Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII.: ANCIENT DEMOCRATICAL REPUBLICS. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 4 (Novanglus, Thoughts on Government, Defence of the Constitution)
Return to Title Page for The Works of John Adams, vol. 4 (Novanglus, Thoughts on Government, Defence of the Constitution)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER VII.: ANCIENT DEMOCRATICAL REPUBLICS. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 4 (Novanglus, Thoughts on Government, Defence of the Constitution) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 4.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
ANCIENT DEMOCRATICAL REPUBLICS.
In order to show the theory of Socrates, as reported by Plato, in a clearer light, and to be convinced that he has not exaggerated in his description of the mutability in the characters of men and the forms of government, we should look into the history of those ancient republics from whence he drew his observations and reasonings. Although it is probable that Greece was his principal theatre, yet we may reasonably suppose that Carthage and a multitude of other republics in Italy, besides that of Rome, were not unknown to him.
The history of Greece should be to our countrymen what is called in many families on the continent a boudoir, an octagonal apartment in a house, with a full-length mirror on every side, and another in the ceiling. The use of it is, when any of the young ladies, or young gentlemen if you will, are at any time a little out of humor, they may retire to a place where, in whatever direction they turn their eyes, they see their own faces and figures multiplied without end. By thus beholding their own beautiful persons, and seeing, at the same time, the deformity brought upon them by their anger, they may recover their tempers and their charms together. A few short sketches of the ancient republics will serve to show, not only that the orders we defend were common to all of them; but that the prosperity and duration of each was in proportion to the care taken to balance them; and that they all were indebted, for their frequent seditions, the rise and progress of corruption, and their decline and fall, to the imperfection of their orders, and their defects in the balance.
As there are extant no writings of any Carthaginian philosopher, statesman, or historian, we have no exact information concerning the form of their commonwealth, but what appears in a few hints of Greek and Roman authors. Their commerce and riches, their empire of the sea, and extensive dominion of two thousand miles on the sea coast, their obstinate military contests with Rome, and the long duration of their government, prove both that their population and power were very great, and their constitution good; especially as, for the space of five hundred years, their tranquillity was never interrupted by sedition, nor their liberties attempted by the ambition of any of their citizens.
The national character was military, as well as commercial; and, although they were avaricious, they were not effeminate.
The monarchical power was in two suffetes, the aristocratical in the senate, and the democratical was held by the people in a body. These are said to have been nicely balanced, but we know not in what manner. The chief magistrates were annually elected by the people. The senators were elected too, and, although it is not certain, it is most probable, by the people; but it appears that three qualifications were indispensable in every senator,—birth, merit, and wealth. This last requisite rendered commerce honorable, even in the first of the patricians and senators themselves, and animated the commercial genius of the nation. This government, thus far, resembles those of the States of America, more than any other of the ancient republics, perhaps more than any of the modern; but when we inquire for the balance, it is not to be found. The suffetes had not more authority than Roman consuls; they had but a part of the executive, and none of the legislative power. Much of the executive and all the legislative was in the senate and people. The balance, then, could only be between these two. Now, it is impossible to balance two assemblies without introducing a third power; one or other will be most powerful, and, whichever it is, will continually scramble till it gets the whole. In fact, the people here had the whole as much as in any of our states; so that, while the citizens were uncorrupted and gave their votes honestly for suffetes and senators, all went well. And it is extremely remarkable that, with all their acknowledged eagerness for money, this people were so many centuries untainted with luxury and venality, and preserved their primitive frugality of manners and integrity in elections. As to the Roman accusations of insincerity, there is no more reason to believe them, than there would be to believe a Carthaginian who should retort the reproach. This, as well as other instances, may lead us to doubt the universality of the doctrine, that commerce corrupts manners. There was another remarkable institution, that the senate should always be unanimous; and if any one senator insisted upon his own opinion against all the rest, there could be no decision, but by an appeal to the people. This, again, gave a strong democratical cast to the constitution. Such a tendency could only be balanced by the laws, which, requiring a large fortune for every senator and public officer, in order to support his dignity, and secure him against the temptations to corruption, confined the choice to the first families and abilities united. This was liable to great objection; because great abilities might often be possessed by men of obscure original and smaller property, who were thereby excluded. To this law, nevertheless, may be ascribed the duration of the republic.
Another remarkable check, which was, perhaps, the model from whence the Venetian inquisition was copied, was a committee of one hundred and four members of the senate appointed to watch the ambition of the great families. To this body all their admirals and generals were required to render an account of their conduct at the end of every year.
Out of this body were elected a sub-committee of five, who had very great power. Their office was for life; and they filled up their own vacancies out of the one hundred and four, and all the vacancies, even in the one hundred and four, out of the senate; they had the supreme tribunal of criminal jurisdiction. This power must have been terrible to all,—to the people, senate, and suffetes; yet it was the check which preserved the state from sedition and convulsions. It grew unpopular; and the law which at last made it annual and elective, probably laid the foundation of the ruin of the commonwealth, by changing the balance, and introducing the dominatio plebis. The balances in this, the most democratical republic of antiquity, contrived by the people themselves to temper their own power, are extremely remarkable. The suffetes represented, like the consuls at Rome, the majesty of the commonwealth, and had a share of executive authority; the council of five had criminal jurisdiction and inquisitorial power; the one hundred and four were a body chosen out of the senate, by the five, for their support; then comes the senate at large; and, last of all, the people at large. Here are five orders completely distinct, besides the necessary legal qualification of great wealth; yet all these checks, although they preserved the state five hundred years, could not prolong its period above seven hundred; because, after all, the balance was not natural nor effectual. The executive power was not separated from the legislative; nor the different parts of the legislature properly divided or balanced. Both the executive and judicial power were chiefly in legislative hands.
The noble families, thus secured in possession both of legislative and executive power, could not be restrained by all the ligaments which had been contrived to preserve the equipoise between them and the people. They divided into two factions, with the family of Hanno at the head of one, and that of Barcas of the other. They first attacked the council of five, whose power was unpopular, as well as odious to the nobles; then easily procured a law to make it annually elective, or, in other words, an instrument always in the hands of the prevailing faction, as such a small body, so changeable, must ever be; and, lastly, overturned the constitution. The Romans had all the advantage of these dissensions in the war, by which they finally destroyed their rival power so effectually, that scarce a trace of it remains to be seen, even in ruins. Their virtues were not extinguished to the last; and some of the greatest examples of patriotism and heroism were exhibited even in their expiring agonies.
Cecrops, an Egyptian, conducted a colony that settled in Athens, and first engaged the wandering shepherds and hunters of Attica to unite in villages of husbandmen. Although the government of Egypt was an absolute monarchy, he found it necessary to establish his own upon a more limited plan.
The two rival families of Perseus and Pelops, anciently contended for the dominion of the Grecian peninsula. The fortune of the descendants of the latter prevailed, and their superior prosperity led them to persecute their enemies. The descendants of Hercules, who was a son of Jupiter by Alcmena, of the line of Perseus, were stripped of all their possessions, and driven into exile. After a series of misfortunes, Temenus, Cresphontes, and Aristodemus, descendants in the fifth degree from Hercules, conducted an expedition into Greece and conquered the whole country.
The governments of the little states of Greece in the first ages, though of no very regular and certain constitution, were all limited monarchies. When, therefore, the Heraclides possessed themselves of Peloponnesus, they established everywhere that hereditary limited monarchy, which was the only government assimilated to the ideas and temper of the age, and an equality among themselves. Those vigorous principles of aristocracy, and some traces of the spirit of democracy, which had always existed in the Grecian governments, began to ferment; and, in the course of a few ages, monarchy was everywhere abolished. The very name of king was proscribed; a republic was thought the only government to which it became men to submit; and the term tyrant was introduced to denote those who, in opposition to these new political principles, acquired monarchical authority. Absolute monarchy was unknown as a legal constitution. The title of king implied a superiority of lawful dignity and authority in one person, above all others, for their benefit, not a right of absolute power. Legislation was never within their prerogative.
A distinction of families into those of higher and lower rank obtained very early throughout Greece, and nowhere more than at Athens, where, by the constitution of Theseus, the Eupatridæ, or nobly born, formed a distinct order of the state with great privileges. Afterwards wealth became the principal criterion of rank, which amounted probably to the same thing, as the nobly born were generally most wealthy. Every citizen in every Grecian state was bound to military service, as in modern times, among the feudal kingdoms. It was natural that the rich should serve on horseback; and this was the origin of knighthood both in ancient and modern nations. Where the noble or the rich held all the power, they called their own government aristocracy, or government of the better sort, or optimacy, government of the best sort. The people allowed the appellation of aristocracy only to those governments where persons, elected by themselves for their merit, held the principal power. Democracy signified a government by all the freemen of the state or the people at large, forming in assembly the legal, absolute sovereign. But as this, above all others, was subject to irregularity, confusion, and absurdity, when unchecked by some balancing power lodged in fewer hands, it was called ochlocracy, or mob rule. Most of the Grecian states had some mixture of two or more of these forms. The mixture of oligarchy and democracy, in which the former was superior, yet the latter sufficed to secure liberty and equal right to the people, might, according to Aristotle, be called aristocracy. That mixture where the democratic power prevailed, yet was in some degree balanced by authority lodged in steadier hands, is distinguished by that great author by the name of polity. An equal mixture of all three was never known in Greece, and, therefore, never obtained a distinct name in that language.
A war happened between the Athenians and Peloponnesians; the armies were encamped near each other, and the Delphian oracle was consulted. The answer of the Pythoness implied, that the Peloponnesians would be victorious, provided they did not kill the Athenian king. Codrus, disguising himself like a clown, with a fagot on his shoulder and a fork in his hand, determined to devote his life, entered the enemy’s camp, and was killed. The Peloponnesian chiefs finding the body to be Codrus, and fearing the prophecy, withdrew their forces, and a peace ensued. Medon, the eldest son of Codrus, was lame; and bodily ability was held in so high rank in popular esteem, that his younger brother disputed the succession. Each had a powerful party; but the dispute brought forward a third, which was for abolishing the royalty, and having no king but Jupiter. Fatal dissensions were apprehended, when a declaration of the oracle was procured in favor of Medon; and it was amicably accommodated that Medon should be first magistrate, with the title of archon, but not king. Although the honor was to be hereditary, and the archon to be accountable to the assembly of the people for his administration, it was agreed that a colony should be sent to Asia Minor, under Nelius and Androclus, younger sons of Codrus. The most restless spirits joined in the migration, and no further materials for history remain for several generations.
From the period where Homer’s history ceases, to that in which the first prose historians lived, a space of two hundred and fifty years, there is little light to be obtained. Twelve archons are named, who followed Medon by hereditary succession, and filled up three hundred years. On the death of Alcmæon, Charops was raised to the archonship, upon condition of holding it for ten years only. Six archons followed Charops, by appointment, for ten years; but on the expiration of the archonship of Eryxias, it was resolved that the office should be annual, and that there should be nine persons to execute it. They had not all equal dignity, nor the same functions; one represented the majesty of the state, and was usually called the archon; the second had the title of king, and was head of the church; the polemarch was third, and chief of military affairs. The other six had the title of thesmothetes; they presided as judges in ordinary courts of justice. The nine together formed the council of state. Here methinks I see the Polish nobles running down the king, or those of Venice the doge, and dividing the spoils of his prerogative among themselves. Legislation was in the assembly of the people; but the whole administration, civil, military, religious, and judiciary, was with the archons, who were commonly appointed by lot; but sometimes the assembly of the people interfered, and exercised the power of naming them. From the appointment of annual archons there was nothing but intestine troubles. That weight which, from earliest times, a few principal families possessed among the Attic people, and which was in a great degree confirmed to them by the constitution of Theseus, remained, amid all the turbulence of democracy, to a late period. Among those families the Alcmæonides, claiming some connection by blood with the perpetual archons and kings of the ancient Neleid line, were of great fame. Megacles, head of this family, was archon when Cylon, a man of a very ancient and powerful family, attempted to acquire the sovereignty of his country. He seized the citadel of Athens, with some troops he received from Theagenes, tyrant of Megara, whose daughter he had married. His vanity was excited not only by his birth and marriage, but his personal merit, having been victor in a chariot race at the Olympic games. The people ran to arms under their archons, and laid siege to the citadel. Cylon fled, and his party fled to the altars. They were promised pardon, but condemned and executed. This was an atrocious infidelity, and made the actors in it as odious, as it rendered Cylon and his party again popular and powerful.
The miseries of a fluctuating jurisprudence became insufferable, and all parties united at last in the resolution to appoint a lawgiver. Draco was raised to this important office; a man whose morals and integrity recommended him to the people, but whose capacity was equal to no improvement in the political constitution, and to no greater invention for reforming the judicatures, than that of inflicting capital punishments in all offences; and the knowing ones had no other remedy than to get the oracle to pronounce that the laws of Draco were written in blood; an expression which struck the imagination and touched the heart, and, therefore, soon rendered this system unpopular.1
Salamis, perceiving the divisions at Athens, revolted, and allied itself to Megara. Several attempts to recover it having failed, the lower people, in opposition to their chiefs, carried a law, making it capital to propose a renewal of the enterprise. Solon, of an ancient royal family, who had hitherto pursued nothing but literature and poetry, perceiving that this rash act of the populace began to give general disgust and repentance, especially to the young Athenians, ventured to lead the people to repeal it. He caused it to be reported that he was mad, and for some time kept his house; in this retirement he composed a poem, such as he thought would excite the multitude; then watching his opportunity, during an assembly of the people, he ran into the Agora like one frantic, mounted on a rock, and read his poem to the people. Some of his friends, who were in the secret, were present, and ready to wonder and applaud. The enthusiasm spread, the law was repealed, and an expedition sent under Solon’s friends, which, being skilfully conducted, recovered the island. But the party of Cylon were still clamorous against the partisans of Megacles, for their breach of faith. Solon persuaded the accused to submit to a trial. They were condemned to banishment; but this punishment not being sufficient to appease the deity, the bones of those who had been executed were removed beyond the mountains.
During these troubles Salamis was retaken. Superstition now gained the ascendant; phantoms and omens were seen, and expiations and purifications were necessary. Epimenides, a Cretan philosopher, of great reputation for religious knowledge, and an intimate friend of Solon, was invited to superintend the religion of Athens. Epimenides was the ostensible director, but Solon concerted with him the various improvements in jurisprudence. By means of religious pomp, ceremony, sacrifices, and processions, he amused the people into some degree of order and suspension of their factions; but the tranquillity was not likely to be lasting. Three political parties existed,—one for democracy, composed of the landholders of the mountains; another for an aristocracy of the rich, consisting of the possessors of the plain; a third preferred a mixture of oligarchy and democracy, consisting of the inhabitants of the coast, and the most disinterested men. There was another division of the people, into the parties of the rich and the poor. Dangerous convulsions were so apprehended, that many sober men thought the establishment of a tyranny, in one, necessary to prevent greater evils. Solon’s reputation for wisdom and integrity was universal; and, as he had friends in all parties, they procured the place of archon, with power to reform the constitution. His first object was to reconcile the rich with the poor; this he accomplished by lowering the interest without annulling the debt,1 and by taking from the creditor the exorbitant powers over the person and family of the debtor. He found such a predilection for democracy in the minds of the citizens, that he preserved to every free Athenian his equal vote in the assembly of the people, which he made supreme in all cases, legislative, executive, and judicial. He had not, probably, tried the experiment of a democracy in his own family, before he attempted it in the city, according to the advice of Lycurgus; but was obliged to establish such a government as the people would bear, not that which he thought the best, as he said himself.
