This victory of the tribunes and the plebs very nearly led to a dangerous abuse of power. A secret understanding was come to amongst the tribunes that they should all be reappointed and to prevent their factious purpose from being too noticeable they were to secure a continuance of the consuls in office also.
They alleged as a reason the agreement of the senate to undermine the rights of the plebs by the slight they had cast on the consuls:
‘What,’ they argued, ‘would happen if, before the laws were yet securely established, the patricians should attack fresh tribunes through consuls belonging to their own party?
For the consuls would not always be men of the stamp of Valerius and Horatius, who subordinated their own interests to the liberty of the plebs.’
By a happy chance it fell to the lot of M. Duillius to preside over the elections.
He was a man of sagacity, and foresaw the obloquy that would be incurred by the continuance in office of the present magistrates. On his declaring that he would accept no votes for the former tribunes his colleagues insisted that he should either leave the tribes free to vote for whom they chose, or else resign the control of the elections to his colleagues who would conduct them according to law rather than at the will of the patricians.
As a contention had arisen, Duillius sent for the consuls and asked them what they intended to do about the consular elections. They replied that they should elect fresh consuls. Having thus gained popular supporters for a measure by no means popular, he proceeded in company with them into the Assembly.
Here the consuls were brought forward to the people and the question was put to them, ‘If the Roman people, remembering how you have recovered their liberty for them at home, remembering, too, your services and achievements in war, should make you consuls a second time, what do you intend to do?’
They declared their resolution unchanged, and Duillius, applauding the consuls for maintaining to the last an attitude totally unlike that of the decemvirs, proceeded to hold the election. Only five tribunes were elected, for owing to the efforts of the nine tribunes in openly pushing their canvass, the other candidates could not get the requisite majority of votes.
He dismissed the Assembly and did not hold a second election, on the ground that he had satisfied the requirements of the law, which nowhere fixed the number of tribunes, but merely enacted that the office of tribune should not be left vacant.
He ordered those who had been elected to co-opt colleagues, and recited the formula which governed the case as follows: ‘If I require you to elect ten tribunes of the plebs; if on this day you have elected less than ten, then those whom they co-opt shall be lawful tribunes of the plebs by the same law, in like manner as those whom you have this day made tribunes of the plebs.’
Duillius persisted in asserting to the last that the commonwealth could not possibly have fifteen tribunes, and he resigned office, after having won the goodwill of patricians and plebeians alike by his frustration of the ambitious designs of his colleagues.