion of these lands were to come to every individual among you—which is now indeed held out to you as a lure, but is in reality destined for others—still they would be a more honorable possession to you when possessed by the whole body, than if distributed in bits to each citizen. But now when you are not to have any share in them, but when they are being prepared for others and taken from you, will you not most vigorously resist this law as you would an armed enemy, fighting in defense of your lands.
Then that standard of a Campanian colony, greatly to be dreaded by this empire, will be erected at Capua by the decemvirs. Then that other Rome, which has been heard of before, will be sought in opposition to this Rome, the common country of all of us. Impious men are endeavoring to transfer our republic to that town in which our ancestors decided that there should be no republic at all, when they resolved that there were but three cities in the whole earth, Carthage, Corinth, and Capua, which could aspire to the power and name of the imperial city. Carthage has been destroyed, because, both from its vast population, and from the natural advantages of its situation, being surrounded with harbors, and fortified with walls, it appeared to project out of Africa, and to threaten the most productive islands of the Roman people. Of Corinth there is scarcely a vestige left. For it was situated on the straits and in the very jaws of Greece, in such a way that by land it held the keys of many countries, and that it almost connected two seas, equally desirable for purposes of navigation, which were separated by the smallest possible distance. These towns, tho they were out of the sight of the empire, our ancestors not only crushed, but, as I have said before, utterly destroyed, that they might never be able to recover and rise again and flourish. Concerning Capua they deliberated much and long. Public documents are extant, O Romans; many resolutions of the senate are extant. Those wise men decided that, if they took away from the Campanians their lands, their magistrates, their senate, and the public council of that city, they would leave no image whatever of the republic; there would be no reason whatever for their fearing Capua. Therefore, you will find this written in ancient records: that there should be a city which might be able to supply the means for the cultivation of the Campanian district; that there should be a place for collecting the crops in and storing them, in order that the farmers, when wearied with the cultivation of the lands, might avail themselves of the homes afforded them by the city; and that on that account the buildings of the city were not destroyed.
See, now, how wide is the distance between the counsels of our ancestors and the insane projects of these men. They chose Capua to be a refuge for our farmers, a market for the country people, a barn and granary for the Campanian district. These men, having expelled the farmers, have wasted and squandered your revenues, are raising this same Capua into the seat of a new republic, are preparing a vast mass to be an enemy to the old republic. But if our ancestors had thought that any one in such an illustrious empire, in such an admirable constitution as that of the Roman people, would have been like Marcus Brutus or Publius Rullus (for these are the only two men whom we have hitherto seen, who have wished to transfer all this republic to Capua), they would not, in truth, have left even the name of that city in existence. But they thought that in the case of Corinth and Carthage, even if they had taken away their senates and their magistrates, and deprived the citizens of the lands, still men would not be wanting who would restore those cities, and change the existing state of things in them before we could hear of it. But here, under the very eyes of the senate and Roman people, they thought that nothing could take place which might not be put down and extinguished before it had got to any head, or had assumed any definite shape. Nor did that matter deceive those men, endued as they were with divine wisdom and prudence. For after the consulship of Quintus Fulvius and Quintus Fabius, by whom, when they were consuls, Capua was defeated and taken, I will not say there has been nothing done, but nothing has been even imagined in that city against this republic.
Many wars have been waged since that time with kings—with Philip, and Antiochus, and Perses, and Pseudophilippus, and Aristonicus, and Mithridates, and others. Many terrible wars have existed beside—the Carthaginian, the Corinthian, and the Numantian wars. There have been also many domestic seditions which I pass over. There have been wars with our allies,—the Fregellan War, the Marsic War; in all which domestic and foreign wars Capua has not only not been any hindrance to us, but has afforded us most seasonable assistance in providing the means of war, in equipping our armies, and receiving them in their houses and homes. There were no men in the city who, by evil-disposed assemblies, by turbulent resolutions of the senate, or by unjust exertions of authority, threw the republic into confusion, and sought pretexts for revolution. For no one had any power of summoning an assembly, or of convening any public council. Men were not carried away by any desire for renown, because where there are no honors publicly conferred, there can be no covetous desire of reputation. They were not quarreling with one another out of rivalry or out of ambition, for they had nothing left to quarrel about,—they had nothing which they could seek for in opposition to one another,—they had no room for dissensions. Therefore, it was in accordance with a deliberate system, and with real wisdom, that our ancestors changed the natural arrogance and intolerable ferocity of the Campanians into a thoroughly inactive and lazy tranquillity. And by this means they avoided the reproach of cruelty, because they did not destroy from off the face of Italy a most beautiful city; and they provided well for the future, in that, having cut out all the sinews of the city, they left the city itself enfeebled and disabled.
