There appeared a favourable opportunity for making innovations on account of the immense load of debt, no alleviation of which evil the commons could hope for unless their own party were placed in the highest authority. To [bring about] that object [they saw] that they should exert themselves.
That the plebeians, by endeavouring and persevering, had already gained a step towards it, whence, if they struggled forward, they might reach the summit, and be on a level with the patricians, in honour as well as in merit.
For the present it was resolved that plebeian tribunes should be created, in which office they might open for themselves a way to other honours.
And Caius Licinius and Lucius Sextius, being elected tribunes, proposed laws all against the power of the patricians, and for the interests of the commons: one regarding the debt, that, whatever had been paid in interest being deduced from the principal, the remainder should be paid off in three years by equal instalments;
the other concerning the limitation of land, that no one should possess more than five hundred acres of land; a third, that there should be no election of military tribunes, and that one at least of the consuls should be elected from the commons; all matters of great importance, and such as could not be attained without [p. 435]
the greatest struggles.
A contest therefore for all those objects, of which there is ever an inordinate desire among men, viz. land, money, and honours, being now proposed, the patricians became terrified and dismayed, and finding no other remedy in their public and private consultations except the protest, which had been tried in many previous contests, they gained over their colleagues to oppose the bills of the tribunes.
When they saw the tribes summoned by Licinius and Sextius to announce their votes, surrounded by bands of patricians, they neither suffered the bills to be read, nor any other usual form for taking the votes of the commons to be gone through.
And now assemblies being frequently convened to no purpose, when the propositions were now considered as rejected; “It is very well,” says Sextius; "since it is determined that a protest should possess so much power, by that same weapon will we protect the people.
Come, patricians, proclaim an assembly for the election of military tribunes; I will take care that that word, I FORBID IT, which you listen to our colleagues chaunting with so much pleasure, shall not be very delightful to you.
Nor did the threats fall ineffectual: no elections were held, except those of aediles and plebeian tribunes. Licinius and Sextius, being re-elected plebeian tribunes, suffered not any curule magistrates to be appointed, and this total absence of magistrates continued in the city for the space of five years, the people re-electing the two tribunes, and these preventing the election of military tribunes.