Front Page Titles (by Subject) DISCOURSE V.: Of the Institution and Power of the popular Tribunes. - The Works of Sallust (Gordon's Discourses, Cicero's Orations against Catiline)
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DISCOURSE V.: Of the Institution and Power of the popular Tribunes. - Gaius Sallustius Crispus (Sallust), The Works of Sallust (Gordon’s Discourses, Cicero’s Orations against Catiline) 
The Works of Sallust, translated into English with Political Discourses upon that Author. To which is added, a translation of Cicero’s Four Orations against Catiline (London: R. Ware, 1744).
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Of the Institution and Power of the popular Tribunes.
The blind Confidence of the People in the Tribunes: The Ambition, and violent Attempts, of those popular Leaders.
THE Roman People, who had hitherto suffered too much, seem now to have gained too much. For, though these their Tribunes were vested with a negative Power only, yet, as they exerted and applied it, (as it was easy to foresee they would) it was the Exercise of Government over the Government; since, whenever they pleased, they could (at least they did) by one short Word, suspend and interdict the whole Administration; command the great Council of the State to stand still, and not only oppose, but imprison the supreme Magistrates, alter their Titles and Number, dictate to the Grandees of the State, and even force the greatest of them, the Dictator himself, to abdicate his Charge. It was, indeed, owing to Accident, to the Stratagems, Reputation, and Spirit of the Nobility; to their superior Address, and Temporizing, and to the inveterate Reverence of the People towards the Patricians, that these popular Tribunes did not very early quite abolish the old Government, and set up another. At best, there was thenceforward but little, or short-lived Concord at Rome; much Strife, or the Seeds of Strife, continually subsisting: And as the Nobles, by wronging and oppressing the Plebeians, had driven them to Extremities, and unwisely put them upon trying their own Strength; the Plebeians made the Patricians soon feel that Strength, and with it that Resentment, which they had too long despised. It is the Consequence of Justice long delayed, and of Misery forced to seek its own Relief. They who are ill used, and denied just Relief, when thus driven upon finding it themselves, may likewise find the Means of returning it, perhaps twofold; nor is it to be wondered at, if they make that Return; neither are they to be blamed for it, any further than when, in doing it, they hurt Themselves in order to mortify Others, and enable the Instruments of their Vengeance to become the Instruments of their Oppression.
It is very true, that these many Feuds, and the continual Efforts of the popular Tribunes, occasioned many Wars and Conquests, and thence contributed to the Grandeur of Rome, as well as to furnish out many able Commanders and Statesmen. But this was an accidental Advantage, arising out of a real Evil; such as might have produced, and was often near producing, and did at last produce, utter Ruin and Dissolution. For a long while, neither Side could quite subdue the other, though engaged in a continual Struggle: And as soon as one came to be enslaved, it was by such means as enslaved the other too. Sylla, at the Head of the Nobility, mastered the Plebeian Party with Marius at their Head, but was also full as much Master of the Nobles. Cæsar, the Idol of the Commonalty, subdued Pompey and the Senate, but equally subdued the Commonalty too.
Parties are too angry, and consequently too blind, (for surely nothing is more blinding than Rage) to see any Designs in their Leader to their Disadvantage. It is only public Spirit that prompts him, and their Interest alone is the Measure of his Conduct. All his Professions are sincere, all his Harangues convincing, his Steps disinterested, and his Lyes and Flatteries so many Marks of Love and Truth. Thus they dance after their Demagogues to Bondage, and all the while cry Liberty, repeating it after Him, till He has carried Them (perhaps for ever) out of the Reach of Liberty, and made use of the Sound utterly to destroy the Substance. Spurius Melius, Marcus Manlius Capitolinus, and Spurius Cassius, all driving at Tyranny by the Cry of Liberty, were all popular, all beloved, and believed. Catiline had Liberty, Roman Liberty, in his Mouth, whilst his traiterous Heart was panting after Tyranny and Massacre, and the utter Extinction of the Roman State. And Cæsar, out of Fear and Tenderness for public Liberty, was zealous to save the bloody Accomplices of Catiline, even after the fullest Conviction, such as even the Arts and Eloquence of Cæsar could not baffle nor evade. That Catiline was popular, Sallust shews; and how popular Cæsar was, the World knows, as the Roman Commonwealth did, to her Sorrow and Subversion.
