With this I send you a gift which, if it bears no proportion to the extent of the obligations which I owe you, is nevertheless the best that I am able to offer to you; for I have endeavored to embody in it all that long experience and assiduous research have taught me of the affairs of the world. And as neither yourselves nor any one else can ask more than that of me, you cannot complain that I have not given you more; though you may well complain of my lack of talent when my arguments are poor, and of the fallacies of my judgment on account of the errors into which I have doubtless fallen many times. This being so, however, I know not which of us has the greater right to complain, – I, that you should have forced me to write what I should never have attempted of my own accord, or you, that I should have written without giving you cause to be satisfied.
Accept it, then, as one accepts whatever comes from friends, looking rather to the intention of him who gives, than to the thing offered. And believe me, that I feel a satisfaction in this, that, even if I have often erred in the course of this work, I have assuredly made no mistake in having chosen you above all other friends to whom to dedicate these discourses. In doing this, I give some proof of gratitude, although I may seem to have departed from the ordinary usage of writers, who generally dedicate their works to some prince; and, blinded by ambition or avarice, praise him for all the virtuous qualities he has not, instead of censuring him for his real vices, whilst I, to avoid this fault, do not address myself to such as are princes, but to those who by their infinite good qualities are worthy to be such; not to those who could load me with honors, rank, and wealth, but rather to those who have the desire to do so, but have not the power. For to judge rightly, men should esteem rather those who are, and not those who can be generous; and those who would know how to govern states, rather than those who have the right to govern, but lack the knowledge.
For this reason have historians praised Hiero of Syracuse, a mere private citizen, more than Perseus of Macedon, monarch though he was; for Hiero only lacked a principality to be a prince, whilst the other had nothing of the king except the diadem. Be it good or bad, however, you wanted this work, and such as it is I send it to you; and should you continue in the belief that my opinions are acceptable to you, I shall not fail to continue to examine this history, as I promised you in the beginning of it. Farewell!
Although the envious nature of men, so prompt to blame and so slow to praise, makes the discovery and introduction of any new principles and systems as dangerous almost as the exploration of unknown seas and continents, yet, animated by that desire which impels me to do what may prove for the common benefit of all, I have resolved to open a new route, which has not yet been followed by any one, and may prove difficult and troublesome, but may also bring me some reward in the approbation of those who will kindly appreciate my efforts.
And if my poor talents, my little experience of the present and insufficient study of the past, should make the result of my labors defective and of little utility, I shall at least have shown the way to others, who will carry out my views with greater ability, eloquence, and judgment, so that if I do not merit praise, I ought at least not to incur censure.
When we consider the general respect for antiquity, and how often – to say nothing of other examples – a great price is paid for some fragments of an antique statue, which we are anxious to possess to ornament our houses with, or to give to artists who strive to imitate them in their own works; and when we see, on the other hand, the wonderful examples which the history of ancient kingdoms and republics presents to us, the prodigies of virtue and of wisdom displayed by the kings, captains, citizens, and legislators who have sacrificed themselves for their country, – when we see these, I say, more admired than imitated, or so much neglected that not the least trace of this ancient virtue remains, we cannot but be at the same time as much surprised as afflicted. The more so as in the differences which arise between citizens, or in the maladies to which they are subjected, we see these same people have recourse to the judgments and the remedies prescribed by the ancients. The civil laws are in fact nothing but decisions given by their jurisconsults, and which, reduced to a system, direct our modern jurists in their decisions. And what is the science of medicine, but the experience of ancient physicians, which their successors have taken for their guide? And yet to found a republic, maintain states, to govern a kingdom, organize an army, conduct a war, dispense justice, and extend empires, you will find neither prince, nor republic, nor captain, nor citizen, who has recourse to the examples of antiquity! This neglect, I am persuaded, is due less to the weakness to which the vices of our education have reduced the world, than to the evils caused by the proud indolence which prevails in most of the Christian states, and to the lack of real knowledge of history, the true sense of which is not known, or the spirit of which they do not comprehend. Thus the majority of those who read it take pleasure only in the variety of the events which history relates, without ever thinking of imitating the noble actions, deeming that not only difficult, but impossible; as though heaven, the sun, the elements, and men had changed the order of their motions and power, and were different from what they were in ancient times.
Wishing, therefore, so far as in me lies, to draw mankind from this error, I have thought it proper to write upon those books of Titus Livius that have come to us entire despite the malice of time; touching upon all those matters which, after a comparison between the ancient and modern events, may seem to me necessary to facilitate their proper understanding. In this way those who read my remarks may derive those advantages which should be the aim of all study of history; and although the undertaking is difficult, yet, aided by those who have encouraged me in this attempt, I hope to carry it sufficiently far, so that but little may remain for others to carry it to its destined end.
Those who read what the beginning of Rome was, and what her lawgivers and her organization, will not be astonished that so much virtue should have maintained itself during so many centuries; and that so great an empire should have sprung from it afterwards. To speak first of her origin, we will premise that all cities are founded either by natives of the country or by strangers. The little security which the natives found in living dispersed; the impossibility for each to resist isolated, either because of the situation or because of their small number, the attacks of any enemy that might present himself; the difficulty of uniting in time for defence at his approach, and the necessity of abandoning the greater number of their retreats, which quickly became a prize to the assailant, – such were the motives that caused the first inhabitants of a country to build cities for the purpose of escaping these dangers. They resolved, of their own accord, or by the advice of some one who had most authority amongst them, to live together in some place of their selection that might offer them greater conveniences and greater facility of defence. Thus, amongst many others were Athens and Venice; the first was built under the authority of Theseus, who had gathered the dispersed inhabitants; and the second owed its origin to the fact that several tribes had taken refuge on the little islands situated at the head of the Adriatic Sea, to escape from war, and from the Barbarians who after the fall of the Roman Empire had overrun Italy. These refugees of themselves, and without any prince to govern them, began to live under such laws as seemed to them best suited to maintain their new state. In this they succeeded, happily favored by the long peace, for which they were indebted to their situation upon a sea without issue, where the people that ravaged Italy could not harass them, being without any ships. Thus from that small beginning they attained that degree of power in which we see them now.
The second case is when a city is built by strangers; these may be either freemen, or subjects of a republic or of a prince, who, to relieve their states from an excessive population, or to defend a newly acquired territory which they wish to preserve without expense, send colonies there. The Romans founded many cities in this way within their empire. Sometimes cities are built by a prince, not for the purpose of living there, but merely as monuments to his glory; such was Alexandria, built by Alexander the Great. But as all these cities are at their very origin deprived of liberty, they rarely succeed in making great progress, or in being counted amongst the great powers. Such was the origin of Florence; for it was built either by the soldiers of Sylla, or perhaps by the inhabitants of Mount Fiesole, who, trusting to the long peace that prevailed in the reign of Octavian, were attracted to the plains along the Arno. Florence, thus built under the Roman Empire, could in the beginning have no growth except what depended on the will of its master.
The founders of cities are independent when they are people who, under the leadership of some prince, or by themselves, have been obliged to fly from pestilence, war, or famine, that was desolating their native country, and are seeking a new home. These either inhabit the cities of the country of which they take possession, as Moses did; or they build new ones, as was done by Æneas. In such case we are able to appreciate the talents of the founder and the success of his work, which is more or less remarkable according as he, in founding the city, displays more or less wisdom and skill. Both the one and the other are recognized by the selection of the place where he has located the city, and by the nature of the laws which he establishes in it. And as men work either from necessity or from choice, and as it has been observed that virtue has more sway where labor is the result of necessity rather than of choice, it is a matter of consideration whether it might not be better to select for the establishment of a city a sterile region, where the people, compelled by necessity to be industrious, and therefore less given to idleness, would be more united, and less exposed by the poverty of the country to occasions for discord; as was the case with Ragusa, and several other cities that were built upon an ungrateful soil. Such a selection of site would doubtless be more useful and wise if men were content with what they possess, and did not desire to exercise command over others.
Now, as people cannot make themselves secure except by being powerful, it is necessary in the founding of a city to avoid a sterile country. On the contrary, a city should be placed rather in a region where the fertility of the soil affords the means of becoming great, and of acquiring strength to repel all who might attempt to attack it, or oppose the development of its power. As to the idleness which the fertility of a country tends to encourage, the laws should compel men to labor where the sterility of the soil does not do it; as was done by those skilful and sagacious legislators who have inhabited very agreeable and fertile countries, such as are apt to make men idle and unfit for the exercise of valor. These by way of an offset to the pleasures and softness of the climate, imposed upon their soldiers the rigors of a strict discipline and severe exercises, so that they became better warriors than what nature produces in the harshest climates and most sterile countries. Amongst these legislators we may cite the founders of the kingdom of Egypt: despite of the charms of the climate, the severity of the institutions there formed excellent men; and if great antiquity had not buried their names in oblivion, we should see that they deserved more praise than Alexander the Great and many others of more recent memory. And whoever has examined the government of the Pachas of Egypt and the discipline of their Mameluke militia before it was destroyed by the Sultan Selim of Turkey, will have seen how much they dreaded idleness, and by what variety of exercises and by what severe laws they prevented in their soldiers that effeminacy which is the natural fruit of the softness of their climate.
I say, then, that for the establishment of a city it is wisest to select the most fertile spot, especially as the laws can prevent the ill effects that would otherwise result from that very fertility.
When Alexander the Great wished to build a city that should serve as a monument to his glory, his architect, Dinocrates, pointed out to him how he could build a city on Mount Athos, which place he said, besides being very strong, could be so arranged as to give the city the appearance of the human form, which would make it a wonder worthy of the greatness of its founder. Alexander having asked him what the inhabitants were to live upon, he replied, “That I have not thought of”; at which Alexander smiled, and, leaving Mount Athos as it was, he built Alexandria, where the inhabitants would be glad to remain on account of the richness of the country and the advantages which the proximity of the Nile and the sea afforded them.
If we accept the opinion that Æneas was the founder of Rome, then we must count that city as one of those built by strangers; but if Romulus is taken as its founder, then must it be classed with those built by the natives of the country. Either way it will be seen that Rome was from the first free and independent; and we shall also see (as we shall show further on) to how many privations the laws of Romulus, of Numa, and of others subjected its inhabitants; so that neither the fertility of the soil, nor the proximity of the sea, nor their many victories, nor the greatness of the Empire, could corrupt them during several centuries, and they maintained there more virtues than have ever been seen in any other republic.
The great things which Rome achieved, and of which Titus Livius has preserved the memory, have been the work either of the government or of private individuals; and as they relate either to the affairs of the interior or of the exterior, I shall begin to discourse of those internal operations of the government which I believe to be most noteworthy, and shall point out their results. This will be the subject of the discourses that will compose this First Book, or rather First Part.
I will leave aside what might be said of cities which from their very birth have been subject to a foreign power, and will speak only of those whose origin has been independent, and which from the first governed themselves by their own laws, whether as republics or as principalities, and whose constitution and laws have differed as their origin. Some have had at the very beginning, or soon after, a legislator, who, like Lycurgus with the Lacedæmonians, gave them by a single act all the laws they needed. Others have owed theirs to chance and to events, and have received their laws at different times, as Rome did. It is a great good fortune for a republic to have a legislator sufficiently wise to give her laws so regulated that, without the necessity of correcting them, they afford security to those who live under them. Sparta observed her laws for more than eight hundred years without altering them and without experiencing a single dangerous disturbance. Unhappy, on the contrary, is that republic which, not having at the beginning fallen into the hands of a sagacious and skilful legislator, is herself obliged to reform her laws. More unhappy still is that republic which from the first has diverged from a good constitution. And that republic is furthest from it whose vicious institutions impede her progress, and make her leave the right path that leads to a good end; for those who are in that condition can hardly ever be brought into the right road. Those republics, on the other hand, that started without having even a perfect constitution, but made a fair beginning, and are capable of improvement, – such republics, I say, may perfect themselves by the aid of events. It is very true, however, that such reforms are never effected without danger, for the majority of men never willingly adopt any new law tending to change the constitution of the state, unless the necessity of the change is clearly demonstrated; and as such a necessity cannot make itself felt without being accompanied with danger, the republic may easily be destroyed before having perfected its constitution. That of Florence is a complete proof of this: reorganized after the revolt of Arezzo, in 1502, it was overthrown after the taking of Prato, in 1512.
Having proposed to myself to treat of the kind of government established at Rome, and of the events that led to its perfection, I must at the beginning observe that some of the writers on politics distinguished three kinds of government, viz. the monarchical, the aristocratic, and the democratic; and maintain that the legislators of a people must choose from these three the one that seems to them most suitable. Other authors, wiser according to the opinion of many, count six kinds of governments, three of which are very bad, and three good in themselves, but so liable to be corrupted that they become absolutely bad. The three good ones are those which we have just named; the three bad ones result from the degradation of the other three, and each of them resembles its corresponding original, so that the transition from the one to the other is very easy. Thus monarchy becomes tyranny; aristocracy degenerates into oligarchy; and the popular government lapses readily into licentiousness. So that a legislator who gives to a state which he founds, either of these three forms of government, constitutes it but for a brief time; for no precautions can prevent either one of the three that are reputed good, from degenerating into its opposite kind; so great are in these the attractions and resemblances between the good and the evil.
Chance has given birth to these different kinds of governments amongst men; for at the beginning of the world the inhabitants were few in number, and lived for a time dispersed, like beasts. As the human race increased, the necessity for uniting themselves for defence made itself felt; the better to attain this object, they chose the strongest and most courageous from amongst themselves and placed him at their head, promising to obey him. Thence they began to know the good and the honest, and to distinguish them from the bad and vicious; for seeing a man injure his benefactor aroused at once two sentiments in every heart, hatred against the ingrate and love for the benefactor. They blamed the first, and on the contrary honored those the more who showed themselves grateful, for each felt that he in turn might be subject to a like wrong; and to prevent similar evils, they set to work to make laws, and to institute punishments for those who contravened them. Such was the origin of justice. This caused them, when they had afterwards to choose a prince, neither to look to the strongest nor bravest, but to the wisest and most just. But when they began to make sovereignty hereditary and non-elective, the children quickly degenerated from their fathers; and, so far from trying to equal their virtues, they considered that a prince had nothing else to do than to excel all the rest in luxury, indulgence, and every other variety of pleasure. The prince consequently soon drew upon himself the general hatred. An object of hatred, he naturally felt fear; fear in turn dictated to him precautions and wrongs, and thus tyranny quickly developed itself. Such were the beginning and causes of disorders, conspiracies, and plots against the sovereigns, set on foot, not by the feeble and timid, but by those citizens who, surpassing the others in grandeur of soul, in wealth, and in courage, could not submit to the outrages and excesses of their princes.
Under such powerful leaders the masses armed themselves against the tyrant, and, after having rid themselves of him, submitted to these chiefs as their liberators. These, abhorring the very name of prince, constituted themselves a new government; and at first, bearing in mind the past tyranny, they governed in strict accordance with the laws which they had established themselves; preferring public interests to their own, and to administer and protect with greatest care both public and private affairs. The children succeeded their fathers, and ignorant of the changes of fortune, having never experienced its reverses, and indisposed to remain content with this civil equality, they in turn gave themselves up to cupidity, ambition, libertinage, and violence, and soon caused the aristocratic government to degenerate into an oligarchic tyranny, regardless of all civil rights. They soon, however, experienced the same fate as the first tyrant; the people, disgusted with their government, placed themselves at the command of whoever was willing to attack them, and this disposition soon produced an avenger, who was sufficiently well seconded to destroy them. The memory of the prince and the wrongs committed by him being still fresh in their minds, and having overthrown the oligarchy, the people were not willing to return to the government of a prince. A popular government was therefore resolved upon, and it was so organized that the authority should not again fall into the hands of a prince or a small number of nobles. And as all governments are at first looked up to with some degree of reverence, the popular state also maintained itself for a time, but which was never of long duration, and lasted generally only about as long as the generation that had established it; for it soon ran into that kind of license which inflicts injury upon public as well as private interests. Each individual only consulted his own passions, and a thousand acts of injustice were daily committed, so that, constrained by necessity, or directed by the counsels of some good man, or for the purpose of escaping from this anarchy, they returned anew to the government of a prince, and from this they generally lapsed again into anarchy, step by step, in the same manner and from the same causes as we have indicated.
Such is the circle which all republics are destined to run through. Seldom, however, do they come back to the original form of government, which results from the fact that their duration is not sufficiently long to be able to undergo these repeated changes and preserve their existence. But it may well happen that a republic lacking strength and good counsel in its difficulties becomes subject after a while to some neighboring state, that is better organized than itself; and if such is not the case, then they will be apt to revolve indefinitely in the circle of revolutions. I say, then, that all kinds of government are defective; those three which we have qualified as good because they are too short-lived, and the three bad ones because of their inherent viciousness. Thus sagacious legislators, knowing the vices of each of these systems of government by themselves, have chosen one that should partake of all of them, judging that to be the most stable and solid. In fact, when there is combined under the same constitution a prince, a nobility, and the power of the people, then these three powers will watch and keep each other reciprocally in check.
Amongst those justly celebrated for having established such a constitution, Lycurgus beyond doubt merits the highest praise. He organized the government of Sparta in such manner that, in giving to the king, the nobles, and the people each their portion of authority and duties, he created a government which maintained itself for over eight hundred years in the most perfect tranquillity, and reflected infinite glory upon this legislator. On the other hand, the constitution given by Solon to the Athenians, by which he established only a popular government, was of such short duration that before his death he saw the tyranny of Pisistratus arise. And although forty years afterwards the heirs of the tyrant were expelled, so that Athens recovered her liberties and restored the popular government according to the laws of Solon, yet it did not last over a hundred years; although a number of laws that had been overlooked by Solon were adopted, to maintain the government against the insolence of the nobles and the license of the populace. The fault he had committed in not tempering the power of the people and that of the prince and his nobles, made the duration of the government of Athens very short, as compared with that of Sparta.
But let us come to Rome. Although she had no legislator like Lycurgus, who constituted her government, at her very origin, in a manner to secure her liberty for a length of time, yet the disunion which existed between the Senate and the people produced such extraordinary events, that chance did for her what the laws had failed to do. Thus, if Rome did not attain the first degree of happiness, she at least had the second. Her first institutions were doubtless defective, but they were not in conflict with the principles that might bring her to perfection. For Romulus and all the other kings gave her many and good laws, well suited even to a free people; but as the object of these princes was to found a monarchy, and not a republic, Rome, upon becoming free, found herself lacking all those institutions that are most essential to liberty, and which her kings had not established. And although these kings lost their empire, for the reasons and in the manner which we have explained, yet those who expelled them appointed immediately two consuls in place of the king; and thus it was found that they had banished the title of king from Rome, but not the regal power. The government, composed of Consuls and a Senate, had but two of the three elements of which we have spoken, the monarchical and the aristocratic; the popular power was wanting. In the course of time, however, the insolence of the nobles, produced by the causes which we shall see further on, induced the people to rise against the others. The nobility, to save a portion of their power, were forced to yield a share of it to the people; but the Senate and the Consuls retained sufficient to maintain their rank in the state. It was then that the Tribunes of the people were created, which strengthened and confirmed the republic, being now composed of the three elements of which we have spoken above. Fortune favored her, so that, although the authority passed successively from the kings and nobles to the people, by the same degrees and for the same reasons that we have spoken of, yet the royal authority was never entirely abolished to bestow it upon the nobles; and these were never entirely deprived of their authority to give it to the people; but a combination was formed of the three powers, which rendered the constitution perfect, and this perfection was attained by the disunion of the Senate and the people, as we shall more fully show in the following two chapters.
All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate (and history is full of examples to support them) that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it. If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself; but time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light. After the expulsion of the Tarquins the greatest harmony seemed to prevail between the Senate and the people. The nobles seemed to have laid aside all their haughtiness and assumed popular manners, which made them supportable even to the lowest of the citizens. The nobility played this role so long as the Tarquins lived, without their motive being divined; for they feared the Tarquins, and also lest the ill-treated people might side with them. Their party therefore assumed all possible gentleness in their manners towards the people. But so soon as the death of the Tarquins had relieved them of their apprehensions, they began to vent upon the people all the venom they had so long retained within their breasts, and lost no opportunity to outrage them in every possible way; which is one of the proofs of the argument we have advanced, that men act right only upon compulsion; but from the moment that they have the option and liberty to commit wrong with impunity, then they never fail to carry confusion and disorder everywhere. It is this that has caused it to be said that poverty and hunger make men industrious, and that the law makes men good; and if fortunate circumstances cause good to be done without constraint, the law may be dispensed with. But when such happy influence is lacking, then the law immediately becomes necessary. Thus the nobles, after the death of the Tarquins, being no longer under the influence that had restrained them, determined to establish a new order of things, which had the same effect as the misrule of the Tarquins during their existence; and therefore, after many troubles, tumults, and dangers occasioned by the excesses which both the nobles and the people committed, they came, for the security of the people, to the creation of the Tribunes, who were endowed with so many prerogatives, and surrounded with so much respect, that they formed a powerful barrier between the Senate and the people, which curbed the insolence of the former.
I shall not pass over in silence the disturbances that occurred in Rome from the time of the death of the Tarquins to that of the creation of the Tribunes; and shall afterwards refute the opinion of those who claim that the Roman republic has always been a theatre of turbulence and disorder, and that if its extreme good fortune and the military discipline had not supplied the defects of her constitution, she would have deserved the lowest rank amongst the republics.
It cannot be denied that the Roman Empire was the result of good fortune and military discipline; but it seems to me that it ought to be perceived that where good discipline prevails there also will good order prevail, and good fortune rarely fails to follow in their train. Let us, however, go into details upon this point. I maintain that those who blame the quarrels of the Senate and the people of Rome condemn that which was the very origin of liberty, and that they were probably more impressed by the cries and noise which these disturbances occasioned in the public places, than by the good effect which they produced; and that they do not consider that in every republic there are two parties, that of the nobles and that of the people; and all the laws that are favorable to liberty result from the opposition of these parties to each other, as may easily be seen from the events that occurred in Rome. From the time of the Tarquins to that of the Gracchi, that is to say, within the space of over three hundred years, the differences between these parties caused but very few exiles, and cost still less blood; they cannot therefore be regarded as having been very injurious and fatal to a republic, which during the course of so many years saw on this account only eight or ten of its citizens sent into exile, and but a very small number put to death, and even but a few condemned to pecuniary fines. Nor can we regard a republic as disorderly where so many virtues were seen to shine. For good examples are the result of good education, and good education is due to good laws; and good laws in their turn spring from those very agitations which have been so inconsiderately condemned by many. For whoever will carefully examine the result of these agitations will find that they have neither caused exiles nor any violence prejudicial to the general good, and will be convinced even that they have given rise to laws that were to the advantage of public liberty. And if it be said that these are strange means, – to hear constantly the cries of the people furious against the Senate, and of a Senate declaiming against the people, to see the populace rush tumultuously through the streets, close their houses, and even leave the city of Rome, – I reply, that all these things can alarm only those who read of them, and that every free state ought to afford the people the opportunity of giving vent, so to say, to their ambition; and above all those republics which on important occasions have to avail themselves of this very people. Now such were the means employed at Rome; when the people wanted to obtain a law, they resorted to some of the extremes of which we have just spoken, or they refused to enroll themselves to serve in the wars, so that the Senate was obliged to satisfy them in some measure. The demands of a free people are rarely pernicious to their liberty; they are generally inspired by oppressions, experienced or apprehended; and if their fears are ill founded, resort is had to public assemblies where the mere eloquence of a single good and respectable man will make them sensible of their error. “The people,” says Cicero, “although ignorant, yet are capable of appreciating the truth, and yield to it readily when it is presented to them by a man whom they esteem worthy of their confidence.”
One should show then more reserve in blaming the Roman government, and consider that so many good effects, which originated in that republic, cannot but result from very good causes. If the troubles of Rome occasioned the creation of Tribunes, then they cannot be praised too highly; for besides giving to the people a share in the public administration, these Tribunes were established as the most assured guardians of Roman liberty, as we shall see in the following chapter.
All the legislators that have given wise constitutions to republics have deemed it an essential precaution to establish a guard and protection to liberty; and according as this was more or less wisely placed, liberty endured a greater or less length of time. As every republic was composed of nobles and people, the question arose as to whose hands it was best to confide the protection of liberty. The Lacedæmonians, and in our day the Venetians, gave it into the hands of the nobility; but the Romans intrusted it to the people. We must examine, therefore, which of these republics made the best choice. There are strong reasons in favor of each, but, to judge by the results, we must incline in favor of the nobles, for the liberties of Sparta and Venice endured a longer space of time than those of Rome. But to come to the reasons, taking the part of Rome first, I will say, that one should always confide any deposit to those who have least desire of violating it; and doubtless, if we consider the objects of the nobles and of the people, we must see that the first have a great desire to dominate, whilst the latter have only the wish not to be dominated, and consequently a greater desire to live in the enjoyment of liberty; so that when the people are intrusted with the care of any privilege or liberty, being less disposed to encroach upon it, they will of necessity take better care of it; and being unable to take it away themselves, will prevent others from doing so.
On the contrary, it is said, in favor of the course adopted by Sparta and Venice, that the preference given to the nobility, as guardians of public liberty, has two advantages: the first, to yield something to the ambition of those who, being more engaged in the management of public affairs, find, so to say, in the weapon which the office places in their hands, a means of power that satisfies them; the other, to deprive the restless spirit of the masses of an authority calculated from its very nature to produce trouble and dissensions, and apt to drive the nobles to some act of desperation, which in time may cause the greatest misfortunes. Rome is even adduced as an example of this; for having confided, it is said, this authority to the tribunes of the people, these were seen not to be content with having only one Consul taken from this class, but wanted both to be plebeians. They afterwards claimed the Censure, the Prætoriate, and all the other dignities of the republic. And not satisfied with these advantages, and urged on by the same violence, they came in the end to idolize all those whom they saw disposed to attack the nobles, which gave rise to the power of Marius and to the ruin of Rome.
