Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECT. III.: The boundless Power assumed by the Tribunes: With what Boldness and Iniquity they exercise it. The People still their Dupes. - The Works of Sallust (Gordon's Discourses, Cicero's Orations against Catiline)
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SECT. III.: The boundless Power assumed by the Tribunes: With what Boldness and Iniquity they exercise it. The People still their Dupes. - 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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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?
OfPublic Corruption;particularly that of the Romans.
[(a) ]Ut denique omnia quæ improbi fingebant, magis vera existimarent, quam quæ vere facta erant, & a nobis doccbantur.