The Tribunes applied themselves early to the same Arts, with great Popularity and Success, cheating the People almost continually with deceitful Baits, inflaming them by seditious Harangues, and keeping them ever idle and turbulent. In truth, considering the ambitious Attempts and Views of the Tribunes, with their great Boldness in misleading and inflaming the People, and the great Credulity of the People, and their Proneness to be misled and inflamed; I cannot see, but that some extraordinary Revolution must have soon ensued, if, out of their own Number, a Remedy had not been found for their Fury, by gaining One, which it was not always hard to do out of Ten, to oppose, and consequently frustrate, the extravagant Projects of the rest. Though this Remedy was once afterwards taken away, in an extraordinary and violent Manner, by one of the famous Gracchi.
Reflections on the plausible Professions, and dangerous Conduct, of the Gracchi. Public Reformations, how cautiously to be attempted.
HAD these two illustrious Brothers, the Gracchi, proceeded much further, however virtuous at first their Motives may have been, and however crying the Injustice of the Nobles, I think the State must have been turned upside down, and some sudden Tyranny must have been the Lot of Rome; or, which is generally introductive of Tyranny, a cruel Civil War, with Invasion, and probably Conquest, from so many warlike Nations, exasperated against the Romans, for having been vanquished by them. It is certain, that the Spirits of Men, on both Sides, were furiously heated, and disposed to think no Measures, which promised Success or Assistance, unjust, or too sanguinary. When Things go this Length, as both Parties will always like their own Cause best, they will judge all Means lawful to support it; and, as Fury and Madness will be called Zeal, Calumny and Lyes will obtain Credit; Violence and Outrage will pass for Self-defence; Bloodshed and Massacre will bear the Title of Punishment; and all Wickedness and Barbarity will be done under the softest Names, and for the best Ends: As I have more fully explained in my Discourse upon Civil Wars.
Suppose the two Gracchi, whose Virtues and great Talents I honour, whose tragical Ends I lament and abhor, but whose Conduct seems to me to have had a very terrible Aspect and Tendency; I say, suppose them to have had the best Intentions upon Earth; it is most certain, that their Measures were such, as rendered each of them successively absolute Master of the Republic; a Situation, than which nothing can be more terrible to a free State; for it was then at his Mercy, whether it should be a State, or no; a plain Proof, that it was not free! Besides, they gave such alarming Proofs of their violent Spirit, as well as of their tremendous Power, that they seemed as little Masters of their own Temper and Ambition, as the State was of its own Authority. It is a dreadful Medicine, which is as likely to kill as to cure; and if there be certain Disorders incident to the Body, which cannot be extirpated without the Extirpation of Life, and are therefore to be endured; is it not more eligible to suffer certain Diseases in the Body Politic, even certain great Diseases, than attempt to remove them, by an Expedient much more likely to destroy than to reform it; or which, if it reform one Abuse, yet tends to introduce the most horrible of all Evils and Abuses, even Tyranny and Servitude?
Now, what is it that introduces this greatest of all Corruptions and Calamities, but the Power of one Man to do what he pleases? And was not Tiberius Gracchus that Man? Was not his Brother Caius, after him, such another Man? Their Professions were plausible; and the open and daring Abuses of the Nobility furnished them with fair Pretences. But who knows their Intentions, the Intentions of two very able and very powerful Men, animated by Vengeance, as well as by Justice, and aiming avowedly at the Abasement, probably at the Destruction, of the Senate, as well as at the Relief of the poor Plebeians? Were they, or could they be, Masters of their own Intentions? As they could not foresee all Difficulties, neither could they foresee what Expedients they must be forced upon to overcome them. For they seemed determined to carry their Point at all Adventures, and therefore to try every Means proper for such a Purpose.
Now, suppose nothing less than the Power of Sylla, and of Cæsar, would have been found sufficient, namely, Power absolute and continued, that is, downright Tyranny; would they have submitted, and dropped their Point? I cannot see, from their obstinate Behaviour, and violent Measures, that they would. Or, if they had openly assumed the supreme Power in Form, as they did in Effect, they would have said, (and perhaps then might have meant what they said) that there was no other Way of humbling the Nobles, and restoring the Commons; and that when they had accomplished this End, they would lay it down: And yet would have found afterwards, full as good Reasons for prolonging it, even for their own Ambition and Security, and that of their new Establishments; that is to say, for ever. It was the Plea and Practice of Cromwell. He made Reformation a Stale for Usurpation: When he had mounted the Throne, he found it unsafe, as well as unpleasant, to descend; never pretended to hold his Power always, but only till a Godly thorough Settlement was made; how soon, or how late, He only was to judge; and in the mean time, retained his sovereign Authority to keep the Peace, and carry on the Work of Reformation.