As the laws of Solon were derived from Crete and Egypt, were afterwards adopted by the Romans as their model, and have by them been transmitted to all Europe, they are a most interesting subject of inquiry; but it is not possible to ascertain exactly which were his, which were those of Epimenides or Theseus, or what was, in fact, the constitution of Athens. The first inquiry is, who were citizens? By a poll that was taken in the time of Pericles, they were found to be fourteen thousand persons. By another, in the time of Demetrius Phalereus, they were twenty-one thousand. At the same time, there were ten thousand freemen, consisting of foreigners and freed slaves, and four hundred thousand souls in actual bondage, who had no vote in the assembly of the people. The persons, therefore, who shared the power being not a tenth part of the nation,1 were excused from labor, in agriculture as well as manufactures, and had time for education; they were paid, too, for attendance on public affairs, which enabled the poorer citizens to attend their duty. This is one circumstance which rendered a government so popular practicable for a time. Another was, the division of Attica into tribes and boroughs, or districts, like the American counties, towns, and parishes, or the shires, hundreds, and tithings of England. The tribes, at first, were four, afterwards ten. Each tribe had its presiding magistrate, called phylarchus, analogous to the English Sheriff; and each borough, of which there were one hundred and seventy-four, its demarchus, like a constable or headborough. As the title of king was preserved to the high-priest, so the person presiding over the religion of each tribe was called philobasileus, king’s friend, and was always appointed from among the nobly born, eupatridæ. Thus religion was always in the hands of the aristocratical part of the community. As the oracles and priests were held by the people in so much sacred veneration, the placing them, with all their splendid shows and rites, always in the power of the aristocratical families, or persons of best education, was as great a check to the democracy as can well be imagined. It should be here recollected, too, that almost all these eupatridæ, or nobles, among the Greeks, were believed to be descended from the gods, nearly or remotely. Nobility, as well as royalty, was believed of divine right, because the gods and goddesses had condescended to familiar intercourse with women and men, on purpose to beget persons of a superior order to rule among nations. The superiority of priests and nobles was assumed and conceded with more consistency than it is in Poland, Switzerland, and Venice; and they must have had a proportional influence with the people.
Another check to this “authority in one centre,” the nation, established by Solon, was countenanced by precedent introduced by Theseus, who divided the Attic people into three ranks. All magistrates were taken exclusively out of the first. Solon, by a new division, made four ranks, determined by property, and confined all magistracies to the first three. By this regulation, he excluded all those who had no will of their own, and were dependent on others; but by still allowing to the fourth, who were more numerous than all the others, their equal votes in the assembly of the people, he put all power into hands the least capable of properly using it; and, accordingly, these, by uniting, altered the constitution at their pleasure, and brought on the ruin of the nation. By these precautions, however, we see the anxiety of Solon to avail himself of every advantage of birth, property, and religion, which the people would respect, to balance the sovereign democracy. With the same view, he instituted a senate of one hundred persons out of each of the four tribes;1 and this great council, to which he committed many of the powers of the archons, he hoped would have a weight which all the archons together had not been able to preserve. It was afterwards increased to five hundred, when the tribes were increased to ten, fifty out of each, and was then called the council of five hundred. They were appointed annually by lot; but certain legal qualifications were required, as well as a blameless life. The members of each tribe, in turn, for thirty-five days, had superior dignity and additional powers, with the title of prytanes, from whence the hall was called Prytaneium. The prytanes were by turns presidents, had the custody of the seal, and the keys of the treasury and citadel, for one day. The whole assembly formed the council of state of the commonwealth, and had the constant charge of its political affairs; the most important of which was the preparation of business for the assembly of the people, in which nothing was to be proposed which had not first been approved here. This was Solon’s law; and, if it had been observed, would have formed a balance of such importance, that the commonwealth would have lasted longer and been more steady. But factious demagogues were often found to remind the people, that all authority was collected into one centre, and that the sovereign assembly was that centre; and a popular assembly being in all ages as much disposed, when unchecked by an absolute negative, to overleap the bounds of law and constitution as the nobles or a king, the laws of Solon were often spurned, and the people demanded and took all power, whenever they thought proper.
Sensible that the business of approving and rejecting magistrates, receiving accusations, catalogues of fines, enacting laws, giving audience to ambassadors, and discussions of religion, would very often be uninteresting to many even of the most judicious and virtuous citizens; that every man’s business is no man’s; Solon1 ordained it criminal in any one not to take a side in civil disturbances. Certain times were stated for the meeting of the general assembly; all gates were shut but that which led to it; fines were imposed for non-attendance; and a small pay allowed by the public to those who attended punctually at the hour. Nine proedri were appointed from the council; from whom the moderator, epistates, was appointed, too, by lot, with whom sat eleven nomophylaces, whose duty it was to explain the tendency of any motions contrary to the spirit of the constitution. The prytanes, too, had distinct and considerable powers in the assembly. When any change in the law was judged necessary by the people, another court, consisting of a thousand persons, called nomothetæ,1 were directed to consider of the best mode of alteration, and prepare a bill; after all, five syndics were appointed to defend the old law before the new one could be enacted. A law, passed without having been previously published, conceived in ambiguous terms, or contrary to any former law, subjected the proposer to penalties. It was usual to repeal the old law before a new one was proposed, and this delay was an additional security to the constitution.
The regular manner of enacting a law was this: a bill was prepared by the council; any citizen might, by petition or memorial, make a proposition to the prytanes, whose duty it was to present it to the council; if approved by them, it became a proboulema; and, being written on a tablet, was exposed for several days for public consideration, and at the next assembly read to the people; then proclamation was made by a crier: “Who of those above fifty years of age chooses to speak?” When these had made their orations, any other citizen, not disqualified by law, for having fled from his colors in battle, being deeply indebted to the public, or convicted of any crime, had an opportunity to speak. But the prytanes had a general power to enjoin silence on any man, subject, no doubt, to the judgment of the assembly. Without this, debates might be endless. When the debate was finished, the crier, at the command of the proedri, proclaimed that the question waited the determination of the people, which was given by holding up the hand. In some uncommon cases, particularly of impeachments, the votes were given privately, by casting pebbles into urns. The proedri ex-examined the votes and declared the majority. The prytanes dismissed the assembly. Every one of these precautions demonstrated Solon’s conviction of the necessity of balances to such an assembly, though they were found by experience to be all ineffectual.
From the same solicitude for balances against the turbulence of democracy, he restored the court of Areopagus, improved its constitution, and increased its power. He composed it of those who had held with reputation the office of archon and admitted them into this dignity and authority for life. The experience, the reputation, and permanency of these Areopagites must have been a very powerful check. From the Areopagus alone, no appeal lay to the people; yet if they chose to interfere, no balancing power existed to resist their despotic will. The constitution authorized the Areopagus to stop the judicial decrees of the assembly of the people; annul an acquittal, or grant a pardon; to direct all draughts on the public treasury; to punish impiety, immorality, and disorderly conduct; to superintend the education of youth; punish idleness; to inquire by what means men of no property or employment maintained themselves. The court sat in the night, without light,1 that the members might be less liable to prejudice. Pleaders were confined to simple narration of facts and application of laws, without ornaments of speech or address to the passions. Its reputation for wisdom and justice was so high, that Cicero said, the commonwealth of Athens could no more be governed without the court of Areopagus, than the world without the providence of God.
The urgent necessity for balances to a sovereign assembly, in which all authority, legislative, executive, and judicial, was collected into one centre, induced Solon, though in so small a state, to make his constitution extremely complicated. No less than ten courts of judicature, four for criminal causes, and six for civil, besides the Areopagus and general assembly, were established at Athens. In conformity to his own saying, celebrated among those of the seven wise men, that “the most perfect government is that where an injury to any one is the concern of all,” he directed that, in all the ten courts, causes should be decided by a body of men, like our juries, taken from among the people; the archons only presiding like our judges. As the archons were appointed by lot, they were often but indifferent lawyers, and chose two persons of experience to assist them. These, in time, became regular constitutional officers, by the name of Paredri, assessors. The jurors were paid for their service, and appointed by lot. This is the glory of Solon’s laws. It is that department which ought to belong to the people at large; they are most competent for this; and the property, liberty, equality, and security of the citizens, all require that they alone should possess it. Itinerant judges, called the Forty, were appointed to go through the counties, to determine assaults, and civil actions under a certain sum.
Every freeman was bound to military service. The multitude of slaves made this necessary, as well as practicable. Rank and property gave no other distinction than that of serving on horseback.
The fundamental principle of Solon’s government was the most like M. Turgot’s idea of any we have seen. Did this prevent him from establishing different orders and balances? Did it not render necessary a greater variety of orders, and more complicated checks, than any in America? Yet all were insufficient, for want of the three checks, absolute and independent. Unless three powers have an absolute veto, or negative, to every law, the constitution can never be long preserved; and this principle we find verified in the subsequent history of Athens, notwithstanding the oath he had the address and influence to persuade all the people to take, that they would change none of his institutions for ten years. Soon after his departure, the three parties of the highlands, lowlands, and coasts began to show themselves afresh. These were, in fact, the party of the rich, who wanted all power in their own hands, and to keep the people in absolute subjection, like the nobles in Poland, Venice, Genoa, Bern, Soleure, &c.; the democratical party, who wanted to abolish the council of five hundred, the Areopagus, the ten courts of judicature, and every other check, and who, with furious zeal for equality, were the readiest instruments of despotism; and the party of judicious and moderate men, who, though weaker than either of the others, were the only balance between them. This last party, at this time, was supported by the powerful family of the Alcmæonides, of whom Megacles, the chief, had greatly increased the wealth and splendor of his house, by marrying the daughter of the tyrant of Sicyon, and had acquired fame by victories in the Olympian, Pythian, and Isthmian games. The head of the oligarchic party was Lycurgus, not the Spartan lawgiver. The democratical party was led by Pisistratus, claiming descent from Codrus and Nestor, with great abilities, courage, address, and reputation for military conduct in several enterprises. Upon Solon’s return, after an absence of ten years, he found prejudices deeply rooted; attachment to their three leaders dividing the whole people. He was too old to direct the storm. The factions continued their manœuvres; and at length Pisistratus, by an artifice, became master of the commonwealth. Wounding himself and his horses, he drove his chariot violently into the Agora, where the assembly of the people was held, and, in a pathetic speech, declared “that he had been waylaid as he was going into the country; that it was for being the man of the people that he had thus suffered; that it was no longer safe for any man to be a friend of the poor; it was not safe for him to live in Attica, unless they would take him under their protection.” Ariston, one of his partisans, moved for a guard of fifty men, to defend the person of the friend of the people, the martyr for their cause. In spite of the utmost opposition of Solon, though Pisistratus was his friend, this point was carried. Pisistratus, with his guards, seized the citadel; and, his opponents forced into submission or exile, he became the first man, and from this time is called the Tyrant of Athens; a term which meant a citizen of a republic, who by any means obtained a sovereignty over his fellow-citizens. Many of them were men of virtue, and governed by law, after being raised to the dignity by the consent of the people; so that the term tyrant was arbitrarily used by the ancients, sometimes to signify a lawful ruler, and sometimes an usurper.
Pisistratus, of whom Solon said, “Take away his ambition, cure him of his lust of reigning, and there is not a man of more virtue, or a better citizen,” changed nothing in the constitution. The laws, assembly, council, courts of justice, and magistrates, all remained; he himself obeyed the summons of the Areopagus, upon the charge of murder. Solon trusted to his old age against the vengeance of the tyrant, and treated him in all companies with very imprudent freedoms of speech. But Pisistratus carried all his points with the people; and had too much sense to regard the venerable legislator, or to alter his system. He returned his reproaches with the highest respect; and gained upon him, according to some authors, to condescend to live with him in great familiarity, and assist him in his administration. Others say that Solon, after having long braved the tyrant’s resentment, and finding the people lost to all sense of their danger, left Athens and never returned.
Solon died at the age of eighty, two years after the usurpation. The usurper soon fell. The depressed rival chiefs, Megacles and Lycurgus, uniting their parties, expelled him; but the confederated rivals could not agree. Megacles proposed a coalition with Pisistratus, and offered him his daughter in marriage. The condition was accepted; but the people in assembly must be gained. To this end they dressed a fine girl with all the ornaments and armor of Minerva, and drove into the city, heralds proclaiming before them, “O Athenians, receive Pisistratus, whom Minerva honoring above all men, herself conducts into your citadel.” The people believed the maid to be a goddess, worshipped her, and received Pisistratus again into the tyranny.
Is this government, or the waves of the sea?
But Pisistratus was soon obliged to retire to Eretria, and leave the party of Megacles masters of Athens. He strengthened his connections; and in the eleventh year of this his second banishment, he returned to Attica with an army, and was joined by his friends. The party of Megacles met him with another army, ill disciplined and commanded, from the city, were attacked by surprise and defeated. Pisistratus proclaimed that none need fear who would return peaceably home. The known honor, humanity, and clemency of his character, procured him confidence; his enemies fled, and he entered the city without opposition. He made no fundamental change in the constitution, though, as head of a party, he had the principal influence. He depended upon a large fortune of his own and a good understanding with Thebes and Argos to support him in it. He died in peace, and left his son successor to his influence. Both his sons, Hippias and Hipparchus, were excellent characters; and arts, agriculture, gardening, and literature, as well as wisdom and virtue, were singularly cultivated by the whole race of these tyrants. Harmodius and Aristogiton, however, conspired the death both of Hippias and Hipparchus; the latter was killed, and Hippias was led to severities. Many Athenians were put to death. Hippias, to strengthen his interest with foreign powers, married his only daughter to the son of the Tyrant of Lampsacus. Her epitaph shows that the title of tyrant was not then a term of reproach,— “This dust covers Archedice, daughter of Hippias, in his time the first of the Greeks. Daughter, sister, wife, and mother of tyrants, her mind was never elated to arrogance.”
The opposite party were watchful to recover Athens, and to increase their interest with the other Grecian states for that end. The temple of Delphi was burnt. The Alcmæonides, to ingratiate themselves with the oracle, the Amphictyons, and all Greece, rebuilt it with Parian marble, instead of Porine stone, as they had contracted to do, without asking any additional price. The consequence was, that whenever the Lacedæmonians consulted the oracle, the answer always concluded with an admonition to give liberty to Athens. At length the oracle was obeyed; and, after some variety of fortune, the Alcmæonides, aided by Cleomenes the Spartan, prevailed, and Hippias retired to Sigeium.
It was one maxim of the Spartans, constantly to favor aristocratical power; or rather, wherever they could, to establish an oligarchy. For in every Grecian city there were always an aristocratical, oligarchical, and democratical faction. Whenever the Grecian states had a war with one another, or a sedition within themselves, the Lacedæmonians were ready to interfere as mediators. They conducted the business generally with great caution, moderation, and sagacity; but never lost sight of their view to extend the influence of their state; nor of their favorite measure for that end, the encouragement of aristocratical power, or rather oligarchical; for a few principal families, indebted to Lacedæmon for their preëminence, and unable to retain it without her assistance, were the best instruments for holding the state in alliance. This policy they now proposed to follow at Athens. Cleisthenes, son of Megacles, head of the Alcmæonides, was the first person of the commonwealth. Having no great abilities,1 a party was formed against him under Isagoras, with whom most of the principal people joined. The party of Cleisthenes was among the lower sort, who being all powerful in the general assembly, he made by their means some alterations in the constitution favoring his own influence. Cleisthenes was now Tyrant of Athens, as much as Pisistratus had been. In the contests of Grecian factions, the alternative was generally victory, exile, or death; the inferior party, therefore, resorted sometimes to harsh expedients. Isagoras and his adherents applied to Lacedæmon. Cleomenes, violent in his temper, entered with zeal into the cause of Isagoras, and sent a herald to Athens, by whom he imperiously denounced banishment against Cleisthenes and his party, on the old pretence of criminality for the execution of the partisans of Cylon. Cleisthenes obeyed. Exalted by this proof of a dread of Spartan power, Cleomenes went to Athens with a small military force, and banished seven hundred families at once.
Such was Athenian liberty.
He was then proceeding to change the constitution to suit the views of Spartan ambition, by dissolving the council of five hundred, and committing the whole power to a new council of three hundred, all partisans of Isagoras. Athens was not so far humbled. The five hundred resisted, and excited the people, who flew to arms, and besieged Cleomenes and Isagoras in the citadel; who the third day surrendered, upon condition that the Lacedæmonians might depart in safety. Isagoras went with them. Many of his party were executed, and Cleisthenes and the exiled families returned; but conscious of their danger from their hostile fellow-citizens in concert with Lacedæmon, they sent to solicit an alliance with Artaphernes, the satrap of Persia. The answer was, If they would give earth and water to Darius they might be received, otherwise they must depart. The ambassadors, considering the imminent danger of their country and party, consented to these humiliating terms. Although Athens was distracted with domestic factions, and pressed with the fear of an attack from Cleomenes, the conduct of her ambassadors, in acknowledging subjection to the Persian king, in hopes of his protection, was highly reprobated upon their return; and it does not appear that Persian assistance was further desired. Yet the danger which hung over Athens was very great. Cleomenes, bent on revenge, formed a confederacy against them, of the Thebans, Corinthians, and Chalcidians. These could not agree, and the Athenians gained some advantages of two of them.