And, truly, whoever weighs all these reasons accurately may well remain in doubt which of the two classes he would choose as the guardians of liberty, not knowing which would be least dangerous, – those who seek to acquire an authority which they have not, or those who desire to preserve that which they already possess. After the nicest examination, this is what I think may be concluded from it. The question refers either to a republic that desires to extend its empire, as Rome, or to a state that confines itself merely to its own preservation. In the first case Rome should be imitated, and in the second the example of Sparta and Venice should be followed; and in the next chapter we shall see the reasons why and the means by which this is to be done.
To come back now to the question as to which men are most dangerous in a republic, those who wish to acquire power or those who fear to lose that which they possess, I will remark that Menenius and M. Fulvius, both plebeians, were named, the one Dictator and the other Commander of the Cavalry, to make investigations on the occasion of a conspiracy formed at Capua against Rome. They were also commissioned to find out all those who from ambition and by extraordinary means sought to obtain the Consulate and the other important offices of the republic. The nobility, believing that such an authority given to the Dictator was aimed against them, spread the report throughout the city that it was not they who sought thus to arrive at these honors from ambition or by illicit proceedings, but rather the plebeians, who, trusting neither to their birth nor their personal merits, thus employed extraordinary means to obtain these honors, and they particularly charged it upon the Dictator himself. This accusation was so actively followed up that Menenius felt himself obliged to convoke an assembly of the people; where, after having complained of the calumnies spread against him by the nobles, he deposed the Dictatorship and submitted himself to the judgment of the people. The cause having been pleaded, Menenius was absolved. On that occasion there was much discussion as to which was the most ambitious, he who wished to preserve power or he who wished to acquire it; as both the one and the other of these motives may be the cause of great troubles. It seems, however, that they are most frequently occasioned by those who possess; for the fear to lose stirs the same passions in men as the desire to gain, as men do not believe themselves sure of what they already possess except by acquiring still more; and, moreover, these new acquisitions are so many means of strength and power for abuses; and what is still worse is that the haughty manners and insolence of the nobles and the rich excite in the breasts of those who have neither birth nor wealth, not only the desire to possess them, but also the wish to revenge themselves by depriving the former of those riches and honors which they see them employ so badly.
We have discussed above the effects of the quarrels between the people and the Senate. These same differences having continued to the time of the Gracchi, when they became the cause of the loss of liberty, one might wish that Rome had done the great things we have admired, without bearing within her bosom such cause of discords. It seems to me therefore important to examine whether it was possible to establish a government in Rome that could prevent all these misunderstandings; and to do this well, we must necessarily recur to those republics that have maintained their liberties without such enmities and disturbances; we must examine what the form of their government was, and whether that could have been introduced in Rome.
In Sparta we have an example amongst the ancients, and in Venice amongst the moderns; to both these states I have already referred above. Sparta had a king and a senate, few in number, to govern her; Venice did not admit these distinctions, and gave the name of gentlemen to all who were entitled to have a part in the administration of the government. It was chance rather than foresight which gave to the latter this form of government; for having taken refuge on those shallows where the city now is, for the reasons mentioned above, the inhabitants soon became sufficiently numerous to require a regular system of laws. They consequently established a government, and assembled frequently in council to discuss the interests of the city. When it seemed to them that they were sufficiently numerous to govern themselves, they barred the way to a share in the government to the newly arrived who came to live amongst them; and finding in the course of time that the number of the latter increased sufficiently to give reputation to those who held the government in their hands, they designated the latter by the title of “gentlemen,” and the others were called the popular class. This form of government had no difficulty in establishing and maintaining itself without disturbances; for at the moment of its origin all those who inhabited Venice had the right to participate in the government, so that no one had cause to complain. Those who afterwards came to live there, finding the government firmly established, had neither a pretext for, nor the means of, creating disturbances. They had no cause, for the reason that they had not been deprived of anything; and they lacked the means, because they were kept in check by those who held the government, and who did not employ them in any affairs that might tempt them to seize authority. Besides, the new-comers in Venice were not sufficiently numerous to have produced a disproportion between the governing and the governed, for the number of nobles equalled or exceeded that of the others; and thus for these reasons Venice could establish and preserve that form of government.
Sparta, as I have said, being governed by a king and a limited senate, could maintain itself also for a long time, because there were but few inhabitants, and strangers were not permitted to come in; besides, the laws of Lycurgus had obtained such influence that their observance prevented even the slightest pretext for trouble. It was also the easier for the citizens to live in union, as Lycurgus had established equality in fortunes and inequality in conditions; for an equal poverty prevailed there, and the people were the less ambitious, as the offices of the government were given but to a few citizens, the people being excluded from them; and the nobles in the exercise of their functions did not treat the people sufficiently ill to excite in them the desire of exercising them themselves. This last advantage was due to the kings of Sparta; for being placed in this government, as it were, between the two orders, and living in the midst of the nobility, they had no better means of maintaining their authority than to protect the people against all injustice; whence these neither feared nor desired authority, and consequently there was no motive for any differences between them and the nobles, nor any cause for disturbances; and thus they could live for a long time united. Two principal causes, however, cemented this union: first, the inhabitants of Sparta were few in number, and therefore could be governed by a few; and the other was, that, by not permitting strangers to establish themselves in the republic, they had neither opportunity of becoming corrupt, nor of increasing their population to such a degree that the burden of government became difficult to the few who were charged with it.
In examining now all these circumstances, we see that the legislators of Rome had to do one of two things to assure to their republic the same quiet as that enjoyed by the two republics of which we have spoken; namely, either not to employ the people in the armies, like the Venetians, or not to open the doors to strangers, as had been the case in Sparta. But the Romans in both took just the opposite course, which gave to the people greater power and infinite occasion for disturbances. But if the republic had been more tranquil, it would necessarily have resulted that she would have been more feeble, and that she would have lost with her energy also the ability of achieving that high degree of greatness to which she attained; so that to have removed the cause of trouble from Rome would have been to deprive her of her power of expansion. And thus it is seen in all human affairs, upon careful examination, that you cannot avoid one inconvenience without incurring another. If therefore you wish to make a people numerous and warlike, so as to create a great empire, you will have to constitute it in such manner as will cause you more difficulty in managing it; and if you keep it either small or unarmed, and you acquire other dominions, you will not be able to hold them, or you will become so feeble that you will fall a prey to whoever attacks you. And therefore in all our decisions we must consider well what presents the least inconveniences, and then choose the best, for we shall never find any course entirely free from objections. Rome then might, like Sparta, have created a king for life, and established a limited senate; but with her desire to become a great empire, she could not, like Sparta, limit the number of her citizens; and therefore a king for life and a limited senate would have been of no benefit to her so far as union was concerned. If any one therefore wishes to establish an entirely new republic, he will have to consider whether he wishes to have her expand in power and dominion like Rome, or whether he intends to confine her within narrow limits. In the first case, it will be necessary to organize her as Rome was, and submit to dissensions and troubles as best he may; for without a great number of men, and these well armed, no republic can ever increase. In the second case, he may organize her like Sparta and Venice; but as expansion is the poison of such republics, he must by every means in his power prevent her from making conquests, for such acquisitions by a feeble republic always prove their ruin, as happened to both Sparta and Venice; the first of which, having subjected to her rule nearly all Greece, exposed its feeble foundations at the slightest accident, for when the rebellion of Thebes occurred, which was led by Pelopidas, the other cities of Greece also rose up and almost ruined Sparta.
In like manner, Venice, having obtained possession of a great part of Italy, and the most of it not by war, but by means of money and fraud, when occasion came for her to give proof of her strength, she lost everything in a single battle. I think, then, that to found a republic which should endure a long time it would be best to organize her internally like Sparta, or to locate her, like Venice, in some strong place; and to make her sufficiently powerful, so that no one could hope to overcome her readily, and yet on the other hand not so powerful as to make her formidable to her neighbors. In this wise she might long enjoy her independence. For there are but two motives for making war against a republic: one, the desire to subjugate her; the other, the apprehension of being subjugated by her. The two means which we have indicated remove, as it were, both these pretexts for war; for if the republic is difficult to be conquered, her defences being well organized, as I presuppose, then it will seldom or never happen that any one will venture upon the project of conquering her. If she remains quiet within her limits, and experience shows that she entertains no ambitious projects, the fear of her power will never prompt any one to attack her; and this would even be more certainly the case if her constitution and laws prohibited all aggrandizement. And I certainly think that if she could be kept in this equilibrium it would be the best political existence, and would insure to any state real tranquillity. But as all human things are kept in a perpetual movement, and can never remain stable, states naturally either rise or decline, and necessity compels them to many acts to which reason will not influence them; so that, having organized a republic competent to maintain herself without expanding, still, if forced by necessity to extend her territory, in such case we shall see her foundations give way and herself quickly brought to ruin. And thus, on the other hand, if Heaven favors her so as never to be involved in war, the continued tranquillity would enervate her, or provoke internal dissensions, which together, or either of them separately, will be apt to prove her ruin. Seeing then the impossibility of establishing in this respect a perfect equilibrium, and that a precise middle course cannot be maintained, it is proper in the organization of a republic to select the most honorable course, and to constitute her so that, even if necessity should oblige her to expand, she may yet be able to preserve her acquisitions. To return now to our first argument, I believe it therefore necessary rather to take the constitution of Rome as a model than that of any other republic, (for I do not believe that a middle course between the two can be found,) and to tolerate the differences that will arise between the Senate and the people as an unavoidable inconvenience in achieving greatness like that of Rome. Besides the other reasons alleged, which demonstrate the creation and authority of the Tribunes to have been necessary for the protection of liberty, it is easy to see the advantage which a republic must derive from the faculty of accusing, which amongst others was bestowed upon the Tribunes, as will be seen in the following chapter.
No more useful and necessary authority can be given to those who are appointed as guardians of the liberty of a state, than the faculty of accusing the citizens to the people, or to any magistrate or council, for any attempt against public liberty. Such a system has two very marked advantages for a republic. The first is, that the apprehension of being accused prevents the citizens from attempting anything against the state, and should they nevertheless attempt it, they are immediately punished, without regard to persons. The other is, that it affords a way for those evil dispositions that arise in one way or another against some one citizen to vent themselves; and when these ferments cannot in some way exhaust themselves, their promoters are apt to resort to some extraordinary means, that may lead to the ruin of the republic. Nothing, on the other hand, renders a republic more firm and stable, than to organize it in such a way that the excitement of the ill-humors that agitate a state may have a way prescribed by law for venting itself. This can be demonstrated by many examples, and particularly by that of Coriolanus, which Titus Livius mentions, where he says that the Roman nobility was much irritated against the people, because they believed that the people had obtained too much authority by the creation of the Tribunes who defended them; and as Rome at the time was suffering greatly from want of provisions, and the Senate had sent to Sicily for supplies of grain, Coriolanus, who was a declared enemy of the popular faction, suggested to the Senate that it afforded a favorable opportunity for them to chastise the people, and to deprive them of the authority they had acquired and assumed to the prejudice of the nobility, by not distributing the grain, and thus keeping the people in a famished condition. When this proposition came to the ears of the people, it excited so great an indignation against Coriolanus, that, on coming out of the Senate, he would have been killed in a tumultuary manner, if the Tribunes had not summoned him to appear before them and defend his cause. This occurrence shows, as we have said above, how useful and necessary it is for a republic to have laws that afford to the masses the opportunity of giving vent to the hatred they may have conceived against any citizen; for if there exist no legal means for this, they will resort to illegal ones, which beyond doubt produce much worse effects. For ordinarily when a citizen is oppressed, and even if an injustice is committed against him, it rarely causes any disturbance in the republic; for this oppression has been effected by neither private nor foreign forces, which are most destructive to public liberty, but is effected solely by the public force of the state in accordance with the established laws, which have their prescribed limits that cannot be transcended to the injury of the republic.
And to corroborate this opinion by examples, let the case of Coriolanus suffice, and let any one reflect how much evil would have resulted to the Roman republic if he had been killed in that popular outbreak; for that would have been an offence of private individuals against a private individual, which kind of offences generate fear, and fear seeks for means of defence, and for that purpose seeks partisans, and from partisans arise factions in cities, and factions cause their ruin. But as the matter was disposed of by those who had the legal authority, it prevented all those evils that would have resulted from the exercise of private force. We have seen in our time what troubles occurred in Florence because the populace could not vent their anger against one of her citizens, in the case of Francesco Valori, who was almost like a prince in that city, and being looked upon by many as an ambitious man, who by haughtiness and audacity attempted to transcend the civil authority, and there being no way in Florence for resisting this except by a faction opposed to his, it resulted that Valori, having no fear of anything but some extraordinary proceeding, began to enlist partisans who might defend him. On the other hand, those who opposed him, being without legal means for repressing him, employed illegal ones, which naturally led to an armed conflict. But if he could have been reached by lawful means, the influence of Valori would have been crushed, and he would have been the only sufferer; but being obliged to resort to illegal measures, not only he, but many other noble citizens, suffered in consequence. We may also adduce in support of the above-expressed conclusion the incident which occurred in Florence in connection with Pietro Soderini, and which resulted wholly from the fact that there were no means in that republic for bringing charges against the ambition of powerful citizens. For to accuse a noble before only eight judges did not suffice; the number of the judges should be many, for the few are apt to favor the few in their decisions. Thus, if there had been in Florence a tribunal before which the citizens could have preferred charges against Soderini, their fury against him might have been assuaged without calling in the Spanish troops; or if he had not been liable to the charges, no one would have dared to bring them against him, for fear of being himself accused in turn; and thus on both sides the animosity would have ceased, which occasioned so much trouble.
Whence we may conclude that, whenever the aid of foreign powers is called in by any party in a state, it is to be ascribed to defects in its constitution, and more especially to the want of means for enabling the people to exhaust the malign humors that spring up among men, without having recourse to extraordinary measures; all of which can easily be provided against by instituting accusations before numerous judges, and giving these sufficient influence and importance. These things were so well organized in Rome that, with the many dissensions between the Senate and the people, neither the one nor the other, nor any private citizen, ever attempted to avail of foreign force; for having the remedy at home, there was no occasion to look for it elsewhere. And although the above examples are abundantly sufficient to prove this, yet I will adduce another, mentioned by Titus Livius in his history. At Chiusi (Clusium), in those days one of the most famous cities of Tuscany, a certain Lucumones had violated the sister of Arnutes, and, unable to revenge himself because of the power of the offender, Arnutes went to call in the aid of the Gauls, who at that time ruled over the country now called Lombardy, and urged them to come with an armed force to Clusium, pointing out to them the advantage they would obtain for themselves by thus avenging him. Certainly, if Arnutes had been able to secure redress by the laws of his city, he would never have had recourse to the Barbarians.
But just as useful as accusations are in a republic, just so useless and pernicious are calumnies, as we shall show in the next chapter.
Despite of the courage displayed by Furius Camillus in liberating Rome from the yoke of the Gauls, which caused all the citizens of Rome to yield him the first place without deeming themselves degraded thereby, Manlius Capitolinus could not brook that so much honor and glory should be bestowed upon him; for, having himself saved the Capitol, he considered that he had contributed as much to the salvation of Rome as Furius Camillus, and that he was in no way inferior to him in military talents. So that, tormented by envy, he could not rest on account of the glory of his rival; and, finding that he could not sow discord amongst the Senators, he turned to the people and spread various sinister reports amongst them. Amongst other things, he circulated a statement that the amount of money which had been collected for payment to the Gauls had never been paid over to them, but had been appropriated by some private citizens; and that, if it were recovered from them, it might be most advantageously applied for the public good, by alleviating the taxes of the people, or by the extinction of some other debt. These statements produced a great impression among the people; so that, many of them came together at the house of Manlius, and, at his instigation, commenced to create disturbances in the city. This greatly displeased the Senate, who, deeming the occasion momentous and perilous, created a Dictator, who should take cognizance of the facts and repress the audacity of Manlius; whereupon the Dictator had him promptly summoned. They met in the public place, the Dictator surrounded by the nobles, and Manlius in the midst of the people. Manlius was called upon to specify the persons who had appropriated the money in question, according to his reports, as the Senate was as anxious as the people to know them. To this Manlius made no particular reply, but in an evasive manner said that it was unnecessary to mention the names, as they knew them very well already; whereupon the Dictator had him incarcerated. This shows how much detested calumnies are in republics, as well as under any other government, and that no means should be left unemployed to repress them in time. Now, there is no more effectual way for putting an end to calumnies than to introduce the system of legal accusations, which will be as beneficial to republics as calumnies are injurious. On the other hand, there is this difference, namely, that calumnies require neither witnesses, nor confrontings, nor any particulars to prove them, so that every citizen may be calumniated by another, whilst accusations cannot be lodged against any one without being accompanied by positive proofs and circumstances that demonstrate the truth of the accusation. Accusations must be brought before the magistrates, or the people, or the councils, whilst calumnies are spread in public places as well as in private dwellings; and calumnies are more practised where the system of accusations does not exist, and in cities the constitution of which does not admit of them. The lawgiver of a republic, therefore, should give every citizen the right to accuse another citizen without fear or suspicion; and this being done, and properly carried out, he should severely punish calumniators, who would have no right to complain of such punishment, it being open to them to bring charges against those whom they had in private calumniated. And where this system is not well established there will always be great disorders, for calumnies irritate, but do not chastise men; and those who have been thus irritated will think of strengthening themselves, hating more than fearing the slanders spread against them.
This matter, as has been said, was perfectly organized at Rome, but has always been badly managed in our city of Florence. And as in Rome this institution was productive of much good, so at Florence the lack of it did much harm. And whoever reads the history of that city will see to how many calumnies those citizens were exposed who occupied themselves with the most important public affairs. Of one it was reported that he had robbed the public treasury; of another, that he had failed in such or such an enterprise because he had been bribed; and of a third, that he had caused this or that public inconvenience for the purpose of serving his own ambition. This gave rise in every direction to hatreds amongst the citizens, whence divisions arose, and from these sprung factions that proved the ruin of the state. If the system of accusations and the punishment of calumniators had been established in Florence, those endless scandals and disturbances that occurred would never have taken place; for those citizens who had been either condemned or absolved could not have injured the city, and there would have been a much less number accused than there had been calumniated, as it would not have been as easy to accuse as to calumniate any one. And amongst the other means which ambitious citizens frequently employed to achieve power was this practice of calumniating, which, when employed against one noble citizen who opposed the ambitious projects of another, did much for the latter; for by taking the part of the people and confirming them in the ill opinion which they had of the nobles, he made them his friends.
I might adduce many examples of this, but will content myself with only one. The Florentine army which besieged Lucca was under the command of Messer Giovanni Guicciardini, Florentine commissioner. Whether it was due to his bad management or to his ill fortune, the siege proved unsuccessful. Whatever the case may have been, Messer Giovanni was charged with having been bribed by the authorities of Lucca. This calumny, favored by his enemies, drove Messer Giovanni almost to desperation; and although he was anxious to place himself in the hands of the Captain to justify himself, yet he never was allowed the opportunity, there being no means in the republic that made such a course possible. This gave rise to the greatest indignation amongst the friends of Messer Giovanni, who constituted the majority of the nobles, and also amongst those who desired a change in the government of Florence. This difficulty, together with other similar causes, increased to that degree that it resulted in the ruin of the republic.
Thus Manlius Capitolinus was a calumniator, and not an accuser; and the Romans showed in his case how calumniators ought to be punished. For they ought to be made to be accusers; and, if the accusation proves true, they should be rewarded, or at least not punished; but if it proves not to be true, then they should be punished as Manlius was.
It may perhaps appear to some that I have gone too far into the details of Roman history before having made any mention of the founders of that republic, or of her institutions, her religion, and her military establishment. Not wishing, therefore, to keep any longer in suspense the desires of those who wish to understand these matters, I say that many will perhaps consider it an evil example that the founder of a civil society, as Romulus was, should first have killed his brother, and then have consented to the death of Titus Tatius, who had been elected to share the royal authority with him; from which it might be concluded that the citizens, according to the example of their prince, might, from ambition and the desire to rule, destroy those who attempt to oppose their authority. This opinion would be correct, if we do not take into consideration the object which Romulus had in view in committing that homicide. But we must assume, as a general rule, that it never or rarely happens that a republic or monarchy is well constituted, or its old institutions entirely reformed, unless it is done by only one individual; it is even necessary that he whose mind has conceived such a constitution should be alone in carrying it into effect. A sagacious legislator of a republic, therefore, whose object is to promote the public good, and not his private interests, and who prefers his country to his own successors, should concentrate all authority in himself; and a wise mind will never censure any one for having employed any extraordinary means for the purpose of establishing a kingdom or constituting a republic. It is well that, when the act accuses him, the result should excuse him; and when the result is good, as in the case of Romulus, it will always absolve him from blame. For he is to be reprehended who commits violence for the purpose of destroying, and not he who employs it for beneficent purposes. The lawgiver should, however, be sufficiently wise and virtuous not to leave this authority which he has assumed either to his heirs or to any one else; for mankind, being more prone to evil than to good, his successor might employ for evil purposes the power which he had used only for good ends. Besides, although one man alone should organize a government, yet it will not endure long if the administration of it remains on the shoulders of a single individual; it is well, then, to confide this to the charge of many, for thus it will be sustained by the many. Therefore, as the organization of anything cannot be made by many, because the divergence of their opinions hinders them from agreeing as to what is best, yet, when once they do understand it, they will not readily agree to abandon it. That Romulus deserves to be excused for the death of his brother and that of his associate, and that what he had done was for the general good, and not for the gratification of his own ambition, is proved by the fact that he immediately instituted a Senate with which to consult, and according to the opinions of which he might form his resolutions. And on carefully considering the authority which Romulus reserved for himself, we see that all he kept was the command of the army in case of war, and the power of convoking the Senate. This was seen when Rome became free, after the expulsion of the Tarquins, when there was no other innovation made upon the existing order of things than the substitution of two Consuls, appointed annually, in place of an hereditary king; which proves clearly that all the original institutions of that city were more in conformity with the requirements of a free and civil society than with an absolute and tyrannical government.
The above views might be corroborated by any number of examples, such as those of Moses, Lycurgus, Solon, and other founders of monarchies and republics, who were enabled to establish laws suitable for the general good only by keeping for themselves an exclusive authority; but all these are so well known that I will not further refer to them. I will adduce only one instance, not so celebrated, but which merits the consideration of those who aim to become good legislators: it is this. Agis, king of Sparta, desired to bring back the Spartans to the strict observance of the laws of Lycurgus, being convinced that, by deviating from them, their city had lost much of her ancient virtue, and consequently her power and dominion; but the Spartan Ephores had him promptly killed, as one who attempted to make himself a tyrant. His successor, Cleomenes, had conceived the same desire, from studying the records and writings of Agis, which he had found, and which explained his aims and intentions. Cleomenes was convinced that he would be unable to render this service to his country unless he possessed sole authority; for he judged that, owing to the ambitious nature of men, he could not promote the interests of the many against the will of the few; and therefore he availed of a convenient opportunity to have all the Ephores slain, as well as all such others as might oppose his project, after which he restored the laws of Lycurgus entirely. This course was calculated to resuscitate the greatness of Sparta, and to give Cleomenes a reputation equal to that of Lycurgus, had it not been for the power of the Macedonians and the weakness of the other Greek republics. For being soon after attacked by the Macedonians, and Sparta by herself being inferior in strength, and there being no one whom he could call to his aid, he was defeated; and thus his project, so just and laudable, was never put into execution. Considering, then, all these things, I conclude that, to found a republic, one must be alone; and that Romulus deserves to be absolved from, and not blamed for, the death of Remus and of Tatius.
Of all men who have been eulogized, those deserve it most who have been the authors and founders of religions; next come such as have established republics or kingdoms. After these the most celebrated are those who have commanded armies, and have extended the possessions of their kingdom or country. To these may be added literary men, but, as these are of different kinds, they are celebrated according to their respective degrees of excellence. All others – and their number is infinite – receive such share of praise as pertains to the exercise of their arts and professions. On the contrary, those are doomed to infamy and universal execration who have destroyed religions, who have overturned republics and kingdoms, who are enemies of virtue, of letters, and of every art that is useful and honorable to mankind. Such are the impious and violent, the ignorant, the idle, the vile and degraded. And there are none so foolish or so wise, so wicked or so good, that, in choosing between these two qualities, they do not praise what is praiseworthy and blame that which deserves blame. And yet nearly all men, deceived by a false good and a false glory, allow themselves voluntarily or ignorantly to be drawn towards those who deserve more blame than praise. Such as by the establishment of a republic or kingdom could earn eternal glory for themselves incline to tyranny, without perceiving how much glory, how much honor, security, satisfaction, and tranquillity of mind, they forfeit; and what infamy, disgrace, blame, danger, and disquietude they incur. And it is impossible that those who have lived as private citizens in a republic, or those who by fortune or courage have risen to be princes of the same, if they were to read history and take the records of antiquity for example, should not prefer Scipio to Cæsar; and that those who were (originally) princes should not rather choose to be like Agesilaus, Timoleon, and Dion, than Nabis, Phalaris, and Dionysius; for they would then see how thoroughly the latter were despised, and how highly the former were appreciated. They would furthermore see that Timoleon and the others had no less authority in their country than Dionysius and Phalaris, but that they enjoyed far more security, and for a much greater length of time. Nor let any one be deceived by the glory of that Cæsar who has been so much celebrated by writers; for those who praised him were corrupted by his fortune, and frightened by the long duration of the empire that was maintained under his name, and which did not permit writers to speak of him with freedom. And if any one wishes to know what would have been said of him if writers had been free to speak their minds, let them read what Catiline said of him. Cæsar is as much more to be condemned, as he who commits an evil deed is more guilty than he who merely has the evil intention. He will also see how highly Brutus was eulogized; for, not being allowed to blame Cæsar on account of his power, they extolled his enemy. Let him also note how much more praise those Emperors merited who, after Rome became an empire, conformed to the laws like good princes, than those who took the opposite course; and he will see that Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus, and Marcus Aurelius did not require the Prætorians nor the multitudinous legions to defend them, because they were protected by their own good conduct, the good will of the people, and by the love of the Senate. He will furthermore see that neither the Eastern nor the Western armies sufficed to save Caligula, Nero, Vitellius, and so many other wicked Emperors, from the enemies which their bad conduct and evil lives had raised up against them.
