Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECT. VI.: Amongst a corrupt People, the most debauched and desperate Leaders are the most popular. - The Works of Sallust (Gordon's Discourses, Cicero's Orations against Catiline)
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SECT. VI.: Amongst a corrupt People, the most debauched and desperate Leaders are the most popular. - 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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Amongst a corrupt People, the most debauched and desperate Leaders are the most popular.
IF only bad Government had displeased the Roman People, the excellent Government of Cicero, one so wise, fatherly, uncorrupt, and meritorious, a Government which saved them and their State, would have removed their Displeasure, and reconciled them to the State, and their own ‘Safety under it.’ But it had not that Effect; at least till they saw, that Catiline’s Designs threatened Themselves with immediate Destruction. Till then, they continued to love and follow him, as one that was to present them with, what they earnestly wished, public Uproar, Civil War, and Rapine; all which implied an Overthrow of the Government, which they foresaw, and rejoiced in; and, therefore, could see no Merit in Cicero, as a general Preserver of the State; but must have sound great Fault with him for disappointing Catiline, and their best Views, had not the Discovery produced more than they expected.
Was this a People worthy of Liberty? or was public Liberty, in such keeping, likely to last long? Long before this, indeed very early, the Roman People were prone to Corruption, and zealously attached to such as corrupted them, by whatever Means it was attempted; whether by false Munificence, or by Faction, or by the never-failing Bait and Cry of Liberty. So that they were always corrupted, and consequently most abused, by their greatest Champions and Favourites; that is, by their real and worst Enemies; as the false Friend is ever the most dangerous Foe.
Spurius Mælius, whilst he cheated them with false Bounties and fair Speeches, was extremely popular, and even their Idol, though he only fed them, and flattered them, in order to enslave them. But the Character and Appearance of a Benefactor covered and recommended the Traitor; and the People, like other Animals, not seeing the Hook, greedily swallowed the Bait. Nor would they have ever discovered his horrid Designs, till they had been accomplished, had not others, even such as they suspected and disliked, discovered and exposed them. For, their daily Watchmen and Orators, in whose Zeal and Sagacity they generally put blind Trust, had sold themselves, and their Trust; that is, sold the People to Mælius; so that whilst he was pursuing Kingship, they were silent and assisting. When the Traitor was put to Death, they expressed much Regret for his Fate, and their Loss of him, remembring his perfidious Courtship and Liberality, and forgetting or disbelieving his Treason.
Just such another Deceiver, false Friend, and real Enemy, they had in Marcus Manlius Capitolinus. For the People are ever the servile Tools of such as know how to blind them with false Tales and Appearances. He was, indeed, a brave Soldier, had nobly defended the Capitol against the Gauls, and done many signal Exploits in War; but, full of Ambition, and envying the famous Camillus, attempted Royalty by the Means of Popularity; and, in order to gain the People, took such Measures as will ever gain them: He deceived them with magnificent Professions and Undertakings, and corrupted them by bribing them; and as he was profuse in his Gifts and Caresses, they were equally extravagant in their Zeal and Adoration. Whilst he was giving Money to many, or paying their Debts; becoming Security for some, and even assisting and rescuing others by downright Violence; whilst he was continually proposing popular Schemes, popular Projects, and popular Largesses; it never entered into their credulous Heads, that a Benefactor, so infinitely liberal and zealous, could possibly intend them any Harm, much less Misery and Chains. Yet it was obvious to common Sense, that either Manlius, or the Government, must fall; especially when he came to be constantly guarded by the Croud, and to bid Defiance to the Magistrates. But the People, corrupted even to Blindness, either saw no Danger to the State, or regarded Manlius more than the State, or perhaps as the best Friend to the State; and much Difficulty there was in securing the State against him, by depriving him of Life. His Friends, the Multitude, who strove to rescue him from Justice, loudly lamented him for having suffered it; and, as the Plague happened soon after, they said, that it was a Judgment, sent by Jupiter, to avenge the innocent Blood of Manlius, the Defender of his Temple the Capitol. For, as they were perpetually infatuated by the Projects and Harangues of their Tribunes and Demagogues, they were always sauntering in the Forum, and reasoning about Matters of Government. Thus they neglected their Labour, and the Manuring of their Lands; and, when Famine followed, which was very natural, they railed at their Governors.