I dread all such Reformations, as are only to be effected by the arbitrary Will, and unaccountable Humour, of one Man, by a Power too nor delegated, but taken. I would rather see many Abuses subsist, than a Cromwell, a Pisistratus, a Cæsar, or (it you will) a Gracchus, assuming lawless Power to redress them. Indeed, in all Revolutions, the most necessary and best, there are Evils and Inconveniencies more than enow(a) .
The Provocation given by the Nobles was, indeed, very great, and their Oppressions shocking; as They were, in the Face and Defiance of all Law and Compassion, possessed of all that Portion of the conquered Lands, which was appointed for the Subsistence of the poor Plebeians, who had carned them with their Swords. The Usurpers were rioting in overgrown Wealth, Pomp, and Luxury; whilst the poor Romans, who daily exposed their Lives for the Safety and Aggrandizing of these their Oppressors, by being deprived of their Property, wanted Bread. There could therefore be nothing more just, nothing more equitable, or more conducing to mutual Peace amongst Fellow-Citizens, and to the Equality so necessary in a free State, where the overgrown Riches, and consequently Power, of One, or a Few, tend directly to the Enthralling of All, than the Ascertaining the Agrarian Law, and Restoring the usurped Lands to the injured and necessitous Proprietors.
But the Evil was inveterate, and far spread; all the great Men in the Commonwealth were engaged in Pride and Interest to support it, and to oppose every Remedy: Since whatever removed That, must reduce Them; and terribly shorten their Property, their Figure, and Authority.
Lælius, that accomplished Roman, the celebrated Friend of the great Scipio Africanus, as virtuous and public-spirited a Man as either of the Gracchi, and, I think, more wise, was sensibly touched with the same Grievances, which so much piqued Them, and, whilst he was Tribune of the People, conceived a Design to cure them; but gave it over, upon a View of its extreme Difficulty and Peril. Had he seen any Prospect of succeeding, by Methods that were not desperate, and threatening to the Commonwealth, it is likely he would have pursued his Intention. Surely the Temptation was great to an honest and humane Mind, to make the Rich and Wanton restore the Bread, which they had robbed from the Poor and Innocent, to cut up daring Oppression by the Roots, to restore the baffled Laws to their former Force, and to establish a just and equal Administration in a free Commonwealth. But he would not attempt what he foresaw no Man could accomplish, without making himself Master of all the rest; and particular Acts of Injustice, perhaps, seemed to him more tolerable than the Tyranny, that is, the Power, of One over All. The Gracchi actually assumed and exercised that Power, which, had not They been destroyed, would, in all Likelihood, have destroyed the Republic. Machiavel observes, that whenever the People are brought to admire and extol a Man, only because he has Power to punish their Enemies; if he prove but selfish and able, their Liberty is lost, and he may usurp the supreme Power when he pleases. For, by the Assistance of the People, he may master the Nobility; and, when the Nobility are depressed, it will not be difficult to him to enslave the People; who will then have no Resource of Succour or Support.
The Gracchi breathed the true Spirit of the Tribunitial Power, ever turbulent and aspiring, ever producing popular Tyrants. It was a Power which seemed very small at first, since they who had it appeared lower than the lowest Magistrates, and were, indeed, without any Mark or Name of Magistracy, without Jurisdiction over their Fellow-Citizens, and without any Tribunal, or particular Habit, or the Power of calling Assemblies. They were dressed like common Men, sat without the Senate, attended by one Serjeant; and their sole Business and Authority was, to observe, that nothing passed there contrary to the Interest of the Plebeians. So that their whole Power was Negative, and comprised in one short Word, I forbid; a Word capable of being terribly extended; as, indeed, it soon, and always was.
The boundless Power assumed by the Tribunes: With what Boldness and Iniquity they exercise it. The People still their Dupes.