And if the history of these men were carefully studied, it would prove an ample guide to any prince, and serve to show him the way to glory or to infamy, to security or to perpetual apprehension. For of the twenty-six Emperors that reigned from the time of Cæsar to that of Maximinius, sixteen were assassinated, and ten only died a natural death; and if, amongst those who were killed, there were one or two good ones, like Galba and Pertinax, their death was the consequence of the corruption which their predecessors had engendered amongst the soldiers. And if amongst those who died a natural death there were some wicked ones, like Severus, it was due to their extraordinary good fortune and courage, which two qualities rarely fall to the lot of such men. He will furthermore learn from the lessons of that history how an empire should be organized properly; for all the Emperors that succeeded to the throne by inheritance, except Titus, were bad, and those who became Emperors by adoption were all good, such as the five from Nero to Marcus Aurelius; and when the Empire became hereditary, it came to ruin. Let any prince now place himself in the times from Nerva to Marcus Aurelius, and let him compare them with those that preceded and followed that period, and let him choose in which of the two he would like to have been born, and in which he would like to have reigned. In the period under the good Emperors he will see the prince secure amidst his people, who are also living in security; he will see peace and justice prevail in the world, the authority of the Senate respected, the magistrates honored, the wealthy citizens enjoying their riches, nobility and virtue exalted, and everywhere will he see tranquillity and well-being. And on the other hand he will behold all animosity, license, corruption, and all noble ambition extinct. During the period of the good Emperors he will see that golden age when every one could hold and defend whatever opinion he pleased; in fine, he will see the triumph of the world, the prince surrounded with reverence and glory, and beloved by his people, who are happy in their security. If now he will but glance at the times under the other Emperors, he will behold the atrocities of war, discords and sedition, cruelty in peace as in war, many princes massacred, many civil and foreign wars, Italy afflicted and overwhelmed by fresh misfortunes, and her cities ravaged and ruined; he will see Rome in ashes, the Capitol pulled down by her own citizens, the ancient temples desolate, all religious rites and ceremonies corrupted, and the city full of adultery; he will behold the sea covered with ships full of flying exiles, and the shores stained with blood. He will see innumerable cruelties in Rome, and nobility, riches, and honor, and above all virtue, accounted capital crimes. He will see informers rewarded, servants corrupted against their masters, the freedmen arrayed against their patrons, and those who were without enemies betrayed and oppressed by their friends. And then will he recognize what infinite obligations Rome, Italy, and the whole world owed to Cæsar. And surely, if he be a man, he will be shocked at the thought of re-enacting those evil times, and be fired with an intense desire to follow the example of the good. And truly, if a prince be anxious for glory and the good opinion of the world, he should rather wish to possess a corrupt city, not to ruin it wholly like Cæsar, but to reorganize it like Romulus. For certainly the heavens cannot afford a man a greater opportunity of glory, nor could men desire a better one. And if for the proper organization of a city it should be necessary to abolish the principality, he who had failed to give her good laws for the sake of preserving his rank may be entitled to some excuse; but there would be none for him who had been able to organize the city properly and yet preserve the sovereignty. And, in fine, let him to whom Heaven has vouchsafed such an opportunity reflect that there are two ways open to him; one that will enable him to live securely and insure him glory after death, and the other that will make his life one of constant anxiety, and after death consign him to eternal infamy.
Although the founder of Rome was Romulus, to whom, like a daughter, she owed her birth and her education, yet the gods did not judge the laws of this prince sufficient for so great an empire, and therefore inspired the Roman Senate to elect Numa Pompilius as his successor, so that he might regulate all those things that had been omitted by Romulus. Numa, finding a very savage people, and wishing to reduce them to civil obedience by the arts of peace, had recourse to religion as the most necessary and assured support of any civil society; and he established it upon such foundations that for many centuries there was nowhere more fear of the gods than in that republic, which greatly facilitated all the enterprises which the Senate or its great men attempted. Whoever will examine the actions of the people of Rome as a body, or of many individual Romans, will see that these citizens feared much more to break an oath than the laws; like men who esteem the power of the gods more than that of men. This was particularly manifested in the conduct of Scipio and Manlius Torquatus; for after the defeat which Hannibal had inflicted upon the Romans at Cannæ many citizens had assembled together, and, frightened and trembling, agreed to leave Italy and fly to Sicily. When Scipio heard of this, he went to meet them, and with his drawn sword in hand he forced them to swear not to abandon their country. Lucius Manlius, father of Titus Manlius, who was afterwards called Torquatus, had been accused by Marcus Pomponius, one of the Tribunes of the people. Before the day of judgment Titus went to Marcus and threatened to kill him if he did not promise to withdraw the charges against his father; he compelled him to take an oath, and Marcus, although having sworn under the pressure of fear, withdrew the accusation against Lucius. And thus these citizens, whom neither the love of country nor the laws could have kept in Italy, were retained there by an oath that had been forced upon them by compulsion; and the Tribune Pomponius disregarded the hatred which he bore to the father, as well as the insult offered him by the son, for the sake of complying with his oath and preserving his honor; which can be ascribed to nothing else than the religious principles which Numa had instilled into the Romans. And whoever reads Roman history attentively will see in how great a degree religion served in the command of the armies, in uniting the people and keeping them well conducted, and in covering the wicked with shame. So that if the question were discussed whether Rome was more indebted to Romulus or to Numa, I believe that the highest merit would be conceded to Numa; for where religion exists it is easy to introduce armies and discipline, but where there are armies and no religion it is difficult to introduce the latter. And although we have seen that Romulus could organize the Senate and establish other civil and military institutions without the aid of divine authority, yet it was very necessary for Numa, who feigned that he held converse with a nymph, who dictated to him all that he wished to persuade the people to; and the reason for all this was that Numa mistrusted his own authority, lest it should prove insufficient to enable him to introduce new and unaccustomed ordinances in Rome. In truth, there never was any remarkable lawgiver amongst any people who did not resort to divine authority, as otherwise his laws would not have been accepted by the people; for there are many good laws, the importance of which is known to the sagacious lawgiver, but the reasons for which are not sufficiently evident to enable him to persuade others to submit to them; and therefore do wise men, for the purpose of removing this difficulty, resort to divine authority. Thus did Lycurgus and Solon, and many others who aimed at the same thing.
The Roman people, then, admiring the wisdom and goodness of Numa, yielded in all things to his advice. It is true that those were very religious times, and the people with whom Numa had to deal were very untutored and superstitious, which made it easy for him to carry out his designs, being able to impress upon them any new form. And doubtless, if any one wanted to establish a republic at the present time, he would find it much easier with the simple mountaineers, who are almost without any civilization, than with such as are accustomed to live in cities, where civilization is already corrupt; as a sculptor finds it easier to make a fine statue out of a crude block of marble than out of a statue badly begun by another. Considering, then, all these things, I conclude that the religion introduced by Numa into Rome was one of the chief causes of the prosperity of that city; for this religion gave rise to good laws, and good laws bring good fortune, and from good fortune results happy success in all enterprises. And as the observance of divine institutions is the cause of the greatness of republics, so the disregard of them produces their ruin; for where the fear of God is wanting, there the country will come to ruin, unless it be sustained by the fear of the prince, which may temporarily supply the want of religion. But as the lives of princes are short, the kingdom will of necessity perish as the prince fails in virtue. Whence it comes that kingdoms which depend entirely upon the virtue of one man endure but for a brief time, for his virtue passes away with his life, and it rarely happens that it is renewed in his successor, as Dante so wisely says: –
“’Tis seldom human wisdom descends from sire to son;
Such is the will of Him who gave it,
That at his hands alone we may implore the boon.”
The welfare, then, of a republic or a kingdom does not consist in having a prince who governs it wisely during his lifetime, but in having one who will give it such laws that it will maintain itself even after his death. And although untutored and ignorant men are more easily persuaded to adopt new laws or new opinions, yet that does not make it impossible to persuade civilized men who claim to be enlightened. The people of Florence are far from considering themselves ignorant and benighted, and yet Brother Girolamo Savonarola succeeded in persuading them that he held converse with God. I will not pretend to judge whether it was true or not, for we must speak with all respect of so great a man; but I may well say that an immense number believed it, without having seen any extraordinary manifestations that should have made them believe it; but it was the purity of his life, the doctrines he preached, and the subjects he selected for his discourses, that sufficed to make the people have faith in him. Let no one, then, fear not to be able to accomplish what others have done, for all men (as we have said in our Preface) are born and live and die in the same way, and therefore resemble each other.
Princes and republics who wish to maintain themselves free from corruption must above all things preserve the purity of all religious observances, and treat them with proper reverence; for there is no greater indication of the ruin of a country than to see religion contemned. And this is easily understood, when we know upon what the religion of a country is founded; for the essence of every religion is based upon some one main principle. The religion of the Gentiles had for its foundation the responses of the oracles, and the tenets of the augurs and aruspices; upon these alone depended all their ceremonies, rites, and sacrifices. For they readily believed that the Deity which could predict their future good or ill was also able to bestow it upon them. Thence arose their temples, their sacrifices, their supplications, and all the other ceremonies; for the oracle of Delphos, the temple of Jupiter Ammon, and other celebrated oracles, kept the world in admiration and devoutness. But when these afterwards began to speak only in accordance with the wishes of the princes, and their falsity was discovered by the people, then men became incredulous, and disposed to disturb all good institutions. It is therefore the duty of princes and heads of republics to uphold the foundations of the religion of their countries, for then it is easy to keep their people religious, and consequently well conducted and united. And therefore everything that tends to favor religion (even though it were believed to be false) should be received and availed of to strengthen it; and this should be done the more, the wiser the rulers are, and the better they understand the natural course of things. Such was, in fact, the practice observed by sagacious men; which has given rise to the belief in the miracles that are celebrated in religions, however false they may be. For the sagacious rulers have given these miracles increased importance, no matter whence or how they originated; and their authority afterwards gave them credence with the people. Rome had many such miracles; and one of the most remarkable was that which occurred when the Roman soldiers sacked the city of Veii; some of them entered the temple of Juno, and, placing themselves in front of her statue, said to her, “Will you come to Rome?” Some imagined that they observed the statue make a sign of assent, and others pretended to have heard her reply, “Yes.” Now these men, being very religious, as reported by Titus Livius, and having entered the temple quietly, they were filled with devotion and reverence, and might really have believed that they had heard a reply to their question, such as perhaps they could have presupposed. But this opinion and belief was favored and magnified by Camillus and the other Roman chiefs.
And certainly, if the Christian religion had from the beginning been maintained according to the principles of its founder, the Christian states and republics would have been much more united and happy than what they are. Nor can there be a greater proof of its decadence than to witness the fact that the nearer people are to the Church of Rome, which is the head of our religion, the less religious are they. And whoever examines the principles upon which that religion is founded, and sees how widely different from those principles its present practice and application are, will judge that her ruin or chastisement is near at hand. But as there are some of the opinion that the well-being of Italian affairs depends upon the Church of Rome, I will present such arguments against that opinion as occur to me; two of which are most important, and cannot according to my judgment be controverted. The first is, that the evil example of the court of Rome has destroyed all piety and religion in Italy, which brings in its train infinite improprieties and disorders; for as we may presuppose all good where religion prevails, so where it is wanting we have the right to suppose the very opposite. We Italians then owe to the Church of Rome and to her priests our having become irreligious and bad; but we owe her a still greater debt, and one that will be the cause of our ruin, namely, that the Church has kept and still keeps our country divided. And certainly a country can never be united and happy, except when it obeys wholly one government, whether a republic or a monarchy, as is the case in France and in Spain; and the sole cause why Italy is not in the same condition, and is not governed by either one republic or one sovereign, is the Church; for having acquired and holding a temporal dominion, yet she has never had sufficient power or courage to enable her to seize the rest of the country and make herself sole sovereign of all Italy. And on the other hand she has not been so feeble that the fear of losing her temporal power prevented her from calling in the aid of a foreign power to defend her against such others as had become too powerful in Italy; as was seen in former days by many sad experiences, when through the intervention of Charlemagne she drove out the Lombards, who were masters of nearly all Italy; and when in our times she crushed the power of the Venetians by the aid of France, and afterwards with the assistance of the Swiss drove out in turn the French. The Church, then, not having been powerful enough to be able to master all Italy, nor having permitted any other power to do so, has been the cause why Italy has never been able to unite under one head, but has always remained under a number of princes and lords, which occasioned her so many dissensions and so much weakness that she became a prey not only to the powerful barbarians, but of whoever chose to assail her. This we other Italians owe to the Church of Rome, and to none other. And any one, to be promptly convinced by experiment of the truth of all this, should have the power to transport the court of Rome to reside, with all the power it has in Italy, in the midst of the Swiss, who of all peoples nowadays live most according to their ancient customs so far as religion and their military system are concerned; and he would see in a very little while that the evil habits of that court would create more confusion in that country than anything else that could ever happen there.
It does not seem to me from my purpose to adduce here some examples to show how the Romans employed religion for the purpose of reorganizing their city, and to further their enterprises. And although there are many instances to be found in the writings of Titus Livius, yet I will content myself with the following. The Romans having created the Tribunes with consular powers, and selected all but one from the plebeian order, and a pestilence and famine having occurred in that year accompanied by some extraordinary phenomena, the nobles availed of this occasion of the new creation of the Tribunes, saying that the gods were angry because Rome had been wanting in respect to the majesty of her empire; and that there was no other way of placating the gods but by restoring the election of the Tribunes to its original plan. The result was, that the people, under the influence of religious fear, selected the Tribunes altogether from amongst the patricians.
It was also seen at the siege of the city of Veii, that the captains of the Roman army used religion to keep their soldiers disposed to any enterprise; for when the Lake Albano rose in that year in a very extraordinary manner, and the soldiers, tired of the long siege, wished to return to Rome, the leaders invented the story that Apollo and certain other oracles had predicted that the city of the Veienti would be taken in the year when Lake Albano should overflow its banks. The soldiers, having taken new hope from these predictions as to the capture of the city, bore the fatigues of the war and the siege cheerfully, and pushed the siege with so much energy that Camillus, who had been made Dictator, succeeded in taking that city after a siege of ten years’ duration. And thus religion judiciously used promoted the capture of Veii, and the restitution of the tribunate to the patricians, either of which, without that means, would have been with difficulty accomplished.
I will not omit to cite another example much to the purpose. The Tribune Terentillus occasioned great disturbances by promulgating a certain law, for reasons which we shall explain further on; and one of the first means to which the patricians resorted for the suppression of these tumults was religion, which they employed in two different ways. The first was the exhibition of the Sibylline Books, which predicted that, in consequence of domestic dissensions, the liberties of Rome would be seriously imperilled in that year; the fraud, although discovered by the Tribunes, yet so filled the minds of the people with terror that they were no longer disposed to follow them. The second mode was when one Appius Erdonius, with a number of bandits and four thousand slaves, seized the Capitol at night, which caused general apprehension for the safety of the city itself, in case the Equeans and Volscians, eternal enemies of Rome, should attack her at that moment. The Tribunes nevertheless persisted with great obstinacy in the promulgation of the Terentillan law, saying that the capture of the Capitol was merely fictitious; whereupon Publius Rubetius, a grave citizen of great authority, left the Senate, and with alternate entreaties and menaces harangued the people, pointing out to them the unreasonableness of their demands, and constrained them to swear that they would not refuse obedience to the Consul. The people, thus forced to obedience, recovered the Capitol; but in the taking of it the Consul Publius Valerius lost his life, and in his stead Titus Quintius was immediately chosen Consul. He, not wishing to afford the people any repose or opportunity of thinking again of the Terentillan law, ordered them to leave Rome and to march against the Volscians; saying that they were bound to follow him, because of the oath they had taken to obey the Consul. To this the Tribunes objected, saying that the oath referred to the Consul that had been killed, and not to Titus Quintius. The people, however, according to Titus Livius, preferred to obey the Consul rather than believe the Tribunes, and he speaks as follows in favor of their ancient religion: “They had not yet come to that neglect of the reverence for the gods which prevails nowadays, nor to interpreting their oaths or the laws to suit themselves.” And the Tribunes, fearing to lose all their authority, agreed with the Consul to submit to him, and that for one year nothing more should be said about the Terentillan law, and, on the other hand, that for one year the Consuls should not lead the people from Rome to war. And thus religion enabled the Senate to overcome that difficulty which without it they could never have done.
The system of auguries was not only, as we have said above, the principal basis of the ancient religion of the Gentiles, but was also the cause of the prosperity of the Roman republic. Whence the Romans esteemed it more than any other institution, and resorted to it in their Consular Comitii, in commencing any important enterprise, in sending armies into the field, in ordering their battles, and in every other important civil or military action. Nor would they ever have ventured upon any expedition unless the augurs had first persuaded the soldiers that the gods promised them victory. Amongst other aruspices the armies were always accompanied by a certain class of soothsayers, termed Pollari (guardians of the sacred fowls), and every time before giving battle to the enemy, they required these Pollari to ascertain the auspices; and if the fowls ate freely, then it was deemed a favorable augury, and the soldiers fought confidently, but if the fowls refused to eat, then they abstained from battle. Nevertheless, when they saw a good reason why certain things should be done, they did them anyhow, whether the auspices were favorable or not; but then they turned and interpreted the auguries so artfully, and in such manner, that seemingly no disrespect was shown to their religious belief. This was done by the Consul Papirius on the occasion of a most important battle with the Samnites, which forever enfeebled and broke the power of this warlike people. For Papirius in conducting the war against them found himself face to face with them; and as victory seemed to him certain, and wishing therefore to proceed to battle, he ordered the Pollari to ascertain the auspices. The fowls, however, did not eat; but the chief of the Pollari, seeing the great desire of the army to fight, and the confidence in victory which the general as well as the soldiers manifested, and being unwilling to deprive the army of this opportunity of achieving a success, reported to the Consul that the auspices were proceeding favorably; whereupon Papirius set his squadrons in order for battle. But one of the Pollari told certain soldiers that the fowls had not eaten, and they repeated it to Spurius Papirius, the nephew of the Consul; and when he reported this to his uncle, the latter promptly replied, that he expected him to do his duty well, and that, as regarded himself and the army, the auspices were favorable, and if the Pollarius had told a lie, it would come back upon him to his prejudice. And so that the result might correspond with the prognostication, he commanded his lieutenants to place the Pollari in the front ranks of the battle; and thus it happened that, in marching upon the enemy, the chief of the Pollari was accidentally killed by an arrow from the bow of a Roman soldier. When the Consul heard this, he said that all went well and with the favor of the gods, for by the death of this liar the army had been purged of all guilt, and that whatever anger the gods might have felt against him had been thereby appeased. And thus by apparently accommodating his designs to the auspices, Papirius resolved to give battle without letting his soldiers perceive that he had in any particular neglected his religious duties.
Appius Pulcher acted just the contrary way in Sicily during the first Punic war; for wishing to fight the Carthaginian army, he caused the Pollari to ascertain the auspices; and when they reported that the fowls did not eat, he said, “Then let us see whether they will drink,” and had them thrown into the sea; he then went to battle, and was defeated. For which he was punished at Rome, whilst Papirius was rewarded; not so much because the one had been beaten and the other victorious, but because the one had contravened the auspices with prudence, and the other with temerity. Nor had this system of consulting the auspices any other object than to inspire the soldiers on the eve of battle with that confidence which is the surest guaranty of victory. This system was practised not only by the Romans, but also by other peoples, of which it seems to me proper to adduce an example in the following chapter.
The Samnites had been repeatedly defeated by the Romans, and had been completely routed in Tuscany, their armies destroyed, and their generals killed. Their allies, such as the Tuscans, Gauls, and Umbrians, had also been beaten, so that “they could not hold out any longer with their own forces, or with those of their allies; yet would they not desist from the war, and sooner than give up the unsuccessful defence of their liberty, they preferred risking defeat rather than not make one more attempt at victory”; and therefore resolved upon one last supreme effort. And knowing that to conquer they must inspire their soldiers with obstinate courage, for which there was no more efficient means than religion, they resolved, by the advice of Ovius Paccius, their high priest, to renew one of their ancient religious practices, which was arranged in the following manner. A solemn sacrifice was first made to their gods, and then, in the midst of the bleeding victims and smoking altars, they made all the chiefs of the army swear never to give up the fight. After this, they called in their soldiers one by one, and there, before these altars and surrounded by centurions with drawn swords in their hands, they made them swear, first, not to reveal anything they had seen or heard; and then, with horrid imprecations and incantations, they exacted an oath from them, and a pledge to the gods, promptly to go wherever commanded by their chiefs, and not to fly from the enemy, and to kill instantly whomever they saw flying; and if they failed in any particular in the compliance with this oath, it would be visited upon their families and descendants. Some of the men who were frightened and refused to swear were instantly put to death by the centurions; so that those who followed were terrified by the spectacle, and all took the oath. And by way of giving a more imposing effect to their assembled troops, they clothed one half of them in white, with crests and plumes on their casques; and thus they took position at Aquilonia. Papirius marched against them, and by way of encouraging his soldiers he said to them, “Those crests and plumes cannot inflict wounds, and neither will paint or gilding prevent Roman javelins from piercing their shields.” And to diminish the impression which the oath of the enemy had produced upon his men, he said that such an oath was calculated to inspire fear, and not courage, in those who had taken it; for it caused them at the same time to fear their own citizens, their gods, and their enemies. So that, when they came to battle, the Samnites were defeated; for the Roman valor, and the fears of the Samnites, who remembered their former defeats, overcame all the obstinacy which their religion and their oath had infused into them. Nevertheless it showed that the Samnites knew of no more powerful means of reviving hope and reanimating their former courage; and proves in the most ample manner how much confidence religious faith, judiciously availed of, will inspire. And although this example might perhaps be deemed to belong elsewhere, as the event occurred amongst a foreign people, yet, as it refers to one of the most important institutions of the republic of Rome, I have thought it proper to mention it here in support of what I have said on that subject, and so as not to be obliged to recur to it hereafter.
Many examples in ancient history prove how difficult it is for a people that has been accustomed to live under the government of a prince to preserve its liberty, if by some accident it has recovered it, as was the case with Rome after the expulsion of the Tarquins. And this difficulty is a reasonable one; for such a people may well be compared to some wild animal, which (although by nature ferocious and savage) has been as it were subdued by having been always kept imprisoned and in servitude, and being let out into the open fields, not knowing how to provide food and shelter for itself, becomes an easy prey to the first one who attempts to chain it up again. The same thing happens to a people that has not been accustomed to self-government; for, ignorant of all public affairs, of all means of defence or offence, neither knowing the princes nor being known by them, it soon relapses under a yoke, oftentimes much heavier than the one which it had but just shaken off. This difficulty occurs even when the body of the people is not wholly corrupt; but when corruption has taken possession of the whole people, then it cannot preserve its free condition even for the shortest possible time, as we shall see further on; and therefore our argument has reference to a people where corruption has not yet become general, and where the good still prevails over the bad. To the above comes another difficulty, which is, that the state that becomes free makes enemies for itself, and not friends. All those become its enemies who were benefited by the tyrannical abuses and fattened upon the treasures of the prince, and who, being now deprived of these advantages, cannot remain content, and are therefore driven to attempt to re-establish the tyranny, so as to recover their former authority and advantages. A state then, as I have said, that becomes free, makes no friends; for free governments bestow honors and rewards only according to certain honest and fixed rules, outside of which there are neither the one nor the other. And such as obtain these honors and rewards do not consider themselves under obligations to any one, because they believe that they were entitled to them by their merits. Besides the advantages that result to the mass of the people from a free government, such as to be able freely to enjoy one’s own without apprehension, to have nothing to fear for the honor of his wife and daughters, or for himself, – all these, I say, are not appreciated by any one whilst he is in the enjoyment of them; for no one will confess himself under obligation to any one merely because he has not been injured by him.
Thus it is that a state that has freshly achieved liberty makes enemies, and no friends. And to prevent this inconvenience, and the disorders which are apt to come with it, there is no remedy more powerful, valid, healthful, and necessary than the killing of the sons of Brutus, who, as history shows, had conspired with other Roman youths for no other reason than because under the Consuls they could not have the same extraordinary advantages they had enjoyed under the kings; so that the liberty of the people seemed to have become their bondage. Whoever undertakes to govern a people under the form of either republic or monarchy, without making sure of those who are opposed to this new order of things, establishes a government of very brief duration. It is true that I regard as unfortunate those princes who, to assure their government to which the mass of the people is hostile, are obliged to resort to extraordinary measures; for he who has but a few enemies can easily make sure of them without great scandal, but he who has the masses hostile to him can never make sure of them, and the more cruelty he employs the feebler will his authority become; so that his best remedy is to try and secure the good will of the people. Although I have departed in this discourse from my subject, in speaking sometimes of a republic and sometimes of a prince, yet I will say a few words more, so as not to be obliged to come back to this matter.
