When the consular elections were now at hand, a report prevailed, that the Etrurians and Samnites were raising vast armies;
that the leaders of the Etrurians were, in all their assemblies, openly censured for not having procured the aid of the Gauls on any terms;
and the magistrates of the Samnites arraigned, for having opposed to the Romans an army destined to act against the Lucanians.
That, in consequence, the people were rising up in arms, with all their own strength and that of their allies combined; and that this affair seemed not likely to be terminated without a contest of much greater difficulty than the former.
Although the candidates for the consulship were men of illustrious characters, yet this alarming intelligence turned the thoughts of all on Quintus Fabius Maximus, who sought not the employment at first, and afterwards, when he discovered their wishes, even declined it.
“Why,” said he, “should they impose such a difficult task on him, who was now in the decline of life, and had passed through a full course of labours, and of the rewards of labour? Neither the vigour of his body, nor of his mind, remained the same; and he dreaded fortune herself, lest to some god she should seem too bountiful to him, and more constant than the course of human affairs allowed.
He had himself succeeded, in gradual succession, to the dignities of his seniors; and he beheld, with great satisfaction, others rising up to succeed to his glory. There was no scarcity at Rome, either of honours suited to men of the highest merit, or of men of eminent merit suited to the highest honours.”
This disinterested conduct, instead of repressing, increased, while in fact it justified their zeal.
But thinking that this ought to be checked by respect for the laws, he ordered that clause to be read aloud by which it was not lawful that the same person shall be re-elected consul within ten years.
The law was scarcely heard in consequence of the clamour; and the tribunes of the commons declared, that this “decree should be no impediment; for they would propose an order to the people, that he should be exempted from the obligation of the laws.” Still he persisted in his opposition, asking, “To what purpose were laws enacted, if they were eluded by the very persons who procured them?
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laws now,” he said, “instead of being rulers, were overruled.”
The people, nevertheless, proceeded to vote; and, according as each century was called in, it immediately named Fabius consul. Then at length, overcome by the universal wish of the state, he said, “Romans, may the gods approve your present, and all your future proceedings. But since, with respect to me, ye intend to act according to your own wills, let my interest find room with you, with respect to my colleague.
I earnestly request, that ye will place in the consulship with me Publius Decius; a man with whom I have already experienced the utmost harmony in our joint administration of that office; a man worthy of you, worthy of his father.”
The recommendation was deemed well founded, and all the remaining centuries voted Quintus Fabius and Publius Decius consuls. This year, great numbers were prosecuted by the aediles, for having in possession larger quantities of land than the state allowed; and hardly any were acquitted: by which means, a very great restraint was laid on exorbitant covetousness.