THE Power of the Tribunes grew so enormous, that, under that Title, the Emperors, afterwards, held and maintained their Usurpation, which they chose to call by the Name of the Tribunitial Power, as the greatest Power known to the free State, and moreover familiar, and even acceptable, to the People. This was one of the Arts of Augustus, and practised, by all his Successors, down to Constantine. The Title of King, and that of Dictator, were odious: That therefore of the Tribuneship, comprehending full as much Power, was adjudged more safe; besides that, it was declared, from the Beginning; sacred and inviolable. This shews to what a Height and Immensity this Office must have grown, when Princes, usurping and arbitrary Princes, entertained so high a Conceit of it, and esteemed it sufficient to denote and support their lawless Power.
The Tribunes began early to manifest what copious Authority they meant to draw from their short Commission. They assembled the People, harangued, governed, and inflamed them; commanded the Senate to meet, controuled, interrupted, and insulted it; arraigned the highest Patricians, and ordered the Consuls (the supreme Magistrates of the State) into Custody. All this oppressive, and indeed destructive Power, they found in an Office instituted only to prevent Oppression. They would mend the Government by Misrule, protect the Plebeians by oppressing the Nobility, and lead the People by misguiding and oppressing them(a) . Their greatest Credit consisted in fomenting continual Misunderstanding between the People and Senate; and, as the People would scarce ever receive Information but from their Tribunes; the Tribunes seldom gave them any Information that was true, and thus became their Favourites for deceiving them. A Case by no means new in the World, nor likely to grow old.
They seemed to think themselves created to crush and persecute the Patricians, whom they were only to check and balance; and to alarm and deceive the Commons, whose great Interest it was to be quiet and free. The Senate, the great Council, and one of the two Limbs of the State, was to be lopped off, or laid aside, or rendered intirely useless, and the State itself to be disabled and mutilated, and consequently the Constitution changed, to make Way, not for a popular Government, but for the furious and unnatural Sway of a few Demagogues, naturally and necessarily ending in the Tyranny of One. The unrepresented Multitude never can govern; and a few Individuals, representing and governing the Multitude, generally govern for Themselves, against the Interest of the Whole, and cannot hold long; but must either be all removed, or will soon remove each other, and leave the Whole in the Hands of One; and then the Multitude, who at first were Principals, and gave all the Power, will be Slaves to the Power of One.
Popular Sovereignty (I mean the Populace not duly represented) is popular Licentiousness, which is destructive of regular Liberty; and tends directly to what it seems, at least sounds, least like, the lawless Sovereignty of a single Man. So that he, who, with this View, takes off all Bonds and Restraints from the People, will soon have an Opportunity to bring them under the most severe and strongest of all, even the Bonds of Servitude. Anarchy can never last long any-where, and is always more likely to end in the Government of Will than that of Laws. During such a State, the People are too mad to be well advised, and are therefore fit to be mastered. Though the Many have no Art, some Few amongst them may have a great deal; and amongst these Few, One may have more Cunning, or more Success, than the Rest. Now, as Anarchy generally ends in Tyranny, great Licentiousness produces Anarchy.
How could popular Tranquillity, and consequently civil Liberty, which delights in Quiet, be secured at Rome where these popular Leaders were, for their own Ends and Importance, continually transporting and affrighting the People? Soon after their Creation, two of them, Brutus and Sicinius, took Occasion from a public Calamity, (a proper Conjuncture for raising popular Tumults) to publish a mischievous Lye, ‘That the Patricians, by keeping their Granaries full, had caused the Dearth, and consequently the Famine, that prevailed, as it furnished them with an Opportunity of selling Corn at an exorbitant Price.’ For this, they represented the Patricians as Extortioners, and hard-hearted Tyrants, who thus aimed at swallowing up what small Portions yet remained of Land and Substance to the poor Plebeians, or at starving all the Plebeians in general. For this Famine there was an obvious Cause, as the Tribunes well knew, even the wilful Idleness and Neglect of the People themselves, who, when they retired from Rome with an Intention to settle elsewhere, had left their Fields uncultivated, and occasioned their own want of Bread. But the Tribunes were sensible, that any Falshood, however gross, would pass with the Multitude, who were starving and credulous. These Sons of Sedition traduced and decried the Government with one only View, even that they themselves might come to be Governors.