A prince, then, who wishes the good will of a people that is hostile to him, (I speak of such princes as have been tyrants in their country,) should first of all ascertain what the people really desire, and he will always find that they want two things: one, to revenge themselves on those who have been the cause of their enslavement, and the other, to recover their liberty. The first of these desires the prince may satisfy entirely, and the second in part. As to the first, the following is an example in point. When Clearchus, tyrant of Heraclea, had been banished, a dissension arose between the people and the nobles of Heraclea. The latter, finding themselves the feebler of the two, resolved to recall Clearchus; and having conspired together, they placed him in opposition to the popular faction of the people of Heraclea, and thus deprived the people of their liberty. Clearchus, finding himself placed between the insolence of the nobles on the one hand, whom he could in no way content or control, and the rage of the popular faction on the other hand, who could not support the loss of their liberty, resolved suddenly to rid himself of the importunities of the nobles, and to secure to himself the good will and support of the people. Availing of a favorable opportunity, he had all the nobles massacred, to the extreme satisfaction of the people; and in this way he satisfied one of the wishes of the people, namely, the desire of revenge. But as to the other popular desire, that of recovering their liberty, the prince, not being able to satisfy that, should examine the causes that make them desire to be free; and he will find that a small part of them wish to be free for the purpose of commanding, whilst all the others, who constitute an immense majority, desire liberty so as to be able to live in greater security. For in all republics, however organized, there are never more than forty or fifty citizens who attain a position that entitles them to command. As this is a small number, it is easy to make sure of them, either by having them put out of the way, or by giving them such a share of the public honors and offices as, according to their condition, will in great measure content them. The others, who only care to live in security, are easily satisfied by institutions and laws that confirm at the same time the general security of the people and the power of the prince. When a prince does this, and the people see that by no chance he infringes the laws, they will in a very little while be content, and live in tranquillity. An example of this is the kingdom of France, where there would be no security but for the fact that the king there has bound himself by a number of laws that provide for the security of all his people. Those who organized that state wanted that the kings should dispose of the army and treasury at their own will, but that in all other matters they should conform to the laws. That sovereign, therefore, or that republic, which fails from the start to secure its authority, should do so on the first occasion, as the Romans did; and he who allows the opportunity to pass will repent too late not having done what he should have done in the beginning. The Romans, being not yet corrupted when they recovered their liberty, were able to maintain it after the death of the sons of Brutus and the expulsion of the Tarquins, by means of such laws and institutions as we have treated of above. But if the people had been corrupt, then there would have been no sufficient remedies found in Rome or elsewhere to maintain their liberty, as we shall show in the next chapter.
I think that it was necessary for royalty to be extinguished in Rome, else she would in a very short time have become feeble and devoid of energy. For the degree of corruption to which the kings had sunk was such that, if it had continued for two or three successive reigns, and had extended from the head to the members of the body so that these had become also corrupt, it would have been impossible ever to have reformed the state. But losing the head whilst the trunk was still sound, it was easy to restore Rome to liberty and proper institutions. And it must be assumed as a well-demonstrated truth, that a corrupt people that lives under the government of a prince can never become free, even though the prince and his whole line should be extinguished; and that it would be better that the one prince should be destroyed by another. For a people in such condition can never become settled unless a new prince be created, who by his good qualities and valor can maintain their liberty; but even then it will last only during the lifetime of the new prince. It was thus that the freedom of Syracuse was preserved at different times by the valor of Dion and Timoleon during their lives, but after their death the city relapsed under the former tyranny. But there is not a more striking example of this than Rome itself, which after the expulsion of the Tarquins was enabled quickly to resume and maintain her liberty; but after the death of Cæsar, Caligula, and Nero, and after the extinction of the entire Cæsarean line, she could not even begin to re-establish her liberty, and much less preserve it. And this great difference in the condition of things in one and the same city resulted entirely from this fact, that at the time of the Tarquins the Roman people was not yet corrupt, whilst under the Cæsars it became corrupt to the lowest degree. For to preserve her sound and ready to expel the kings in the time of the Tarquins, it sufficed merely that they should take an oath never to permit any of them ever to reign again in Rome; but in the time of the Cæsars the authority of Brutus with all the Eastern legions was insufficient to keep her disposed to preserve that liberty which he, in imitation of the first Brutus, had restored to her. This was the result of that corruption which had been spread amongst the people by the faction of Marius, at the head of which was Cæsar, who had so blinded the people that they did not perceive the yoke they were imposing upon themselves.
And although the example of Rome is preferable to all others, yet will I cite on this subject some instances amongst peoples known in our times. And therefore I say that no change, however great or violent, could ever restore Milan and Naples to liberty, because the whole people of those states were thoroughly corrupt. This was seen after the death of Philip Visconti, when Milan attempted to recover her liberty, but knew not how, nor was she able to maintain it. It was a great good fortune for Rome, therefore, that no sooner did her kings become corrupt than they were expelled, before the corruption had time to extend to the heart of the people. This corruption caused endless disturbances in Rome; but as the intention of the people was good, these troubles, instead of harming, rather benefited the republic. And from this we may draw the conclusion that, where the mass of the people is sound, disturbances and tumults do no serious harm; but where corruption has penetrated the people, the best laws are of no avail, unless they are administered by a man of such supreme power that he may cause the laws to be observed until the mass has been restored to a healthy condition. And I know not whether such a case has ever occurred, or whether it possibly ever could occur (as I have said above). For if a state or city in decadence, in consequence of the corruption of the mass of its people, is ever raised up again, it must be through the virtue of some one man then living, and not by the people; and so soon as such a man dies, the people will relapse into their corrupt habits; as was the case in Thebes, which by the virtue of Epaminondas could, during his lifetime, maintain the form of a republic and its dominion, but immediately upon his death relapsed into anarchy. And the reason of this is that one man cannot live long enough to have time to bring a people back to good habits which for any length of time has indulged in evil ones. Or if one of extreme long life, or two continuous virtuous successors, do not restore the state, it will quickly lapse into ruin, no matter how many dangers and how much bloodshed have been incurred in the effort to restore it. For such corruption and incapacity to maintain free institutions results from a great inequality that exists in such a state; and to reduce the inhabitants to equality requires the application of extraordinary measures, which few know how, or are willing, to employ; as will be shown more fully elsewhere.
I believe it will not be amiss to consider whether in a state that has become corrupt a free government that has existed there can be maintained; or if there has been none before, whether one could be established there. Upon this subject I must say that either one of them would be exceedingly difficult. And although it is impossible to give any definite rules for such a case, (as it will be necessary to proceed according to the different degrees of corruption,) yet, as it is well to reason upon all subjects, I will not leave this problem without discussing it. I will suppose a state to be corrupt to the last degree, so as to present the subject in its most difficult aspect, there being no laws nor institutions that suffice to check a general corruption. For as good habits of the people require good laws to support them, so laws, to be observed, need good habits on the part of the people. Besides, the constitution and laws established in a republic at its very origin, when men were still pure, no longer suit when men have become corrupt and bad. And although the laws may be changed according to circumstances and events, yet it is seldom or never that the constitution itself is changed; and for this reason the new laws do not suffice, for they are not in harmony with the constitution, that has remained intact. To make this matter better understood, I will explain how the government of Rome was constituted and what the nature of the laws was, which together with the magistrates restrained the citizens. The constitution of the state reposed upon the authority of the people, the Senate, the Tribunes, and the Consuls, and upon the manner of choosing and creating the magistrates, and of making the laws. These institutions were rarely or never varied by events; but the laws that restrained the citizens were often altered, such as the law relating to adultery, the sumptuary laws, that in relation to ambition, and many others, which were changed according as the citizens from one day to another became more and more corrupt. Now the constitution remaining unchanged, although no longer suitable to the corrupt people, the laws that had been changed became powerless for restraint; yet they would have answered very well if the constitution had also been modified at the same time with the laws.
And the truth that the original institutions were no longer suitable to a corrupt state is clearly seen in these two main points, – the creation of the magistrates, and the forms used in making the laws. As regards the first, the Roman people bestowed the consulate and the other principal offices only on such as asked for them. This system was very good in the beginning, because only such citizens asked for these places as deemed themselves worthy of them, and a refusal was regarded as ignominious; so that every one strove to make himself esteemed worthy of the honor. But when the city had become corrupt, this system became most pernicious; for it was no longer the most virtuous and deserving, but the most powerful, that asked for the magistratures; and the less powerful, often the most meritorious, abstained from being candidates from fear. This state of things did not come all at once, but by degrees, as is generally the case with other vices. For after the Romans had subjugated Africa and Asia, and had reduced nearly all Greece to their obedience, they felt assured of their liberty, and saw no enemies that could cause them any apprehension. This security and the weakness of the conquered nations caused the Roman people no longer to bestow the consulate according to the merits of the candidates, but according to favor; giving that dignity to those who best knew how to entertain the people, and not to those who best knew how to conquer their enemies. After that they descended from those who were most favored to such as had most wealth and power, so that the really meritorious became wholly excluded from that dignity. Now as to the mode of making the laws. At first a Tribune or any other citizen had the right to propose any law, and every citizen could speak in favor or against it before its final adoption. This system was very good so long as the citizens were uncorrupted, for it is always well in a state that every one may propose what he deems for the public good; and it was equally well that every one should be allowed to express his opinion in relation to it, so that the people, having heard both sides, may decide in favor of the best. But when the citizens had become corrupt, this system became the worst possible, for then only the powerful proposed laws, not for the common good and the liberty of all, but for the increase of their own power, and fear restrained all the others from speaking against such laws; and thus the people were by force and fraud made to resolve upon their own ruin.
It was necessary therefore, if Rome wished to preserve her liberty in the midst of this corruption, that she should have modified her constitution, in like manner as in the progress of her existence she had made new laws; for institutions and forms should be adapted to the subject, whether it be good or evil, inasmuch as the same form cannot suit two subjects that are essentially different. But as the constitution of a state, when once it has been discovered to be no longer suitable, should be amended, either all at once, or by degrees as each defect becomes known, I say that both of these courses are equally impossible. For a gradual modification requires to be the work of some wise man, who has seen the evil from afar in its very beginning; but it is very likely that such a man may never rise up in the state, and even if he did he will hardly be able to persuade the others to what he proposes; for men accustomed to live after one fashion do not like to change, and the less so as they do not see the evil staring them in the face, but presented to them as a mere conjecture.
As to reforming these institutions all at once, when their defects have become manifest to everybody, that also is most difficult; for to do this ordinary means will not suffice; they may even be injurious under such circumstances, and therefore it becomes necessary to resort to extraordinary measures, such as violence and arms, and above all things to make one’s self absolute master of the state, so as to be able to dispose of it at will. And as the reformation of the political condition of a state presupposes a good man, whilst the making of himself prince of a republic by violence naturally presupposes a bad one, it will consequently be exceedingly rare that a good man should be found willing to employ wicked means to become prince, even though his final object be good; or that a bad man, after having become prince, should be willing to labor for good ends, and that it should enter his mind to use for good purposes that authority which he has acquired by evil means. From these combined causes arises the difficulty or impossibility of maintaining liberty in a republic that has become corrupt, or to establish it there anew. And if it has to be introduced and maintained, then it will be necessary to reduce the state to a monarchical, rather than a republican form of government; for men whose turbulence could not be controlled by the simple force of law can be controlled in a measure only by an almost regal power. And to attempt to restore men to good conduct by any other means would be either a most cruel or an impossible undertaking. This, as I have related above, was done by Cleomenes, who for the sake of being alone in the government had all the Ephores massacred; and if Romulus for the same object killed his brother and the Sabine Titus Tatius, and if both he and Cleomenes afterwards employed their power well, we must nevertheless bear in mind that neither of them had to deal with a people so tainted with corruption as that we have considered in this chapter, and therefore they could desire the good and conform their measures accordingly to achieve it.
In carefully examining the characters and conduct of Romulus, Numa, and Tullus, the first three kings of Rome, we see that she was favored by the greatest good fortune in having her first king courageous and warlike, the second peace-loving and religious, and the third equally courageous with Romulus, and preferring war to peace. For it was important for Rome that in the beginning there should arise a legislator capable of endowing her with civil institutions; but then it was essential that the succeeding kings should equal Romulus in virtue and valor, otherwise the city would have become effeminate and a prey to her neighbors. Whence we may note that a successor of less vigor and ability than the first king may yet be able to maintain a state established by the genius and courage of his predecessor, and may enjoy the fruits of his labors. But if it should happen that his life be a long one, or that his successor should not have the same good qualities and courage as the first king, then the government will necessarily go to ruin. And so, on the contrary, if one king succeeds another of equally great abilities and courage, then it will often be seen that they achieve extraordinary greatness for their state, and that their fame will rise to the very heavens. David was beyond doubt a most extraordinary man in war, in learning, and in superior judgment; and such was his military ability that, having conquered and crushed his neighbors, he left a peaceful kingdom to his son Solomon, which he was able to maintain by the arts of peace and of war, and could thus happily enjoy the results of his father’s virtue and valor. But he could not thus transmit it to his son, Rehoboam, who had neither the merits of his grandfather nor the good fortune of his father; and it was with difficulty, therefore, that he remained heir of the sixth part of the kingdom. The Sultan Bajazet of Turkey, although preferring peace to war, yet could enjoy the labors of his father Mahomet, who, having, like David, crushed his neighbors, left him a firmly established kingdom, which he could easily preserve with the arts of peace. But the empire would have gone to ruin if his son Soliman, the present Sultan, had resembled the father, and not the grandfather; but it was seen that he even exceeded the glory of the grandfather.
I say then, that, according to these examples, the successor of a wise and vigorous prince, though himself feeble, may maintain a kingdom, even if it be not constituted like France, which is maintained by the force of its ancient institutions; and I call that prince feeble who is incapable of carrying on war. I conclude, then, that the genius and courage of Romulus were such that it left Numa competent to govern Rome for many years by the arts of peace. He was succeeded by Tullus, whose courage and warlike disposition exceeded even that of Romulus. After him came Ancus, who was gifted by nature to shine equally in peace and in war. At first he was disposed to follow the ways of peace, but he soon perceived that his neighbors regarded him as effeminate, and esteemed him but little; so that he concluded that, if he wished to maintain the Roman state, he must devote himself to war, and imitate Romulus, and not Numa Pompilius. Let all princes then who govern states take example from this, that he who follows the course of Numa may keep or lose his throne, according to chance and cicumstances; but he who imitates the example of Romulus, and combines valor with prudence, will keep his throne anyhow, unless it be taken from him by some persistent and excessive force. And we may certainly assume that, if Rome had not chanced to have for her king a man who knew how by force of arms to restore her original reputation, she would not have been able, except with greatest difficulty, to gain a firm foothold and achieve the great things she did. And thus so long as she was governed by kings was she exposed to the danger of being ruined by a feeble or a wicked one.
After Rome had expelled her kings she was no longer exposed to the dangers which we have spoken of above, as resulting from a succession of feeble or wicked kings; for the sovereign authority was vested in the Consuls, who obtained that authority not by inheritance, or fraud, or violent ambition, but by the free suffrages of the people, and were generally most excellent men. Rome, having the benefit of the virtue and good fortune of these men from time to time, was thus enabled to attain her utmost grandeur in no greater length of time than she had existed under the rule of kings. For if, as has been seen, two successive good and valorous princes are sufficient to conquer the world, as was the case with Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great, a republic should be able to do still more, having the power to elect not only two successions, but an infinite number of most competent and virtuous rulers one after the other; and this system of electing a succession of virtuous men should ever be the established practice of every republic.
Such princes and republics of modern times as have no national troops for defence or attack ought well to be ashamed of it; for they should bear in mind that, according to the example of Tullus, their not having armies of their own is not from the want of men fit for military service, but that the fault is wholly theirs, in not knowing how to make soldiers of their men. For when Tullus ascended the throne, after forty years of peace, he did not find a man that had ever borne arms in war; but as he contemplated making war, he neither attempted to avail himself of the Samnites, the Tuscans, nor of any other people accustomed to fight, but, like a most sagacious prince, he resolved to employ only his own subjects; and such was his skill and courage that he promptly created an excellent army within his own kingdom. And there is nothing more true than that, if there are no soldiers where there are men, it is not owing to any natural or local defect, but is solely the fault of the prince; in proof of which I cite the following most recent example. Everybody knows that quite lately the king of England attacked the kingdom of France, and employed for that purpose no other soldiers except his own subjects; and although his own kingdom had been for over thirty years in profound peace, so that he had at first neither soldiers nor captains who had seen any active military service, yet he did not hesitate with such troops to assail a kingdom that had many experienced commanders and good soldiers, who had been continually under arms in the Italian wars. He was enabled to do this because he was a sagacious prince, and his kingdom was well ordered, so that in time of peace the military art had not been neglected. Pelopidas and Epaminondas, both of Thebes, after having liberated that city and rescued her from the yoke of the Spartan rule, found themselves in a city accustomed to servitude, and in the midst of an effeminate people. Such, however, was their wisdom and valor that they did not hesitate to put the Thebans under arms, and to take the field with them against the Spartans, whom they defeated. The historian who tells this says, that these two great citizens proved in a short time that it was not Lacedæmon alone that gave birth to warriors, but that they were produced in all countries where men were found capable of instructing others in the art of war; as was seen in the case of Tullus, who trained the Romans to war. And Virgil could not state this fact and express his approbation of it better than in the following words: “And Tullus converted his indolent men into brave soldiers.”
Tullus, king of Rome, and Metius, king of Alba, agreed that that people should be master of the other whose three champions should overcome those of the other in an appointed combat. All three of the Curatii were killed, and only one of the Roman Horatii survived; and consequently Metius, king of the Albans, and his people, became subject to the Romans. When this surviving Horatius returned to Rome he met his sister, who was contracted in marriage to one of the slain Curatii; and when he heard her lamenting the death of her lover he killed her. He was judicially tried for this crime, and after a long discussion was acquitted, not so much on account of his own merit as on account of the prayers of his father. Now there are three things to be noted in these occurrences: the first, that one should never risk his whole fortune with only a portion of his forces; the second, that in a well-ordered state a man’s merits should never extenuate his crimes; and the third, that it is never wise to enter into agreements the observance of which is doubtful. For the loss of independence is a matter of such supreme importance to a state that it is not to be supposed that any king or people will ever remain satisfied that the action of three of their citizens should subject them to servitude; as was seen in the case of Metius, who, although immediately upon the victory of the Horatii he confessed himself conquered and promised obedience to Tullus, yet on the very first expedition in which he had to take part against the Veienti he attempted by fraud to evade his obligations, like one who perceives too late the imprudence of the agreement he has made. Having said enough upon this third point, we will treat more fully of the others in the following chapters.
It was never deemed wise to risk one’s whole fortune without employing at the same time one’s whole forces, and which may be done in different ways. One is the acting like Tullus and Metius, when they committed the entire fortunes of their countries, and so many brave men as both had in their armies, to the valor of only three of their citizens, who constituted but a minimum part of their respective forces. They did not perceive that by so doing all the labors of their predecessors in organizing the republic so as to insure it a long and free existence, and to make her citizens defenders of their liberty, were as it were made nugatory, by putting it in the power of so few to lose the whole. On the part of the Romans, they could certainly not have done a more ill considered thing. The same fault is almost always committed by those who, upon the approach of an enemy, attempt to hold the difficult approaches, and to guard the passes; which course will almost always prove dangerous, unless you can conveniently place all your forces there, in which case that course may be adopted; but if the locality be so rugged that you cannot keep and deploy all your forces there, then it is dangerous. I am induced to think so by the example of those who, when assailed by a powerful enemy, their country being surrounded by mountains and rugged places, never attempted to combat the enemy in the passes or mountains, but have always gone either to meet him in advance of these, or, when they did not wish to do that, have awaited his coming in easy and open places; the reason of which is the one I have above alleged. For you cannot employ a large force in guarding rugged and mountainous places; be it that you cannot obtain provisions there for any length of time, or that the defiles are so narrow as to admit of only a small number of men, so that it becomes impossible to sustain the shock of an enemy who comes in large force. Now for the enemy it is easy to come in full force, for his intention is to pass, and not to stop there; whilst on the contrary he who has to await the approach of the enemy cannot possibly keep so large a force there, for the reason that he will have to establish himself for a longer time in those confined and sterile places, not knowing when the enemy may come to make the attempt to pass. And once having lost the pass which you had hoped to hold, and upon which your people and army had confidently relied, they are generally seized with such terror that they are lost, without your having even been able to test their courage; and thus you lose your whole fortune from having risked only a portion of your forces.
It is well known what difficulties Hannibal encountered in passing the Alps that separate Lombardy from France, as well as the mountains that divide Lombardy from Tuscany; nevertheless, the Romans awaited him first on the Ticino, and afterwards in the plains of Arezzo; for they preferred rather to expose their army to being defeated in a place where they themselves had a chance of being the victors, than to move it to the mountains, to be destroyed there by the difficulties of the locality. And whoever reads history attentively will find that very few of the best commanders have attempted to hold such passes, for the very reasons which I have given, and because they cannot close them all; the mountains being in that respect like the open country, in having not only well known roads that are generally used, but also many others, which, if unknown to strangers, are yet familiar to the people of the country, by whose aid any invader may always be guided to any desired point. Of this we have a most notable and recent example in 1515, when Francis I., king of France, wanted to enter Italy for the purpose of recovering the state of Lombardy. Those who opposed him in this attempt, relied mainly upon their confident expectations that the Swiss would arrest his march in the mountain passes. But the event proved that their confidence was vain, for the king of France, leaving aside the two or three passes that were guarded by the Swiss, came by another route hitherto quite unknown, and was in Italy and upon them before they knew anything of it; so that their terror-stricken troops retreated to Milan, and the entire Milanese population yielded themselves to the French, having been disappointed in their hopes that the French would be kept out by the difficulty of passing the Alps.
The services of Horatius had been of the highest importance to Rome, for by his bravery he had conquered the Curatii; but the crime of killing his sister was atrocious, and the Romans were so outraged by this murder that he was put upon trial for his life, notwithstanding his recent great services to the state. Now, in looking at this matter superficially, it may seem like an instance of popular ingratitude; but a more careful examination, and reflection as to what the laws of a republic ought to be, will show that the people were to blame rather for the acquittal of Horatius than for having him tried. And the reason for this is, that no well-ordered republic should ever cancel the crimes of its citizens by their merits; but having established rewards for good actions and penalties for evil ones, and having rewarded a citizen for good conduct who afterwards commits a wrong, he should be chastised for that without regard to his previous merits. And a state that properly observes this principle will long enjoy its liberty; but if otherwise, it will speedily come to ruin. For if a citizen who has rendered some eminent service to the state should add to the reputation and influence which he has thereby acquired the confident audacity of being able to commit any wrong without fear of punishment, he will in a little while become so insolent and overbearing as to put an end to all power of the law. But to preserve a wholesome fear of punishment for evil deeds, it is necessary not to omit rewarding good ones; as has been seen was done by Rome. And although a republic may be poor and able to give but little, yet she should not abstain from giving that little; for even the smallest reward for a good action – no matter how important the service to the state – will always be esteemed by the recipient as most honorable. The story of Horatius Cocles and of Mutius Scævola is well known; how the one, single-handed, kept back the enemy to give time for the destruction of a bridge, and how the other burned his hand off for having erred in his attempt to take the life of Porsenna, king of the Tuscans. As a reward for their eminent services the city of Rome gave to each of them two acres of land. The story of Manlius Capitolinus is equally well known; having saved the Capitol from the Gauls who were besieging it, he received from each of those who had been shut up in it with him a small measure of flour, which (according to the current prices of things in those days in Rome) was a reward of considerable value and importance. But when Manlius afterwards, inspired by envy or his evil nature, attempted to stir up a rebellion, and sought to gain the people over to himself, he was, regardless of his former services, precipitated from that very Capitol which it had been his previous glory to have saved.
He who desires or attempts to reform the government of a state, and wishes to have it accepted and capable of maintaining itself to the satisfaction of everybody, must at least retain the semblance of the old forms; so that it may seem to the people that there has been no change in the institutions, even though in fact they are entirely different from the old ones. For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often even more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are. The Romans understood this well, and for that reason, when they first recovered their liberty, and had created two Consuls in place of a king, they would not allow these more than twelve lictors, so as not to exceed the number that had served the king. Besides this, the Romans were accustomed to an annual sacrifice that could only be performed by the king in person; and as they did not wish that the people, in consequence of the absence of the king, should have occasion to regret the loss of any of their old customs, they created a special chief for that ceremony, whom they called the king of the sacrifice, and placed him under their high priest; so that the people enjoyed these annual sacrificial ceremonies, and had no pretext, from the want of them, for desiring the restoration of the kings. And this rule should be observed by all who wish to abolish an existing system of government in any state, and introduce a new and more liberal one. For as all novelties excite the minds of men, it is important to retain in such innovations as much as possible the previously existing forms. And if the number, authority, and duration of the term of service of the magistrates be changed, the titles at least ought to be preserved. This, as I have said, should be observed by whoever desires to convert an absolute government either into a republic or a monarchy; but, on the contrary, he who wishes to establish an absolute power, such as ancient writers called a tyranny, must change everything, as we shall show in the following chapter.
Whoever becomes prince of a city or state, especially if the foundation of his power is feeble, and does not wish to establish there either a monarchy or a republic, will find the best means for holding that principality to organize the government entirely anew (he being himself a new prince there); that is, he should appoint new governors with new titles, new powers, and new men, and he should make the poor rich, as David did when he became king, “who heaped riches upon the needy, and dismissed the wealthy empty-handed.” Besides this, he should destroy the old cities and build new ones, and transfer the inhabitants from one place to another; in short, he should leave nothing unchanged in that province, so that there should be neither rank, nor grade, nor honor, nor wealth, that should not be recognized as coming from him. He should take Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander, for his model, who by proceeding in that manner became, from a petty king, master of all Greece. And his historian tells us that he transferred the inhabitants from one province to another, as shepherds move their flocks from place to place. Doubtless these means are cruel and destructive of all civilized life, and neither Christian nor even human, and should be avoided by every one. In fact, the life of a private citizen would be preferable to that of a king at the expense of the ruin of so many human beings. Nevertheless, whoever is unwilling to adopt the first and humane course must, if he wishes to maintain his power, follow the latter evil course. But men generally decide upon a middle course, which is most hazardous; for they know neither how to be entirely good or entirely bad, as we shall illustrate by examples in the next chapter.
