Then both the tribunitian power and the liberty of the commons being firmly established, the tribunes now deeming it both safe and seasonable to attack individuals, single out Virginius as the first prosecutor and Appius as defendant.
When Virginius appointed a day for Appius, and Appius came down to the forum, accompanied by some young patricians, the memory of his most profligate exercise of power was instantly revived in the minds of all, as soon as they beheld himself and his satellites.
Then Virginius says, “Long speeches have been invented for matters of a doubtful nature. Accordingly I shall neither waste time in dwelling on the guilt of this man before you, from whose cruelty ye have rescued yourselves by force of arms, nor shall I suffer him to add impudence to his other enormous crimes in defending himself.
Wherefore, Appius Claudius, I remit to you the accumulated impious and nefarious deeds you have had the effrontery to commit for the last two years; with respect to one charge only, unless you will appoint a judge, (and prove) that you have not, contrary to the laws, sentenced a free person to be a slave, I order that you be taken into custody.”
Neither in the aid of the tribunes, nor in the judgment of the people, could Appius place any hope: still he both appealed to the tribunes, and, when no one regarded him, being seized by the bailiff, he exclaims, “I appeal.”
The hearing of this one expression, that safeguard of liberty, uttered from that mouth by which a free citizen was so recently consigned to slavery, occasioned general silence.
And, whilst they [p. 228]
observe to each other, that "at length there are gods, and that they do not disregard human affairs; and that punishments await tyranny and cruelty, which, though late, are still by no means light; that he now appealed, who had abolished all right of appeal;
and that he implored the protection of the people, who had trampled down all the rights of the people; and that he was dragged off to prison, destitute of the rights of liberty, who had doomed a free person to slavery. Amid the murmurs of the assembly, the voice of Appius was heard imploring the protection of the Roman people.
He enumerated the services of his ancestors to the state, at home and abroad; his own unfortunate zeal towards the Roman commons; that he had resigned the consulship, to the great displeasure of the patricians, for the purpose of equalizing the laws; (he then mentioned) his laws; which, though they still remained in force, the framer of them was dragged to a prison.
But the peculiar advantages and disadvantages of his case he would then make trial of, when an opportunity would be afforded him of stating his defence. At present, he, a Roman citizen, demanded, by the common right of citizenship, that he be allowed to speak on the day appointed, and to appeal to the judgment of the Roman people.
That he did not dread popular rage so much as not to place any hope in the equity and compassion of his fellow citizens. But if he were led to prison without being heard, that he once more appealed to the tribunes of the people, and warned them not to imitate those whom they hated.
But if the tribunes acknowledge themselves bound in the same confederacy for abolishing the right of appeal, which they charged the decemvirs with having formed, then he appealed to the people: he implored the benefit of the laws passed that very year, both by the consuls and tribunes, regarding the right of appeal.
For who would appeal, if this were not allowed a person as yet uncondemned, whose case has not been heard? what plebeian and humble individual would find protection in the laws, if Appius Claudius could not? that he would afford a proof, whether tyranny or liberty was established by the new laws; and whether the right of appeal and of challenge against the injustice of magistrates was only held out in empty words, or effectually granted.