After the two consuls had come forward into the Assembly, set speeches gave place to a personal altercation. The tribune asked why it was not right for a plebeian to be elected consul.
The consuls gave a reply which, though perhaps true, was an unfortunate one in view of the present controversy. They said, ‘Because no plebeian could have the auspices, and the reason why the decemvirs had put an end to intermarriage was to prevent the auspices from being vitiated through the uncertainty of descent.’
This bitterly exasperated the plebeians, for they believed that they were held incompetent to take the auspices because they were hateful to the immortal gods. As they had got a most energetic leader in their tribune and were supporting him with the utmost determination, the controversy ended in the defeat of the patricians.
They consented to the intermarriage law being passed, mainly in the belief that the tribunes would either abandon the struggle for plebeian consuls altogether, or would at least postpone it till after the war, and that the plebeians, contented with what they had gained, would be ready to enlist.
Owing to his victory over the patricians Canuleius was now immensely popular.
Fired by his example, the other tribunes fought with the utmost energy to secure the passing of their measure, and though the rumours of war became more serious every day they obstructed the enlistment.
As no business could be transacted in the senate owing to the intervention of the tribunes, the consuls held councils of the leaders at their own houses.
It was evident that they would have to yield the victory either to their foreign foes or to their own countrymen.
Valerius and Horatius were the only men of consular rank who did not attend these councils. C. Claudius was in favour of empowering the consuls to use armed force against the tribunes; the Quinctii, Cincinnatus and Capitolinus, were averse from bloodshed or injury to those whom in their treaty with the plebs they had agreed to hold inviolable.
The result of their deliberations was that they allowed tribunes of the soldiers with consular powers to be elected from the patricians and plebeians indiscriminately;
no change was made in the election of consuls. This arrangement satisfied the tribunes and it satisfied the plebs. Notice was published that an Assembly would be held for the election of three tribunes with consular powers.
No sooner was this announcement made than everybody who had ever acted or spoken as a fomenter of sedition, especially those who had been tribunes, came forward as candidates, and began to bustle about the Forum, canvassing for votes.
The patricians were at first deterred from seeking election, as in the exasperated mood of the plebeians they regarded their chances as hopeless, and they were disgusted at the prospect of having to hold office with these men. At last, under compulsion from their leaders, lest they should appear to have withdrawn from any share in the government, they consented to stand.
The result of the election showed that when men are contending for liberty and the right to hold office their feelings are different from what they are when the contest is over and they can form an unbiased judgment. The people were satisfied now that votes were allowed for plebeians, and they elected none but patricians.
Where in these days will you find in a single individual the moderation, fairness, and loftiness of mind which then characterised the people as a whole?