At the very time when this was going on in the senate, Canuleius delivered the following speech in defence of his laws and in opposition to the consuls:
‘I fancy, Quirites, that I have often noticed in the past how greatly the patricians despise you, how unworthy they deem you to live in the same City, within the same walls, as they.
Now, however, it is perfectly obvious, seeing how bitter an opposition they have raised to our proposed laws. For what is our purpose in framing them except to remind them that we are their fellow-citizens, and though we do not possess the same power, we still inhabit the same country?
In one of these laws we demand the right of intermarriage, a right usually granted to neighbours and foreigners-indeed we have granted citizenship, which is more than intermarriage,
even to a conquered enemy-in the other we are bringing forward nothing new, but simply demanding back what belongs to the people and claiming that the Roman people should confer its honours on whom it will.
What possible reason is there why they should embroil heaven and earth, why recently in the Senate-house I was on the point of being subjected to personal violence, why they declare they will not keep their hands off, and threaten to attack our inviolable authority?
Will this City be no longer able to stand, is our dominion at an end, if a free vote is allowed to the Roman people so that they may entrust the consulship to whomsoever they will, and no plebeian may be shut out from the hope of attaining the highest honour if only he be worthy of the highest honour?
Does the phrase ‘Let no plebeian be made consul’ mean just the same as ‘No slave or freedman shall be consul’? Do you ever realise in what contempt you are living? They would rob you of your share in this daylight, if they could.
They are indignant because you breathe and utter speech and wear the form of men. Why! Heaven forgive me, they actually say that it would be an act of impiety for a plebeian to be made consul! Though we are not allowed access to the ‘Fasti
’ or the records of the pontiffs, do we not, pray, know what every stranger knows, that the consuls have simply taken the place of the kings, and possess no right or privilege which was not previously vested in the kings?
I suppose you have never heard tell that Numa Pompilius, who was not only no patrician but not even a Roman citizen, was summoned from the land of the Sabines, and after being accepted by the people and confirmed by the senate, reigned as king of Rome?
Or that, after him, L. Tarquinius, who belonged to no Roman house, not even to an Italian one, being the son of Demaratus of Corinth, who had settled in Tarquinii, was made king while the sons of Ancus were still alive?
Or that, after him again, Servius Tullius, the illegitimate son of a female slave captured at Corniculum, gained the crown by sheer merit and ability? Why need I mention the Sabine Titus Tatius, with whom Romulus himself, the Father of the City, shared his throne?
As long as no class of person in which conspicuous merit appeared was rejected, the Roman dominion grew. Are you then to regard a plebeian consul with disgust, when our ancestors showed no aversion to strangers as their kings?
Not even after the expulsion of the kings was the City closed to foreign merit. The Claudian house, at all events, who migrated from the Sabines, was received by us not only into citizenship, but even into the ranks of the patricians.
Shall a man who was an alien become a patrician and afterwards consul, and a Roman citizen, if he belongs to the plebs, be cut off from all hope of the consulship?
Do we believe that it is impossible for a plebeian to be brave and energetic and capable both in peace and war, or if there be such a man, are we not to allow him to touch the helm of the State;
are we to have, by preference, consuls like the decemvirs, those vilest of mortals-who, nevertheless, were all patricians-rather than men who resemble the best of the kings, new men though they were?’