Cleomenes then pretended that Sparta had acted irreligiously in expelling Hippias, who ought to be restored; because, when he was besieged in the citadel at Athens, he had discovered a collusion between the Delphic priests and the Alcmæonides. Sparta was willing to restore Hippias; but Corinth, their ally, was not. Hippias, despairing of other means, now in his turn applied to Persia, and brought upon his country the Persian war; from which it was delivered by Miltiades, at the battle of Marathon. Miltiades became the envy of the Alcmæonid family. Xanthippus, one of the principal men of Athens, who had married a daughter of Megacles, the great opponent of Pisistratus, conducted a capital accusation against him. He was condemned in a fine of fifty talents, more than he was worth. His wound, which prevented him from attending the trial, mortified, and he died in prison. In order to brand the family of Pisistratus, the fame of Harmodius and Aristogiton was now cried up. They had assassinated Hipparchus from mere private revenge; but they were now called asserters of public liberty. The tyrannicide, as it was called, was celebrated by songs, statues, ceremonies, and religious festivals.
It must be acknowledged that every example of a government, which has a large mixture of democratical power, exhibits something to our view which is amiable, noble, and I had almost said, divine. In every state hitherto mentioned, this observation is verified. What is contended for, is, that the people in a body cannot manage the executive power, and, therefore, that a simple democracy is impracticable; and that their share of the legislative power must be always tempered with two others, in order to enable them to preserve it, as well as to correct its rapid tendency to abuse. Without this, they are but a transient glare of glory, which passes away like a flash of lightning, or like a momentary appearance of a goddess to an ancient hero, which, by revealing but a glimpse of celestial beauties, only excited regret that he had ever seen them.
The republic of Athens, the schoolmistress of the whole civilized world for more than three thousand years, in arts, eloquence, and philosophy, as well as in politeness and wit, was, for a short period of her duration, the most democratical commonwealth of Greece. Unfortunately her history, between the abolition of her kings and the time of Solon, has not been circumstantially preserved. During this period, the people seem to have endeavored to collect all authority into one centre, and to have avoided a composition of orders and balances as carefully as M. Turgot. But that centre was a group of nobles, not the nation. Their government consisted in a single assembly of nine archons chosen annually by the people. But even here was a check; for by law the archons must all be chosen out of the nobility. But this form of government had its usual effects, in introducing anarchy, and such a general profligacy of manners, that the people could at length be restrained from even the most ordinary crimes by nothing short of the last punishment. Draco accordingly proposed a law, by which death should be inflicted on every violation of the law. Humanity shuddered at so shocking a severity! and the people chose rather that all offences should go unpunished, than that a law thus written in blood, as they termed it both in horror and contempt, should be executed.
Confusions increased, and divided the nation into three factions; and their miseries became so extreme, that they offered Solon an absolute monarchy. He had too much sense, as well as virtue, to accept it; but employed his talents in new-modelling the government. Sensible, from experience, of the fatal effects of a government too popular, he wished to introduce an aristocracy, moderated like that of Sparta; but thought the habits and prejudices of the people too strong to bear it. The archons he continued; but, to balance their authority, he erected a senate of four hundred, to be chosen by ballot of the people.1 He also revived the court of Areopagus, which had jurisdiction in criminal cases, and the care of religion. He excluded from the executive or the magistracy all the citizens who were not possessed of a certain fortune; but vested the sovereignty in a legislative assembly of the people, in which all had a right to vote. In this manner Solon attempted a double balance. The Areopagus was to check the executive in the hands of the archons; and the senate of four hundred, the fickleness and fire of the people. Every one must see that these devices would have been no effectual control in either case; yet they were better than none. It was very right that the people should have all elections; but democratical prejudices were so inveterate, that he was obliged not only to make them, assembled in a body, an essential branch of the legislature, but to give them cognizance of appeals from all the superior courts. Solon himself, in his heart, must have agreed with Anacharsis, that this constitution was but a cobweb to bind the poor, while the rich would easily break through it. Pisistratus soon proved it, by bribing a party, procuring himself a guard, demolishing Solon’s whole system before his eyes, and establishing a single tyranny. The tyrant was expelled several times by the opposition, but as often brought back, and he finally transmitted his monarchy to his sons. One of these was assassinated by Harmodius and Aristogiton; and the other was driven into banishment by the opposition, aided by the neighboring state, Sparta. He fled to the Persians, excited Darius against his country, and was killed at Marathon.
These calamities inspired the people with such terrors of a single tyrant, that, instead of thinking to balance effectually their “orders,” they established the ostracism, to prevent any man from becoming too popular. A check indeed, but a very injudicious one; for it only banished their best men. History nowhere furnishes so frank a confession of the people themselves, of their own infirmities and unfitness for managing the executive branch of government, or an unbalanced share of the legislature, as this institution. The language of it is, “We know ourselves so well, that we dare not trust our own confidence and affections, our own admiration and gratitude for the greatest talents and sublimest virtues. We know our heads will be turned, if we suffer such characters to live among us, and we shall always make them kings.” What more melancholy spectacle can be conceived even in imagination, than that inconstancy which erects statues to a patriot or a hero one year, banishes him the next, and the third erects fresh statues to his memory?1
Such a constitution of government, and the education of youth which follows necessarily from it, always produce such characters as Cleon and Alcibiades; mixtures of good qualities enough to acquire the confidence of a party, and bad ones enough to lead them to destruction; whose lives show the miseries and final catastrophe of such imperfect polity.
From the example of Athens, it is clear that the government of a single assembly of archons, chosen by the people, was found intolerable; that, to remedy the evils of it, Solon established four several orders,—an assembly of the people, an assembly of four hundred, an assembly of archons, and the Areopagus; that he endeavored to balance one singly by another, instead of forming his balance out of three branches. Thus, these attempts at an equilibrium were ineffectual; produced a never-ending fluctuation in the national councils; continual factions, massacres, proscriptions, banishment, and death of the best citizens. And the history of the Peloponnesian war, by Thucydides, informs us how the raging flames at last burnt out.
The people in each of the United States, have, after all, more real authority than they had in Athens.1 Planted, as they are, over large dominions, they cannot meet in one assembly, and, therefore, are not exposed to those tumultuous commotions, like the raging waves of the sea, which always agitated the ecclesia at Athens. They have all elections of governor and senators, as well as representatives, so prudently guarded, that there is scarce a possibility of intrigue. The property required in a representative, senator, or even a governor, is so small, that multitudes have equal pretensions to be chosen. No election is confined to any order of nobility, or to any great wealth; yet the legislature is so divided into three branches, that no law can be passed in a passion, nor any inconsistent with the constitution. The executive is excluded from the two legislative assemblies; and the judiciary power is independent, as well as separate from all. This will be a fair trial, whether a government so popular can preserve itself. If it can, there is reason to hope for all the equality, all the liberty, and every other good fruit of an Athenian democracy, without any of its ingratitude, levity, convulsions, or factions.
THE POLICY OF ANTALCIDAS.
In the year 1774, a certain British officer, then at Boston, was often heard to say: “I wish I were parliament; I would not send a ship or troop to this country; but would forthwith pass a statute, declaring every town in North America a free, sovereign, and independent commonwealth. This is what they all desire, and I would indulge them. I should soon have the pleasure to see them all at war with one another, from one end of the continent to the other.” This was a gentleman of letters, and perhaps had learned his politics from Antalcidas, whose opinion concerning the government of a single assembly is very remarkable. But the Greek and the Briton would both have found their artifices in America ineffectual. The Americans are very far from being desirous of such multiplications and divisions of states, and know too well the mischiefs that would follow from them. Yet such a spirit among the people would, in a course of time, be the natural and inevitable effect of M. Turgot’s system of government.
It is not very certain whether Antalcidas was a Spartan or not. If he was, he had violated the law of Lycurgus by travel, had resided long in Persia, and maintained an intercourse and correspondence with several noble families. He was bold, subtle, insinuating, eloquent; but his vices and corruption were equal to his address. The stern Spartan senate thought him a proper instrument to execute an insidious commission at a profligate court. The institutions of his own country, Sparta, were the objects of his ridicule; but those of the democratical states of Greece, of his sovereign contempt. The ancient maxim of some of the Greeks, “That every thing is lawful to a man in the service of his country,” was now obsolete, and had given way to a purer morality; but Antalcidas was probably one of those philosophers who thought every thing lawful to a man which could serve his private interest. The Spartan senate never acted upon a principle much better; and therefore might, upon this occasion, have given their ambassador the instruction which he pretended, namely,—to offer “to resign all pretensions to the Greek cities in Asia, which they would acknowledge to be dependencies of the Persian empire; and to declare all the cities and islands, small and great, totally independent of each other.” These articles, in consequence of which there would not be any republic powerful enough to disturb the tranquillity of Persia, were more advantageous to them than the most insolent courtier would have ventured to propose. The ambassador was rewarded by a magnificent present; and the terms of peace transmitted to court, to be ratified by Artaxerxes. The negotiation, however, languished, and the war was carried on with violence for several years; and all the art, activity, and address of Antalcidas were put to the trial before he obtained the ratification. The treaty was at last completed: “That all the republics, small and great, should enjoy the independent government of their own hereditary laws; and whatever people rejected these conditions, so evidently calculated for preserving the public tranquillity, must expect the utmost indignation of the Great King, who, in conjunction with the republic of Sparta, would make war on their perverse and dangerous obstinacy, by sea and land, with ships and money.”
Antalcidas, and Tiribazus, the Persian satrap, with whom he had concerted the treaty, had foreseen that, as Thebes must resign her authority over the inferior cities of Bœotia; as Argos must withdraw her garrison from Corinth, aud leave that capital in the power of the aristocratic or Lacedæmonian faction; and as Athens must abandon the fruits of her recent victories, there might be an opposition made to the treaty by these three states. To guard against which, they had provided powerful armaments by sea and land, which, with Spartan and Persian threats, so intimidated all, that all at last submitted.
This peace of Antalcidas forms a disgraceful era in the history of Greece. Their ancient confederacies were dissolved; the smaller towns were loosened from all connection with the large cities; all were weakened by being disunited. What infamy to the magistrates of Sparta, and their intriguing, unprincipled ambassador! But Athens, Thebes, and Argos, by the friendship of the democratical cities and confederacies, had become powerful, and excited their haughty jealousy. The article which declared the smaller cities independent was peculiarly useful to the views of Sparta; it represented them as the patrons of liberty among the free. The stern policy of Sparta had crushed in all her secondary towns the hope of independence. The authority of Athens, Thebes, Argos, and all the democratical confederacies, was less imperious; the sovereign and subject were more nearly on a footing of equality; and the Spartans knew, that “men are disposed to reject the just rights of their equals, rather than revolt against the tyranny of their masters;” their own slaves and citizens had furnished them with constant proof of this.
But Sparta, by this masterpiece of roguery, meant, not only still to hold all her own subordinate cities in subjection, not merely to detach the inferior communities from her rivals, but to add them to her own confederacy. To this end, by her emissaries, she intrigued in all the subordinate cities. How? by promoting liberty, popular government, or proper mixtures of a well-ordered commonwealth? By no means; but by supporting the aristocratical factions in all of them; fomenting animosities among the people against each other, and especially against their capitals. Complaints occasioned by these cabals, were referred to the Spartan senate, which had acquired the reputation of the patron of the free, the weak, and the injured, and which always decided in its own favor. But the ambition of Spartans, cool and cunning as it was, had not patience to remain long satisfied with such legal usurpations; they determined to mix the terror of their arms with the seduction of policy.
Before we proceed to an account of their operations, we must develop a little more fully the policy of Antalcidas. Besides the free republics of Attica, Thebes, and Argos, which consisted of several cities, governed by their first magistrate, senate, and people, in which the subordinate cities always complained of the inordinate influence of the capital, there were several republics reputed still more popular, because they were governed by single assemblies, like Biscay, the Grisons, Appenzel, Underwald, Glarus, &c. These republics consisted of several towns, each governed by its own first magistrate, council, and people; but confederated together, under the superintendence of a single diplomatical assembly, in which certain common laws were agreed on, and certain common magistrates appointed, by deputies from each town. These confederacies are the only examples of governments by a single assembly which were known in Greece. Antalcidas knew that each of these towns was discontented with the administration of the common assembly, and that all, in their hearts, wished for independence. It was to this foible of the people that he addressed that policy, in his Persian treaty, by which he reduced to atoms, as if it had been a rope of sand, every democratical city and confederacy, and every one in which democracy and aristocracy were mixed, throughout all Greece.
The first victim of this ambitious policy was Arcadia, in the centre of Peloponnesus, whose principal town was Mantinea. Arcadia was a fertile and beautiful valley, surrounded by lofty mountains. The scattered villages of shepherds, inhabiting these hills and vales, had grown into cities, by the names of Tegea, Stymphalis, Heræa, Orchomenus, and Mantinea. The inhabitants were distinguished by their innocence, and the simplicity of their manners; but, whenever they had been obliged from necessity, to engage in war, they had displayed such vigor, energy, and intrepidity, as made their alliance very desirable. The dangerous neighborhood of Sparta had obliged them to fortify their towns and maintain garrisons; but jealousies arose between Tegea and Mantinea, and emulations to be the capital. The year after the treaty of Antalcidas, ambassadors were sent by the Spartan senate to the assembly at Mantinea, to command them to demolish the walls of their proud city, and return to their peaceful villages. The reasons assigned were, that the Mantineans had discovered their hatred to Sparta, envied her prosperity, rejoiced in her misfortunes, and, in the late war had furnished some corn to the Argives. The Mantineans received the proposal with indignation; the ambassadors retired in disgust. The Spartans proclaimed war, demanded the aid of their allies, and marched a powerful army under their king, Agesipolis, and invaded the territory. After the most destructive ravages of the country, and a long siege of Mantinea, they were not able to subdue the spirit of this people, until they turned the course of the river Ophis, and laid the walls of the city under water; these, being of raw bricks, dissolved and fell. The inhabitants, intimidated, offered to demolish the walls, and follow Sparta in peace and war, upon condition they might be allowed to continue and live in the city. Agesipolis replied, that, while they lived together in one city, their numbers exposed them to the delusions of seditious demagogues, whose address and eloquence seduced the multitude from their true interest, and destroyed the influence of their superiors in rank, wealth, and wisdom, on whose attachment alone the Lacedæmonians could depend; and, therefore, that they must destroy their houses in the city, separate into four communities, and return to those villages which their ancestors had inhabited. The terror of an immediate assault made it necessary to comply; and the Spartans made a mighty merit of suffering sixty of the most zealous partisans of democracy to fly, unmurdered, from their country.
The little republic of Phlius, too, like every other where a balance is not known and preserved, was distracted by parties. The popular party prevailed, and banished their opponents, the friends of aristocracy. The Spartans threatened, and the ruling party permitted the exiles to return; but not meeting with respectful treatment enough, they complained; and the Spartans, under Agesilaus, appointed commissioners to try and condemn to death the obnoxious leaders of the people in Phlius. This odious office was executed with such unexampled severity, as terrified those who survived into an invariable attachment to Sparta.
The confederacy of Olynthus was next attempted. A number of towns, of which Olynthus was the principal, between two rivers, had been incorporated or associated together, and had grown into some power and greater hopes. This was enough to arouse the jealousy of Sparta. They sent four or five successive armies, under their ablest kings, to take the part of the aristocratical faction, and conquer this league. Such was the spirit and resources of this little spot, that they defended themselves for four or five campaigns, and then were forced to submit.
In consequence of the peace of Antalcidas, Thebes had been torn with aristocratic and democratic factions, and Sparta joined the latter, which ultimately produced long and obstinate wars, and the exalted characters of Pelopidas and Epaminondas, who, with all their virtues, were not able finally to establish the independency of their country, though both perished in the attempt; Epaminondas, to the last, refusing to the several communities of Bœotia their hereditary laws and government, although he was one of the democratical party.
Sparta, in the next place, sent a detachment to support the partisans of aristocracy in Argolis, Achaia, and Arcadia, but was compelled by Pelopidas and Epaminondas to evacuate those countries; but Epaminondas supported aristocratic government. As soon as he retired, the Arcadians complained against him, that a people, who knew by their own experience the nature of aristocracy, should have confirmed that severe form of government in an allied or dependent province. The multitude in Thebes condemned the proceedings of Epaminondas, and sent commissioners and a body of mercenaries into Achaia, who assisted the populace to dissolve the aristocracy, to banish or put to death the nobles, and institute a democracy. The foreign troops were scarcely departed, when the exiles, who were very numerous and powerful, returned, and, after a desperate and bloody struggle, recovered their ancient influence. The leaders of the populace were now, in their turn, put to death or expelled; the aristocracy reëstablished; and the magistrates craved the protection of Sparta, which was readily granted.
