In reply to such peremptory language of the tribunes, when amazement at the insolence of their conduct and silence struck all the
rest of the patricians motionless, Appius Claudius Crassus, the grandson of the decemvir, is said to have stepped forward to refute their arguments, [urged on] more by hatred and anger than by hope [of succeeding], and to have spoken nearly to this effect:
"Romans, to me it would be neither new nor surprising, if I too on the present occasion were to hear that one charge, which has ever been advanced against our family by turbulent tribunes, that even from the beginning nothing in the state has been of more importance to the Claudian family than the dignity of the patricians; that they have ever resisted the interests of the commons.
Of which charges I neither deny nor object to the one, that we, since we have been admitted into the state and the patricians, have strenuously done our utmost, that the dignity of those families, among which ye were pleased that we should be, might be truly said rather to have been increased than diminished.
With respect to the other, in my own defence and that of my ancestors, I would venture to maintain, Romans, (unless any one may consider those things, which may be done for the [p. 442]
general good of the state, were injurious to the commons as if inhabitants of another city,) that we, neither in our private nor in our official capacity, ever knowingly did any thing which was intended to be detrimental to the commons;
and that no act nor word of ours can be mentioned with truth contrary to your interest (though some may have been contrary to your inclinations). Even though I were not of the Claudian family, nor descended from patrician blood, but an ordinary individual of the Roman citizens, who merely felt that I was descended from free-born parents, and that I lived in a free state, could I be silent on this matter:
that Lucius Sextius and Caius Licinius, perpetual tribunes, forsooth, have assumed such a stock of arrogance during the nine years in which they have reigned, as to refuse to allow you the free exercise of your suffrage either at the elections or in enacting laws.
On a certain condition, one of them says, ye shall re-elect us tribunes for the tenth time. What else is it, but saying, what others sue for, we disdain so thoroughly, that without some consideration we will not accept it?
But in the name of goodness, what is that consideration, for which we may always have you tribunes of the commons? that ye admit collectively all our measures, whether they please or displease, are profitable or unprofitable.
I beg you, Tarquinii, tribunes of the commons, suppose that I, an individual citizen, should call out in reply from the middle of the assembly, With your good leave be it permitted us to select out of these measures those which we deem to be beneficial to us; to reject the others.
It will not be permitted, he says. Must you enact concerning the interest of money and the lands, that which tends to the interest of you all; and must not this prodigy take place in the city of Rome, that of seeing Lucius Sextius and this Caius Licinius consuls, a thing which you loathe and abominate? Either admit all; or I propose none.
Just as if any one were to place poison and food together before any one who was oppressed with famine, and order him either to abstain from that which would sustain life, or to mix with it that which would cause death. Wherefore, if this state were free, would they not all in full assembly have replied to you, Begone hence with your tribuneships and your propositions? What? if you will not propose that which it is the interest of the people to accept, will there be no one who [p. 443]
will propose it?
If any patrician, if (what they desire to be still more invidious) any Claudius should say, Either accept all, or I propose nothing; which of you, Romans, would bear it?
Will ye never look at facts rather than persons? but always listen with partial ears to every thing which that officer will say, and with prejudiced ears to what may be said by any of us?
But, by Jove, their language is by no means becoming members of a republic. What! what sort is the measure, which they are indignant at its having been rejected by you? very like their language, Romans. I ask, he says, that it may not be lawful for you to elect, as consuls, such persons as ye may wish.
Does he require any thing else, who orders that one consul at least be elected from the commons; nor does he grant you the power of electing two patricians?
If there were wars at the present day, such as the Etrurian for instance, when Porsenna took the Janiculum, such as the Gallic war lately, when, except the Capitol and citadel, all these places were in possession of the enemy; and should Lucius Sextius stand candidate for the consulate with Marcus Furius or any other of the patricians: could ye endure that Sextius should be consul without any risk; that Camillus should run the risk of a repulse?
Is this allowing a community of honours, that it should be lawful that two plebeians, and not lawful that two patricians, be made consuls, and that it should be necessary that one be elected from among the commons, and lawful to pass by both of the patricians? what fellowship, what confederacy is that? Is it not sufficient, if you come in for a share of that in which you had no share hitherto, unless whilst suing for a part you seize on the whole?
I fear, he says, lest, if it be lawful that two patricians are to be elected, ye will elect no plebeian. What else is this but saying, Because ye will not of your own choice elect unworthy persons, I will impose on you the necessity of electing persons whom you do not wish?
What follows, but that if one plebeian stand candidate with two patricians, he owes no obligation to the people, and may say that he was appointed by the law, not by suffrages?