The extraordinary Conflux of People from all Parts of Italy to Rome, upon the Return of Cicero from Banishment, raised the Price of Provisions. This public Inconvenience furnished a Colour to the Tribune Clodius, his implacable Enemy, for traducing him to the Rabble, as the Cause of it; and for charging him with it, as a Crime. The Rabble gave full Credit to their Oracle the Tribune, and called licentiously upon Cicero for Bread; nay, taught their Children the same seditious Cry. In their Fury they insulted and scared away the Audience at the Theatre, attacked the House of the Prætor, who presided at the public Plays; besieged the Senate in the Temple of Concord; fell upon one of the Consuls with Stones, and wounded him. In the Mouth of this Rabble, animated by the most abandoned of all Profligates, and led by two notorious Criminals, one an Assassin, another a Creature and Instrument of Catiline’s, the Name of Cicero, so justly dear to the Romans, was a Name of Reproach.
What could argue higher Corruption than such raging Licentiousness, and such desperate Acts of Sedition, as well as such a blind Propensity to follow and obey the most debauched and lawless Leaders, to defy all Law and Restraint, and to assault the Government itself? When the giddy Populace, or, which is the same thing, when such as lead them, (for the Populace will ever be led) can controul all Things, the Government is, in effect, dissolved, or near its Dissolution, and must either be utterly lost in Anarchy, a Case which hardly can happen; or, which is more likely, be seized by a foreign Invader; or, which is most likely, by a domestic Usurper. This was the Condition and the Fate of Rome; a Fate which often threatened her, a Fate which she several times felt, and a Fate which at last thoroughly mastered her, and mastered her for ever.
Her warlike Spirit and Atchievements, the Dignity and Freedom of her Government, her Laws and Magistrates, all of her own creating, with the boasted Rights of Roman Citizens, and their many Immunities; her numerous Conquests, her universal Sway and Command, Laurels about her Head, the Globe under her Feet; I say, Rome, thus exhibited and arrayed, made a splendid Appearance, full of Majesty, full of Strength; and, in this Light, one is apt to wonder, as well as to gtieve, that ever she should perish, or even shrink and fade. But upon a nearer View of her Frame, of the Materials that composed it, and the Machines that conducted it, we may cease to wonder at her Decay and Overthrow; when we see a numerous and swarming People forming a Legislature, not by Representatives chosen from amongst them, but every Man, in a vast Nation, a Legislator, and possessing a deliberative Voice; and the Whole of them swayed and controuled by a few bold or crafty Men, perhaps by one, who could well harangue them, or deceive them, or feast them, or buy them; here, a popular Sycophant winning them with Flattery; there, an artful Speaker, charming them by Eloquence; a bold Lyar, imposing upon their Credulity; an Incendiary, terrifying them with groundless Jealousies; a Merchant, bribing them into Slavery by Doles of Corn; a Bully, with the same View, rescuing them from their Creditors, and both likely to succeed: When, in short, we see them passionate for Schemes calculated to undo them, for Laws destructive of the State, and for Men who were their worst Enemies, for Catiline and Clodius!
The latter was their Darling a great while, though one of the worst Men that ever infested Society; implacable, unjust, mercenary, impious, and lawless; a Pathic, Incestuous; a Fire-brand in the Army, a Fury in the State, a Tyrant in Office; plundering the Public and Particulars; selling Places and Provinces, and the Friendship of the Roman People; forging Wills, suborning Witnesses, and oppressing Right by Violence. But his Laws, however wicked, and even pernicious, were popular and pleasing, as particularly that for distributing Corn gratis to the Populace; by which Law a Fifth of the Public Revenue was cut off, and consequently so much of the public Strength and Security. For this and the like Extravagances, fatal to the Republic, and destructive to its best Members, this Madman was adored and followed as a public Benefactor, and went guarded by the Rabble, and a Band of Profligates, who never failed to insult and abuse every Man not in his Favour; that is to say, every worthy Roman. They particularly fell upon so great a Man as Hortensius, and had well nigh murdered that great Orator, because he appeared for Cicero. Such as remained of the desperate Followers of Catiline, were now very naturally Followers of Clodius.