It would be endless to pursue the consequences of the peace of Antalcidas. Uninterrupted contests and wars in every democratical state in Greece; aristocratical and democratical factions eternally disputing for superiority, mutually banishing and butchering each other; proscriptions, assassinations (of which even Pelopidas was not innocent), treacheries, cruelties without number and without end. But no man, no party, ever thought of introducing an effectual balance, by creating a king with an equal power, to balance the other two. The Romans began to think of this expedient, but it was reserved for England to be the first to reduce it to practice.
Would M. Turgot have said, that if Thebes, Athens, Argos, and the Achæan, Arcadian, and Olynthian leagues, had been each of them governed by a legislature composed of a king, senate, and assembly, with equal authority, and each a decisive negative, that the cause of liberty, in all Greece, would have been thus crumbled to dust by such a paltry trick of Antalcidas? Would the childish humor of separating into as many states as towns have ever been indulged or permitted? Most certainly not. And if the power of negotiation and treaties and the whole executive had been in one man, could the perfidious ambassadors of Sparta and the other states have intrigued and embroiled every thing as they did?
The Achæans, whose republic became so famous in later times, inhabited a long but narrow strip of land upon the Corinthian Gulf, which was destitute of harbors, and, as its shores were rocky, of navigation and commerce; but the impartial and generous spirit of their laws, if we are to credit Polybius and their other panegyrists, was some compensation for the natural disadvantages of their situation and territory. They admitted strangers into their community on equal terms with the ancient citizens; and, as they were the first, and, for a long time, the only republic of Greece which had such liberality, it is not strange that they should have enjoyed the praises of all foreigners. In all other states of Greece, in which the people had any share in government, there were constant complaints that one powerful capital domineered over the inferior towns and villages, like Thebes in Bœotia, Athens in Attica. In Laconia, Lycurgus avoided this inconvenience by two popular assemblies, one for Sparta, and one for the country; but in Achaia there was no commercial town, and all were nearly equal, having common laws and institutions, and common weights and measures. Helice, which is distinguished by Homer as the most considerable town of Achaia, was the place of assembly of the congress, until it was swallowed up in an earthquake; then Ægæ became the seat of congress, which annually appointed presidents in rotation, and generals, who were responsible to the congress, as the members of congress were to the cities they represented. This is said to have been an excellent system of government, because it checked the ambition of Achaia, while it maintained its independence. And Polybius is full of the praises of this people for their “virtue and probity in all their negotiations, which had acquired them the good opinion of the whole world, and procured them to be chosen arbitrators between the Lacedæmonians and Thebans; for their wise councils and good dispositions; for their equality and liberty, which is in the utmost perfection among them; for their laws and institutions; for their moderation and freedom from ambition,” &c. Yet whoever reads his own history, will see evident proofs, that much of this is the fond partiality of a patriot for his country; and that they had neither the moderation he ascribes to them, nor the excellent government. Better indeed than the other republics of Greece it might be; and its congress, as a diplomatic assembly, might have governed its foreign affairs very well, if the cities represented in it had been well constituted of a mixture of three independent powers; but it is plain they were not; and were in a continual struggle between their first magistrates, nobles, and people, for superiority, which occasioned their short duration and final ruin.
As this example deserves to be fully examined by every American, let us explain it a little more particularly.
Atreus, King of Argos and Mycenæ, was the son of Pelops, and father of Agamemnon, who was the father of Orestes, who was the father of Tisamenus. Pelops, after whom Peloponnesus was named, was the son of Tantalus, a king of Phrygia; and Tantalus was the son of Jupiter by the nymph Plota.
Tisamenus, flying from Sparta, upon the return of the Heraclidæ, governed in Achaia, and was the first king of that people. The dominion by him there founded was continued, in a rightful succession, down to Gyges. Notwithstanding his descent from Jupiter, his government was probably like that of Alcinous in Phæacia,—twelve archons presided over the twelve cities, who, each in his district, was the first magistrate; and all able to make out, some way or other, their connection with some of the ancient families, who were all alike honorably descended, at least, from an inferior god or goddess. Tisamenus made the thirteenth, and was first among equals at least. The sons of Gyges not governing by law, but despotically, the monarchy was abolished and reduced to a popular state; probably it was only an aristocracy of the twelve archons. These hints at the genealogy of these kings are to show how intimately theology was intermixed with politics in every Grecian state and city; and, at the same time, to show that the whole force of superstition, although powerful enough to procure crowns to these persons, yet, for want of the balance we contend for, was not sufficient to restrain the passions of the nobles, and prevent revolutions almost as rapid as the motion of a wheel. Nothing has ever been found to supply the place of the balance of three powers. The abolition of this limited monarchy was not effected by the people for the purpose of introducing democracy or a mixed government; but by the nobles, for the sake of establishing an aristocracy. The new government, consequently, was a confederation of twelve archons, each ruling as first magistrate in a separate city, with his council and people, as an independent state. The twelve archons met in a general assembly, sometimes in person, and sometimes by proxy, to consult of general affairs and guard against general dangers. This whole state could not be larger than another Biscay, and each city must have been less than a merindade, and its general assembly like the junta-general. Yet such is the passion for independence, that this little commonwealth or confederacy of commonwealths could not hold together. The general assembly was neglected; the cities became independent. Some were conquered by foreigners, and some lost their liberties by domestic tyrants; that is, by their first magistrates assuming arbitrary power. Polybius discovers as much affection for this little republic as Rousseau did for Geneva, and is very loth to confess its faults. He colors over the revolutions they underwent for a course of ages, by saying, that “though their affairs were governed according to the diversity of times and occurrences, all possible endeavors were used to preserve the form of a popular state. The commonwealth was composed of twelve cities, which are in being at this day, Olenus and Helice only excepted, which were swallowed up by the sea in an earthquake that happened not long before the battle of Leuctra; which cities are Patra, Dyma, Phara, Trytæa, Leontium, Ægira, Pellene, Ægium, Bura, Ceraunia, Olenus, and Helice. After the death of Alexander, and since the Olympiad we have mentioned, these cities fell into dangerous dissensions, chiefly by the artifices of the Macedonian princes, when every city apart meditated on nothing but its own private profit and ends, to the prejudice and destruction of its neighbors; and this gave occasion to Demetrius and Cassander, and afterwards to Antigonus Gonatus, to put garrisons in some of their cities; and others were invaded and governed by tyrants, who, in those days, were very numerous in Greece. But about the one hundred and twenty-fourth Olympiad, when Pyrrhus invaded Italy, these people began to see the error of their dissensions, and labored to return to their former union. Those who gave the first example were Dyma, Patra, and Phara. Five years afterwards, Ægium, having cast out the garrison that was placed over it, was received into the confederacy. Bura followed the example, having first killed the tyrant; and soon after Ceraunia did the like; for Iseas, their tyrant, considering how that those of Ægium had expelled their garrison, and that he who governed in Bura was already slain by the practices of Marcus and the Achaians, and that it would be his lot to have them all quickly for enemies, resigned the dominion, after having first stipulated with the Achaians for indemnity for what was passed, and so the city was incorporated into the union of the Achaians. . . . .
“The cities, then, we have mentioned continued for the space of five-and-twenty years to preserve their form of government unchanged, choosing in their general assembly two prætors (or presidents) and a secretary. Afterwards, they concluded to have but one prætor only, who should be charged with the management of their affairs; and the first who enjoyed that dignity was Marcus the Carian, who, after four years of his administration, gave place to Aratus the Sicyonian, who, at the age of twenty years, after he had by his virtue and resolution rescued his country from tyranny, joined it to the commonwealth of the Achaians; so great a veneration had he from his youth for the manners and institutions of that people. Eight years after, he was a second time chosen prætor, and won Acro-Corinth, which Antigonus had fortified with a garrison, whereby Aratus freed all Greece from no small apprehension. When he had restored liberty to Corinth, he united it to the Achaians, together with the city of Megara, which he got by intelligence during his prætorship. . . . In a word, Aratus, who, in a short space, brought many and great things to pass, made it manifest, by his councils and actions, that his greatest aim was the expulsion of the Macedonians out of Peloponnesus, to suppress tyranny, and assert the liberty of his country. So that, during the whole reign of Antigonus Gonatus, Aratus constantly opposed all his designs and enterprises, as he did the ambition of the Ætolians, to raise themselves on the ruins of their neighbor states. And, as in all the transactions of his administration he gave singular evidence of a steady mind and firm resolution, all his attempts succeeded accordingly, notwithstanding many states confederated to hinder the union, and to destroy the commonwealth of the Achaians.
“After the death of Antigonus, the Achaians entered into a league with the Ætolians, and generously assisted them in their war against Demetrius; so that the ancient hatred between these two people seemed for the present extinguished, and the desire of concord began by degrees to grow in the minds of the Ætolians. Demetrius died, when many great and noble occasions were given to the Achaians, of finishing the project they had conceived; for the tyrants who reigned in Peloponnesus, having lost the support of Demetrius, who greatly favored them, began now to despair; and, on the other hand, being awed by Aratus, who admonished them to quit their governments, on promise of great honors and rewards to such as voluntarily resigned, and threatening others with hostility who refused; whereupon, they resolved to despoil themselves of their dignities, restore their people to liberty, and incorporate them with the Achaians. As to Lysidas, the Megalopolitan, he, wisely foreseeing what was likely to come to pass, frankly renounced his dominion during the life of Demetrius, and was received into the general confederacy of rights and privileges with the whole nation. Aristomachus, tyrant of the Argives, Xeno, of the Hermionians, and Cleonymus, of the Phliasians, resigning their authority at the time we mentioned, were likewise received into the alliance of the Achaians.
“In the mean time, the Ætolians began to conceive jealousies at the growing greatness and extraordinary success of the Achaians, and basely entered into a league with Antigonus, who at that time governed Macedon, and with Cleomenes, King of the Lacedæmonians.”
These three powers, Macedonia, Lacedæmon, and Ætolia, were to invade Achaia on all sides; but the great political abilities of Aratus defeated the enterprise. “He considered that Antigonus was a man of experience, and willing enough to make alliances; and that princes have naturally neither friends nor enemies, but measure amities and enmities by the rules of interest. He therefore endeavored after a good understanding with that prince, and determined to propose the joining the forces of the Achaians to his.” He proposed to cede him some towns; and the alliance was formed, and the Cleomenic war commenced. In the prosecution of it, Cleomenes and his Spartans displayed the utmost ferocity and cruelty, particularly at Ægium, where “he put in practice so many outrages and cruelties of war, that he left not so much as any appearance that it had been ever a peopled place.”1 There is great reason to suspect that the Achaians were not less guilty of cruelty; for Polybius professes to follow the account given by Aratus himself, in a history which that prætor wrote of Achaia, who may be well suspected of partiality; and Polybius himself was the son of Lycortas of Megalopolis, who perfected and confirmed the confederacy of the Achaians, and he discovers throughout his history a strong attachment to this people. If the history of Clearchus was extant, we might possibly see that the Achaians, the Spartans, and Macedonians were equally liable to the accusation of inhumanity. Mantinea was subjected to unspeakable calamities as well as Ægium; but Polybius endeavors to cover this over with a veil by abusing Clearchus, accusing him of departing from the dignity of history, and writing tragedies, by representing women with dishevelled hair and naked breasts, embracing each other with melting lamentations and tears, and complaints of men, women, and children, dragged away promiscuously. He attempts to justify the punishment of this city, by charging it with treacherously betraying itself into the hands of the Spartans, and massacring the Achaian garrison. But this was no more than the usual effect of the continual revolutions in the Greek cities, from democracy to aristocracy, from that to monarchy, and back again through the whole circle.
In every one of these cities there were three parties,—a monarchical party, who desired to be governed by a king, or tyrant, as he was then called; an aristocratical party, who wished to elect an oligarchy; and a democratical party, who were zealous for bringing all to a level. Each faction was for collecting all authority into one centre in its own way; but, unfortunately, there was no party who thought of a mixture of all these three orders, and giving each a negative by which it might balance the other two. Accordingly, the regal party applied to Macedonian kings for aids and garrisons; the aristocratical citizens applied to Sparta for the like assistance; and the democratical factions applied to Aratus and the Achaian league. The consequence was, as each party prevailed, it brought in a new garrison, and massacred the old one, together with the leaders of the faction subdued. But is such a system to be recommended to the United States of America? If the Americans had no more discretion than the Greeks, no more humanity, no more consideration for the benign and peaceful religion they profess, they would still have to consider, that the Greeks had in many places forty, and in all ten, slaves, to one free citizen; that the slaves did all the labor, and the free citizens had nothing to do but cut one another’s throats. Wars did not cost money in Greece; happily for the world, at present they are very expensive. An American soldier will not serve one year, without more money for pay than many of these Greek cities had for their whole circulating medium.
There is but one possible means of realizing M. Turgot’s idea. Let us examine it well before we adopt it. Let every town in the Thirteen States be a free, sovereign, and independent democracy; here you may nearly collect all authority into one centre, and that centre the nation. These towns will immediately go to war with each other, and form combinations, alliances, and political intrigues, as ably as the Grecian villages did. But these wars and negotiations cannot be carried on but by men at leisure. The first step to be taken, then, is to determine who shall be freemen, and who slaves. Let this be determined by lot. In every fifty men, forty are to be slaves, and stay at home unarmed, to labor in agriculture and mechanic arts, under certain overseers provided with good whips and scourges. All commerce and navigation, fisheries, &c. are to cease, of course. The other ten are to be free citizens, live like gentlemen, eat black broth, and go out to war; some in favor of tyrants, some for the well-born, and some for the multitude. For, even in the supposition here made, every town will have three parties in it; some will be for making the moderator a king, others for giving the whole government to the selectmen, and a third sort for making and executing all laws, and judging all causes, criminal and civil, in town meeting. Americans will well consider the consequences of such systems of policy, and such multiplications and divisions of states, and will universally see and feel the necessity of adopting the sentiments of Aratus, as reported by Plutarch: “That small cities could be preserved by nothing else but a continual and combined force, united by the bond of common interest; and as the members of the body live and breathe by their mutual communication and connection, and when once separated pine away and putrefy, in the same manner are cities ruined by being dismembered from one another, as well as preserved when, linked together in one great body, they enjoy the benefit of that providence and council that governs the whole.”1 These were the sentiments which, according to the same Plutarch, acquired him so much of the confidence of the Achaians, “that, since he could not by law be chosen their general every year, yet every other year he was, and by his councils and actions was in effect always so; for they perceived that neither riches nor repute, nor the friendship of kings, nor the private interest of his own country, nor any other thing else was so dear to him as the increase of the Achaian power and greatness.”2
This celebrated island, with the fantastical honor of giving birth to some of the gods of Greece, had the real merit and glory of communicating to that country many useful improvements. Their insular situation defended the people from invasions by land, and their proximity to Egypt afforded them an easy intercourse of commerce by sea with the capital of that kingdom. Here Rhadamanthus, in his travels, had collected those inventions and institutions of a civilized people, which he had the address to apply to the confirmation of his own authority. Minos is still more distinguished. In his travels in the East, he saw certain families possessed of unrivalled honors and unlimited authority, as vicegerents of the Deity. Although the Greeks would never admit, in the fullest latitude of oriental superstition and despotism, this odious profanation, yet Minos, taking advantage of his own unbounded reputation, and that enthusiasm for his person which his skill and fortune in war, his genius for science, and talents for government, had excited among wandering credulous savages, spread a report that he was admitted to familiar conversations with Jupiter, and received from that deity his system of laws, with orders to engrave it on tables of brass. The great principle of it was, that all freemen should be equal, and, therefore, that none should have any property in lands or goods; but that citizens should be served by slaves, who should cultivate the lands upon public account. The citizens should dine at public tables, and their families subsist on the public stock. The monarch’s authority was extremely limited, except in war. The magistracies were the recompense of merit and age; and superiority was allowed to nothing else. The youth were restrained to a rigid temperance, modesty, and morality, enforced by law. Their education, which was public, was directed to make them soldiers. Such regulations could not fail to secure order, and what they called freedom, to the citizens; but nine tenths of mankind were doomed to slavery to support them in total idleness, excepting those exercises proper for warriors, become more necessary to keep the slaves in subjection, than to defend the state against the pirates and robbers with whom the age abounded. Idomeneus, grandson of Minos, and commander of the Cretan forces in the Trojan war, was among the most powerful of the Grecian chiefs, and one of the few who returned in safety from that expedition. Here was a government of all authority in one centre, and that centre the most aged and meritorious persons of the nation, with little authority in the king, and none in the rest of the people; yet it was not of sufficient strength to hold together. The venerable old men could not endure the authority, or rather the preëminence of the king. Monarchy must be abolished; and every principal city became early a separate, independent commonwealth; each, no doubt, under its patriarch, baron, noble, or archon, for they all signify the same thing; and continual wars ensued between the several republics within the island; and Cretan valor and martial skill were employed and exhausted in butchering one another, until they turned all the virtues they had left against mankind in general, and exerted them in piracies and robberies, to their universal infamy throughout all Greece. Nor was Crete ever of any weight in Grecian politics after the Trojan war.
