They were denouncing these indignities in the ears of men, apprehensive for their own safety, who listened to them with stronger indignation than the men who were speaking felt.
They went on to assert that after all there would be no limit to the seizure of land by the patricians or the murder of the plebs by the deadly usury until the plebs
elected one of the consuls from their own ranks as a guardian of their liberties.
The tribunes of the plebs were now objects of contempt since their power was shattering itself by their own veto. There could be no fair or just administration as long as the executive power was in the hands of the other party, while they had only the right of protesting by their veto; nor would the plebs ever have an equal share in the government till the executive authority was thrown open to them; nor would it be enough, as some people might suppose, to allow plebeians to be voted for at the election of consuls.
Unless it was made obligatory for one consul at least to be chosen from the plebs, no plebeian would ever become consul. Had they forgotten that after they had decided that consular tribunes should be elected in preference to consuls in order that the highest office might be open to plebeians, not a single plebeian was elected consular tribune for four-andforty years?
What did they suppose? Did they imagine that the men who had been accustomed to fill all the eight places when consular tribunes were elected would of their own free will consent to share two places with the plebs, or that they would allow the path to the consulship to be opened when they had so long blocked the one to the consular tribuneship?
The people would have to secure by law what they could not gain by favour, and one of the two consulships would have to be placed beyond dispute as open to the plebs alone, for if it were open to a contest it would always be the prey of the stronger party.
The old, oft-repeated taunt could no longer be made now that there were no men amongst the plebs suitable for curule magistracies. Was the government carried on with less spirit and energy after the consulship of P. Licinius Calvus., who was the first plebeian to be elected to that post, than during the years when only patricians held the office?
Nay, on the contrary, there had been some cases of patricians being impeached after their year of office, but none of plebeians. The quaestors also, like the consular tribunes, had a few years previously begun to be elected from the plebs; in no single instance had the Roman people had any cause to regret those appointments.
The one thing that was left for the plebs to strive for was the consulship. That was the pillar, the stronghold of their liberties. If they arrived at that, the Roman people would realise that monarchy had been completely banished from the City, and that their freedom was securely established, for in that day everything in which the patricians were pre-eminent would come to the plebs —
power, dignity, military glory, the stamp of nobility; great things for themselves to enjoy, but greater still as legacies to their children.
When they saw that speeches of this kind were listened to with approval, they brought forward a fresh proposal, viz. that instead of the duumviri (the two keepers of the Sacred Books) a College of Ten should be formed, half of them plebeians and half patricians.
The meeting of the Assembly, which was to pass these measures, was adjourned till the return of the army which was besieging Velitrae.