When Pope Julius II. went, in the year 1505, to Bologna to expel the Bentivogli from that state, the government of which they had held for a hundred years, he wanted also to remove Giovanpaolo Baglioni from Perugia, who had made himself the absolute master of that city; for it was the intention of Pope Julius to destroy all the petty tyrants that occupied the possessions of the Church. Having arrived at Perugia with that purpose, which was well known to everybody, he did not wait to enter the city with his army for his protection, but went in almost alone, although Giovanpaolo had collected a large force within the city for his defence. And thus, with the customary impetuosity which characterized all his acts, Julius placed himself with only a small guard in the hands of his enemy Baglioni, whom he nevertheless carried off with him, leaving a governor in his stead to administer the state in the name of the Church. Sagacious men who were with the Pope observed his temerity and the cowardice of Baglioni, and could not understand why the latter had not by a single blow rid himself of his enemy, whereby he would have secured for himself eternal fame and rich booty, for the Pope was accompanied by all the cardinals with their valuables. Nor could they believe that he had refrained from doing this either from goodness or conscientious scruples; for no sentiment of piety or respect could enter the heart of a man of such vile character as Giovanpaolo, who had dishonored his sister and murdered his nephews and cousins for the sake of obtaining possession of the state; but they concluded that mankind were neither utterly wicked nor perfectly good, and that when a crime has in itself some grandeur or magnanimity they will not know how to attempt it. Thus Giovanpaolo Baglioni, who did not mind open incest and parricide, knew not how, or, more correctly speaking, dared not, to attempt an act (although having a justifiable opportunity) for which every one would have admired his courage, and which would have secured him eternal fame, as being the first to show these prelates how little esteem those merit who live and govern as they do; and as having done an act the greatness of which would have overshadowed the infamy and all the danger that could possibly result from it.
In reading the history of republics we find in all of them a degree of ingratitude to their citizens; this, however, seems to have been the case to a less extent in Rome than in Athens, and perhaps less even than in any other republic. In seeking for the reason of this difference, so far as Rome and Athens are concerned, I believe it was because Rome had less cause for mistrusting her citizens than Athens. In fact, from the time of the expulsion of the kings until Sylla and Marius, no Roman citizen ever attempted to deprive his country of her liberty; so that, there being no occasion to suspect her citizens, there was consequently no cause for offending them inconsiderately. The very contrary happened in Athens, for Pisistratus had by fraud robbed her of her liberty at the very time of her highest prosperity; so soon as she afterwards recovered her freedom, remembering the injuries received and her past servitude, she resented with the utmost harshness, not only all faults, but the mere semblance of faults, on the part of her citizens. It was this that gave rise to the exile and death of so many of her illustrious men, and thence came the practice of ostracism and every other violence which that city exercised at various times against some of her noblest citizens. It is a very true saying of political writers, that those states which have recovered their liberty treat their citizens with greater severity than such as have never lost it. A careful consideration of what has been said on this subject will show that Athens is neither to be blamed, nor Rome to be praised, for their respective conduct, and that it necessarily resulted entirely from the difference of the events that occurred in those cities; for a penetrating observer will not fail to see that, if Rome had been deprived of her liberty in the manner Athens was, she would not have been more indulgent to her citizens than the latter. We may judge very correctly of this by her treatment of Collatinus and Publius Valerius after the expulsion of the kings; the first was exiled for no other reason than that he bore the name of the Tarquins, and the other was equally sent into exile because he had excited suspicion by building a house on Mount Cœlius. Seeing then how suspicious and severe Rome showed herself in these two cases, we may fairly judge that she would have been liable to the charge of ingratitude, the same as Athens, if she had been offended by her citizens in the beginning of her existence, before she had grown powerful. And so as not to be obliged to return to this subject of ingratitude, I shall continue what I have to say in relation to it in the next chapter.
It seems to me proper here, in connection with the above subject, to examine whether the people or a prince is more liable to the charge of ingratitude; and by way of illustrating this question the better, I set out by saying that the vice of ingratitude springs either from avarice or fear. For when a people or a prince has sent a general on some important expedition where by his success he acquires great glory, the prince or people is in turn bound to reward him. But if instead of such reward they dishonor and wrong him, influenced thereto by avarice, then they are guilty of an inexcusable wrong, which will involve them in eternal infamy. And yet there are many princes who commit this wrong, for which fact Tacitus assigns the reason in the following sentence: “Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit, because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.” But when they fail to reward, or rather when they offend, not from avarice, but from suspicion and fear, then the people or the prince have some excuse for their ingratitude. We read of many instances of this kind; for the general who by his valor has conquered a state for his master, and won great glory for himself by his victory over the enemy, and has loaded his soldiers with rich booty, acquires necessarily with his own soldiers, as well as with those of the enemy and with the subjects of the prince, so high a reputation, that his very victory may become distasteful, and a cause for apprehension to his prince. For as the nature of men is ambitious as well as suspicious, and puts no limits to one’s good fortune, it is not impossible that the suspicion that may suddenly be aroused in the mind of the prince by the victory of the general may have been aggravated by some haughty expressions or insolent acts on his part; so that the prince will naturally be made to think of securing himself against the ambition of his general. And to do this, the means that suggest themselves to him are either to have the general killed, or to deprive him of that reputation which he has acquired with the prince’s army and the people, by using every means to prove that the general’s victory was not due to his skill and courage, but to chance and the cowardice of the enemy, or to the sagacity of the other captains who were with him in that action.
After Vespasian, whilst in Judæa, had been proclaimed Emperor by his army, Antonius Primus, who was at the head of an army in Illyria, took sides with him, and marched straight into Italy against Vitellius, then Emperor in Rome, and in the most gallant manner routed two Vitellian armies, and made himself master of Rome; so that Mutianus, who had been sent there by Vespasian, found everything achieved and all difficulties overcome. The reward which Antonius received for this service was that Mutianus deprived him of the command of the army, and gradually reduced his authority in Rome to nothing; so that Antonius, indignant, went to see Vespasian, who was still in Asia, who received him in such manner that, being soon after deprived of all rank, he died almost in despair. History is full of similar examples.
We have seen in our own day with how much courage and perseverance Gonsalvo de Cordova conducted the war in Naples for King Ferdinand of Aragon against the French; how he defeated them, and conquered the kingdom for Ferdinand; and how he was rewarded by his king, who left Spain and came to Naples, and first deprived Gonsalvo of his command of the army, and then took the control of the strong places from him, and finally carried him off with him to Spain, where Gonsalvo soon after died in obscurity.
Fear and suspicion are so natural to princes that they cannot defend themselves against them, and thus it is impossible for them to show gratitude to those who, by victories achieved under their banners, have made important conquests for them. If then a prince cannot prevent himself from committing such wrongs, it is surely no wonder, nor matter worthy of more consideration, if a people acts in a similar manner. For as a free city is generally influenced by two principal objects, the one to aggrandize herself, and the other to preserve her liberties, it is natural that she should occasionally be betrayed into faults by excessive eagerness in the pursuit of either of these objects. As to the faults that result from the desire for aggrandizement, we shall speak in another place; and those resulting from the desire to preserve her liberty are amongst others the following, namely, to injure those citizens whom she should reward, and to suspect those in whom she should place most confidence. And although the effects of such conduct occasion great evils in a republic that is already corrupt, and which often lead to despotism, – as was seen under Cæsar in Rome, who took for himself by force what ingratitude had refused him, – still, in a republic not yet entirely corrupt, they may be productive of great good in preserving her freedom for a greater length of time; as the dread of punishment will keep men better, and less ambitious.
It is true that, of all the people that ever possessed a great empire, the Romans were the least ungrateful; for it may be said that no other instance of their ingratitude can be cited than that of Scipio; for Coriolanus and Camillus were both exiled on account of the outrages which they had committed upon the people. The one was never pardoned, because he always preserved an implacable hatred against the people; but the other was not only recalled from exile, but was for the entire remainder of his life honored like a prince. The ingratitude to Scipio arose from jealousy such as never before had been felt towards any one else, and which resulted from the greatness of the enemy whom Scipio had conquered, from the great reputation which his victory after so long and perilous a war had given him, from the rapidity of his actions and the popular favor which his youth, his prudence, and other remarkable virtues had won for him. All of these were so great that everybody in Rome, even the magistrates, feared his influence and authority, which offended the intelligent men of Rome as an unheard of thing. And his manner of life was such that Cato the elder, who was reputed a man of the purest character, was the first to complain of him, saying that no city could call herself free where a citizen was feared by the magistrates. So that if in this case the people of Rome followed the opinion of Cato, they are entitled to that excuse which, as I have said above, those peoples and princes may claim who are ungrateful from suspicion and fear. In concluding, then, this discourse, I say that, as the vice of ingratitude is usually the consequence of either avarice or fear, it will be seen that the peoples never fall into this error from avarice, and that fear also makes them less liable to it than princes, inasmuch as they have less reason for fear, as we shall show further on.
A prince, to avoid the necessity of living in constant mistrust or of being ungrateful, should command all his expeditions in person, as the Roman Emperors did in the beginning, and as the Sultan does at the present time, and as in fact all valiant princes ever have done and will do. For if victorious, all the glory and fruits of their conquests will be theirs; but if they are not present themselves at the action, and the glory of victory falls to the share of another, then it will seem to them that the conquest will not profit them unless they extinguish that glory of another which they have failed to achieve themselves. Thus they become ungrateful and unjust, and in that way their loss will be greater than their gain. But if from indolence or want of sagacity they remain idle at home, and confide the expedition to a commander, then I have no advice to give them but to follow their own inspirations. But I say to the commander, judging that he will not be able to escape the fangs of ingratitude, that he must do one of two things: either he must leave the army immediately after victory, and place himself at the disposal of his prince, carefully avoiding all show of insolence or ambition, so that the prince, deprived of all grounds of fear or suspicion, may reward him or at least not wrong him; or if this does not suit him, then he must boldly adopt the other course, and act in all respects as though he believed the conquest were for his own account, and not for his prince, – conciliating to himself the good will of his army and of the subjected people, forming friendships and alliances with the neighboring princes, occupying the strongholds with his own men, corrupting the chiefs of his army and making sure of such as he cannot corrupt, – and in this wise seek to punish his prince in advance for the ingratitude which he is likely to show him. And there is no other way for him to do. But, as I have already said, men neither know how to be entirely good nor wholly bad; and it so happens almost invariably that a general, after a great victory, is unwilling to leave his army, and to conduct himself with becoming modesty, and knows not how to take a decided course, which has in itself something honorable and grand; and thus he remains undecided, and whilst in this ambiguous state he is crushed.
A republic that wishes to avoid the vice of ingratitude cannot employ the same means as a prince; that is to say, she cannot go and command her own expeditions, and is obliged therefore to confide them to some one of her citizens. But it is proper that I should suggest as the best means to adopt the same course that Rome did, in being less ungrateful than others, and which resulted from her institutions. For as the whole city, nobles and plebeians, devoted themselves to the business of war, there arose at all times in Rome so many brave and victorious generals, that the people had no cause for mistrusting any one of them, there being so many that they could watch each other. And thus they kept themselves so pure, and careful not to give the least umbrage, that they afforded the people not the least ground for suspecting them of ambition; and if any of them arrived at the dictatorship, their greatest glory consisted in promptly laying this dignity down again; and thus, having inspired no fear or mistrust, they gave no cause for ingratitude. A republic, then, that wishes not to have cause for ingratitude, should adopt the same system of government as Rome; and a citizen who desires to avoid the fangs of ingratitude should observe the same conduct as that of the Roman citizens.
The Romans (as we have shown above) were not only less ungrateful than other republics, but were also more lenient and considerate in the punishment of the generals of their armies. For if their misconduct was intentional, they punished them humanely; and if it was caused by ignorance, they not only did not punish them, but rewarded and honored them nevertheless. This mode of proceeding had been well considered by them; for they judged that it was of the greatest importance for those who commanded their armies to have their minds entirely free and unembarrassed by any anxiety other than how best to perform their duty, and therefore they did not wish to add fresh difficulties and dangers to a task in itself so difficult and perilous, being convinced that, if this were done, it would prevent any general from operating vigorously. Suppose, for instance, that they had sent an army into Greece against Philip of Macedon, or into Italy against such tribes as had at first gained some victories over them. Now, the commander of such an expedition would naturally feel the weight of all the cares attendant on such enterprises, and which are very great. But if in addition to these anxieties the mind of the general had been disturbed by the examples of other generals who had been crucified, or otherwise put to death, for having lost battles, it would have been impossible for him, under the influence of such apprehensions, to have proceeded vigorously. Judging, therefore, that the ignominy of defeat would be sufficient punishment for such a commander, they did not wish to terrify him with other penalties.
The following is an instance of how they punished intentional faults. Sergius and Virginius were encamped before Veii, each commanding a separate division of the army; Sergius being placed on the side where the Tuscans could make an attack, and Virginius on the opposite side. It happened that, Sergius being attacked by the Faliscans and other tribes, he preferred being beaten by them and put to flight rather than apply to Virginius for assistance; and, on the other hand, Virginius, waiting for his colleague to humble himself, was willing rather to see his country dishonored, and the army of Sergius routed, than march unsolicited to his succor. Certainly a very bad case and worthy of note, and well calculated to cause unfavorable conjectures as to the Roman republic, if both these generals had not been punished. It is true that, whilst any other republic would have inflicted capital punishment upon them, they were subjected by Rome only to a pecuniary fine. Not but what their misconduct merited severer punishment, but because the Romans, for the reasons above explained, would not vary from their established custom.
As regards faults committed from ignorance, there is not a more striking example than that of Varro, whose temerity caused the defeat of the Romans by Hannibal at Cannæ, which exposed the republic to the loss of her liberty. Nevertheless, as it was from ignorance, and not from evil intention, they not only did not punish him, but actually rendered him honors; and on his return, the whole order of Senators went to meet him, and, unable to congratulate him on the result of the battle, they thanked him for having returned to Rome, and for not having despaired of the cause of the republic.
When Papirius Cursor wanted to have Fabius put to death for having, contrary to his orders, given battle to the Samnites, amongst the other reasons which the father of Fabius opposed to the obstinacy of the Dictator was this, – that after the most bloody defeats the Roman people had never treated their generals as Papirius Cursor wanted to treat his victorious son.
Although the Romans happily always treated the people with liberality, yet when danger came upon them, and Porsenna attacked Rome for the purpose of restoring the Tarquins, the Senate was doubtful whether the people might not rather accept the restoration of the kings than undergo a war; and to assure themselves of the people, they relieved them of the impost on salt and of all other taxes, saying that the poor did enough for the public benefit in rearing their children; and although in consequence of this liberality the people submitted to the hardships and privations of siege, famine, and war, yet let no one, trusting to this example, defer securing the good will of the people until the moment of danger; for they will never succeed in it as the Romans did. For the masses will think that they do not owe the benefits you have bestowed upon them to you, but to your adversaries; and fearing that, when the danger is past, you will again take from them what under the pressure of danger you conceded to them, they will feel under no obligations to you. The reason why this proceeding turned out well for the Romans was that the government was still new and not yet firmly established, and the people had seen that other laws had been enacted for their benefit, such, for instance, as that of the appeal to the people; and thus they were easily persuaded that the relief from taxation which had been granted to them was not caused so much by the approach of the enemy as by the disposition of the Senate to favor them. Besides this, the memory of the kings, by whom they had been wronged and maltreated in various ways, was still fresh in their minds. And as it is rare that similar circumstances concur, so it is equally rare that similar remedies avail; and therefore republics as well as princes should think in advance what adversities may befall them, and of whom they may have need in time of trouble, and then they should comport themselves towards these in the manner they might deem necessary in case danger should come upon them. And whoever acts differently, whether prince or republic, and more especially a prince, and supposes from the above-related fact that it is time enough by benefits to secure the good will of the people when danger has come upon him, deceives himself greatly; for not only will he fail to obtain the good will of the people, but he will accelerate his own destruction.
As the Roman republic grew in reputation, power, and dominion, the neighboring tribes, who at first had not thought of how great a danger this new republic might prove to them, began (too late, however) to see their error; and wishing to remedy their first neglect, they united full forty tribes in a league against Rome. Hereupon the Romans resorted, amongst other measures which they were accustomed to employ in urgent dangers, to the creation of a dictator; that is to say, they gave the power to one man, who, without consulting any one else, could determine upon any course, and could have it carried into effect without any appeal. This measure, which on former occasions had proved most useful in overcoming imminent perils, was equally serviceable to them in all the critical events that occurred during the growth and development of the power of the republic. Upon this subject we must remark, first, that when any evil arises within a republic, or threatens it from without, that is to say, from an intrinsic or extrinsic cause, and has become so great as to fill every one with apprehension, the more certain remedy by far is to temporize with it, rather than to attempt to extirpate it; for almost invariably he who attempts to crush it will rather increase its force, and will accelerate the harm apprehended from it. And such evils arise more frequently in a republic from intrinsic than extrinsic causes, as it often occurs that a citizen is allowed to acquire more authority than is proper; or that changes are permitted in a law which is the very nerve and life of liberty; and then they let this evil go so far that it becomes more hazardous to correct it than to allow it to run on. And it is the more difficult to recognize these evils at their origin, as it seems natural to men always to favor the beginning of things; and these favors are more readily accorded to such acts as seem to have some merit in them, and are done by young men. For if in a republic a noble youth is seen to rise, who is possessed of some extraordinary merits, the eyes of all citizens quickly turn to him, and all hasten to show him honor, regardless of consequences; so that, if he is in any way ambitious, the gifts of nature and the favor of his fellow-citizens will soon raise him to such a height that, when the citizens become sensible of the error they have committed, they have no longer the requisite means for checking him, and their efforts to employ such as they have will only accelerate his advance to power.
Many instances of this might be cited, but I will confine myself to one which occurred in our own city of Florence. Cosimo de’ Medici, to whom the house of Medici owes the beginning of its greatness, obtained such reputation and authority through his own sagacity and the ignorance of his fellow-citizens, that he became a cause of apprehension to the government, and that the other citizens judged it hazardous to offend him, but more dangerous still to allow him to go on. At that time there lived in Florence Niccolo Uzzano, reputed a man of consummate ability in matters of state, who, having committed the first error of not foreseeing the danger that might result from the great influence of Cosimo, would never permit the Florentines, so long as he lived, to commit the second error of trying to destroy Cosimo, judging that any such attempt would lead to the ruin of the state, as in fact proved to be the case after his death. For the citizens, regardless of the counsels of Uzzano, combined against Cosimo and drove him from Florence. The consequence was that the partisans of Cosimo, to resent this insult, shortly afterwards recalled him and made him prince of the republic, which position he never would have attained but for the previous hostility manifested towards him. The same thing happened in Rome with regard to Cæsar, who by his courage and merits at first won the favor of Pompey and of other prominent citizens, but which favor was shortly after converted into fear; to which Cicero testifies, saying “that Pompey had begun too late to fear Cæsar.” This fear caused them to think of measures of safety, which however only accelerated the ruin of the republic.
I say, then, that inasmuch as it is difficult to know these evils at their first origin, owing to an illusion which all new things are apt to produce, the wiser course is to temporize with such evils when they are recognized, instead of violently attacking them; for by temporizing with them they will either die out of themselves, or at least their worst results will be long deferred. And princes or magistrates who wish to destroy such evils must watch all points, and must be careful in attacking them not to increase instead of diminishing them, for they must not believe that a fire can be extinguished by blowing upon it. They should carefully examine the extent and force of the evil, and if they think themselves sufficiently strong to combat it, then they should attack it regardless of consequences; otherwise they should let it be, and in no wise attempt it. For it will always happen as I have said above, and as it did happen to the neighboring tribes of Rome; who found that it would have been more advantageous, after Rome had grown so much in power, to placate and keep her within her limits by peaceful means, than by warlike measures to make her think of new institutions and new defences. For their league had no other effect than to unite the people of Rome more closely, and to make them more ready for war, and to cause them to adopt new institutions that enabled them in a brief time to increase their power. One of these was the creation of a Dictator, by which new institution they not only overcame the most imminent dangers, but obviated also an infinity of troubles in which they would otherwise have been involved.
Some writers have blamed those Romans who first introduced the practice of creating Dictators, as being calculated in time to lead to despotism in Rome; alleging that the first tyrant of that city governed her under the title of Dictator, and saying that, if it had not been for this office, Cæsar never could under any other public title have imposed his despotism upon the Romans. Evidently the subject could not have been thoroughly considered by those who advance this opinion, so generally adopted without good reasons; for it was neither the name nor the rank of the Dictator that subjected Rome to servitude, but it was the authority which citizens usurped to perpetuate themselves in the government. And if the title of Dictator had not existed in Rome, some other would have been taken; for power can easily take a name, but a name cannot give power. And it is seen that the dictatorship, whenever created according to public law and not usurped by individual authority, always proved beneficial to Rome; it is the magistracies and powers that are created by illegitimate means which harm a republic, and not those that are appointed in the regular way, as was the case in Rome, where in the long course of time no Dictator ever failed to prove beneficial to the republic. The reason of this is perfectly evident: first, before a citizen can be in a position to usurp extraordinary powers, many things must concur, which in a republic as yet uncorrupted never can happen; for he must be exceedingly rich, and must have many adherents and partisans, which cannot be where the laws are observed; and even if he had them, he would never be supported by the free suffrages of the people, for such men are generally looked upon as dangerous. Besides this, Dictators were appointed only for a limited term, and not in perpetuity, and their power to act was confined to the particular occasion for which they were created. This power consisted in being able to decide alone upon the measures to be adopted for averting the pressing danger, to do whatever he deemed proper without consultation, and to inflict punishment upon any one without appeal. But the Dictator could do nothing to alter the form of the government, such as to diminish the powers of the Senate or the people, or to abrogate existing institutions and create new ones. So that, taking together the short period for which he held the office, and the limited powers which he possessed, and the fact that the Roman people were as yet uncorrupted, it is evident that it was impossible for him to exceed his powers and to harm the republic; which on the contrary, as all experience shows, was always benefited by him.
And truly, of all the institutions of Rome, this one deserves to be counted amongst those to which she was most indebted for her greatness and dominion. For without some such an institution Rome would with difficulty have escaped the many extraordinary dangers that befell her; for the customary proceedings of republics are slow, no magistrate or council being permitted to act independently, but being in almost all instances obliged to act in concert one with the other, so that often much time is required to harmonize their several opinions; and tardy measures are most dangerous when the occasion requires prompt action. And therefore all republics should have some institution similar to the dictatorship. The republic of Venice, which is pre-eminent amongst modern ones, had reserved to a small number of citizens the power of deciding all urgent matters without referring their decisions to a larger council. And when a republic lacks some such system, a strict observance of the established laws will expose her to ruin; or, to save her from such danger, the laws will have to be disregarded. Now in a well-ordered republic it should never be necessary to resort to extra-constitutional measures; for although they may for the time be beneficial, yet the precedent is pernicious, for if the practice is once established of disregarding the laws for good objects, they will in a little while be disregarded under that pretext for evil purposes. Thus no republic will ever be perfect if she has not by law provided for everything, having a remedy for every emergency, and fixed rules for applying it. And therefore I will say, in conclusion, that those republics which in time of danger cannot resort to a dictatorship, or some similar authority, will generally be ruined when grave occasions occur. It is well to note with reference to this institution how wisely the Romans had provided the mode of electing the Dictator. For as his creation reflected in some measure discredit upon the Consuls, who as chiefs of the republic had to submit to his authority the same as the other citizens, and apprehending that this might possibly excite indignation amongst the citizens, it was decided that the nomination of the Dictator should be made by the Consuls themselves; so that when an emergency occurred in which Rome needed this quasi regal power, the Consuls, having the right of creating it themselves, might thus be less sensitive than if it were imposed upon them by others. For the wounds and every other evil that men inflict upon themselves spontaneously, and of their own choice, are in the long run less painful than those inflicted by others. In later times, however, the Romans, instead of appointing a Dictator, used to confer that extraordinary power upon the Consuls in these words: “Let the Consuls see that the republic suffers no detriment.” But to return now to our subject, I conclude that the neighboring tribes of Rome, in attempting to oppress her, caused her not only to adopt new means for defending herself, but also to prepare with greater force, abler counsels, and greater authority to attack them.
The election of ten citizens by the Roman people to make the laws in Rome, who in course of time became tyrants, and regardlessly destroyed her liberty, seems to be in contradiction with what I have said in the preceding chapter; namely, that the authority which is violently usurped, and not that which is conferred by the free suffrages of the people, is hurtful to republics. In this, however, there are two things to be considered; namely, the manner in which the authority is bestowed, and the length of time for which it is given. For when full power is conferred for any length of time (and I call a year or more a long time) it is always dangerous, and will be productive of good or ill effects, according as those upon whom it is conferred are themselves good or bad. And if we examine the power given to the Decemvirs and that of the Dictators, we shall find that of the former beyond comparison the greater. For at the creation of a Dictator, the Tribunes, the Consuls, and the Senate all remained with their respective powers, of which they could not be deprived by the Dictator. And even if he could have removed any one from the consulate or from the Senate, yet he could not abrogate the senatorial order and make new laws himself. So that the Senate, the Consuls, and the Tribunes, remaining in full authority, served as it were as a guard to watch that the Dictator did not transcend his powers. But in the creation of the Decemvirs just the opposite was the case; for their appointment cancelled that of the Consuls and Tribunes, and to the Decemvirs the power was given to make new laws, and in fact to do everything that the Roman people were competent to do. So that, finding themselves alone, without Tribunes or Consuls, and without the necessity of appealing to the Roman people, and having therefore no one to watch them, they were enabled in the second year, instigated by the ambition of Appius, to become overbearing, and to abuse their power. And therefore, when we said that an authority conferred by the free suffrages of the people never harmed a republic, we presupposed that the people, in giving that power, would limit it, as well as the time during which it was to be exercised. But if from having been deceived, or from any other reason, they are induced to give this power imprudently, and in the way in which the Roman people gave it to the Decemvirs, then the same thing will happen to them as happened to the Romans. This is easily proved by examining the causes that kept the Dictators within the limits of their duties, and those which made the Decemvirs transcend theirs; and by examining, further, the conduct of those republics that were well constituted, in giving power for any length of time, as the Spartans did to their kings, and as the Venetians gave to their Doges. In both these cases we see that guardians were appointed to watch that neither the king nor the Doge could abuse the power intrusted to him. Nor is it of any advantage in such a case that the mass of the people is not corrupt, for absolute authority will very quickly corrupt the people, and will create friends and partisans for itself. Nor is it any disadvantage to be poor and without family influence, for riches and every other favor will quickly run after power, as we shall show in the case of the creation of the Decemvirs.