Monarchy remained in this emporium of Greece longer than in any other of the principal cities; but the noble families here could no better endure the superiority of a monarch, than others in all countries; and with numerous branches of the royal family, (named Bacchidæ, from Bacchis, fifth monarch in succession from Aletes,) at their head, they accordingly put to death Telestes, the reigning monarch; and, usurping the government, under an association among themselves, they instituted an oligarchy. An annual first magistrate, with the title of Prytanis, but with very limited prerogatives, like a doge of Venice, was chosen from among themselves. Several generations passed away under the administration of this odious oligarchy; but the people at length finding it intolerably oppressive, expelled the whole junto, and set up Cypselus as a monarch or tyrant. He had long been the head of the popular party, and was deservedly a popular character, possessed of the confidence and affection of his fellow citizens to a great degree, or he never could have refused the guard which was offered him for the protection of his person against the attempts of the defeated oligarchy. His moderation and clemency are allowed by all; yet he is universally called by the Grecian writers Tyrant of Corinth, and his government a Tyranny.* Aristotle† informs us that his tyranny continued thirty years, because he was a popular man and governed without guards. Periander, one of the seven wise men, his son and successor, reigned forty-four years, because he was an able general. Psammetichus, the son of Gordius, succeeded, but his reign was short; yet this space of seventy-seven years is thought by Aristotle one of the longest examples of a tyranny or an oligarchy. At the end of this period the nobles again prevailed; but not without courting the people. The tyranny was demolished, and a new commonwealth established, in which there was a mixture of oligarchy and democracy, to prevent the first from running into excess of oppression, and the other into turbulence and license.
Here we find the usual circle. Monarchy first limited by nobles only; then the nobles, becoming envious and impatient of the monarch’s preëminence, demolish him, and set up oligarchy. This grows insolent and oppressive to the people, who set up a favorite to pull it down. The new idol’s posterity grow insolent; and the people finally think of introducing a mixture of three regular branches of power, in the one, the few, and the many, to control one another, to be guardians in turn to the laws, and secure equal liberty to all.
Aristotle, in this chapter, censures some parts of the eighth book of Plato, and says, “That in general, when governments alter, they alter into the contrary species to what they before were, and not into one like the former. And this reasoning holds true of other changes. For he says, that from the Lacedæmonian form it changes into an oligarchy, and from thence into a democracy, and from a democracy into a tyranny; and sometimes a contrary change takes place, as from a democracy into an oligarchy, rather than into a monarchy. With respect to a tyranny, he neither says whether there will be any change in it; or, if not, to what cause it will be owing; or, if there is, into what other state it will alter. But the reason of this is, that a tyranny is an indeterminate government, and, according to him, every state ought to alter into the first and most perfect. Thus, the continuity and circle would be preserved. But one tyranny often changed into another; as at Sicyon, from Myron to Clisthenes; or into an oligarchy, as was Antileon’s at Chalcis; or into a democracy, as was Gelo’s at Syracuse; or into an aristocracy, as was Charilaus’s at Lacedæmon and at Carthage. An oligarchy is also changed into a tyranny. Such was the rise of most of the ancient tyrannies in Sicily; at Leontium, into the tyranny of Panætius; at Gela, into that of Cleander; at Rhegium, into that of Anaxilaus; and the like in many other cities. It is absurd also to suppose, that a state is changed into an oligarchy, because those who are in power are avaricious and greedy of money; and not because those, who are by far richer than their fellow citizens, think it unfair that those who have nothing should have an equal share in the rule of the state with themselves, who possess so much. For in many oligarchies it is not allowable to be employed in money-getting, and there are many laws to prevent it. But in Carthage, which is a democracy, money-getting is creditable; and yet their form of government remains unaltered.”
Whether these observations of Aristotle upon Plato be all just or not, they only serve to strengthen our argument, by showing the mutability of simple governments in a fuller light. Not denying any of the changes stated by Plato, he only enumerates a multitude of other changes to which such governments are liable; and, therefore, shows the greater necessity of mixtures of different orders and decisive balances to preserve mankind from those horrible calamities which revolutions always bring with them.
In order to form an adequate idea of the miseries which were brought upon the Greeks by continual and innumerable revolutions of government, it should be considered that the whole Peloponnesus was scarcely two hundred miles in length and one hundred and forty in breadth, not much more extensive than the smallest of the thirteen states of America. Such an inherent force of repulsion, such a disposition to fly to pieces, as possessed the minds of the Greeks, would divide America into thousands of petty, despicable states, and lay a certain foundation for irreconcilable wars.
Although Thucydides and Aristotle, as well as Homer, inform us that kingdoms were hereditary, and of limited authority, yet the limitations appear to be very confused; they were the limitations of nobles rather than of people; and the first struggles for power were between kings and archons. The kings had no standing armies; and all the forces under their authority, even when they took the field, could be commanded only by the nobles, who had their peculiar districts of land and people to govern. These were illustrious and independent citizens; like the barons who demanded the great charter, communicated to each other their grievances, and took measures to remove them. But, being generally as averse to popular as to regal power, their constant aim was an aristocracy; they accordingly extinguished monarchy, but did not secure the rights of the people. The immediate effect of this revolution only multiplied evils. Oppressed by kings, Greece was much more oppressed by archons; and, anciently too much divided, was still more subdivided under the new forms of government. Many inferior cities disdained the jurisdiction, and even the superior influence of their respective capitals; affected independent sovereignty; and each town maintained war with its neighbors. Each independent state had a right to send two members to the Amphictyonic council. The abolition of royalty rendering the independent states more numerous, increased the number of Amphictyons to one hundred members and more; and an oath was required that the member should never subvert any Amphictyonic city. Yet every excess of animosity prevailed among the Grecian republics, notwithstanding the interposition of the Amphictyons.
Argos was founded by Danaus, the Egyptian, about the time that Athens was settled by Cecrops. At the Trojan war it was the first of the states, and ever continued the rival of Sparta. Though the royal dignity seemed more firmly settled under Agamemnon than under any other chief, yet Argos was one of the first of the states upon the continent to abolish monarchy, and that as early as on the death of Celsus, son of Temenus, the descendant of Hercules. No account of its new constitution is preserved. But, from analogy we may be convinced that a restless body of nobles overturned the monarchy; and, as it was subject to frequent and violent disorders, that the archons could not agree upon the form of their oligarchy; and set up for independency in their different districts, states, or cities, a little sooner than in other republics. The higher and lower ranks were continually at variance; the democratical faction was commonly superior; sometimes tyrants were set up over all; and once, according to Herodotus,* the slaves got possession of the city, took upon them the administration of affairs, and exercised the magistracies.
The government must have been ill constituted, as no Rhadamanthus or Minos, no Lycurgus or Solon, no Zaleucus or Charondas, nor any other legislator of superior wisdom and probity, ever acquired the power; and no fortunate coincidence of circumstances ever occurred, to unite liberty and administration, law and government, upon a stable basis. One famous tyrant, Pheidon, lineal successor of Hercules, a prince of great abilities, but no moderation, raised himself, rather than his country, to a superiority which ceased with him. For want of distinct orders and steady balances, by which the will and the forces of the people might have been subjected to the laws, Argos lost that preeminence among the Grecian states, which it had obtained under a monarchy. Every little town in Argolis was seized with the caprice of independence, and opposed the general government, at the same time that the metropolis betrayed an ambition to domineer over the inferior towns. Civil wars ensued. Mycenæ, Trœzene, Epidaurus, and other villages of less consequence, were often conquered and garrisoned, but never subdued. Necessity taught them to unite. They reproached Argos with tyranny, and Argos them with rebellion. Union enabled them to set at defiance their capital, by means of intrigues and alliances with Lacedæmon, the never-failing resource of one party or the other in every democratical state. The pretence was, the Persian war, which Argos declined. This was called a base dereliction, and excited, by the help of Spartan emissaries, hatred and contempt in Sicyon, Naupila, Heliæa, and other towns, besides those before-mentioned. Argos alone, of all the cities in the Peloponnesus, openly espoused the cause of Athens. This single circumstance, if it was not accidental, is enough to show that this city had more sense and profound wisdom than all the rest; for Sparta was certainly then leading all Greece to destruction. In other respects the Argives discovered the same temper and the same understanding with all the others; for they led their whole forces against Mycenæ, took it by storm, decimated the inhabitants, and demolished the town. Is it not sublime wisdom, to rush headlong into all the distractions and divisions, all the assassinations and massacres, all the seditions, rebellions, and eternal revolutions, which are the certain consequence of the want of orders and balances, merely for the sake of the popular caprice of having every fifty families governed by all authority in one centre? Even this would not satisfy; the fifty families would soon dissolve their union, and nothing would ever content them short of the complete individual independence of the Mohawks; for it may be depended on, that individual independence is what every unthinking human heart aims at, nearly or remotely.
Eleia had been the scene of athletic games, celebrated with great pomp by assemblies of chiefs from various parts of Greece. Iphitus, a grandson of Oxylus, succeeded to the throne of Elis. Active and enterprising, but not by inclination a soldier, he was anxious for a remedy for the disorderly situation of his country. Among all the violence, feuds, and wars, superstition maintained its empire, and the oracle of Delphi was held in veneration.
Iphitus sent an embassy to supplicate information from the deity, “How the anger of the gods, which threatened total destruction to Peloponnesus, through the endless hostilities among its people, might be averted?” He received an answer, which he had probably dictated, “That the Olympian festival must be restored. For that the neglect of that solemnity had brought on the Greeks the indignation of Jupiter and Hercules; to the first of whom it was dedicated, and by the last of whom it had been instituted.” Iphitus proceeded to model his institution; and ordained that a festival should be held at the temple of Jupiter at Olympia, near Pisa in Eleia, for all the Greeks to partake in, and that it should be repeated every fourth year; that there should be sacrifices to Jupiter and Hercules, and games in honor of them; that an armistice should take place throughout Greece for some time before the commencement of the festival, and continue some time after its conclusion. A tradition was reported, that the Heraclides had appointed Oxylus to the throne of Elis and the guardianship of the temple of Olympian Jupiter, and consecrated all Eleia to the god. A reputation of sanctity became attached to the whole people of Eleia, as the hereditary priesthood of Jupiter; and secluded them from all necessity of engaging in politics or war. But it was not possible, by any institutions of religion, to destroy that elasticity given by nature to the mind of man, which excites continually to action, often palpably against men’s interests, which was strong in the general temper of the Greeks, and which can never be subdued or restrained in any nation but by orders and balances. Restless spirits arose, not to be satisfied. The Eleians often engaged as auxiliaries in the wars of other states, on pretence of asserting the cause of religion; but even in that cause itself they could not agree among themselves. While monarchy subsisted in the posterity of Iphitus, as it did for some generations, Eleia continued under one government; but at length the spirit of democracy prevailed there, as elsewhere in Greece, and with the same effects. Every town claimed independency; Pisa and Elis became separate commonwealths. Olympia was situated within the territory of Pisa, on the northern bank of the river Alpheius, which alone separated it from that city. Elis was thirty miles distant; but the Eleians retained the guardianship of the temple and superintendency of the festival. The Pisæans now disputed their right; wars arose between the two cities; each endeavored to gain allies. At one time Pheidon, Tyrant of Argos, claiming to be by birth the proper representative of Hercules, took to himself the guardianship of the temple, and presided at the games; at another time the Pisæans prevailed, and presided at some Olympiads. At length the Eleians destroyed Pisa so entirely, that not a ruin was left; and ever after, excepting in the one hundred and fourth Olympiad, when the Arcadians violently interfered, they held the presidency undisturbed.
If a democracy could ever, in any case, hold together, it would be natural to expect it in this institution of Iphitus, which, founded wholly on religion, had procured so much prosperity and veneration to his people. But it is as rational to expect that a glass bubble, with a drop of water inclosed in it, will resist the heat of the fire. The vapor within will blast it into dust and atoms.
Fable, and history too, relate that this city was governed anciently by kings; sixteen of whom, from Cadmus the Phœnician, who founded it, to Xanthus, are enumerated. After the death of the last, the Thebans changed their government to a democratical republic. Their orders and balances are not known; but their factions and divisions, as well as their dulness, are remembered. From the analogy of all the other Grecian states, it is probable that archons presided over the several cities of Bœotia, as their separate districts, and had a king at their head, like Ulysses in Ithaca, and Alcinous in Phæacia; that the king, whose domain was Thebes, had sometimes an inclination to favor his capital more than the subordinate towns; and that the archons grew impatient of his monarchy, and aspired at independency. The jealousy and rivalry of cities favored the factious views of the archons, and were probably fomented for that purpose.
Is it an instance of their want of penetration, or was it from necessity, that they chose the two heads of opposite factions for their highest annual magistrates? Ismenias was one; an honest man, a friend to liberty, and consequently an advocate for an equilibrium of powers in the constitution. Leontidas, the other, was ambitious of the whole power to himself, and of governing by a council of his friends; but finding his rival more popular than himself, he sold the citadel to a Spartan general, upon condition that he and his party should rule. When this was effected he seized his colleague, and had him tried, condemned, and executed, for caballing against the government. The friends of Ismenias fled in a panic, and were banished by a public edict; for it seems that a revolution without banishments and confiscations, at least, is a degree of moderation and self-government of which nations are wholly incapable. The exiled citizens, who, in this case, were the honest men and friends of liberty, and among whom was Pelopidas, returned from Athens in disguise, destroyed the tyrant and his crew, and with the help of Epaminondas and his friends, regained the citadel. These two sages and heroes had now enough to do; first, to inspire a little understanding and unanimity into their fellow-citizens; then to discipline them for war, and conquer their enemies; and, at last, to frame a good constitution of government. To their immortal glory, they accomplished all but the last; but Pelopidas was killed in battle, before the war was finished; and Epaminondas grew unpopular, and was rejected by faction even from the command of the army; a sufficient proof that the aristocratical and democratical factions were nearly equal. He was reinstated, indeed, after the blunders and defeats of his successor had brought the citizens to repentance; but was slain in battle at the moment of victory. So that the Theban republic never had the benefit of his advice in the formation of a new code of laws. She had never made any figure, excepting a momentary one, under these two great men, and was at length totally destroyed by Alexander.
The ruin of Bœotia was occasioned by the finesse of Antalcidas, in his Persian treaty. The Thebans, as well as Argives, had withheld their assistance in the Persian war. Antalcidas knew that the subordinate cities of Thespiæ, Platea, Aulis, Anthemon, Larymna, Aschrœa, Coronea, Labadea, Delium, Alalkomene, Leuctra, Chæronea, all wished for independence; they accordingly rejected the jurisdiction and sovereignty of Thebes. The Thebans solicited Sparta to take a part in their domestic quarrels; and, against her own favorite treaty, made by her artful ambassador, she accepted the proposal. The virtuous and amiable Spartan senate perceived that it was equally their interest that Argos should lose her jurisdiction over her revolted towns, and that Thebes, the rival neighbor of Athens, should recover her authority in Bœotia; but, notwithstanding partial successes, she could not regain her authority over all the cities, until Epaminondas arose, after eighty years of civil wars.
Had there been a governor in Bœotia, and a senate, and a house of representatives, composed of an equitable proportion of deputies from Thebes and all the lesser cities,—and each of these branches possessed of an independent negative in the legislature, while the whole executive was in the governor,—would these civil wars have happened? these endless contentions between the nobles and people, the capital and subordinate cities? these intrigues of one party with Athens, and another with Sparta? The very disinclination, both in Thebes and Argos, to engage in the Persian war, arose wholly from their domestic dissensions; and these from the want of judicious orders and balances.