Ought we not to think that those men who foresaw all these things, O Romans, ought to be venerated and worshiped by us, and classed almost in the number of the immortal gods? For what was it which they saw? They saw this, which I entreat you now to remark and take notice of. Manners are not implanted in men so much by the blood and family, as by those things which are supplied by the nature of the plan toward forming habits of life, by which we are nourished, and by which we live. The Carthaginians, a fraudulent and lying nation, were tempted to a fondness for deceiving by a desire of gain, not by their blood, but by the character of their situation, because, owing to the number of their harbors, they had frequent intercourse with merchants and foreigners. The Ligurians, being mountaineers, are a hardy and rustic tribe. The land itself taught them to be so by producing nothing which was not extracted from it by skilful cultivation, and by great labor. The Campanians were always proud from the excellence of their soil, and the magnitude of their crops, and the healthiness, and position, and beauty of their city. From that abundance, and from this affluence in all things, in the first place, originated those qualities—arrogance, which demanded of our ancestors that one of the consuls should be chosen from Capua; and in the second place, that luxury which conquered Hannibal himself by pleasure, who up to that time had proved invincible in arms.
When those decemvirs shall, in accordance with the law of Rullus, have led six hundred colonists to that place; when they shall have established there a hundred decurions, ten augurs, and six priests, what do you suppose their courage, and violence, and ferocity will be then? They will laugh at and despise Rome, situated among mountains and valleys, stuck up, as it were, and raised aloft, amid garrets, with not very good roads, and with very narrow streets, in comparison with their own Capua, stretched out along a most open plain, and in comparison of their own beautiful thoroughfares. And as for the lands, they will not think the Vatican or Pupinian district fit to be compared at all to their fertile and luxuriant plains. And all the abundance of neighboring towns which surround us they will compare in laughter and scorn with their neighbors. They will compare Labici, Fidenæ, Collatia,—even Lanuvium itself, and Aricia, and Tusculum, with Cales, and Teanum, and Naples, and Puteoli, and Cumæ, and Pompeii, and Nuceria. By all these things they will be elated and puffed up, perhaps not at once, but certainly when they have got a little more age and vigor they will not be able to restrain themselves; they will go on further and further. A single individual, unless he be a man of great wisdom, can scarcely, when placed in situations of great wealth or power, contain himself within the limits of propriety; much less will those colonists, sought out and selected by Rullus, and others like Rullus, when established at Capua, in that abode of pride, and in the very home of luxury, refrain from immediately contracting some wickedness and iniquity. Aye, and it will be much more the case with them, than with the old genuine Campanians, because they were born find trained up in a fortune which was theirs of old, but were deprived by a too great abundance of everything; but these men, being transferred from the most extreme indigence to a corresponding affluence, will be affected, not only by the extent of their riches, but also by the strangeness of them.
I do not wonder that you, men of such folly and intemperance as you are, should have desired these things,—I do marvel that you should have hoped that you could obtain them while I am consul. For, as all consuls ought to exercise the greatest care and diligence in the protection of the republic, so, above all others, ought they to do so who have not been made consuls in their cradles, but in the Campus. No ancestors of mine went bail to the Roman people for me: you gave credit to me; it is from me that you must claim what I am bound to pay: all your demands must be made on me. As, when I stood for the consulship, no authors of my family recommended me to you; so, if I commit any fault, there are no images of my ancestors which can beg me off from you.
Wherefore, if only life be granted me, as far as I can I will defend the state from the wickedness and insidious designs of those men. I promise you this, O Romans, with good faith; you have entrusted the republic to a vigilant man, not to a timid one; to a diligent man, not to an idle one. I am consul; how should I fear an assembly of the people? How I should be afraid of the tribunes of the people? How should I be frequently or causlessly agitated? How should I fear lest I may have to dwell in a prison, if a tribune of the people orders me to be led thither I for I, armed with your arms, adorned with your most honorable ensigns, and with command and authority conferred by you, have not been afraid to advance into this place, and, with you for my backers, to resist the wickedness of man; nor do I fear lest the republic, being fortified with such strong protection, may be conquered or overwhelmed by those men. If I had been afraid before, still now, with this assembly, and this people, I should not fear. For who ever had an assembly so well inclined to hear him while advocating an agrarian law, as I have had while arguing against one? if, indeed, I can be said to be arguing against one, and not rather upsetting and destroying one. From which, O Romans, it may be easily understood that there is nothing so popular, as that which I, the consul of the people, am this year bringing to you; namely, peace, tranquillity and ease. All the things which when we were elected you were afraid might happen, have been guarded against by my prudence and caution. You not only will enjoy ease—you who have always wished for it; but I will even make those men quiet, to whom our quiet has been a source of annoyance.