This determined language from the tribunes filled the patricians with speechless indignation and amazement.
It is stated that Appius Claudius, a grandson of the old decemvir, moved by feelings of anger and hatred more than by any hope of turning them from their purpose, came forward and spoke to the following effect:
‘It would be nothing new or surprising to me, Quirites, to hear once more the reproach that has always been levelled against our family by revolutionary tribunes, namely, that from the very beginning we have never regarded anything in the State as more important than the honour and dignity of the patricians, and that we have always been inimical to the interests of the plebs.
The former of these charges I do not deny. I acknowledge that from the day when we were admitted into the State and into the senate we have laboured most assiduously in order that the greatness of those houses amongst which it was your will that we should be numbered might be said in all truth to have been enhanced rather than impaired.
In reply to the second charge, I would go so far as to assert, on my own behalf and on that of my ancestors, that neither as individuals nor in our capacity as magistrates have we ever done anything knowingly which was against the interests of the plebs, unless any one should suppose that what is done on behalf of the State as a whole is necessarily injurious to the plebs as though they were living in another city; nor can any act or word of ours be truthfully brought up as opposed to your real welfare, though some may have been opposed to your wishes.
Even if I did not belong to the Claudian house and had no patrician blood in my veins, but more simply one of the Quirites, knowing only that I was sprung from free-born parents and was living in a free State —even
then, could I keep silence when I see that this L. Sextius, this C. Licinius, tribunes for life —good heavens! — have reached such a pitch of impudence during the nine years of their reign that they are refusing to allow you to vote as you please in the elections and in the enacting of laws?’
‘On one condition,’ they say, ‘you shall reappoint us tribunes for the tenth time.’ What is this but saying, ‘What others seek we so thoroughly despise that we will not accept it without a heavy premium’?
But what premium have we to pay that we may always have you as tribunes of the plebs? ‘That you adopt all our measures en bloc, whether you agree with them or not, whether they are useful or the reverse.’
‘Now I ask you —you Tarquinian tribunes 1
of the plebs —to listen to me. Suppose that I, as a citizen, call out from the middle of the Assembly, ‘Allow us, with your kind permission, to choose out of these proposed measures what we think beneficial for us and reject the
others.’ ‘No,’ he says, ‘you will not be allowed to do so. You would pass the measure about usury and the one about the distribution of land, for these concern you all; but you would not allow the City of Rome to witness the portentous sight of L. Sextius and C. Licinius as consuls, a prospect you regard with detestation and loathing. Either accept all, or I propose
none.’ Just as if a man were to place poison together with food before some one famished with hunger and bid him either abstain from what would support his life or mix with it what would bring death. If this were a free State, would not hundreds of voices have exclaimed, ‘Be gone with your tribuneships and proposals.’ What? If you
do not bring in reforms which it is to the people's advantage to adopt, is there no one else who
will? If any patrician, if even a Claudius whom they detest still more —were to say, ‘Either accept all, or I propose none,’ which of you, Quirites, would tolerate it? Will you never have more regard for measures than for
men? Will you always listen with approving ears to everything which your magistrate says and with hostile ears to whatever is said by any of us?’
‘His language is utterly unbecoming a citizen of a free
republic. Well, and what sort of a proposal is it, in heaven's name, that they are indignant with you for having rejected? One, Quirites, which quite matches his language. ‘I am proposing,’ he says, ‘that you shall not be allowed to appoint whom you please as
consuls.’ What else does his proposal mean? He is laying down the law that one consul at least shall be elected from the plebs, and is depriving you of the power of electing two
patricians. If there were to-day a war with Etruria such as when Porsena encamped on the Janiculum, or such as that in recent times with the Gauls, when everything round us except the Capitol and the Citadel were in the enemy's hands, and, in the press of such a war, L. Sextius were standing for the consulship with M. Furius Camillus and some other patrician, could you tolerate Sextius being quite certain of election and Camillus in danger of
defeat? Is this what you call an equal distribution of honours, when it is lawful for two plebeians to be made consuls, but not for two patricians; when one must necessarily be taken from the plebs, while it is open to reject every patrician? What is this comradeship, this equality of yours? Do you count it little to come into a share of what you have had no share in hitherto, unless whilst you are seeking to obtain the half you can carry off the
whole? He says, ‘I am afraid if it is left open for two patricians to be elected, you will never elect a plebeian.’ What is this but saying, ‘Because you would not of your own will elect unworthy persons, I will impose upon you the necessity of electing them against your
will’? What follows? That if only one plebeian is standing with two patricians he has not to thank the people for his election; he may say he was appointed by the law not by their vote.’