After the abolition of monarchy in Bœotia, there was an effort to collect all authority into one centre; but the nation found, that, although laws might be thus made, they could not be so executed. There must, therefore, be an executive magistrate; but not being able to agree, in order to please both sides, the leader of each faction must be chosen. As might have been foreseen, they could not agree, and split the nation at once into two hostile armies; one of which sought the alliance of Sparta, and the other that of Athens. Thus it ever was, and ever will be, in similar cases. It is much to be regretted that Epaminondas did not live to display his talents as a legislator; the world might possibly have been blessed with something like an English constitution, two or three thousand years sooner than it was.
The city of Sybaris was a Grecian colony in Italy, planted by Achaians; and, according to Diodorus Siculus,* its beautiful situation between two rivers, the Crathis and the Sybaris, the extent and fertility of its territory, and the freedom of its laws, had, in a short space of time, drawn together a prodigious number of inhabitants, and greatly enriched them.
But the common fate of all nations and cities attended them. They had three parties; a chief, a better sort, and a people. The most powerful citizens were caballing, as usual, against the chief, whose name was Telys, and, whatever his character for virtue was, he appears to have had more cunning than Grecian chiefs commonly had; at least he discerned better where the balance lay; for he courted the people by flattering their follies. He excited a popular cry against the aristocratical party, drove them from the city, confiscated their fortunes and distributed them among the rest of the citizens. The exiles fled to Crotona. Telys sent ambassadors to demand them, on pain of war. Pythagoras thought the cause of his aristocratical friends just, and persuaded his fellow-citizens to refuse to deliver them up. The Sybarites marched an army; but were met by another from Crotona, with Milo, the strong man, at their head, whose reputation prevailed; the Sybarites were all massacred, and their city pillaged and left a desert. First happy effect of a government without acknowledged orders and legal balances!
Fifty-eight years afterwards, some Thessalians established themselves at Sybaris. They had not been there five years, when the Crotonians came and drove them out. Under Callimachus, archon of Athens, it was repeopled the third time, and had the name of Thurium. A populous colony was sent there, under Lampon and Xenocritus, who built a beautiful city for a capital, and twenty-five subordinate cities. But the inhabitants could not long live in good intelligence among themselves; they fell into dissensions, grew extravagant, luxurious, and effeminate to a proverb. The quarrel began in this manner:—The old inhabitants of Sybaris erected themselves into a kind of nobility, and arrogated to themselves all the public employments of any distinction, vouchsafing to the new-comers only those of least importance. They insisted, moreover, that their wives should sacrifice the first to the gods, and that the other ladies should not commence their devotions till the first had concluded. Not content with distinctions so assuming, they went farther, and took to themselves, in the distribution of the lands, all those which were nearest the city, and left only the more distant to those whom they called foreigners. The latter being more numerous and more brave, carried their resentment so far as to put all the old families to death, and remained sole possessors of all the territory within the walls. Not having people enough left, they invited others from various parts of Greece, divided houses and lands among them, entered into alliance with Crotona, and became opulent. They divided the people into ten tribes, and established among them a democratical government, and chose for their legislator Charondas, who, having examined to the foundation the laws of all countries, chose out of them, for his country, the wisest and most convenient. Some others he added, drawn from his own meditations. His laws are lost, and, therefore, his orders and balances are not known. It is nevertheless certain, from certain regulations preserved by Diodorus, that orders and balances existed in his institution.
1. He excluded from his public councils all men who, having children, should marry a second time; and thus mortify their children with the authority of a step-mother.
2. As another check to his democracy, he ordained that all who should be convicted of calumny, should be conducted through the streets crowned with tamarin; a punishment so infamous, that several put an end to their own lives rather than submit to it.
3. He prohibited all society with wicked men; for, says he, the disposition to evil is very strong, and many of those who at first love virtue, are often drawn in, by the charms of secret seductions, to the greatest vices.
4. He ordained that all the sons of every family should learn to write and read, under masters in the pay of the public. This law alone has merit enough to consecrate to immortality the memory of this legislator, and deserves to be imitated, at least by every free people.
5. That the property of orphans should be administered by the relations of the father; but their persons and education intrusted to those of the mother.
6. All those who should refuse to take arms for their country, or quit their ranks in the army, instead of being punished by death, should be exposed three days in a public square of the city, in women’s clothes.
7. To preserve his democratical arrangement, he thought it necessary to prohibit all proposals of change in his laws. His principle was, it is as advantageous to submit to the laws, as it is dangerous to subject the laws to individuals; and, therefore, in trials, he reprehended and silenced all criminals who substituted turns of eloquence and arbitrary interpretations in place of the letter of the laws, and he charged them with violating their authority and majesty. The question is, said Charondas, “Whether you shall save the law or the criminal.”
8. Struck with the disorders and seditions which he had seen in many democratical cities, he ordained that no citizen should present himself in the public assembly, to propose any reformation or alteration in the law, without a halter about his neck, which he should wear till the people had deliberated and determined. If the people decreed the proposed alteration hurtful or unnecessary, the reformer should be strangled on the spot. This regulation silenced all new legislators so entirely, that only three examples occurred of any change.
All his precautions were insufficient. Returning from the country with his sword, which he had taken to defend himself against highwaymen, he found the assembly in division and confusion. He hastened to compose the tumult. One of his enemies reproached him with violating his own law, by coming armed into the assembly. Charondas, who had forgotten the sword, cried, I mean to observe and enforce the law, and plunged it into his own heart, wearied, most probably, into a contempt of life by the disorders incident to unbalanced parties.
When every legislator who has attempted a democratical establishment, has confessed its inherent tendency to immediate dissolution, by resorting to the strongest rigors against proposals of innovation, and numberless other provisions to control it, which have all been found ineffectual, is it worth while still to cherish the fond idea, when three branches are found, by experience, so effectually to check each other; when in two independent assemblies improvements and reformations may be so easily and safely proposed and adopted, and such as are not beneficial rejected?
Zaleucus was of Locris in Italy, not far distant from Sybaris. He was a disciple of Pythagoras, of noble birth, and admirable morals. Having acquired the esteem and confidence of his fellow-citizens, they chose him for their legislator. Unfortunately, little remains of his laws but their preamble. But this is in a style so superior to that of all the other legislators, as to excite regret for the loss of his code. In this preamble he declares, that all those who shall inhabit the city ought, above all things, to be persuaded that there is a God; and, if they elevate their eyes and thoughts towards the heavens, they will be convinced that the disposition of the heavenly bodies, and the order which reigns in all nature are not the work of men nor of chance; that, therefore, they ought to adore the gods, as the authors of all which life presents us of good and beautiful; that they should hold their souls pure from every vice, because the gods accept neither the prayers, offerings, or sacrifices of the wicked, and are pleased only with the just and beneficent actions of virtuous men. Having thus, in the beginning of his laws, fixed the attention of his fellow-citizens upon piety and wisdom, he ordains, above all things, that there should never be among them any irreconcilable enmity; but, on the contrary, that those animosities which might arise among them, should be only a passage to a sure and sincere reconciliation; and that he who would not submit himself to these sentiments, should be regarded as a savage in a civilized community. The chiefs of his republic ought not to govern with arrogance nor pride; nor should the magistrates be guided in their judgments by hatred nor by friendship.
This preamble, instead of addressing itself to the ignorance, prejudices, and superstitious fears of savages, for the purpose of binding them to an absurd system of hunger and glory for a family, like the laws of Lycurgus, places religion, morals, and government upon a basis of philosophy which is rational, intelligible, and eternal, for the real happiness of man in society, and throughout his duration.
The principle adopted by this legislator, as the motive to action next to the sense of duty and social obligation, was the sense of honor, like that of Lycurgus. As Zaleucus was a disciple of Pythagoras, whose favorite plan of government was a well-tempered aristocracy, we may conjecture that such was the form recommended to the Locrians. But all are lost; and certainly no argument can be drawn from them in favor of one popular assembly. If, in visiting the Sybarites and Locrians, we have found nothing in favor of M. Turgot’s system, nor any thing very material against it, we have found a greater advance towards civilization than in all the laws of Lycurgus and Solon, excepting only the trial by jury, instituted by the latter; I mean the preamble of Zaleucus; and the general education to letters in schools, at the public expense, by Charondas.
We elsewhere see, in the history of Rome, with what eagerness the aristocracy pursued and demolished the monarchy. The kings are commonly reproached with tyranny, and the nobles are applauded for resistance to them; but it is clear that the nobles were as tyrannical as they; and that their eternal plots and conspiracies against the kings, their power, their crown, and their lives, were the cause and the provocation to that tyranny. It is impossible to say which were worst, the nobles or the kings; both were bad enough in general, and both frequently violated the laws, as will ever happen when there are but two branches. The people, as yet, had no adequate power to aid or control either. By the institution of Romulus, indeed, the Roman people, even the lowest class of the citizens, instead of being prohibited to engage in all kinds of labor, after the example of the Spartans, were directed to apply themselves to pasturage, agriculture, and mechanic arts. This had its natural effect; and immediately after the revolution, by which the monarchy was abolished and aristocracy set up, though we find the patricians at their usual game of encroaching on the people, yet there was a people, a numerous, hardy, courageous people, who were not disposed to submit. They soon began a resistance, and to demand more power to resist; and having obtained one concession, they required another, until they obtained an equality with the patricians.
So far they were in the right; and if the two powers could have remained equal, justice, liberty, and happiness, the effect of equal laws, might have been enjoyed. But human nature can never rest; once in motion, it rolls, like the stone of Sisyphus, every instant when the resisting force is suspended. Diodorus Siculus is very right, lib. xix., when he says: “It is of the nature of man to aspire continually at something greater than his present condition, and to wish that his power might increase, instead of decreasing or resting as it is.” Dr. Ferguson, who follows very accurately Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Livy, and Polybius, will furnish us with a good account of the steps by which the Roman people proceeded to augment their own power, and diminish that of the senate, until they obtained the whole. I shall give an abridgment of the story, very nearly in Ferguson’s words.1 In their career, however, the people lost their morals and their wisdom, as they ever will in such a course, and they were ready to confer the sovereignty on the line of Cæsars, even before they had completely obtained it. Those irregularities, and that final catastrophe, were all occasioned by the imperfections in their balance. If the consuls had been possessed of a negative in the legislature, and of all the executive authority, and the senate and people had been made equal and independent in the first establishment of the commonwealth, it is impossible for any man to prove that the republic would not have remained in vigor and in glory at this hour.2
“The government of Rome,” (in the two hundred and forty-fourth year from the building of the city, after the expulsion of Tarquin,) “was become wholly aristocratical. The nobles, exclusively, had the legislative, executive, and judicial power, without any third party to hold the balance between them and the people; for the consuls, although they were executive magistrates, united in their persons the dignities of the state, those of judges, magistrates, and military leaders, were understood to come in the place of kings, and performed all the functions of royalty; yet they were only parts and ministers of the senate.
“While the exiled king was endeavoring, by continual invasions, to recover his power, disputes arose between the parties who had joined to expel him. Creditors, supported by the aristocracy, of which the nobles were now in full possession, became severe in the exaction of debts, or the patrons laid claim to more than the clients were willing to pay. The state was distracted at once by its enemies from abroad, and by the dissension of parties at home. The authority of the new government not being sufficient to contend with these difficulties, the senate resolved to place themselves and the commonwealth, for a limited time, under the power of a single person, under the title of dictator.
“The inferior class of the people, almost excluded from any share in the new government, soon found that, under its influence, they had more oppression to fear from their patrons, than they had ever experienced from the prince they had banished. So long as the king and the senate shared in the powers of the state, the one took part with the people, when the other attempted to oppress them; and it was the ordinary interest and policy of the prince to weaken the nobles, by supporting the plebeians against them. This effect of the monarchy still, in some measure, remained so long as the exiled king was alive, maintained his pretensions, and made the united services of the people necessary to the senate; but, upon the death of the king, the nobles availed themselves of their power, and enforced their claims on the people with extreme severity. In the capacity of creditors, they imprisoned, whipped, and enslaved, those who were indebted to them, and held the liberties and lives of their fellow-citizens at their mercy. The whole body of plebeians was alarmed; they saw more formidable enemies in the persons of their own nobility, than in the armies of any nation whatever. Many, who had already suffered under the rod of their creditors, when called upon to enlist, showed their limbs galled with fetters, or torn with stripes, which they had received by command of their merciless patrons.
“These distractions obliged the senate to have recourse to another dictator; and Valerius, who was appointed for his popularity, repelled the enemy. The senate, upon his return, not fulfilling his promises to the people, they retired to the Sacred Mountain. The senate was obliged to negotiate, to mitigate the severities against insolvent debtors, and consent to the appointment of tribunes. This was in the year 260, sixteen years after the revolution.”
Had the plebeians “discontinued their collective assemblies for every purpose but elections, and increased their tribunes” to four or five hundred representatives, even this would not have been a radical cure, without separating the consuls from the senate, and giving them, or one of them, the executive power, and a negative both upon the senate and popular assembly in the legislature; but there was too much prejudice, and too little knowledge, for so great an improvement. The people contented themselves with the appointment of a leader, under the name of Tribune, who, without power effectually to protect them, had enough to head every popular tumult, and blow up every spark to a flame. An assembly of representatives would have had an equal right with the senate to propose laws, to deliberate, debate, alter, amend, improve. But the tribunes were authorized only to forbid any measure they thought injurious; but not to propose any law, or move any resolution. Not permitted to mix with the senators, they had places at the door of the senate house, as their office was felt to be a dangerous one. Their persons were made sacred; and every one was devoted to the infernal gods who should even strike them. An oath was to be taken to observe this law; and the idea of the sanctity of a tribune took such deep root, that the emperors afterwards were protected from assassins by this sacred title of Tribune.
“The college of tribunes, at first, was not limited to any number; but, in process of time, they increased from three to ten.”
Patricians could not by law be elected; yet the people, to show that they never will be steady to any law, even to those most directly contrived for their benefit, sometimes departed from this.
“The tribunes were at first elected in the curiæ, where the vote of the poorest citizen was equal to that of the most wealthy. But, even here, the patricians, besides their great influence, had even a negative on all proceedings, by holding the auspices. For this reason, it was thought necessary to alter the form of the assembly in which the tribunes were elected, to that of the tribes; and by this means to enable the people to make their election without any control from the nobles, either in virtue of the authority of the senate, or the interposition of the augurs.”
These would have been real improvements of the constitution, if they had proportionally augmented the authority of the consuls at the same time; but probably there would have been as many prejudices against such a proposal among the people as in the senate. All the popular jealousies and alarms at regal authority would have been excited by demagogues in the senate as well as in the comitia; for there are in all nations aristocratical demagogues as well as democratical.
“These expedients were adopted by the senate to quiet the animosities of parties; but tended, in fact, only to render the contest between them more equal, and to multiply the subjects of dispute. The tribunes, being vested with power to assemble the people, could not long be confined to the mere negative with which they were first intrusted. The party of the plebeians, with these magistrates at their head, were then in a posture not only to preserve their right, but likewise to gain to their order continual accessions of power. Happily for the state, there was yet much ground to be gained, without transgressing the bounds of order, or the authority of equitable government. The bar of hereditary distinction was the strongest obstacle which the popular leaders in this career had to break through.”
The nobles among the Romans, as well as among the Greeks, generally traced back their lineage, in some manner or other, to gods and goddesses; and the divine original of nobility, and the essential distinction between the two orders of nobles and commons, the one being believed a superior order of beings to the other, was founded in their institutions of religion, and in the popular belief; and, although some pretensions are still set up, in many parts of Europe, to the divine right of nobility, yet they are generally held in so little estimation, that a modern can hardly form an idea of the difficulty the tribunes must have found to overcome this inveterate prejudice of superstition. No personal merit, no actual service, no measure of ability or virtue, could remove, as it was pretended, the disqualification of plebeian birth.
“One of the first steps towards abolishing this distinction, was to preclude every other power in the state from a negative on their proceedings. For this purpose, it was enacted by the tribes, that no one, under pain of death, or of a fine at discretion, should interrupt a tribune while he was speaking to the people.”
Nothing can be more curious than these popular efforts to get the better of their own superstitious prejudices. They could not depend upon their own firmness to support their own peculiar magistrate, till they made themselves believe that his person was sacred, as well as the other magistrates.
“Being thus provided against interruption, as they were by a former law against violence to their persons, they not only took up the complaints of their constituents, but suggested new claims to be made by them; and at every succession to office, endeavored to signalize their term by some additional establishment for the benefit of the people. They interrupted the state in its councils and wars, and hung upon the wheels of government until the grievances they complained of were redressed, or the demands they made were complied with. In order to increase the number of plebeian officers, whose aid the tribunes alleged was necessary to themselves, they, soon after their own institution, procured that of the ædiles, who were to inspect the market, and have charge of the public buildings and public shows.