The Romans had made Marcus Fabius and C. Manilius Consuls, and had gained a most glorious victory over the Veienti and the Etruscans, which, however, cost the life of Quintus Fabius, brother of the Consul, and who had himself been Consul the year before. This ought to make us reflect how well the institutions of that city were calculated to make her great, and what an error other republics commit in deviating from her system. For although the Romans were great lovers of glory, yet they did not esteem it dishonorable to obey those whom they had at a previous time commanded, or to serve in that army of which themselves had been chiefs. This custom is entirely contrary to the opinion, rules, and practice of our times; and in Venice they even yet hold to the error that a citizen who has once held a high post under the state would be dishonored by accepting a lower one; and the city consents to what she cannot change. However honorable this may be for a private citizen, yet for the public it is absolutely useless. A republic can and should have more hope and confidence in that citizen who from a superior grade descends to accept a less important one, than in him who from an inferior employment mounts to the exercise of a superior one; for the latter cannot reasonably be relied upon unless he is surrounded by men of such respectability and virtue that his inexperience may in some measure be compensated for by their counsel and authority. If they had had the same prejudice in Rome as in Venice and the other modern states, so that a man who had once been Consul had refused to return to the army except in the quality of Consul, it would have given rise to infinite inconveniences, greatly to the prejudice of public liberty, because of the errors of the new men in office, as well as of their ambition, which they could indulge the more freely, not having any men around them in whose presence they would be afraid to commit such faults; and thus they would have been more unrestrained, which would have resulted greatly to the public detriment.
It was a saying of ancient writers, that men afflict themselves in evil, and become weary of the good, and that both these dispositions produce the same effects. For when men are no longer obliged to fight from necessity, they fight from ambition, which passion is so powerful in the hearts of men that it never leaves them, no matter to what height they may rise. The reason of this is that nature has created men so that they desire everything, but are unable to attain it; desire being thus always greater than the faculty of acquiring, discontent with what they have and dissatisfaction with themselves result from it. This causes the changes in their fortunes; for as some men desire to have more, whilst others fear to lose what they have, enmities and war are the consequences; and this brings about the ruin of one province and the elevation of another. I have made these remarks because the Roman people were not content with having secured themselves against the nobles by the creation of the Tribunes, to which they had been driven by necessity. Having obtained this, they soon began to fight from ambition, and wanted to divide with the nobles their honors and possessions, being those things which men value most. Thence the frenzy that occasioned the contentions about the agrarian law, which finally caused the destruction of the Roman republic. Now, as in well-regulated republics the state ought to be rich and the citizens poor, it was evident that the agrarian law was in some respects defective; it was either in the beginning so made that it required constant modifications; or the changes in it had been so long deferred that it became most obnoxious because it was retrospective in its action; or perhaps it had been good in the beginning, and had afterwards become corrupted in its application. But whichever it may have been, this law could never be discussed in Rome without causing the most violent excitement in the city. There were two principal points in this law; one provided that no citizen could possess more than a certain number of acres of land, and the other that all the lands taken from their enemies should be divided amongst the Roman people. This affected the nobles disadvantageously in two ways; for those who had more land than the law allowed (which was the case with the greater part of the nobles) had to be deprived of it; and by dividing amongst the people the lands taken from the enemy, it took from the nobles the chance of enriching themselves thereby, as they had previously done. Now, as it was a powerful class that had been thus affected, and who considered resistance to this law as a defence of the public good, whenever the subject was brought up, it occasioned, as we have said, the most violent disturbances. The nobles used all patience and every means in their power to gain time and delay action upon the subject, either by calling out an army, or by getting one Tribune to oppose another who had proposed the law, or sometimes by yielding in part, or even by sending a colony to any place where lands were to be divided. This was done with the country of Antium, respecting which this law had caused a dispute; and therefore a colony drawn from amongst the citizens of Rome was sent there, to whom that country was assigned. In reference to this, Titus Livius makes the notable remark, that “it was difficult to find any one in Rome willing to inscribe his name to go to that colony; so much more ready were the people to desire possessions in Rome than to go and have them in Antium.”
The troubles about this agrarian law continued to disturb Rome for some time, so that the Romans began to send their armies to the extreme ends of Italy, or even beyond; after which matters were seemingly calmed down, owing to the fact that the lands taken from the enemy were at a great distance from Rome, and remote from the eyes of the people, and were situated where it was not easy to cultivate them, and consequently they were less desirable. Besides this, the Romans became less disposed to deprive their vanquished enemies of their lands, as they had done before; and when they did so deprive any of them of their possessions, they sent colonies to occupy them; so that from these several causes the agrarian law lay, as it were, dormant until the time of the Gracchi, who, after having revived it, wholly destroyed the Roman republic. For the power of the adversaries of the law had increased twofold in the mean time, and its revival excited such feelings of hatred between the people and the Senate, that it led to violence and bloodshed beyond all bounds or precedent. So that, the magistrates being unable to check these disturbances, and neither party having any confidence in the public authorities, they both resorted to private expedients, and each of the factions began to look for a chief capable of defending them against the other. In these extreme troubles and disorders the people began to cast their eyes upon Marius, on account of his reputation, which was so great that they had made him Consul four times in succession, and with such short intervals between these several consulates that he was enabled to nominate himself three times more for that office. The nobility, seeing no other remedy against these abuses, gave their favor to Sylla, and made him chief of their party. Thus civil war was provoked, and after much bloodshed and varied fortunes the nobility retained the upper hand. In the time of Cæsar and Pompey these troubles were revived, Cæsar placing himself at the head of the party of Marius, and Pompey upholding that of Sylla; conflicts of arms ensued, and Cæsar remained master and became the first tyrant of Rome, so that that city never afterwards recovered her liberty.
Such was the beginning and the end of the agrarian law. And as I have demonstrated elsewhere that the differences between the Senate and the people had been instrumental in preserving liberty in Rome, because they had given rise to the enactment of laws favorable to liberty, therefore the results of this agrarian law may seem in contradiction with that previous conclusion. But I do not on that account change my opinion, for the ambition of the nobles is so great, that, if it is not repressed by various ways and means in any city, it will quickly bring that city to ruin. So that if the contentions about the agrarian law needed three hundred years to bring Rome to a state of servitude, she would have been brought there much quicker if the people, by these laws and other means, had not for so great a length of time kept the ambition of the nobles in check. This shows us also how much more people value riches than honors; for the Roman nobility always yielded to the people without serious difficulties in the matter of honors, but when it came to a question of property, then they resisted with so much pertinacity that the people, to satisfy their thirst for riches, resorted to the above-described extraordinary proceedings. The chief promoters of these disorders were the Gracchi, whose intentions in this matter were more praiseworthy than their prudence. For to attempt to eradicate an abuse that has grown up in a republic by the enactment of retrospective laws, is a most inconsiderate proceeding, and (as we have amply discussed above) only serves to accelerate the fatal results which the abuse tends to bring about; but by temporizing, the end will either be delayed, or the evil will exhaust itself before it attains that end.
The prevalence of a terrible pestilence in Rome made the Volscians and Equeans think the moment favorable for attacking her. They therefore raised a powerful army, and assailed the Latins and Ernicians, who seeing their country ravaged felt constrained to notify the Romans, so that they might come to their defence; but they, being afflicted by the pestilence, replied to the application of the Latins and Ernicians that they must defend themselves with their own armies, as they were not then in condition to aid them. In this we recognize the sagacity as well as the generosity of the Roman Senate, who, although it was their policy under all circumstances to remain the chief source for directing the resolves and actions of their subjects, yet they were never ashamed when necessity obliged them to adopt a course different from their usual custom, or at variance with previous resolutions. I say this, because on other occasions the same Senate had forbidden those same people to arm and defend themselves; so that to a less sagacious Senate it would have seemed a lowering of their dignity now to concede to these people the privilege of their own defence. But this Senate always judged things as they ought to be judged, and always took the least objectionable course as the best. They well knew the evil of not being able to defend their subjects, and of allowing them to arm and defend themselves without the assistance of the Romans, for the reason given, and for many others that are easily understood; nevertheless, knowing that the Latins and Ernicians would have armed themselves anyhow from necessity, the enemy being upon them, they took the honorable course, and decided that what these people would have been obliged to do anyhow should be done with their sanction; so that, having once disobeyed from necessity, they might not accustom themselves to disobeying from choice.
And although this would seem the proper course for every republic to have pursued under the circumstances, yet feeble and ill-advised republics would never have known how to do it, nor how to gain honor to themselves from an occasion of necessity. The Duke Valentino had taken Faenza, and forced Bologna to submit to his terms; wishing after that to return to Rome by way of Tuscany, he sent a messenger to Florence to ask permission for the passage of himself and his army through their territory. The authorities of Florence held a consultation as to what they should do under the circumstances, but no one advised granting the permission; in which respect they did not follow the Roman policy. For as the Duke had a very strong army, and the Florentines being almost without troops, so that they could not have prevented him from passing, it would have been much more to their credit and honor if the Duke had passed with their permission rather than by force; as it was, they had nothing but shame, which would have been greatly less if they had acted differently. But it is the worst fault of feeble republics to be irresolute, so that whatever part they take is dictated by force; and if any good results from it, it is caused less by their sagacity than by their necessity. I will cite two other instances of this which occurred in our time, and in our own city of Florence.
In the year 1500, when King Louis XII. of France had retaken Milan he was anxious to restore Pisa to the Florentines, so as to receive the fifty thousand ducats that had been promised him for such restitution. He sent his army towards Pisa under command of M. de Beaumont, who, although French, was yet a man in whom the Florentines had great confidence. This general placed his army between Cascina and Pisa, with the view of assailing the walls of the latter city; but after having been a few days engaged in making preparations for the assault, the Pisans sent a deputation to him with offers to give up the city to the French army, on condition that he should pledge himself in the king’s name not to hand over the city to the Florentines until four months after the surrender. The Florentines wholly refused to assent to such an arrangement, and the consequence was that, after having commenced the siege, M. de Beaumont was obliged to raise it and retire with shame. This refusal on the part of the Florentines had no other cause than their mistrust of the king of France, into whose hands they had been obliged to place themselves in consequence of their own irresoluteness; and in thus not trusting him, they lost sight of the fact, that it would have been much easier for the king to have restored Pisa to them after once being inside of the city, and had he then not given it up to them, he would openly have exposed his perfidy; but not having the city, he could only make them a promise of it, which promise they had to purchase of him. It would therefore have been much more to their advantage to have consented to M. de Beaumont’s taking Pisa under any pledge, as was proved by subsequent experience in the year 1502.
When Arezzo revolted, the king of France sent to the aid of the Florentines the Signor Imbault, with a body of French troops. Very soon after arriving near Arezzo he began to negotiate with the Aretines as to terms of surrender; these were willing to give up the place on certain pledges, similar to those asked by the Pisans. The proposition was rejected in Florence; and when this became known to the Signor Imbault, he concluded that the Florentines little understood their interests, and took upon himself to conclude the negotiations of surrender without the participation of the Florentine commissioners; and accordingly he entered Arezzo with his troops, giving the Florentines to understand that they were fools and did not understand the ways of the world, and that, if they wanted Arezzo, they should let the king know it, who was much better able to give it to them with his troops inside of that city than when they were outside of it. There was no end to the abuse heaped upon the Signor Imbault by the Florentines, until at last they found out that, if M. de Beaumont had acted in a similar manner, they would have had Pisa as they had Arezzo.
And so, to return to our subject, irresolute republics never take a wise course except by force; for their weakness never allows them to resolve upon anything where there is a doubt; and if that doubt is not overcome by some force, they remain forever in a state of suspense.
Whoever considers the past and the present will readily observe that all cities and all peoples are and ever have been animated by the same desires and the same passions; so that it is easy, by diligent study of the past, to foresee what is likely to happen in the future in any republic, and to apply those remedies that were used by the ancients, or, not finding any that were employed by them, to devise new ones from the similarity of the events. But as such considerations are neglected or not understood by most of those who read, or, if understood by these, are unknown by those who govern, it follows that the same troubles generally recur in all republics.
The city of Florence, having after the year 1494 lost a portion of her dominions, such as Pisa and other places, was obliged to make war upon him who held these places; and as he was powerful, they expended great sums of money without any advantage. These large expenditures necessitated heavy taxes, and these caused infinite complaints from the people; and as the war was conducted by a council composed of ten citizens who were called “the Ten of the War,” the mass of the people began to hold them in aversion, as being the cause of the war and its expenses, and began to persuade themselves that, if this council were done away with, the war would also be ended. Thus when the time came for reappointing the Ten, they allowed their term to expire without renewing the council, and committed their functions to the Signoria. This course was the more pernicious, as it not only did not relieve them of the war, as the people had persuaded themselves that it would, but it removed the men who had conducted it with prudence, and produced altogether such disorder, that they lost, besides Pisa, Arezzo and many other places; so that the people, perceiving the error they had committed, and that the cause of the evil was the fever and not the physician, re-established the Council of Ten.
A similar ill-feeling had arisen in Rome against the Consuls; for the people, seeing one war growing out of another, and that there was no prospect of repose for them, instead of charging the cause of these wars, as they should have done, upon the ambition of their neighbors who sought to overwhelm them, attributed it to the ambition of the nobles, who, unable to oppress the people within the city of Rome where they were defended by the Tribunes, wished to lead the people outside of Rome, where, being without any support or protection, they could oppress them at will. And therefore they thought that it would be necessary either to remove the Consuls altogether, or to regulate their power in such manner that they should have no authority over the people either at home or abroad. The first who attempted to introduce such a law was one of the Tribunes named Terentillus; he proposed the creation of a Council of Five to examine into the powers of the Consuls and to limit it. This greatly excited the nobles, to whom it seemed as though the very majesty of the empire would thereby be annihilated, and that the nobility would lose all rank in the republic. Nevertheless, such was the obstinacy of the Tribunes that the consular dignity was abolished; and after some other regulations it was finally resolved rather to create Tribunes with consular powers, than to continue the Consuls, so great was their aversion to that office and authority. And this system was continued for a long time, until they saw the error they had committed, and re-established the Consuls; just as in Florence they returned to the Council of Ten.
As I wish particularly to discuss the events that followed the creation of the Decemvirs in Rome, it seems to me not superfluous to narrate first all that happened in consequence of this creation, and afterwards to discuss the more notable points; many of which are well worthy of careful reflection by those who wish to maintain the liberty of a republic, as well as those who desire to suppress it. For we shall see in this discussion many errors committed by the Senate, as well as by the people, prejudicial to liberty; and many errors committed by Appius, chief of the Decemvirate detrimental to that tyranny which he intended to have established in Rome. After many contentions between the people and the nobles respecting the adoption of new laws in Rome, by which the liberty of the state should be firmly established, it was agreed to send Spurius Posthumus with two other citizens to Athens for copies of the laws which Solon had given to that city, so that they might model the new Roman laws upon those. After their return to Rome a commission had to be appointed for the examination and preparation of the new laws, and for this purpose ten citizens were chosen for one year, amongst whom was Appius Claudius, a sagacious but turbulent man. And in order that these might make such laws irrespective of any other authority, they suppressed all the other magistracies in Rome, and particularly the Tribunes and the Consuls; the appeal to the people was also suppressed, so that this new magistracy of ten became absolute masters of Rome. Appius very soon absorbed all the authority of his colleagues in himself by reason of his favor with the people; for he had made himself so popular by his manners, that it seemed a wonder how he could in so short a time have acquired, as it were, a new nature and a new spirit, having until then been regarded as a cruel persecutor of the people. The Ten bore themselves very civilly and modestly, having but ten lictors to walk before him whom they had elected to preside over them; and although they had absolute authority, yet, when they had occasion to punish a Roman citizen for homicide, they cited him before the people and made them judge him.
These Decemvirs wrote their laws upon ten tablets, and before finally confirming them exposed them in public, in order that they might be read and discussed by everybody, and that they might learn whether the laws were in any way defective, so that they might be amended before their final confirmation. Hereupon Appius caused a rumor to be circulated throughout Rome, that, if two more tablets were added to the ten, the laws would be still more perfect, so that this opinion, generally accredited, afforded the people the opportunity to reappoint the Ten for another year, of which they readily availed, partly because it relieved them from renominating Consuls, and partly because they hoped also to remain without Tribunes, who were the judges of their causes, as has been said above. When it was resolved, therefore, to reappoint the Ten, the whole nobility strove to obtain these honors, and amongst the foremost was Appius; and such was his urbanity towards the people in asking for it, that it began to excite suspicion amongst his colleagues, “for they could not possibly believe that there could be such spontaneous affability with so much natural arrogance and pride.” And as they feared to oppose him openly, they resolved to do it by artifice; and although he was the youngest of them all, they devolved upon him the authority to propose the future Ten to the people, believing that he would observe the practice of others to whom this confidence had been shown, and not propose himself, which was regarded in Rome as an improper and ignominious thing to do. “But he, in fact, converted the impediment into his opportunity,” and did not hesitate to nominate himself as the very first, to the astonishment and disgust of all the nobles; and then he nominated nine others to suit himself. This renewal of the Decemvirs for another year began to show to the people and the nobility the mistake they had made. For Appius “quickly put an end to his assumed character” and began to display his innate arrogance; and in the course of a few days he animated his colleagues with his own spirit, and, for the purpose of intimidating the people and the Senate, they employed, instead of twelve lictors, one hundred and twenty. For some days the fear was general, and very soon after they began to disregard the Senate and to beat the people; and if any of them had been maltreated by one Decemvir and appealed for redress to another, he was treated worse on that appeal than he had been in the first instance; so that the people, having become sensible of their error, began, full of affliction, to look for help to the nobles, “there to catch a breath of liberty where before they had feared servitude, to avoid which they had brought the republic to this condition.” To the nobles this affliction of the people was welcome, for they hoped that, “wearied of the existing state of things, they would themselves come to desire the re-establishment of the Consuls.” The last days of the year now had come, and the additional two tables of the laws were made, but not yet published. The Decemvirs took occasion thence to continue the exercise of their office, and began to use violence in order to retain the government, and to make the young nobles their satellites, upon whom they bestowed the possessions of those whom they condemned; “by which gifts these youths were corrupted, so as to prefer their own license to the general liberty.”
It happened at this time that the Sabines and Volscians began a war against the Romans; the apprehension of which made the Decemvirs sensible of the weakness of their government, for without the Senate they could not make war, and to assemble it seemed to them the loss of their authority. Compelled by necessity, however, they resolved upon doing so, and having assembled the Senate, many of the Senators, and particularly Valerius and Horatius, spoke strongly against the arrogance of the Ten; and their authority would have been entirely destroyed had it not been that the Senate, on account of the jealousy of the people, was unwilling to display its authority; thinking that, if the Decemvirs resigned their office voluntarily, the Tribunes of the people might possibly be re-established. They resolved, therefore, upon the war, and two armies were put into the field, commanded in part by the Decemvirs. Appius remained in Rome to conduct the government of the city; it was then that he became enamored of Virginia, and on his attempting to carry her off by force, her father Virginius killed her to save her from her ravisher. This provoked violent disturbances in Rome and in the army, who, having been joined by the people of Rome, marched to the Mons Sacer, where they remained until the Decemvirs abdicated their magistracy, and the Consuls and Tribunes were re-established, and Rome was restored to its ancient liberty and form of government.
Here we must note that the necessity of creating the tyranny of the Decemvirs in Rome arose from the same causes that generally produce tyrannies in cities; that is to say, the too great desire of the people to be free, and the equally too great desire of the nobles to dominate. And if the two parties do not agree to secure liberty by law, and either the one or the other throws all its influence in favor of one man, then a tyranny is the natural result. The people and the nobles of Rome agreed to create the Decemvirs, and to endow them with such great powers, from the desire which the one party had to destroy the consular office, and the other that of the Tribunes. Having created the Ten, it seemed to the people that Appius had come over to them and would aid them to keep the nobility down, and therefore they supported him. Now when a people goes so far as to commit the error of giving power to one man so that he may defeat those whom they hate, and if this man be shrewd, it will always end in his becoming their tyrant. For with the support of the people he will be enabled to destroy the nobility, and after these are crushed he will not fail in turn to crush the people; and by the time that they become sensible of their own enslavement, they will have no one to look to for succor. This is the course which all those have followed who have imposed tyrannies upon republics. And if Appius had done the same, his despotism would have had more vitality, and would not have been overthrown so quickly; but he did exactly the reverse, and could not have acted with more imprudence. For to hold his despotic authority he made himself the enemy of those who had given it to him, and who could have maintained him in it; and he equally made himself the friend of those who had in no way contributed to it, and who could do nothing to keep him in it; and he ruined those who were his friends, and sought to make those his friends who never could become so. For although it is the nature of the nobility to desire to dominate, yet those who have no share in such domination are the enemies of the tyrant, who can never win them all over to him, because of their extreme ambition and avarice, which are so great that the tyrant can never have riches and honors enough to bestow to satisfy them all. And thus Appius, in abandoning the people and allying himself with the nobles, committed a manifest error, both for the reasons above stated, and because, to hold a government by violence, it is necessary that the oppressor should be more powerful than the oppressed. Whence it is that those tyrants who have the masses for friends and the nobles for enemies are more secure in the possession of their power, because their despotism is sustained by a greater force than that of those who have the people for their enemies and the nobles for their friends. For with the support of the people his internal forces suffice to sustain him, as was the case with Nabis, the tyrant of Sparta, when he was assailed by all Greece and the Romans; he made sure of the few nobles, and having the people his friends he succeeded in defending himself by their aid, which he never would have been able to do had the people been hostile to him. But the internal forces of the other class, being but few in numbers, are insufficient to maintain him, and therefore it becomes necessary to look for support elsewhere; and this may be of three different kinds. One is to have a body guard composed of foreigners; another is to arm the people of the country, and have them serve in place of the people of the city; and the third is to form an alliance with powerful neighbors able to defend you. By carefully employing these means a tyrant may still be able to maintain himself, notwithstanding that the people are opposed to him. But Appius could not arm the country people for his support, the country and city of Rome being one and the same thing; and what he might have done he knew not how to do, and so his power was lost at the very outset. Both the Senate and the people of Rome committed the greatest errors in the creation of the Decemvirate; and although we have maintained, in speaking of the Dictator, that only self-constituted authorities, and never those created by the people, are dangerous to liberty, yet when the people do create a magistracy, they should do it in such a way that the magistrates should have some hesitation before they abuse their powers. But the people of Rome, instead of establishing checks to prevent the Decemvirs from employing their authority for evil, removed all control, and made the Ten the only magistracy in Rome; abrogating all the others, because of the excessive eagerness of the Senate to get rid of the Tribunes, and that of the people to destroy the consulate. This blinded them so that both contributed to provoke the disorders that resulted from the Decemvirate. “For,” as King Ferdinand said, “men often act like certain small birds of prey, who, prompted by their nature, pursue their victims so eagerly that they do not see the larger bird above them, ready to pounce down upon and kill them.”
This discourse, as we proposed in the beginning, will have shown the error which the Roman people committed in their efforts to save their liberty, as well as the error of Appius in attempting to seize despotic powers.
Besides the other errors committed by Appius in attempting to maintain his tyranny, that of changing too suddenly from one quality to the extreme opposite was of no little moment. Although his astuteness in deceiving the people by simulating to be of their party was well employed, and equally so the means he used to bring about the reappointment of the Ten, as well as his audacity in nominating himself, contrary to the expectations of the nobles, and in naming colleagues to suit his own purposes; yet it was very ill-judged in him suddenly to change his character, and from having been a friend of the people, all at once to show himself their enemy, – from being humane to become haughty, and from being easy of access to become difficult, – and to do this so suddenly and without excuse that everybody could see the falseness of his soul. For he who for a time has seemed good, and for purposes of his own wants to become bad, should do it gradually, and should seem to be brought to it by the force of circumstances; so that, before his changed nature deprives him of his former friends, he may have gained new ones, and that his authority may not be diminished by the change. Otherwise his deception will be discovered, and he will lose his friends and be ruined.
In connection with this matter of the Decemvirate, we should notice also how easily men are corrupted and become wicked, although originally good and well educated. This may be observed in those young nobles whom Appius had chosen for his followers, and who, for the small advantages they derived from it, became supporters of his tyranny; also in Quintus Fabius, one of the second Decemvirate, who, having been one of the best of men, but blinded by a little ambition and seduced by the villany of Appius, changed his good habits into the worst, and became like Appius himself. All this, if carefully studied by the legislators of republics and monarchies, will make them more prompt in restraining the passions of men, and depriving them of all hopes of being able to do wrong with impunity.
We will consider in this chapter how great a difference there is between an army that is well disposed, and which fights for its own glory, and one that is ill disposed, and has to fight only for the ambition of another; for whilst the Roman armies were habitually victorious under the Consuls, they were invariably beaten under the Decemvirs. This example in part explains the reasons of the uselessness of mercenary troops, who have nothing to make them fight but the small stipend they receive, which is not and cannot be sufficient to make them loyal, or so devoted as to be willing to die for you. For armies that have no such affection towards him for whom they fight as to make them his partisans, will never have bravery enough to resist an enemy who has the least courage. And as this love and devotion can only be found in your own subjects, it is necessary for the purpose of holding a government, or to maintain a republic or kingdom, to have your army composed of your own subjects, as will be seen to have been done by all those whose armies have achieved great successes. The Roman armies under the Decemvirs had the same courage as before, but they had not the same disposition, and therefore did not achieve the customary good results. But so soon as the rule of the Decemvirs had been destroyed, and the armies began again to fight as freemen, they became animated by their ancient spirit, and consequently their enterprises resulted happily, as of old.
