‘But, I may be told, no consul, since the expulsion of the kings, has ever been elected from the plebs. What then? Ought no innovation ever to be introduced; and because a thing has not yet been done-and in a new community there are many things which have not yet been done- ought they not to be done, even when they are advantageous?
In the reign of Romulus there were no pontiffs, no college of augurs; they were created by Numa Pompilius. There was no census in the State, no register of the centuries and classes; it was made by Servius Tullius.
There were never any consuls; when the kings had been expelled they were created. Neither the power nor the name of Dictator was in existence; it originated with the senate. There were no tribunes of the plebs, no aediles, no quaestors; it was decided that these offices should be created. Within the last ten years we appointed decemvirs to commit the laws to writing and then we abolished their office.
Who doubts that in a City built for all time and without any limits to its growth new authorities have to be established, new priesthoods, modifications in the rights and privileges of the houses as well as of individual citizens?
Was not this very prohibition of intermarriage between patricians and plebeians, which inflicts such serious injury on the commonwealth and such a gross injustice on the plebs, made by the decemvirs within these last few years?
Can there be a greater or more signal disgrace than for a part of the community to be held unworthy of intermarriage, as though contaminated? What is this but to suffer exile and banishment within the same walls? They are guarding against our becoming connected with them by affinity or relationship, against our blood being allied with theirs.
Why, most of you are descended from Albans and Sabines, and that nobility of yours you hold not by birth or blood, but by co-optation into the patrician ranks, having been selected for that honour either by the kings, or after their expulsion by the mandate of the people. If your nobility is tainted by union with us, could you not have kept it pure by private regulations, by not seeking brides from the plebs, and not suffering your sisters or daughters to marry outside your order?
No plebeian will offer violence to a patrician maiden, it is the patricians who indulge in those criminal practices.
None of us would have compelled any one to enter into a marriage contract against his will. But, really, that this should be prohibited by law and the intermarriage of patricians and plebeians made impossible is indeed insulting to the plebs.
Why do you not combine to forbid intermarriage between rich and poor? Everywhere and in all ages there has been an understanding that a woman might marry into any house in which she has been betrothed, and a man might marry from any house the woman to whom he has become engaged, and this understanding you are fettering by the manacles of a most insolent law, through which you may break up civil society and rend one State into two.
Why do you not enact a law that no plebeian shall live in the neighbourhood of a patrician, or go along the same road, or take his place at the same banquet, or stand in the same Forum? For, as a matter of fact, what difference is there, if a patrician marries a plebeian woman or a plebeian marries a patrician?
What rights are infringed, pray? Of course, the children follow the father. There is nothing that we are seeking in intermarriage with you, except that we may be reckoned amongst men and citizens; there is nothing for you to fight about, unless you delight in trying how far you can insult and degrade us.’