“The qualifications of candidates for the office of consul, furnished, during some ages, the subject of continual debates. Civil and military transactions were constantly blended together. The senate frequently involved the state in war, in order to suspend its intestine divisions; and the people as often took occasion, from the difficulties in which the community was involved by its enemies, to extort a compliance with their own demands.
“The first subject of contention was the distribution of the corn which the senate had purchased as a provision against the famine, which the late interruption of industry and agriculture, by the secession of the people, had occasioned. Coriolanus was for compelling the people, by hunger, to part with their tribunes, and the other concessions which had been extorted from the senate. The younger nobility applauded his sentiments; but the majority were afraid of another storm, and agreed to deliver corn from the public granaries at a moderate price. The people, however, were not appeased; they were greatly incensed against Coriolanus; and the tribunes cited him to appear before the tribunal of the people, to answer for the insult he had offered them. The senate and patricians were disposed to protect him; but expected to be able to acquit him in the comitia of the centuries, the only tribunal before which any capital accusation of a citizen had ever been tried. The tribunes, however, determined to introduce an innovation, and insisted that the people should assemble in their tribes. Coriolanus, seeing himself already condemned by this method of proceeding, withdrew, and joined the enemies of his country.”
This novelty made a total change in the constitution; for “the assembly of the centuries formed an aristocracy, that of the tribes a democracy. As it was not with any precision determined by law what business should be done in one assembly, and what in the other, the patricians and plebeians, instead of balancing each other by regular checks, were in danger of rendering the administration of the state a continual scene of contradictions,” which served to the last hour of the republic as an object of popular zeal, and furnished a specious pretence to ambitious and designing men. This very uncertainty, producing continual altercations and wars, produced great statesmen and warriors, no doubt.* But a regular, well-ordered constitution, will never fail to bring forth men capable of conducting the national councils and arms; and it is of infinitely more importance to the national happiness, to abound in good merchants, farmers, and manufacturers, good lawyers, priests, and physicians, and great philosophers, than it is to multiply what are called great statesmen and great generals. It is a miserable servitude, whether you call it a republic or a despotism, where the law is uncertain and unknown; and it is only under the security of certain and known laws, that arts, sciences, agriculture, commerce, and trades, can ever be made to flourish.
Another subject of dispute was soon introduced, “which served to the last hour of the republic as an object of popular zeal, and furnished a specious pretence to ambitious and designing men to captivate the ears of the populace—an equal division of land, known by the name of an agrarian law.”
By this was by no means meant a community of goods and lands, or an equal division of all the lands and goods; the Roman people had too much sense and honesty ever to think of introducing into practice such an absurd figment of the brain. But the Romans, during the late aristocratical times, and the wars against Tarquin, had “suffered the conquered lands to pass by connivance, occupancy, or purchase, into the hands of powerful citizens,” instead of dividing them equally among the people. Spurius Cassius, the consul, who was in favor with the people, and affected still farther popularity by flattering the passions of the inferior classes, foreseeing that the tribunes would soon think of this object, determined to make a merit to himself by anticipating them. “Possessing himself some of these lands, he ostentatiously made a division of them among the more indigent citizens; and obtained an appointment of three commissioners to inquire into the evil and consider of a remedy.”
“The patricians were alarmed; but Cassius had numbers on his side, and was so confident of success, that he betrayed too soon his ambitious design, by offering the freedom of the city to aliens, who, at his invitation, crowded from all parts to vote in the assemblies of the Roman people. This convinced all parties that his views were, by the means of aliens and indigent citizens, to usurp the government.1 All parties combined against him, and he was condemned for treason. The tribunes had no sooner destroyed Cassius, than they adopted his project, and insisted on the law for the nomination of three commissioners.”
From this time commences a struggle between the tribunes and senate, patricians and plebeians, the various operations of which would take up too much space to relate. “The tribunes were honored in proportion to the part they took in support of the popular cause, and their animosity against the senate. Every new tribune endeavored to signalize his year, by suggesting some new point to be gained by the people. One law was obtained to substitute the assembly of the tribes for that of the curiæ, in the election of tribunes; another to exclude the patricians entirely from the assembly of the tribes. The agrarian law they frequently moved in the interval of other pretensions, or together with other claims, in order to alarm the senate, and force them to a compromise.”
The powers and artifices of both parties were soon exerted in another contest, in which the people were in the right, and pursued the most rational and necessary object imaginable,—a new code of laws which should regulate the forms of judicial proceedings; yet even this was not pursued so much from the love of justice, or the spirit of liberty,1 as to gain a point from the patricians, whose power was greatly supported by the discretionary judicial powers they had in their hands. This great object, which the English nation have pursued for so long a course of time, under the names of Folcright or Common Law, they alone have had the wisdom to accompany with prerogatives to the crown and privileges to the nobility, which have secured those two branches of the constitution; at the same time that, by establishing a body of laws and regular formal proceedings in the courts of justice, they have secured their own rights and liberties. The Roman people were not so wise; by neglecting to give any adequate prerogatives to the consuls, and by undermining the power of the senate in proportion as they introduced regular law to protect their own rights, they undermined every other power in the constitution, and devolved the whole upon themselves. In the career they lost all their integrity and morals. “They opposed an ardor not to be cooled or discouraged, or restrained by scruples in the choice of means, to the great authority and address of the nobles. A popular party are apt to think that the rules of veracity and candor may be dispensed with, and that deceit and violence may, without any scruple, be employed in their own favor. With less honor and dignity to maintain than their adversaries, they are less afraid of imputations that detract from either; and their leaders, supported by the voice of the more numerous party, are less apprehensive of evil fame. In this contest, accordingly, fictitious plots and conspiracies were fabricated by the popular side, and fictitious designs against the liberties of the people were imputed to the patricians, in order to render them odious, and to deter them from appearing in support of their real pretensions.”1
“The senate at last agreed to the nomination of three commissioners, to be sent to Greece, and make a collection of laws. The report they made was accepted, and the decemvirs appointed by the senate and people to compile a body of laws. These ten were intended only as a committee to prepare a draught for the consideration of the senate and people. Yet they had so much credit with the people as to be vested with a temporary sovereignty; and superseded the authority of the senate as well as the consuls; and had unlimited power over the lives and fortunes of their fellow-citizens. They presented a number of laws, engraven on ten tables or plates, containing a summary of the privileges of the people, the crimes to be punished, and the forms of judicial proceedings. They said their plan was unfinished; and, desiring a renewal of their powers, obtained it for another year. Two more tables were added, which, with the former ten, made the Law of the Twelve Tables.
“In these laws the distinction of patrician and plebeian was so great, that persons of these different orders were not permitted to intermarry. Bankruptcy was made a crime; and, without any distinction between fraud and misfortune, it exposed the insolvent debtor to the mercy of his creditors, who might put him to death, dissect, or quarter him, and distribute his members among them.”
This law was brought from Greece, and shows the atrocious ideas and manners of the age. Although we have no account of the law being executed in its utmost extent, we know that, in consequence of it, debtors were, by the courts of law, delivered bound into the hands of creditors, and frequently scourged and whipped in a most cruel and unmerciful manner. Giving to fathers the power of magistrates, or the power of life and death, over their children, may have some reasons assigned for it; but nothing can ever account for the people’s accepting such a law of debtor and creditor among the Greeks or Romans, but the supposition that property was entirely in the hands of patricians; and that the people had the blindest superstitious opinion, that the patricians, as descendants of gods, were a superior order of beings. It is no wonder that the people, after this, often clamored for an abolition or diminution of debts. Why they never demanded an abolition of the law, is another question.
One other of these laws deserves particular notice. “In private, every family were free to worship the gods in their own way; and in public, though certain forms were required, yet there was not any penalty annexed to the omission of them, as the punishment of offences in this matter was left to the offended god.” This, probably, was the source of that wise and humane toleration which does so much honor to the Romans, and reflects disgrace on almost every Christian nation.
The ardor of the people to obtain this code had nearly cost them their liberties. “The power of a magistrate was supposed to determine only by his own resignation. The decemvirs, taking advantage of this defect in the constitution, continued the exercise of their power; and the people,” to show that they never can be jealous of men who are in possession of their confidence, “acquiesced in their usurpation; until the father of Virginia, by exercising his lawful authority in defence of his daughter’s honor, exhibited a spectacle of horror which gave a turn to the imaginations, and aroused all the passions of the people to the expulsion of the decemvirs, as such another event had before given occasion to the abolition of monarchy.
“Patricians and plebeians now united, and a tide of mutual confidence began to flow. Two very popular persons were chosen consuls. The consecration of the tribunes was renewed, and extended to the ædiles and other inferior officers, who acted under the tribunes in preserving the rights of the people. The patricians consented to have the acts of the senate formally recorded, placed in the temple of Ceres, and committed to the care of the ædiles. As the consuls had been hitherto the keepers and interpreters of their decrees, and had often suppressed or carried into execution their acts at their pleasure, this was a considerable diminution of the power of the consuls.
“The comitia were of three sorts,—the curiæ, the centuries, and the tribes. The centuries, alone, in which the patricians had an undoubted majority, as well as in the senate, had as yet the authority of making laws for the commonwealth. This still preserved the aristocratical character of the republic. Now the plebeians denied the legislative authority of the senate; and the senate denied the right of the tribes to make laws. Equity required that the plebeians should have a voice in the legislature; but, instead of becoming a branch of it, instead of aiming at a deliberative or negative voice in it, by which they might concur with the senate and comitia of the centuries; or, which would have been infinitely better, with the senate and consuls as two independent branches, they obtained a separate and independent power of legislation. Hence the intricacy of this constitution; hence three distinct sources of laws,—decrees of the senate, acts of the centuries, and resolutions of the tribes,—senatus consulta, leges, plebiscita;” a source of division, distraction, and tumult, which never ceased to issue streams till the authority of the senate was wholly destroyed, and a dominatio plebis began.
“The plebeians, having removed these inequalities, grew so much the more impatient of those which remained. They were still excluded from the office of consul, from that of the priesthood, and were forbidden intermarriage with the nobles. In the year of the city, 308, Canuleius, a plebeian and a tribune, moved to repeal the law of the twelve tables, which prohibited the intermarriage of patricians and plebeians; and the nine other tribunes claimed that the office of consul should be held by plebeians as well as patricians.
“The senate, and the whole order of nobles, by studied delays, and by the usual artifice of involving the state in foreign wars, suspended the determination of these questions; but at length were obliged to gratify the people respecting the intermarriage of different ranks, in order to pacify them on the refusal of their claim to the consulate. To elude this demand, it was said that the sacrifices and other duties of the priesthood, many of which were to be performed by the consul, could not, by the sacred laws of religion, be performed without profanation by persons of plebeian extraction, or by any but those of noble birth. This argument silenced the people for some time;” but neither superstition, nor the true religion, any more than education, oaths, morals, or any other tic, will long restrain an unbalanced party, urged by its interest, and stimulated by a growing passion for power. An evasion, a mere change of a word, will answer the purpose of eluding superstitious fears, and even the dictates of conscience.
“The title of Consul was changed for that of Military Tribune; and no sacerdotal function being included in the duties of this office, plebeians, though not qualified to be consuls, were elected military tribunes, with consular power. The military and sacerdotal functions had before been united; they were now separated, and, as the people thought, without profanation. But another office remained to tempt the people and their tribunes, that of Censor. The census had been a principal object of the executive power; the kings had always held it, and after them the consuls. At every period of five years, they could dispose of every man’s rank, assign him his class, place him in the rolls of the senate or the knights, or strike him off of either, degrade or disfranchise him, as they thought proper. A power so important, although it had not been hitherto flagrantly abused, might easily be so; and the senate would naturally dread the admission of plebeians to it. While they admitted them, therefore to be elected tribunes, with consular power, they stipulated that the census should be separated from it, and that this charge should remain with persons of patrician birth.”
The invasion of the Gauls had burnt the city, and it was thought, extinguished the republic forever. Manlius saved the capitol, and Camillus restored the commonwealth. “During a period of one hundred and seventeen years which followed, the Romans were involved in perpetual wars against the Equi, the Volsci, the Hernici, the Etruscans, and some of their own Latin confederates; yet these did not wholly suspend their internal convulsions, which gave birth to new political institutions. The plebeians, far from being satisfied with their past acquisitions, made continual efforts to extend their privileges. The tribunes, by traducing the senate, and by displaying in their harangues the severities of the patrician creditor, and the sufferings of the plebeian debtor, still inflamed the animosity of the popular party. The republic itself was so feebly established, that ambitious citizens were encouraged, by means of factions raised among persons of the lower class, to entertain thoughts of subverting the government. In this manner, Manlius, the champion of the capitol, presuming on his merit, thought himself above the laws, and incurred the imputation of aspiring to be king. Four hundred citizens, whom he had redeemed from their creditors, and released from chains; the spoils of thirty enemies, slain by himself in battle; forty badges of honor, conferred on him by generals under whom he had served; many citizens whom he had rescued from the enemy, among whom was Servilius, the second in command to the dictator; could not save him from being thrown from the rock on which he had so lately signalized his valor.”
Such was the influence of the senate; such “the treasons for which the friends of the people were to be sacrificed to the senate,” as he said; and such the popular prejudice against the name of a king. Yet it is certain that the best thing the Roman people could have done at that time, would have been to have made him a king, with a negative; preserving, at the same time, their own negative, and that of the senate.”1
The plebeians had been now above forty years in possession of a title to hold the office of consular tribune, but had not been able to prevail over the influence of the patricians at any election. By the increase of their numbers in the first and second classes, by their intermarriages with patrician families, and by the assiduity and influence of individuals who aspired to the office, they at last obtained the dignity of consular tribune for one of their own order, and from thenceforward began to divide the votes of the centuries with the patrician candidates. They soon aspired to the title of consuls. Stolo and Sextius were placed in the college of tribunes, to urge this point. They proposed three laws:—1st. For relief of insolvent debtors, by cheating their creditors of part of their debts. 2dly. To limit estates in land to five hundred jugera, about three hundred acres. 3rdly. To restore the election of consuls, in place of consular tribunes, with an express provision that at least one of the consuls should be of plebeian descent. The patricians prevailed upon some of the tribunes to dissent from their colleagues, and suspend, by their negatives, all proceedings upon these laws. Licinius and Sextius, in their turn, suspended the usual election of magistrates, and put a stop to all the ordinary affairs of state. An anarchy of five years ensued. The patricians still insisted on the sacrilege and profanation that would be incurred, by suffering the rites usually performed by the consuls to pass into plebeian hands. The tribunes, to elude this mysterious objection, which laid fast hold on the superstitious minds of the people, contrived a shift. They moved, that the ordinary attendants on the sacred rites should be augmented from two to ten; and that of these one half should be named of plebeian extraction. The patricians struggled as long as they could, but were at last obliged to give way,—1st. To the acts in favor of insolvent debtors. 2dly. To the agrarian law, or limitation of property in land. 3dly. To the new establishment relating to the priesthood, and to the communication of the consulate itself to persons of plebeian rank. The plebeian party prevailed in all their points, and raised Sextius the tribune to the office of consul; and, from one step to another, they obtained all the offices, whether of prætor or ædile, of dictator or censor, to be, in process of time, filled with persons of either rank.
“The only effect it now had was favorable to the plebeians, as it limited the choice of tribunes to their own order; while, in common with the patricians, they had access to every other dignity in the state.
“In this account of the Roman constitution, we are now come nearly to that state of its maturity, at which Polybius began to admire the felicity of its institutions, and the order of its administration.” The mass, however, was far from being so well compacted, or the unity of power so well established, as it is in the English constitution; the senate and the popular assemblies, in their legislative capacities, counteracted one another. However, from this time forward, through a long period of wars, with Greeks, Gauls, Italians, and Carthaginians, the domestic policy of the state appears to be wise and orderly. The distinction between patrician and plebeian was become altogether nominal; the descendants of those who had held the higher offices of state were, in consequence of the preferments of their ancestors, considered as noble; and, as the plebeians now found no difficulty in obtaining the offices of state, they were continually opening the way of their posterity to the rank of nobles. The plebeians were entitled by law to claim one of the consul’s seats, and frequently occupied both. The authority of the senate, the dignity of the equestrian order, and the manners of the people in general, were guarded, and in a great measure preserved, by the integrity and strict exercise of the censorial power. The wisest and most respected of the citizens, from every condition, were raised into office; and the assemblies, whether of the senate or the people, without envy and without jealousy, suffered themselves to be governed by the counsels of a few able and virtuous men. The spirit of the people was, however, in a high degree democratical; and though they suffered themselves to be governed by the silent influence of personal authority in a few of their citizens, yet they could not endure any species of uncommon preëminence, even that which arose from the lustre and well-founded pretensions of distinguished merit.