Indeed, these Tribunes carried most of their Points by downright Impudence, and by Lyes, confidently spread to terrify the People, and incense them against the Senate. The Tribune Volscius procured Cæso, Son of the famous Quintus Cincinnatus, that brave old Captain, and frequent Deliverer of his Country, to be condemned for a Fact which he never committed; as was afterwards fully proved, when the vile Falsifier was punished with perpetual Exile for having forged it. This lying Accuser charged Cæso, before the People, with having killed a Brother of his. For this the credulous People, deceived and exasperated by their Tribune, doomed Cæso to Banishment, and a Fine; and to pay this Fine, the venerable old Patriot, so often Consul and Dictator, sold the best Part of his Estate, and was forced to retire to a poor Hovel beyond the Tiber, and there cultivate, with his own Hands, Five Acres of Ground for his Subsistence.
When the Tribunes found, that the blind Croud swallowed greedily every Lye against the Senate, they contrived a Plot to destroy the greatest Part of that venerable Body at once, by accusing them of a sham Conspiracy to destroy a great Part of the People. This pretended Plot of the Senate against the People, and their Magistrates the Tribunes, was carefully imparted to the Populace, who believed it all, though it was all a most mischievous Fiction. Nay, the Tribunes had the Assurance to repair to the Senate, and, in a formal and pathetic Speech, to represent it to the Fathers. But both in the Senate, and before an Assembly of the People, the pretended Conspiracy was finely and successfully exposed, and the Absurdity and Improbability of it so fully demonstrated, that it turned highly to the Disgrace of the Framers. But, though all People of Sense and Condition were abundantly convinced, the Rabble, ever stupid and deluded, persisted in believing it, without once suspecting it to be, what it really was, a shocking Device of these their Idols, to increase and confirm their Dominion over them. So that they were not Magistrates, but eternal Fomenters of Discord; a Character which destroys that of a Magistrate.
It was evident, that their noisy Zeal for the People, and the Liberties of the People, was Grimace; when they were doing what was ruinous to popular Liberty, by raising continual Seditions, and attempting, as they often did, sometimes avowedly, to perpetuate themselves in their Office. But still the Multitude were convinced, that all these pestilent Doings and Designs were for their Benefit. If the Tribune Sextius had not known them to be the grossest Dupes in Nature, he could not have treated them with such egregious Insult and Scorn as he did, by declaring to their Faces, when, having been once disappointed of the Consulship, he sued for it a second time; ‘If We, the Tribunes, obtain not the Consulship by your Help, you shall never obtain the Division of the Lands, nor the Discharge of your Debts, by ours.’ But even this selfish Declaration cured not the People of their wild Partiality for Sextius; though by it he forfeited all Title to Modesty and public Spirit, and all just Pretence to Popularity.
It may not, perhaps, be impertinent to observe here, that these Declaimers, who filled Rome with their Assemblies, their Swaggering, and their Harangues, Men, so bold at the Head of a Multitude, and professing such Vigilance for the public Weal, never once shewed their Faces, nor were their Names mentioned, when the brave Coriolanus, driven from Rome by their Invectives, was returned thither at the Head of an Army, to take Vengeance on them. It was much safer to abuse him in the Forum, than to meet him in the Field; and whilst he was pursuing, and might have effected, the Destruction of the Republic, the Tribunes, whose Tongues could not then avail them, yet had now recourse to no better Weapon; that is to say, To none; and expected the Event with Submission and Silence. When they had escaped that terrible Blow, not by any Address or Prowess of theirs, instead of blushing for their late Behaviour, and retiring till it might be forgot, they soon resumed their old Strains and Practice of Pertness and Sedition. Indeed, they proposed some things that were reasonable and just; as the worst Tyrants have sometimes made good Laws, whilst their Conduct upon the Whole was lawless and violent.
Nor did the Tribunes lose any Opportunity of boasting their popular Services, and heightening their own Merit. They likewise took all Occasions, to depreciate and revile the Senate and Magistracy, to represent them in constant Combination against the Commonalty, and themselves as their great Protectors. So that the People were kept by them in an everlasting Ferment, in a Flame of various Passions, Partiality, Aversion, Fear, and Jealousy. Neither is it to the Reputation of these Tribunes with Posterity, that they were assiduous to procure Information of the Transactions and Passages in private Families, (the sure Sign of a mean and spiteful Spirit!) whence to raise and aggravate ill-natured Reports; all to make the Patricians odious, or contemptible.
Was Rome, thus constituted, thus agitated and tumultuous, a well composed State, properly balanced and secure?
[(a) ]Omnes rerum mutationes cædem, sugam, aliaque hostilia portendant.
[(a) ]Ut denique omnia quæ improbi fingebant, magis vera existimarent, quam quæ vere facta erant, & a nobis doccbantur.