The consuls began to rouse the senate to take action against the tribunes, and at the same time the tribunes were getting up an agitation against the consuls. The consuls declared that the revolutionary proceedings of the tribunes could no longer be tolerated, matters had come to a crisis, there was a more bitter war going on at home than abroad.
This was not the fault of the plebs so much as of the senate, nor of the tribunes more than of the consuls. Those things in a State which attain the highest development are those which are encouraged by rewards;
it is thus that men become good citizens in times of peace, good soldiers in times of war.
In Rome the greatest rewards are won by seditious agitations, these have always brought honour to men both individually and in the mass. Those present should reflect upon the greatness and dignity of the senate as they had received it from their fathers, and consider what they were going to hand on to their children, in order that they might be able to feel pride in the extension and growth of its influence, as the plebs felt pride in theirs.
There was no final settlement in sight, nor would there be as long as agitators were honoured in proportion to the success of their agitation. What enormous questions had C. Canuleius raised!
He was advocating the breaking up of the houses, tampering with the auspices, both those of the State and those of individuals, so that nothing would be pure, nothing free from contamination, and in the effacing of all distinctions of rank, no one would know either himself or his kindred.
What other result would mixed marriages have except to make unions between patricians and plebeians almost like the promiscuous association of animals? The offspring of such marriages would not know whose blood flowed in his veins, what sacred rites he might perform; half of him patrician, half plebeian, he would not even be in harmony with himself. And as though it were a small matter for all things human and divine to be thrown into confusion, the disturbers of the people were now making an onslaught on the consulship.
At first the question of one consul being elected from the plebs was only mooted in private conversations, now a measure was brought forward giving the people power to elect consuls from either patricians or plebeians as they chose.
And there was no shadow of doubt that they would elect all the most dangerous revolutionaries in the plebs; the Canuleii and the Icilii would be consuls. Might Jupiter Optimus Maximus never allow a power truly royal in its majesty to sink so low! They would rather die a thousand deaths than suffer such an ignominy to be perpetrated.
Could their ancestors have divined that all their concessions only served to make the plebs more exacting, not more friendly, since their first success only emboldened them to make more and more urgent demands, it was quite certain that they would have gone any lengths in resistance sooner than allow these laws to be forced upon them.
Because a concession was once made in the matter of tribunes, it had been made again; there was no end to it. Tribunes of the plebs and the senate could not exist in the same State, either that office or this order (i.e. the nobility) must go. Their insolence and recklessness must be opposed, and better late than never.
Were they to be allowed with impunity to stir up our neighbours to war by sowing the seeds of discord and then prevent the State from arming in its defence against those whom they had stirred up, and after all but summoning the enemy not allow armies to be enrolled against the enemy?
Was Canuleius, forsooth, to have the audacity to give out before the senate that unless it was prepared to accept his conditions, like those of a conqueror, he would stop a levy being held? What else was that but threatening to betray his country and allowing it to be attacked and captured? What courage would his words inspire, not in the Roman plebs but in the Volscians and Aequi and Veientines!
Would they not hope, with Canuleius as their leader, to be able to scale the Capitol and the Citadel, if the tribunes, after stripping the senate of its rights and its authority, deprived it also of its courage? The consuls were ready to be their leaders against criminal citizens before they led them against the enemy in arms.