The death of Virginia had caused the Roman people to retire, armed, to the Mons Sacer. The Senate sent ambassadors to them to ask by what authority they had abandoned their captains and retired to the mountains, and so highly was the authority of the Senate respected, that, the people being without a chief, no one dared to answer; as Titus Livius says, “not for want of plenty to say in reply, but because they lacked some one to make the answer for them”; which is a case in point showing the uselessness of a multitude without a head. Virginius perceived this difficulty, and by his order they appointed twenty military Tribunes to act as their chiefs, to answer for them and to confer with the Senate. They demanded that the Senators Valerius and Horatius should be sent to them, and that they would make known their will to them. But these Senators would not go until after the Ten had resigned their magistracy; after which, having arrived at the Mons Sacer, where the people were, these demanded of them the re-establishment of the Tribunes of the people, and that no magistrates should be appointed without an appeal to the people; and, furthermore, that all the Decemvirs should be delivered up to them, as they wanted to burn them alive. Valerius and Horatius approved of their first demands, but objected to the latter as impious, saying, “You condemn cruelty, and fall into the same crime yourselves”; and advised them to say nothing about the Decemvirs, as they themselves would see that their office and authority should be taken from them, and that the people afterwards would not lack opportunity to satisfy their vengeance. From this we plainly see the folly and imprudence of demanding a thing, and saying beforehand that it is intended to be used for evil; and that one should never show one’s intentions, but endeavor to obtain one’s desires anyhow. For it is enough to ask a man to give up his arms, without telling him that you intend killing him with them; after you have the arms in hand, then you can do your will with them.
The agreement between the Senate and the people having been carried into effect, and Rome restored to her ancient form of government, Virginius cited Appius before the people to defend his cause. He appeared accompanied by many nobles. Virginius insisted upon his being imprisoned, whereupon Appius loudly demanded to appeal to the people. Virginius maintained that he was unworthy of the privilege of that appeal, which he had himself destroyed, and not entitled to have for his defenders the very people whom he had offended. Appius replied that the people had no right to violate that appeal which they themselves had instituted with so much jealousy. But he was nevertheless incarcerated, and before the day of judgment came he committed suicide. And although the crimes of Appius merited the highest degree of punishment, yet it was inconsistent with a proper regard for liberty to violate the law, and especially one so recently made. For I think that there can be no worse example in a republic than to make a law and not to observe it; the more so when it is disregarded by the very parties who made it.
In the year 1494 Florence had reformed its government with the aid of Brother Girolamo Savonarola (whose writings exhibit so much learning, prudence, and courage); and amongst other provisions for the security of the citizens a law had been made which permitted an appeal to the people from the decisions which the Council of Eight and the Signoria might render in cases affecting the state, which had involved great discussions and difficulties in its passage. It happened that shortly after its confirmation five citizens were condemned to death by the Signoria on account of crimes against the state; and when these men wished to appeal to the people, they were not allowed to do so, in manifest disregard of the law. This occurrence did more than anything else to diminish the influence of Savonarola; for if the appeal was useful, then the law should have been observed, and if it was not useful, then it should never have been made. And this circumstance was the more remarked, as Brother Girolamo in his many subsequent preachings never condemned those who had broken the law, and rather excused the act in the manner of one unwilling to condemn what suited his purposes, yet unable to excuse it wholly. Having thus manifested his ambitious and partial spirit, it cost him his reputation and much trouble.
A government also does great wrong constantly to excite the resentment of its subjects by fresh injuries to this or that individual amongst them. This was the case after the Decemvirate, for all the Ten and many other citizens were at different times accused and condemned, so as to create the greatest alarm amongst the nobles, for it seemed as though these condemnations would never cease until the entire nobility should have been destroyed. All this would have produced the worst effects if the Tribune Marcus Duellius had not prevented it by issuing an edict that for the period of one year no one should be allowed to cite or accuse a Roman citizen, and this reassured the whole nobility. These examples show how dangerous it is for a republic or a prince to keep the minds of their subjects in a state of apprehension by pains and penalties constantly suspended over their heads. And certainly no more pernicious course could be pursued; for men who are kept in doubt and uncertainty as to their lives will resort to every kind of measure to secure themselves against danger, and will necessarily become more audacious and inclined to violent changes. It is important, therefore, either never to attack any one, or to inflict punishment by a single act of rigor, and afterwards to reassure the public mind by such acts as will restore calmness and confidence.
The people of Rome, having recovered their liberty, resumed their original rank in the state, and obtained even more influence than before by means of a number of laws that confirmed their power. It seemed reasonable, therefore, that Rome should now enjoy a period of quiet. But experience proved the contrary, for every day there were new dissensions and disorders. As Titus Livius has most judiciously given the causes that produced these, it seems to me proper to quote his own words, where he says: “The pride of the people or of the nobles always increased as the opposite party was humbled; when the people kept within proper bounds, the young nobles began to insult them, and the Tribunes could do little to prevent it, being themselves outraged. The nobles, on the other hand, although they felt that their young men were too insolent, yet, seeing that the restraints imposed by law could not be observed, preferred that they should be transgressed by their own party rather than by the people. And thus the desire of liberty caused one party to raise themselves in proportion as they oppressed the other. And it is the course of such movements that men, in attempting to avoid fear themselves, give others cause for fear; and the injuries which they ward off from themselves they inflict upon others, as though there were a necessity either to oppress or to be oppressed.” In this we see one of the modes in which republics are brought to ruin, and how men rise from one ambition to another; and we recognize the truth of the sentence which Sallust puts into the mouth of Cæsar, “that all evil examples have their origin in good beginnings.” The ambitious citizens of a republic seek in the first instance (as we have said above) to make themselves sure against the attacks, not only of individuals, but even of the magistrates. To enable them to do this, they seek to gain friends, either by apparently honest ways, or by assisting men with money, or by defending them against the powerful; and as this seems virtuous, almost everybody is readily deceived by it, and therefore no one opposes it, until the ambitious individual has, without hindrance, grown so powerful that private citzens fear him and the magistrates treat him with consideration. And when he has risen to that point, no one at the beginning having interfered with his greatness, it becomes in the end most dangerous to attempt to put him down, for the reasons I have given above when speaking of the danger of trying to abate an evil that has already attained a considerable growth in a city; so that in the end the matter is reduced to this, that you must endeavor to destroy the evil at the risk of sudden ruin, or, by allowing it to go on, submit to manifest servitude, unless the death of the individual or some other accident intervenes to rid the state of him. For when it has once come to that point that the citizens and the magistrates are afraid to offend him and his adherents, it will afterwards not require much effort on his part to make them render judgments and attack persons according to his will. For this reason republics should make it one of their aims to watch that none of their citizens should be allowed to do harm on pretence of doing good, and that no one should acquire an influence that would injure instead of promoting liberty; of which we shall speak more at length in another place.
The people of Rome, as has been related above, having become disgusted with the name of Consul, wanted either to have the Consuls chosen from amongst the plebeians, or that their powers should be limited. The nobility, unwilling to discredit the consular dignity by either of such changes, took a middle course, and consented that four Tribunes should be created, with consular powers, who might be taken either from the nobles or the plebeians. This satisfied the people, as it seemed to destroy the consulate, and to give them a share in the highest magistracy. This gave rise to a remarkable case; for when the election of these Tribunes came on, and the people might have elected all plebeians, they chose, instead, all from the patricians, whence Titus Livius says: “The result of this election teaches us how different minds are during the contentions for liberty and for honors, from what they are when they have to give an impartial judgment after the contest is over.” In examining whence this difference arises, I believe that it comes from this, that men are apt to deceive themselves upon general matters, but not so much so when they come to particulars. As a general thing, the Roman people believed themselves entitled to the consulate, being the majority in the city, and having to bear more of the dangers of war, and as it was the vigor of their arms that preserved the liberty of Rome and established its power. And (as I have said) as their desire seemed to them reasonable, they were resolved to obtain it by any means. But when they had to judge of the particular qualifications of their individual candidates, they discovered their unfitness, and therefore decided that not one of them was worthy of that dignity, to which as a body they considered themselves entitled. Thus ashamed of their own candidates, they had recourse to those whom they deemed worthy of the office. Titus Livius, naturally admiring this decision, says: “Where will you find nowadays this modesty and equity, this loftiness of soul, whch in those days pervaded the whole people?”
In corroboration of this example we may adduce another notable one which occurred in Capua, after Hannibal had defeated the Romans at Cannæ. Whilst all Italy rose up in consequence of this defeat, Capua still remained in a state of insubordination, because of the hatred that existed between the people and the Senate. Pacovius Calanus being at that time one of the supreme magistrates, and foreseeing the dangers that would result from the disorders in that city, resolved by means of the authority of his office to try and reconcile the people and the Senate; with this purpose he caused the Senate to be assembled, and stated to them the animosity which the people felt towards them, and the danger to which they were exposed of being massacred by them if the city were given up to Hannibal in consequence of the defeat of the Romans. He then added, that, if they would leave it to him to manage the matter, he would find means of restoring harmony between the two orders; but that, for this purpose, he would shut them up in their palace, and by seemingly putting them into the power of the people he would save them. The Senators yielded to his suggestion; whereupon Pacovius shut the Senate up in their palace, and then assembled the people and said to them that “the time had arrived when they might subdue the pride of the nobles and revenge themselves for the injuries received at their hands, and that he held the Senate shut up in their palace for this purpose. But believing that they would be unwilling to allow the city to be without a government, it would be necessary, before killing the old Senators, to choose new ones; and that therefore he had put the names of all the Senators into an urn, and would proceed to draw them in their presence, and that one after another those who were drawn should die, after their successors had been elected.” And when the first was drawn and his name proclaimed the people raised a great noise, calling him proud, arrogant, and cruel; but when Pacovius asked them to choose another in his place, the whole assembly became quiet, and after a little time one was named by the people; but at the mention of his name some began to whistle, some to laugh, some to speak ill of him in one way, and some in another; and thus, one after another, those that were named were pronounced by them unworthy of the senatorial dignity, so that Pacovius took occasion to speak to them as follows: “Since you are of the opinion that the city would fare ill without a Senate, and as you cannot agree upon the successors of the old Senators, it seems to me it would be well for you to become reconciled with the present Senate, for the fear to which they have been subjected has in great measure humbled them, and you will now find in them that humanity which you in vain look for elsewhere.” This suggestion prevailed, and a reconciliation between the two orders followed, and the people, when they came to act upon particulars, discovered the error into which they had fallen in looking at the subject in general.
After the expulsion in 1414 of the principal citizens from Florence, there being no regular government, but rather a certain ambitious license, so that things were going from worse to worse, many of the popular party, seeing the ruin of the city, and not comprehending the cause of it, attributed it to a few powerful citizens, who fomented these disorders so as to enable them to make a government to suit themselves, and to deprive them of their liberty. They went through the Loggia and public places speaking against those prominent citizens, and threatening that, if ever they should themselves become members of the Signoria, they would unveil their deceitful practices, and would punish them for it. It happened in several instances that these citizens did attain to the highest magistracy, and when they had risen to that place, and were enabled to see matters more closely, they discovered the real causes of the disorders, and the dangers that threatened the state, as well as the difficulty of remedying them. And seeing that the times, and not the men, caused the disorders, they promptly changed their opinions and actions, because the knowledge of things in particular had removed from their minds that delusion into which they had fallen by looking at things in general. So that those who at first had heard them speak whilst they were still private citizens, and afterwards saw them remain inactive when they had risen to the supreme magistracy, believed that this was caused, not by the real knowledge of things, but by their having been perverted and corrupted by the great. And as this happened with many, and repeatedly, it gave rise to a saying, “That these people have one mind in the public places, and another mind in the palace.” Reflecting now upon all that has been said, we see that the quickest way of opening the eyes of the people is to find the means of making them descend to particulars, seeing that to look at things only in a general way deceives them; as Pacovius did with regard to Capua and the Roman Senate. I believe also that we may conclude from it that no wise man should ever disregard the popular judgment upon particular matters, such as the distribution of honors and dignities; for in these things the people never deceive themselves, or, if they do, it is much less frequently than a small body would do, who had been especially charged with such distributions. Nor does it seem to me superfluous to show in the following chapter the course which the Senate took to deceive the people in the distributions that devolved upon them.
When the Roman Senate apprehended lest the Tribunes with consular powers should be taken from amongst the plebeians, they adopted one of the two following methods: either they caused the most distinguished and influential men of Rome to become candidates, or by suitable means they bribed some of the most sordid and ignoble to come forward as candidates at the same time with the better quality of plebeians, who usually asked for these offices. This latter course caused the people to be ashamed of bestowing them upon such candidates, and the former course made them ashamed to refuse them to such honorable citizens. All of which corroborates what I have maintained in the preceding chapter, that in general matters the people are apt to deceive themselves, but rarely in particulars.
The progress of the Roman republic demonstrates how difficult it is in the constitution of a republic to provide necessary laws for the maintenance of liberty; for notwithstanding the many laws established, first by Romulus, and afterwards by Numa, by Tullus Hostilius, and by Servius, and finally by the Decemvirs created for that purpose, yet fresh necessities constantly developed themselves in the management of the affairs of that city, which made it indispensable to enact new laws. This was the case when they instituted the Censorship, which was one of the most important provisions that helped to preserve the liberties of Rome, so long as liberty existed there. For the Censors being the supreme arbiters of the manners and customs of the Romans, they became the most potent instrument in retarding the progress of corruption in Rome. But it was a serious mistake to create these Censors for a term of five years, although it was corrected after a brief time by the prudence of the Dictator Mamercus, who by a new law reduced the term of office of that new magistracy to eighteen months; which so irritated the Censors then in office that they deprived Mamercus of the right of entrance into the Senate, which act was much blamed by the people as well as by the patricians. And as history does not inform us whether Mamercus had any remedy against this, we must assume either that history is defective upon this point, or that the Roman laws in that respect were not good; for it is not well that a republic should be constituted in such fashion that a citizen can be oppressed without recourse for having promulgated a law for the benefit of liberty.
But to return to our subject, I say that the institution of this new magistracy gives rise to the reflection, that if a city, which from its origin has enjoyed liberty but has of itself become corrupt, has great difficulties in devising good laws for the maintenance of liberty, it is not to be wondered at if a city that had its origin in servitude finds it, not only difficult, but actually impossible, ever to organize a government that will secure its liberty and tranquillity. This, as will be seen, was the case with the city of Florence, which from her first beginning had been subjected to the Roman Empire, and, having always existed under a foreign government, remained for a long time in this subject condition without ever attempting to free herself. And when afterwards the opportunity occurred for her to gain her liberty in a measure, she began by making a constitution that was a mixture of her old and bad institutions with new ones, and consequently could not be good. And thus she has gone on for the two hundred years of which we have any reliable account, without ever having a government that could really be called a republic. The difficulties which Florence experienced have ever been the same in those cities whose origin was similar to hers. And although Florence repeatedly gave ample authority, by public and free suffrage, to a few of her citizens to reform the government, yet these never organized it for the general good, but always with the view of benefiting their own party, which, instead of establishing order in the city, only tended to increase the disorders. And to illustrate my argument by some particular instance, I will observe that one of the most important points to be considered by him who wishes to establish a republic is the question in whose hands he shall place the power over the life and death of its citizens. The constitution of Rome was excellent upon this point, for there an appeal to the people was the ordinary practice, and when an important case occurred, where it would have been perilous to delay execution by such an appeal, they had recourse to the Dictator, who had the right of immediate execution; this, however, was resorted to only in cases of extreme necessity. But in Florence, and in other cities who like her had their origin in servitude, the power of life and death was lodged in the hands of a stranger, sent by the prince to exercise that power. When these cities afterwards became free, they left that power in the hands of a foreigner, whom they called “the Captain.” But the facility with which he could be corrupted by the powerful citizens made this a most pernicious system; and in the course of the mutations of their governments that system was changed, and a council of eight citizens was appointed to perform the functions of the Captain; which only made matters worse, for the reason which we have given elsewhere, that a tribunal of a few is always under the control of a few powerful citizens.
Venice knew well how to guard against such an abuse. There the Council of Ten had power to punish any citizen without appeal; but as this number would have been insufficient to punish the powerful, although they had the authority, they established the Council of Forty. Moreover the Council of the Pregadi (which is the highest council) had the power of capital punishment. So that where there was an occasion there was also not wanting a tribunal capable of keeping the most powerful in check. It is no wonder, then, – seeing that even in Rome, where the laws had been made by herself with the aid of her most sagacious citizens, every day fresh occasions arose that made it necessary to have new laws for the protection of liberty, – that in other cities whose beginnings were vicious such difficulties should present themselves as made a proper organization impossible.
When Quintius Cincinnatus and Julius Mentus were Consuls of Rome, a disagreement arose between them, which caused an interruption of all the public business of the state. When this came to the knowledge of the Senate, they advised the creation of a Dictator, who might do what the discord between the Consuls had prevented them from doing. But the Consuls, disagreeing upon every other matter, agreed only in this one thing, – not to appoint a Dictator. So that the Senate, having no alternative, had recourse to the assistance of the Tribunes, who together with the Senate forced the Consuls to obedience. Whence we should note, in the first instance, the usefulness of the tribunate, which served not only to restrain the violence of the nobles against the people, but also against each other; and, secondly, that the institutions of a city never should place it in the power of a few to interrupt all the important business of the republic. For instance, if you give to a council authority to distribute honors and offices, or devolve upon any magistracy the administration of a certain business, it is proper to impose upon them either the necessity of doing it under all circumstances, or to provide that, in case of their not doing it themselves, it can and shall be done by some one else; otherwise, the constitution would be defective upon this point, and likely to involve the state in great dangers, as we have seen would have been the case in Rome, if they could not have opposed the authority of the Tribunes to the obstinacy of the Consuls.
In the republic of Venice the Grand Council distributed the honors and the offices; it happened several times that this body, from discontent or some erroneous suggestions, did not appoint successors to the magistrates of the city or of the provinces. This caused the greatest possible disorders, for all of a sudden both the city and its subject provinces lacked their legitimate judges; nor could they obtain anything if the majority of the council was not either satisfied or deceived. And this inconvenience would have led to the worst consequences for the city, if the prudent citizens had not provided against it, by availing of the first convenient occasion to make a law that all the public functionaries in the city and in the provinces should never vacate their offices until their successors had been elected and were ready to fill their places. And thus they deprived the Grand Council of the power to expose the republic to great dangers by arresting all public business.
Prudent men make the best of circumstances in their actions, and, although constrained by necessity to a certain course, make it appear as if done from their own liberality. This discretion was wisely used by the Roman Senate when they resolved to pay the soldiery out of the public treasury, who before had been obliged to maintain themselves. But as the Senate perceived that war could not be carried on for a length of time in this manner, as they could neither lay siege to places nor move armies to a distance, and judging it necessary to be able to do both, they resolved to pay them from the public funds; yet they did it in such a manner as to gain credit for that to which necessity compelled them; and this favor was so acceptable to the populace that Rome was wild with joy, thinking it a great benefit, which they had never expected and would not have sought themselves. And although the Tribunes endeavored to expose this delusion, showing that it made the burden of the people heavier instead of easier, still they could not prevent its acceptance by the people. This burden was further increased by the manner in which the Senate levied the taxes, imposing the heaviest and largest upon the nobility, and requiring them to pay first of all.
We have seen in the preceding chapter how much credit the patricians gained with the people of Rome by the apparent benefit bestowed upon them, both by the pay granted to the soldiers as well as by the manner of distributing the imposts. If the nobility had understood how to maintain this feeling, all causes for further disturbances would have been removed, and the Tribunes would have lost the influence which they had over the people of Rome. For in truth there is no better nor easier mode in republics, and especially in such as are corrupt, for successfully opposing the ambition of any citizen, than to occupy in advance of him those ways by which he expects to attain the rank he aims at. If this mode had been employed by the adversaries of Cosimo de’ Medici, it would have been much better than to expel him from Florence; for if they had adopted his plan of favoring the people, they would have succeeded without any disturbances or violence in depriving him of the weapons which he himself employed with so much skill.
Pietro Soderini had obtained great influence in the city of Florence by no other means than by gaining the good will of the people, which gave him the reputation of being a great friend of liberty; it would have been a much easier and more honest way for those who envied his reputation and influence, as well as less hazardous for themselves and less injurious to the city, to have forestalled him in the ways by which he gained his power, rather than to oppose him in such manner as to involve in his destruction also the ruin of the whole republic. For if they had taken from his hands the weapon that gave him his strength, (which might easily have been done,) they could have opposed him boldly and without suspicion in all the councils and public assemblies. It may be said, perhaps, that if those citizens who hated Pietro committed an error in leaving him the means of gaining such influence with the people, Pietro himself erred in turn in not seizing in advance the means which his adversaries employed to make him feared as a dangerous man; which was excusable, however, in Soderini, as it would have been difficult for him to have done so, nor would it have been honest in him, for the means employed against him consisted merely in favoring the Medici. It was in that way that his enemies attacked and finally ruined him. Pietro could not therefore in honesty have adopted a course by which through his influence he would have destroyed that liberty of which he was considered the especial guardian. Such a change to the side of the Medici on the part of Soderini could not have been made suddenly, nor could it have been kept secret. And the very moment that it should have been discovered that he had become friendly to the Medici, he would have become suspect and odious to the people, and would thus have afforded his enemies much better opportunity for destroying him than they had had previously.
Before deciding upon any course, therefore, men should well consider the objections and dangers which it presents; and if its perils exceed its advantages, they should avoid it, even though it had been in accordance with their previous determination; for to do otherwise would expose them to a similar experience as that of Cicero, who, wishing to destroy the credit and power of Mark Antony, only increased it. For Antony, having been declared an enemy of the Senate, had collected a large army, composed in great part of soldiers who had served under Cæsar; Cicero wishing to withdraw these soldiers from him, advised the Senate to employ Octavian, and to send him with the army and the Consuls against Antony, alleging that so soon as the soldiers of Antony should hear the name of Octavian, the nephew of Cæsar, and who had himself called Cæsar, they would leave the former and join Octavian; and that Antony, thus bereft of support, would easily be crushed. But it resulted just the other way, for Antony managed to win Octavian over to himself, who, abandoning Cicero and the Senate, allied himself with the former, which brought about the complete ruin of the party of the patricians. This might easily have been foreseen, and therefore they should not have followed the advice of Cicero, but should have borne in mind the name and character of him who had vanquished his enemies with so much glory, and seized for himself the sovereignty of Rome; and then they might have known that they could not expect from his adherents anything favorable to liberty.
After the capture of the city of the Veienti, the Roman people became possessed of the idea that it would be advantageous for the city of Rome if one half of its inhabitants were to go and settle at Veii; arguing that, inasmuch as that city was rich in lands and houses and near to Rome, one half of the Roman citizens might thus enrich themselves without in any way disturbing by their proximity the public affairs of Rome. This project seemed to the Senate and the most sagacious men of Rome useless, and fraught with danger, so much so that they declared openly that they would rather suffer death than give their consent. When the subject came to be discussed, the people became so much excited against the Senate that it would have led to violence and bloodshed, had not the Senate sheltered itself behind some of the oldest and most esteemed citizens, the reverence for whom restrained the people from carrying their insolence farther. Here we have to note two things; first, that the people often, deceived by an illusive good, desire their own ruin, and, unless they are made sensible of the evil of the one and the benefit of the other course by some one in whom they have confidence, they will expose the republic to infinite peril and damage. And if it happens that the people have no confidence in any one, as sometimes will be the case when they have been deceived before by events or men, then it will inevitably lead to the ruin of the state. Dante says upon this point in his discourse “On Monarchy,” that the people often shout, “Life to our death, and death to our life!” It is this want of confidence on the part of the people that causes good measures to be often rejected in republics, as we have related above of the Venetians, who when attacked by so many enemies could not make up their minds to conciliate some of them by giving to them what they had taken from others; it was this that brought the war upon them, and caused the other powers to form a league against them before their final ruin.
If we consider now what is easy and what difficult to persuade a people to, we may make this distinction: either what you wish to persuade them to represents at first sight gain or loss, or it seems brave or cowardly. And if you propose to them anything that upon its face seems profitable and courageous, though there be really a loss concealed under it which may involve the ruin of the republic, the multitude will ever be most easily persuaded to it. But if the measure proposed seems doubtful and likely to cause loss, then it will be difficult to persuade the people to it, even though the benefit and welfare of the republic were concealed under it. All this is supported by numerous examples amongst the Romans as well as strangers, and both in modern and in ancient times.
It was this that produced the unfavorable opinion in Rome of Fabius Maximus, who could not persuade the people of Rome that it would be advantageous for that republic to proceed slowly with the war, and to bear the assaults of Hannibal without engaging in battle with him; because the Roman people considered this course as cowardly, and did not see the advantages that would be gained by it, and Fabius had not the faculty of demonstrating these to them. The people are apt to be so blinded upon questions of courage that, although the Roman people had committed the great error of giving authority to the commander of the cavalry of the army of Fabius to engage in battle contrary to the will of Fabius, so that the Roman camp would have been broken up but for the prudence of Fabius, which remedied the error; yet this experience did not suffice them, for they subsequently made Varro Consul, for no other reason than because he had proclaimed in all the streets and public places of Rome that, if only authority were given to him, he would cut Hannibal to pieces. This occasioned the battle and defeat of Cannæ, and almost caused the ruin of Rome. I will adduce another striking example upon this point. Hannibal had been eight or ten years in Italy, and had drenched the soil of the whole country with the blood of the Romans, when there presented himself before the Senate one M. Centenius Penula, a man of the vilest character, (although he had held some command in the militia,) and offered, if they would give him authority to collect an army of volunteers in whatever place in Italy he pleased, he would in the least possible time deliver Hannibal dead or alive into their hands. This proposition seemed most foolhardy to the Senate; nevertheless, fearing that, if they refused him and the proposition should afterwards become known to the people, it might give rise to disturbances or jealousy and ill feeling against the senatorial order, they acceded to the request of Penula, preferring to expose all who might follow him to the greatest danger, rather than run the risk of causing fresh discontents amongst the people; well knowing how readily they would accept such a proposition, and how difficult it would be to dissuade them from it. Centenius Penula therefore went with an unorganized and undisciplined crowd to find Hannibal, and no sooner did he meet him than himself and all his followers were routed and cut to pieces.