The conduct of the Romans towards the Greeks should not be forgotten; since it appears to have been copied from the policy of Antalcidas in his Persian treaty. “The states of the Achæan league, already on the decline, hastened, by the temerity and distractions of their own councils, the career of their fortunes to its termination. The Romans, even while they suffered this famous republic to retain the show of its independence, had treated its members, in many particulars, as subjects. At the close of the war with Perseus, they had cited to appear at Rome, or had taken into custody as prisoners of state, many citizens of Achaia. Of these they had detained about a thousand in different prisons of Italy. After a period of seventeen years, three hundred who remained alive were set at liberty. Polybius was one of them. He attached himself to Scipio, the son of Emilius, and no doubt contributed much to his education and great character.
“The Romans, while they detained so many Greek prisoners, assumed the administration of affairs in Greece, and disposed of every distinction, whether of fortune or power, to their own tools. They received appeals from the judgments of the Achæan council, and encouraged its members, contrary to the express conditions of their league, to send separate embassies to Rome. The Spartans, having been forced into the Achæan confederacy, continued refractory in most of its councils. By some of their complaints at Rome, they obtained a deputation from the senate, to hear parties on the spot, and to adjust their differences. The Achæan council, incensed at this insult which was offered to their authority, proceeded to enforce their own decrees against the republic of Sparta, marched an army, and defeated the inhabitants of that city who ventured to oppose them. The Roman commissioners arriving after these hostilities, summoned the parties to assemble at Corinth, and, in the name of the senate, gave sentence,—That Lacedæmon, Corinth, Argos, Heraclea, and Orchomenos, not having been original members of the Achæan confederacy, should now be disjoined from it; and that all the cities which had been rescued from the dominion of Philip should be left in full possession of their freedom and independency.” A war ensued, in which Metellus and Mummius defeated the Greeks, and the Achæan league was dissolved.
“The enmity and the friendship of the Romans was equally fatal. As the Achæan league was dissolved, on having incurred their resentment, so the remnant of the Spartan republic perished, in having accepted their protection.” And nothing could be more just than that the Spartans should perish under an insidious policy, which they themselves had first invented, practised, and suggested to the Romans; who, under the command of Flaminius, about fifty years before this date, in order to detach the Grecian cities from Philip, proclaimed with so much ostentation, at the Isthmus of Corinth, general independence, and the free exercise of their own laws, to all the republics of Greece. “The Achæan league was dissolved, and all its conventions annulled. The states which had composed it were deprived of their sovereignty, subjected to pay a tribute, and placed under the government of a person annually sent from Rome with the title of Prætor of Achaia.
But the success of the Roman arms abroad, became the source of a ruinous corruption at home. In the state itself, the governing and the governed felt separate interests, and were at variance from motives of avarice, as well as ambition. Two hundred and thirty years had elapsed since the animosities of patrician and plebeian were extinguished by the equal participation of public honors. This distinction itself was, in a great measure, obliterated, and gave way to a new one, which, under the denomination of nobles and commons, or illustrious and obscure, without involving any legal disparity of privileges, gave rise to an aristocracy, which was partly hereditary, founded on the repeated succession to honors in the same family; and partly personal, founded on the habits of high station and on the advantages of education, such as never fail to distinguish the conditions of men in every great and prosperous state. These circumstances conferred a power on the nobles, which, though less invidious, was not less real than that which had been possessed by the ancient patricians. The exercise of this power was lodged with the senate, a body which, though by the emulation of its members too much disposed to war, and ambitious of conquest, was never surpassed in magnanimity, ability, or in steadiness, by any council of state whatever.
“The people had submitted to the senate, as possessed of an authority which was founded in the prevailing opinion of their superior worth; and even the most aspiring of the commons allowed themselves to be governed by an order of men, amongst whom they themselves, by proper efforts and suitable merit, might hope to ascend. The knights, or the equestrian order, being persons possessed of estates or effects of a certain valuation, and secluded from the pursuit of political emolument or honor, formed, between the senate and the people, an intermediate rank, who, in consequence of their having a capital, and being less engaged than the senators in affairs of state, became traders, contractors, farmers of the revenue, and constituted a species of moneyed interest.
“Circumstances which appear to be fixed in the political state of nations, are often no more than a passage in the shifting of scenes, or a transition from that which a people have been, to what they are about to become. The nobles began to avail themselves of the high authority and advantages of their station, and to accumulate property as well as honors. Citizens contended for offices in the state, as the road to lucrative appointments abroad; and when they had obtained this end, and had reigned for a while in some province, they brought back from their government a profusion of wealth ill acquired, and the habit of arbitrary and uncontrolled command. When disappointed in the pursuits of fortune abroad, they became the leaders of dangerous factions at home; or, when suddenly possessed of great wealth, they became the agents of corruption, to disseminate idleness and the love of ruinous amusements in the minds of the people. The city was gradually crowded with a populace, who, tempted with the cheap or gratuitous distribution of corn, by the frequency of public shows, by the consequence they enjoyed as members of the popular assemblies, flocked to Rome. There they were corrupted by idleness and indigence; and the order itself was continually debased by the frequent accession of emancipated slaves. A turbulent populace tyrannized, in their turn, over the masters of the world, and wreaked on the conquerors of so many nations the evils which they themselves had so freely inflicted on mankind.
“Citizens of this extraction could not for ages arrive at any places of trust, in which they could, by their personal defects, injure the commonwealth; but they increased, by their numbers and their vices, the weight of that dreg, which, in great and prosperous cities, ever sinks, by the tendency of vice and misconduct, to the lowest condition. They became a part of that faction, who are ever actuated by envy to their superiors, by mercenary views, or by abject fear; who are ever ready to espouse the cause of any leader against the restraints of public order; disposed to vilify the more respectable ranks of men, and, by their indifference on the subjects of justice or honor, to frustrate every principle that may be employed for the government of mankind, besides fear and compulsion. Although citizens of this description were yet far from being the majority at Rome, yet it is probable that they were in numbers sufficient to contaminate the whole body of the people; and if enrolled promiscuously in all the tribes, might have had a great weight in turning the scale of political councils. This effect, however, was happily prevented, by the wise precaution which the censors had taken, to confine all citizens of mean or slavish extraction to four of the tribes. These were called the tribes of the city, and formed but a small proportion of the whole.
“Notwithstanding this precaution, we must suppose them to have been very improper parties in the participation of sovereignty, and likely enough to disturb the place of assembly with disorders and tumults. While the inferior people sunk in their characters, or were debased by the circumstances mentioned, the superior ranks, by their application to affairs of state, by their education, by the ideas of high birth and family distinction, by the superiority of fortune, began to rise in their estimation, in their pretensions, and in their power; and they entertained some degree of contempt for persons, whom the laws still required them to admit as their fellow-citizens and equals.
“In this disposition of parties, so dangerous in a commonwealth, and amidst materials so likely to catch the flame, some sparks were thrown, that soon kindled up anew all the popular animosities, which seemed to have been so long extinguished. Tiberius Gracchus, born of a plebeian family, but ennobled by the honors of his father, by his descent, on the side of his mother, from the first Scipio Africanus, and by his alliance with the second Scipio, who had married his sister, being now tribune of the people, and possessed of all the accomplishments required in a popular leader, great ardor, resolution, and eloquence, formed a project in itself extremely alarming, and in its consequences dangerous to the peace of the republic.
“Being called to account for his conduct as quæstor in Spain, the severity he experienced from the senate, and the protection he obtained from the people, filled his breast with animosity to the one, and a prepossession in favor of the other. Actuated by these dispositions, or by an idea not uncommon to enthusiastic minds, that the unequal distribution of property, so favorable to the rich, is an injury to the poor, he proposed a revival of the law of Licinius, by which Roman citizens had been restrained from accumulating estates in land above the value of five hundred jugera, little more than half as many acres. This was become impracticable, and even dangerous, in the present state of the republic. The distinctions of poor and rich are as necessary, in states of considerable extent, as labor and good government. Thepoor are destined to labor; and the rich, by the advantages of education, independence, and leisure, are qualified for superior stations. The empire was now greatly extended, and owed its safety and the order of its government to a respectable aristocracy, founded on the possession of fortune, as well as personal qualities and public honors. The rich were not, without some violent convulsion, to be stript of estates which they themselves had bought, or which they had inherited from their ancestors. The poor were not qualified at once to be raised to a state of equality with persons inured to a better condition. The project seemed to be as ruinous to government as it was to the security of property, and tended to place the members of the commonwealth, by one rash and precipitate step, in situations in which they were not at all qualified to act.
“For these reasons, as well as from motives of private interest affecting the majority of the nobles, the project of Tiberius was strenuously opposed by the senate; and, from motives of envy, interest, or mistaken zeal for justice, as warmly supported by the opposite party.” Acting in concert with Appius Claudius, whose daughter he had married, a senator of the family of Crassus, who was then at the head of the priesthood, and Mucius Scævola the consul, he exhausted all his art, and displayed all his eloquence in declamation. “But when he came to propose that the law should be read, he found that his opponents had procured M. Octavius, one of his colleagues, to interpose his negative, and forbid any further proceeding in the business. Here, according to the law and the constitution, this matter should have dropped.” But inflamed and unbalanced parties are not to be restrained by laws and constitutions. “The tribunes were instituted to defend their own party, not to attack their opponents; and to prevent, not to promote innovations. Every single tribune had a negative on the whole.”
The rest of the story I must leave. The constitution thus violated, Gracchus next violated the sacred character of his colleague, the tribune. The senate were transported with indignation; violence ensued, and the two Gracchi fell. Afterwards, Marius carried the popular pretensions still higher; and Sylla might, if he would, have been emperor. Cæsar followed, and completed the catastrophe.
This commonwealth, by the splendor of its actions, the extent of its empire, the wisdom of its councils, the talents, integrity, and courage of a multitude of characters, exhibits the fairest prospect of our species, and is the most signal example, excepting England, of the wisdom and utility of a mixture of the three powers in a commonwealth. On the other hand, the various vicissitudes of its fortune, its perpetual domestic contests and internal revolutions, are the clearest proofs of the evils arising from the want of complete independence in each branch, and from an ineffectual balance.1
[1 ]Yet it seems clear that he discriminated in the moral nature of offences.
[1 ]The extent to which he went in his interference between the debtor and creditor, is a subject which, like almost every other connected with these times, has been much disputed. But the better opinion is, that the statement in the text is below the truth. He diminished the weight of the money of account more than a quarter part, and probably annulled, directly or indirectly, the mortgages on all lands. It may be doubted whether any more radical measure was ever adopted in legislation.
[1 ]This subject has been since very carefully examined by Boeckh, in his work on The Public Economy of Athens, and he makes the number of citizens of Attica twenty thousand, in a population of half a million. Clinton comes to the same result. Fast. Hell. vol. ii. appendix, p. 477.
[1 ]The precise manner in which this body was formed is not clearly understood, and it has therefore given rise to much discussion. Niebuhr and some later writers maintain that the four Ionic tribes were exclusively of the class of Eupatridæ, in which case, the senate must have been purely aristocratic, and made still more so by the property qualifications superinduced by Solon. The weight of authority must be conceded to be against this construction. But, whether this be correct or not, the effect of an exclusive distinction granted to a well-defined portion of the community was very certainly in the end to create, if it did not merely confirm, an aristocracy. To form an idea of the effect of it, we have only to imagine what would now be the case had a similar exception been made in favor of the first Puritan families of Massachusetts, or of the Dutch race in New York, or of the Quakers in Pennsylvania. That this must have been a consequence at Athens is clear, from the fact, that one of the first steps taken by Cleisthenes, the real founder of the democracy, was to do away with the confined division of the Ionic tribes, and to form the more extended one mentioned in the text, by which the nature of the senate was completely altered, and it was subjected to popular influences.
[1 ]Mr. Grote, in his late work on Greece, assigns a different cause for this regulation,—the necessity of bringing such disturbances to an end as soon as possible, by the active interposition of the whole community.
[1 ]Many writers consider this court as one of the conservative checks upon the popular will devised by Solon. In fact, it became the lever by which to shake the whole system. It is scarcely possibly that a sagacious lawgiver could have made so great a mistake. The probability would seem to favor the idea, founded on the language of Aristotle, that Cleisthenes made some changes in the formation of the court which let in the democratic influence.
[1 ]This statement depends upon authority comparatively modern, and somewhat questionable.
[1 ]The tendency among modern scholars who have pursued their investigations into the nature of the institutions of Greece with extraordinary industry, is to consider Cleisthenes as the real author of the democratic system of ancient Athens. He scarcely could have been a man of “no great abilities.”
[1 ]This is declared by Wachsmuth not to be sustained by any authority, as it certainly conflicts with the statement made a few pages back, (p. 480,) that they were chosen by lot. Dr. Thirlwall, on the other hand, maintains that they were elected. The truth is, that very little is known of the constitution of Solon’s senate. Wachsmuth, Historical Antiquities of the Greeks, translated by E. Woolrych, vol. i. p. 378; Thirlwall, History of Greece, vol. ii. p. 42.
[1 ]Mr. Grote’s defence of the ostracism as a conservative feature of the government, on the grounds recited in the text, is deserving of consideration on account of its ingenuity, even if it do not create entire conviction of its soundness.
[1 ]“There was no want, at Athens, of well-conceived and strict regulations; but what is the use of provident measures, where the spirit of the administration is bad? Men have at all times been unjust, and covetous, and unprincipled, and above all, the Greeks distinguished themselves for the uncontrolled gratification of their own desires, and their contempt for the happiness of others. If any competent judge of moral actions will contemplate their character without prejudice, and unbiased by their high intellectual endowments, he will find that their private life was unstable, and devoid of virtue; that their public life was a tissue of restless intrigues and passions; and, what was the worst of all, that there existed, to a far greater degree than in the Christian world, a want of moral principle, and a harshness and cruelty in the popular mind. The display of noble actions, it is true, has ceased, and will never re-appear with the same brilliancy; but the principles of the majority of mankind have been elevated, even if we allow that some distinguished individuals in ancient times were as pure as the most exalted characters in modern days; and in this general elevation consists the progress of mankind.” Boeckh’s Public Economy of Athens, translated by Lewis, p. 194.
[1 ]Polybius, vol. i. b. 2, translated by Sir H. S.
[1 ]“In the same manner, numerical divisions of the people connect and unite the whole, each smaller part being restrained and awed by a larger, and the whole by the resolution of the general assembly.” S.
[2 ]“A noble character of the patriot Aratus.” S.
[* ]“But this had not then an odious meaning.” S.
[† ]On Government, l. 5, c. 12.
[* ]Lib. vi.
[* ]Lib. xii. p. 6.
[1 ]The following pages contain a summary of the first book of Adam Ferguson’s History of the Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic, accompanied, however, with a running commentary, as usual, which it is difficult without collation to distinguish from the text.
[2 ]“The affirmative is as difficult of proof as the negative.” H.
[* ]This alludes to the following sentiment of Dr. Ferguson, which is not cited in the text.
[1 ]It is a common trick of parties to assail the motives of formidable opponents, in order to weaken their influence, if not to destroy them entirely. The result proves that the measure of Cassius was felt to be reasonable, even though he was himself sacrificed as the advocate of it. Yet it is not uncommon among popular men to push good measures from bad reasons.
[1 ]It is difficult at all times to analyze the springs of popular movements. Multitudes are necessarily subject to an infinite diversity of impulses, the precise extent of each of which cannot be defined. But there is no reason in this case to suppose that the love of justice and the spirit of liberty did not animate the same breasts in which the other motive had its play. The desire for victory is an inevitable attendant upon eager contention for even the best object.
[1 ]It is hardly reasonable in a historian of a popular government to suppose that these labors are all confined to one party.
[1 ]Something akin to this is expressed by Niebuhr:—
[1 ]The author leaves us here without clearly defining the points in the Roman system in which the balance was defective. His observations on the same subject, scattered in the last chapter of the work, are more forcible than this analysis. Some valuable reflections upon the subject have been supplied by Lord Brougham, in his Political Philosophy, part ii. ch. 13, and others are to be found scattered in the pages of Niebuhr and Dr. Arnold; but a thoroughly republican and philosophical history, written by one familiar with all the phases of a popular government, remains yet to be written.