The commons having espoused the interest of Volero, with great warmth choose him, at the next election, tribune of the people for that year, which had Lucius Pinarius and Publius Furius for consuls;
and, contrary to the opinion of all men, who thought that he would let loose his tribuneship in harassing the consuls of the preceding year, postponing private resentment to the public interest, without assailing the consuls even by a single word, he proposed a law to the people that plebeian magistrates should be elected at the comitia by tribes.
A matter of no trifling moment was now being brought forward, under an aspect at first sight by no means alarming; but one which in reality deprived the patricians of all power to elect whatever tribunes they pleased by the suffrages of their clients.
The patricians used all their energies in resisting this proposition, which was most pleasing to the commons; and though none of the college could be induce by the influence either of the consuls or of the chief member of the senate to enter a protest against it, the only means of resistance which now existed; yet the matter, important as it was by its own weight, is spun out by contention till the following year.
The commons re-elect Volero as tribune. The senators, considering that the question would be carried to the [p. 148]
very extreme of a struggle, elect to the consulate Appius Claudius, the son of Appius, who was both hated by and hated the commons, ever since the contests between them and his father.
Titus Quintius is assigned to him as his colleague. In the very commencement of the year no other question took precedence of that regarding the law.
But though Volero was the inventor of it, his colleague, Laetorius, was both a more recent abettor of it, as well as a more energetic one. Whilst Volero confined himself to the subject of the law, avoiding all abuse of the consuls, he commenced with accusing Appius and his family, as having ever been most overbearing and cruel towards the Roman commons, contending that he had been elected by the senators, not as consul, but as executioner, to harass and torture the people;
his rude tongue, he being a military man, was not sufficient to express the freedom of his sentiments.
Language therefore failing him, he says, “Romans, since I do not speak with as much readiness as I make good what I have spoken, attend here tomorrow. I will either die here before your eyes, or will carry the law.”
On the following day the tribunes take possession of the temple; the consuls and the nobility take their places in the assembly to obstruct the law. Laetorius orders all persons to be removed, except those going to vote; the young nobles kept their places, paying no regard to the officer; then Laetorius orders some of them to be seized.
The consul Appius insisted “that the tribune had no jurisdiction over any one except a plebeian; for that he was not a magistrate of the people in general, but only of the commons;
for that even he himself could not, according to the usage of their ancestors, by virtue of his authority remove any person; because the words run thus, if ye think proper, depart, Romans.
” He was able to disconcert Laetorius by arguing fluently and contemptuously concerning the right.
The tribune therefore, burning with rage, sends his beadle to the consul; the consul sends his lictor to the tribune, exclaiming that he was a private individual, without power and without magistracy;
and the tribune would have been roughly treated, had not both the entire assembly risen up with great warmth in behalf of the tribune against the consul, and a rush of persons belonging to the multitude, which was now much excited, taken place from the entire city into the forum.
Appius, however, withstood [p. 149]
so great a storm with obstinacy, and the contest would have ended in a battle, not without blood, had not Quintius, the other consul, after giving it in charge to the men of consular dignity to remove his colleague from the forum by force, if they could not do it otherwise, himself assuaged the enraged people by entreaties, and implored the tribunes to dismiss the assembly.
“That they should give their passion time to cool; that delay would not deprive them of their power, but would add prudence to strength; and that the senators would be under the control of the people, and the consul under that of the senators.”