In the city of Athens in Greece, Nicias, one of the most wise and prudent of men, could not persuade the people that it would not be well for them to make war upon Sicily; and the Athenians resolved upon it, contrary to the advice of their wisest men, and the ruin of Athens was the consequence. When Scipio was made Consul, and wished to have the province of Africa, he promised to all the destruction of Carthage; and when the Senate declined to accord him that province, because of the adverse opinion of Fabius Maximus, he threatened to bring the matter before the people, well knowing that similar propositions always find favor with the people.
We may also cite on this point some examples drawn from the history of our own city of Florence. Messer Ercole Bentivogli, commander of the Florentine troops, and Antonio Giacomini, after having defeated Bartolommeo d’Alviano at San Vincenti, went to lay siege to Pisa, which enterprise was resolved upon by the people in consequence of the brave promises made by Messer Ercole, although many of the most prudent citizens objected, but could not prevent it, being carried away by the general will of the people, who relied upon the commander’s brilliant promises.
I say then that there is no easier way to ruin a republic, where the people have power, than to involve them in daring enterprises; for where the people have influence they will always be ready to engage in them, and no contrary opinion will prevent them. But if such enterprises cause the ruin of states, they still more frequently cause the ruin of the particular citizens who are placed at the head to conduct them. For when defeat comes, instead of the successes which the people expected, they charge it neither upon the ill fortune or incompetence of their leaders, but upon their wickedness and ignorance; and generally either kill, imprison, or exile them, as happened to many Carthaginian and Athenian generals. Their previous victories are of no advantage to them, for they are all cancelled by present defeat, as was the case with our Giacomini, who, in consequence of his failure to take Pisa, which the people expected, as he had promised it, fell into such disgrace with the people that, notwithstanding his previous good services, his life was saved only through the humanity of the authorities, who protected him against the people.
The second thing to note in connection with the subject of the preceding chapter is, that nothing is so apt to restrain an excited multitude as the reverence inspired by some grave and dignified man of authority who opposes them; and therefore it is not without reason that Virgil says: –
“And when they saw a man of grave aspect
And full of virtue and of years,
At once they all were hushed,
And, listening, stood with eager ears.”
Therefore whoever is at the head of an army, or whoever happens to be a magistrate in a city where sedition has broken out, should present himself before the multitude with all possible grace and dignity, and attired with all the insignia of his rank, so as to inspire the more respect. A few years since Florence was divided into two factions, who called themselves the Frateschi and the Arrabiati (madmen). On coming to arms, the Frateschi were beaten; amongst these was Paolantonio Soderini, a citizen then in high repute. During these disturbances the people went armed to his house with the intent of sacking it. Messer Francesco, his brother, then Bishop of Volterra, and now Cardinal, happened by chance to be in the house; and so soon as he heard the noise and saw the crowd, he dressed himself in his best garments, and over them he put his episcopal chasuble, and then went to meet the armed mob, and by the influence of his person and his words he stopped their further violence, which was much talked about and praised in the city for many days.
I conclude, then, that there is no better or safer way of appeasing an excited mob than the presence of some man of imposing appearance and highly respected. And to come back to the preceding text, we see with what obstinacy the Roman people had taken up the plan of going to Veii, because they deemed it advantageous and did not perceive the danger it involved; and how the discontent of the people, which had been excited by the opposition of the Senate to this project, would have led to violence, had not their fury been restrained by the most grave and reverend Senators.
Having sufficiently discussed the subject as to what is to be hoped and feared for states that are corrupt, it seems to me not amiss now to examine a resolution of the Senate of Rome in relation to the vow which Camillus had made, to give the tenth part of the booty taken from the Veienti to Apollo. These spoils having fallen into the hands of the Roman people, and there being no other way of having a correct account of it, the Roman Senate issued an edict that every one should bring to the public treasury one tenth part of the booty he had received. And although this decree was not carried into effect, the Senate having devised other ways and means for satisfying Apollo and the people, nevertheless we can see from that resolution how entirely the Senate trusted in the honesty of the people; and how confident they were that no one would fail to return exactly what had been ordered by that edict. And on the other hand we see how the people never for a moment thought of evading it in any way by giving less than what they ought to give, and how they preferred rather to relieve themselves of this imposition by open demonstrations of indignation. This example, together with the many others heretofore cited, proves how much probity and religion these people had, and how much good there was to be hoped for from them. And truly, where this probity does not exist, no good is to be expected, as in fact it is vain to look for anything good from those countries which we see nowadays so corrupt, as is the case above all others with Italy. France and Spain also have their share of corruption, and if we do not see so many disorders and troubles in those countries as is the case daily in Italy, it is not so much owing to the goodness of their people, in which they are greatly deficient, as to the fact that they have each a king who keeps them united not only by his virtue, but also by the institutions of those kingdoms, which are as yet preserved pure.
In Germany alone do we see that probity and religion still exist largely amongst the people, in consequence of which many republics exist there in the full enjoyment of liberty, observing their laws in such manner that no one from within or without could venture upon an attempt to master them. And in proof that the ancient virtue still prevails there in great part, I will cite an example similar to that given above of the Senate and people of Rome. When these republics have occasion to spend any considerable amount of money for public account, their magistrates or councils, who have authority in these matters, impose upon all the inhabitants a tax of one or two per cent of their possessions. When such a resolution has been passed according to the laws of the country, every citizen presents himself before the collectors of this impost, and, after having taken an oath to pay the just amount, deposits in a strong-box provided for the purpose the sum which according to his conscience he ought to pay, without any one’s witnessing what he pays. From this we may judge of the extent of the probity and religion that still exist amongst those people. And we must presume that every one pays the true amount, for if this were not the case the impost would not yield the amount intended according to the estimates based upon former impositions; the fraud would thus be discovered, and other means would be employed to collect the amount required. This honesty is the more to be admired as it is so very rare that it is found only in that country; and this results from two causes. The one is, that the Germans have no great commerce with their neighbors, few strangers coming amongst them, and they rarely visiting foreign countries, but being content to remain at home and to live on what their country produces, and to clothe themselves with the wool from their own flocks, which takes away all occasion for intimate intercourse with strangers and all opportunity of corruption. Thus they have been prevented from adopting either French, Spanish, or Italian customs, and these nations are the great corrupters of the world. The other cause is, that those republics which have thus preserved their political existence uncorrupted do not permit any of their citizens to be or to live in the manner of gentlemen, but rather maintain amongst them a perfect equality, and are the most decided enemies of the lords and gentlemen that exist in the country; so that, if by chance any of them fall into their hands, they kill them, as being the chief promoters of all corruption and troubles.
And to explain more clearly what is meant by the term gentlemen, I say that those are called gentlemen who live idly upon the proceeds of their extensive possessions, without devoting themselves to agriculture or any other useful pursuit to gain a living. Such men are pernicious to any country or republic; but more pernicious even than these are such as have, besides their other possessions, castles which they command, and subjects who obey them. This class of men abound in the kingdom of Naples, in the Roman territory, in the Romagna, and in Lombardy; whence it is that no republic has ever been able to exist in those countries, nor have they been able to preserve any regular political existence, for that class of men are everywhere enemies of all civil government. And to attempt the establishment of a republic in a country so constituted would be impossible. The only way to establish any kind of order there is to found a monarchical government; for where the body of the people is so thoroughly corrupt that the laws are powerless for restraint, it becomes necessary to establish some superior power which, with a royal hand, and with full and absolute powers, may put a curb upon the excessive ambition and corruption of the powerful. This is verified by the example of Tuscany, where in a comparatively small extent of territory there have for a long time existed three republics, Florence, Sienna, and Lucca; and although the other cities of this territory are in a measure subject to these, yet we see that in spirit and by their institutions they maintain, or attempt to maintain their liberty; all of which is due to the fact that there are in that country no lords possessing castles, and exceedingly few or no gentlemen. On the contrary, there is such a general equality that it would be easy for any man of sagacity, well versed in the ancient forms of civil government, to introduce a republic there; but the misfortunes of that country have been so great that up to the present time no man has arisen who has had the power and ability to do so.
We may then draw the following conclusion from what has been said: that if any one should wish to establish a republic in a country where there are many gentlemen, he will not succeed until he has destroyed them all; and whoever desires to establish a kingdom or principality where liberty and equality prevail, will equally fail, unless he withdraws from that general equality a number of the boldest and most ambitious spirits, and makes gentlemen of them, not merely in name but in fact, by giving to them castles and possessions, as well as money and subjects; so that surrounded by these he may be able to maintain his power, and that by his support they may satisfy their ambition, and the others may be constrained to submit to that yoke to which force alone has been able to subject them. And as in this way definite relations will be established between the ruler and his subjects, each will be maintained in their respective ranks. But to establish a republic in a country better adapted to a monarchy, or a monarchy where a republic would be more suitable, requires a man of rare genius and power, and therefore out of the many that have attempted it but few have succeeded; for the greatness of the enterprise frightens men so that they fail even in the very beginning. Perhaps the opinion which I have expressed, that a republic cannot be established where there are gentlemen may seem to be contradicted by the experience of the Venetian republic, in which none but gentlemen could attain to any rank or public employment. And yet this example is in no way opposed to my theory, for the gentlemen of Venice are so more in name than in fact; for they have no great revenues from estates, their riches being founded upon commerce and movable property, and moreover none of them have castles or jurisdiction over subjects, but the name of gentleman is only a title of dignity and respect, and is in no way based upon the things that gentlemen enjoy in other countries. And as all other republics have different classes under different names, so Venice is divided into gentlemen and commonalty, and the former have all the offices and honors, from which the latter are entirely excluded; and this distribution causes no disorders in that republic, for the reasons elsewhere given. Let republics, then, be established where equality exists, and, on the contrary, principalities where great inequality prevails; otherwise the governments will lack proper proportions and have but little durability.
Whence it comes I know not, but both ancient and modern instances prove that no great events ever occur in any city or country that have not been predicted by soothsayers, revelations, or by portents and other celestial signs. And not to go from home in proof of this, everybody knows how the descent into Italy of Charles VIII., king of France, was predicted by Brother Girolamo Savonarola; and how, besides this, it was said throughout Italy that at Arezzo there had been seen and heard in the air armed men fighting together. Moreover everybody remembers how, before the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici the elder, the highest pinnacle of the dome of Florence was struck by a bolt from heaven, doing great damage to that building. It is also well known how, before Pietro Soderini, who had been made Gonfaloniere for life, was expelled and deprived of his rank by the people of Florence, the palace itself was struck by lightning. Many more examples might be adduced, which I leave, however, lest I should become tedious. I will relate merely what, according to Titus Livius, happened before the coming of the Gauls to Rome. One Marcius Cædicius, a plebeian, reported to the Senate that, passing through the Via Nuova at midnight, he had heard a voice louder than that of any man which commanded him to notify the Senate that the Gauls were coming to Rome. To explain these things a man should have knowledge of things natural and supernatural, which I have not. It may be, however, as certain philosophers maintain, that the air is peopled with spirits, who by their superior intelligence foresee future events, and out of pity for mankind warn them by such signs, so that they may prepare against the coming evils. Be this as it may, however, the truth of the fact exists, that these portents are invariably followed by the most remarkable events.
After the ruin of their country by the invasion of the Gauls, many Romans had gone to live at Veii, contrary to the constitution and the orders of the Senate. To remedy this evil the Senate published an edict commanding every one to return within a given time to inhabit Rome, on pain of certain penalties. At first those against whom this edict was aimed made light of it and derided it, but when the prescribed time approached they all hastened to obey. Titus Livius says on this point, “From being brave and insolent as a body, fear made them individually obedient.” And truly nothing can better illustrate the character of a multitude than this example; for they are often audacious and loud in their denunciations of the decisions of their rulers, but when punishment stares them in the face, then, distrustful of each other, they rush to obey. Thus we see that whatever may be said of the good or evil disposition of the people is of little consequence, if you are well prepared to assert and maintain your authority should they be well disposed, and to defend yourself if their disposition be otherwise. This has reference specially to such evil dispositions as arise in the minds of the people from causes other than the loss of liberty, or that of a prince to whom they are much attached and who is still living; in such cases the most powerful remedies are required to restrain them, as these causes are more formidable than any others. But indispositions arising from other causes are easily controlled, especially if the multitude have no chief to whom they can look for support; for whilst on the one hand a loose mob without any leader is most formidable, yet on the other hand it is also most cowardly and feeble; and even if they are armed they will be easily subdued, if you can only shelter yourself against their first fury; for when their spirits are cooled down a little, and they see that they have all to return to their homes, they begin to mistrust themselves, and to think of their individual safety either by flight or submission. An excited multitude, therefore, that wishes to avoid such a result will have promptly to create a chief for itself, who shall direct and keep them united, and provide for their defence; as the Roman people did when, after the death of Virginia, they left Rome and appointed from amongst themselves twenty Tribunes for their protection. And unless they do this they will experience what Titus Livius has said in the above-quoted words, that united in one body they are brave and insolent, but when afterwards each begins to think of his own danger, they become cowardly and feeble.
Titus Livius as well as all other historians affirm that nothing is more uncertain and inconstant than the multitude; for it appears from what he relates of the actions of men, that in many instances the multitude, after having condemned a man to death, bitterly lamented it, and most earnestly wished him back. This was the case with the Roman people and Manlius Capitolinus, whom they had condemned to death and afterwards most earnestly desired him back, as our author says in the following words: “No sooner had they found out that they had nothing to fear from him, than they began to regret and to wish him back.” And elsewhere, when he relates the events that occurred in Syracuse after the death of Hieronymus, nephew of Hiero, he says: “It is the nature of the multitude either humbly to serve or insolently to dominate.” I know not whether, in undertaking to defend a cause against the accusations of all writers, I do not assume a task so hard and so beset with difficulties as to oblige me to abandon it with shame, or to go on with it at the risk of being weighed down by it. Be that as it may, however, I think, and ever shall think, that it cannot be wrong to defend one’s opinions with arguments founded upon reason, without employing force or authority.
I say, then, that individual men, and especially princes, may be charged with the same defects of which writers accuse the people; for whoever is not controlled by laws will commit the same errors as an unbridled multitude. This may easily be verified, for there have been and still are plenty of princes, and a few good and wise ones, such, I mean, as needed not the curb that controlled them. Amongst these, however, are not to be counted either the kings that lived in Egypt at that ancient period when that country was governed by laws, or those that arose in Sparta; neither such as are born in our day in France, for that country is more thoroughly regulated by laws than any other of which we have any knowledge in modern times. And those kings that arise under such constitutions are not to be classed amongst the number of those whose individual nature we have to consider, and see whether it resembles that of the people; but they should be compared with a people equally controlled by law as those kings were, and then we shall find in that multitude the same good qualities as in those kings, and we shall see that such a people neither obey with servility nor command with insolence. Such were the people of Rome, who, so long as that republic remained uncorrupted, neither obeyed basely nor ruled insolently, but rather held its rank honorably, supporting the laws and their magistrates. And when the unrighteous ambition of some noble made it necessary for them to rise up in self-defence, they did so, as in the case of Manlius, the Decemvirs, and others who attempted to oppress them; and so when the public good required them to obey the Dictators and Consuls, they promptly yielded obedience. And if the Roman people regretted Manlius Capitolinus after his death, it is not to be wondered at; for they regretted his virtues, which had been such that the remembrance of them filled every one with pity, and would have had the power to produce the same effect upon any prince; for all writers agree that virtue is to be admired and praised, even in one’s enemies. And if intense desire could have restored Manlius to life, the Roman people would nevertheless have pronounced the same judgment against him as they did the first time, when they took him from prison and condemned him to death. And so we have seen princes that were esteemed wise, who have caused persons to be put to death and afterwards regretted it deeply; such as Alexander the Great with regard to Clitus and other friends, and Herod with his wife Mariamne. But what our historian says of the character of the multitude does not apply to a people regulated by laws, as the Romans were, but to an unbridled multitude, such as the Syracusans; who committed all the excesses to which infuriated and unbridled men abandon themselves, as did Alexander the Great and Herod in the above-mentioned cases.
Therefore, the character of the people is not to be blamed any more than that of princes, for both alike are liable to err when they are without any control. Besides the examples already given, I could adduce numerous others from amongst the Roman Emperors and other tyrants and princes, who have displayed as much inconstancy and recklessness as any populace ever did. Contrary to the general opinion, then, which maintains that the people, when they govern, are inconsistent, unstable, and ungrateful, I conclude and affirm that these defects are not more natural to the people than they are to princes. To charge the people and princes equally with them may be the truth, but to except princes from them would be a great mistake. For a people that governs and is well regulated by laws will be stable, prudent, and grateful, as much so, and even more, according to my opinion, than a prince, although he be esteemed wise; and, on the other hand, a prince, freed from the restraints of the law, will be more ungrateful, inconstant, and imprudent than a people similarly situated. The difference in their conduct is not due to any difference in their nature (for that is the same, and if there be any difference for good, it is on the side of the people); but to the greater or less respect they have for the laws under which they respectively live. And whoever studies the Roman people will see that for four hundred years they have been haters of royalty, and lovers of the glory and common good of their country; and he will find any number of examples that will prove both the one and the other. And should any one allege the ingratitude which the Roman people displayed towards Scipio, I shall reply the same as I have said in another place on this subject, where I have demonstrated that the people are less ungrateful than princes. But as regards prudence and stability, I say that the people are more prudent and stable, and have better judgment than a prince; and it is not without good reason that it is said, “The voice of the people is the voice of God”; for we see popular opinion prognosticate events in such a wonderful manner that it would almost seem as if the people had some occult virtue, which enables them to foresee the good and the evil. As to the people’s capacity of judging of things, it is exceedingly rare that, when they hear two orators of equal talents advocate different measures, they do not decide in favor of the best of the two; which proves their ability to discern the truth of what they hear. And if occasionally they are misled in matters involving questions of courage or seeming utility, (as has been said above,) so is a prince also many times misled by his own passions, which are much greater than those of the people. We also see that in the election of their magistrates they make far better choice than princes; and no people will ever be persuaded to elect a man of infamous character and corrupt habits to any post of dignity, to which a prince is easily influenced in a thousand different ways. When we see a people take an aversion to anything, they persist in it for many centuries, which we never find to be the case with princes. Upon both these points the Roman people shall serve me as a proof, who in the many elections of Consuls and Tribunes had to regret only four times the choice they had made. The Roman people held the name of king in such detestation, as we have said, that no extent of services rendered by any of its citizens who attempted to usurp that title could save him from his merited punishment. We furthermore see the cities where the people are masters make the greatest progress in the least possible time, and much greater than such as have always been governed by princes; as was the case with Rome after the expulsion of the kings, and with Athens after they rid themselves of Pisistratus; and this can be attributed to no other cause than that the governments of the people are better than those of princes.
It would be useless to object to my opinion by referring to what our historian has said in the passages quoted above, and elsewhere; for if we compare the faults of a people with those of princes, as well as their respective good qualities, we shall find the people vastly superior in all that is good and glorious. And if princes show themselves superior in the making of laws, and in the forming of civil institutions and new statutes and ordinances, the people are superior in maintaining those institutions, laws, and ordinances, which certainly places them on a par with those who established them.
And finally to sum up this matter, I say that both governments of princes and of the people have lasted a long time, but both required to be regulated by laws. For a prince who knows no other control but his own will is like a madman, and a people that can do as it pleases will hardly be wise. If now we compare a prince who is controlled by laws, and a people that is untrammelled by them, we shall find more virtue in the people than in the prince; and if we compare them when both are freed from such control, we shall see that the people are guilty of fewer excesses than the prince, and that the errors of the people are of less importance, and therefore more easily remedied. For a licentious and mutinous people may easily be brought back to good conduct by the influence and persuasion of a good man, but an evil-minded prince is not amenable to such influences, and therefore there is no other remedy against him but cold steel. We may judge then from this of the relative defects of the one and the other; if words suffice to correct those of the people, whilst those of the prince can only be remedied by violence, no one can fail to see that where the greater remedy is required, there also the defects must be greater. The follies which a people commits at the moment of its greatest license are not what is most to be feared; it is not the immediate evil that may result from them that inspires apprehension, but the fact that such general confusion might afford the opportunity for a tyrant to seize the government. But with evil-disposed princes the contrary is the case; it is the immediate present that causes fear, and there is hope only in the future; for men will persuade themselves that the termination of his wicked life may give them a chance of liberty. Thus we see the difference between the one and the other to be, that the one touches the present and the other the future. The excesses of the people are directed against those whom they suspect of interfering with the public good; whilst those of princes are against apprehended interference with their individual interests. The general prejudice against the people results from the fact that everybody can freely and fearlessly speak ill of them in mass, even whilst they are at the height of their power; but a prince can only be spoken of with the greatest circumspection and apprehension. And as the subject leads me to it, I deem it not amiss to examine in the following chapter whether alliances with a republic or with a prince are most to be trusted.
As it is of daily occurrence that princes or republics contract leagues or friendships with each other, or that in like manner treaties and alliances are formed between a republic and a prince, it seems to me proper to examine whose faith is most constant and most to be relied upon, that of a republic or that of a prince. In examining the whole subject I believe that in many instances they are equal, but that in others there is a difference; and I believe, moreover, that agreements which are the result of force will no more be observed by a prince than by a republic, and, where either the one or the other is apprehensive of losing their state, that to save it both will break their faith and be guilty of ingratitude. Demetrius, called the Conqueror of Cities, had conferred infinite benefits upon the Athenians. It happened that, having been defeated by his enemies, he took refuge in Athens as a city that was friendly to him, and which he had laid under obligations; but the Athenians refused to receive him, which gave Demetrius more pain than the loss of his men and the destruction of his army. Pompey, after his defeat by Cæsar in Thessaly, took refuge in Egypt with Ptolemy, whom on a former occasion he had reinstated in his kingdom, but was treacherously put to death by him. Both these instances are attributable to the same reasons; yet we see that the republic acted with more humanity and inflicted less injury than the prince. Wherever fear dominates, there we shall find equal want of faith in both, although the same influence may cause either a prince or a republic to keep faith at the risk of ruin. For it may well happen that the prince is the ally of some powerful potentate, who for the moment may not be able to assist him, but who, the prince may hope, will be able to reinstate him in his possessions; or he may believe that, having acted as his partisan, his powerful ally will make no treaties or alliances with his enemies. Such was the fate of those princes of the kingdom of Naples who adhered to the French party. And with regard to republics this occurred with Saguntum in Spain, which hazarded her own safety for the sake of adhering to the Roman party; and with Florence when in the year 1512 she followed the fortune of the French. Taking all things together now, I believe that in such cases which involve imminent peril there will be found somewhat more of stability in republics than in princes. For even if the republics were inspired by the same feelings and intentions as the princes, yet the fact of their movements being slower will make them take more time in forming resolutions, and therefore they will less promptly break their faith.
Alliances are broken from considerations of interest; and in this respect republics are much more careful in the observance of treaties than princes. It would be easy to cite instances where princes for the smallest advantage have broken their faith, and where the greatest advantages have failed to induce republics to disregard theirs; as in the case of the proposal of Themistocles to the Athenians, when in a general assembly he told them that he had something to suggest that would be of greatest advantage to their country; but that it was of such a nature that he could not disclose it publicly without depriving them of the opportunity of availing of it. The people of Athens therefore appointed Aristides to whom Themistocles might communicate his suggestion, upon which they would decide according to the judgment of Aristides. Themistocles thereupon showed him that the fleet of united Greece, relying upon the treaty still in force, was in such position that they could easily make themselves masters of it or destroy it, which would make the Athenians arbiters of all Greece. Whereupon Aristides reported to the people that the proposed plan of Themistocles was highly advantageous but most dishonest, and therefore the people absolutely rejected it; which would not have been done by Philip of Macedon, nor many other princes, who would only have looked to the advantages, and who have gained more by their perfidy than by any other means.
I do not speak of the breaking of treaties because of an occasional non-observance, that being an ordinary matter; but I speak of the breaking of treaties from some extraordinary cause; and here I believe, from what has been said, that the people are less frequently guilty of this than princes, and are therefore more to be trusted.
We see from the course of history that the Roman republic, after the plebeians became entitled to the consulate, admitted all its citizens to this dignity without distinction of age or birth. In truth, age never formed a necessary qualification for public office; merit was the only consideration, whether found in young or old men. This is evidenced by the case of Valerius Corvinus, who was made Consul at twenty-three years of age; it was he who said to his soldiers that “the consulate was the reward of merit, and not of birth.” Upon this subject much may be said. As regards birth, that point was conceded from necessity, and the same necessity that existed in Rome will be felt in every republic that aims to achieve the same success as Rome; for men cannot be made to bear labor and privations without the inducement of a corresponding reward, nor can they be deprived of such hope of reward without danger. It was proper, therefore, that the people should at an early period have had the hope of obtaining the right to the consulate, and that they should nurse that hope for a while, without realizing it; and when after a while that hope no longer sufficed them, the reality had to be conceded to them. The state that does not admit its people to a share of its glory may treat them in its own way, as we have discussed elsewhere; but a state that wishes to undertake what Rome has done cannot make such a distinction.
And admitting that this may be so with regard to birth, then the question of age is necessarily also disposed of; for in electing a young man to an office which demands the prudence of an old man, it is necessary, if the election rests with the people, that he should have made himself worthy of that distinction by some extraordinary action. And when a young man has so much merit as to have distinguished himself by some notable action, it would be a great loss for the state not to be able to avail of his talents and services; and that he should have to wait until old age has robbed him of that vigor of mind and activity of which the state might have the benefit in his earlier age, as Rome had of Valerius Corvinus, of Scipio, of Pompey, and of many others who had the honors of triumph when very young men.