Then came into the consulship Quintus Fabius a fifth time, and Publius Decius a fourth. They had been colleagues in the censorship, and twice in the consulship, and were celebrated
not more for their glorious achievements, splendid as these were, than for the unanimity which had ever subsisted between them.
The continuance of this feeling I am inclined to think was interrupted by a jarring between the [opposite] orders rather than between themselves; the patricians endeavouring [p. 659]
that Fabius should have Etruria for his province, without casting lots, and the plebeians insisting that Decius should bring the matter to the decision of lots.
There was certainly a contention in the senate, and the interest of Fabius being superior there, the business was brought before the people. Here, between military men who laid greater stress on deeds than on words, the debate was short.
Fabius said, “that it was unreasonable, after he had planted a tree, another should gather the fruit of it. He had opened the Ciminian forest, and made a way for the Roman arms, through passes until then impracticable. Why had they disturbed him, at that time of his life, if they intended to give the management of the war to another?”
Then, in the way of a gentle reproof, he observed, that “instead of an associate in command, he had chosen an adversary; and that Decius thought it too much that their unanimity should last through three consulates.”
Declaring, in fine, that “he desired nothing further, than that, if they thought him qualified for the command in the province, they should send him thither.
He had submitted to the judgment of the senate, and would now be governed by the authority of the people.” Publius Decius complained of injustice in the senate; and asserted, that “the patricians had laboured, as long as possible, to exclude the plebeians from all access to the higher honours;
and since merit, by its own intrinsic power, had prevailed so far, as that it should not, in any rank of men, be precluded from the attainment of honours, expedients were sought how not only
the suffrages of the people, but even the decisions of fortune may be rendered ineffectual, and be converted to the aggrandizement of a few.
All the consuls before him had disposed of the provinces by lots; now, the senate bestowed a province on Fabius without lots. If this was meant as a mark of honour, the merits of Fabius were so great towards the commonwealth, and towards
himself in particular, that he would gladly second the advancement of his reputation, provided only its splendour could be increased without reflecting dishonour on himself. But who did not see, that, when a war of difficulty and danger, and out of the ordinary course, was committed to only that one consul, the other would be considered as useless and insignificant.
Fabius gloried in his exploits performed in Etruria: Publius Decius wished for a like subject of glory, and perhaps [p. 660]
would utterly extinguish that fire, which the other left smother- ed, in such a manner that it often broke out anew, in sudden conflagrations.
In fine, honours and rewards he would concede to his colleague, out of respect to his age and dignified character: but when danger, when a vigorous struggle with an enemy was before them, he never did, nor ever would, willingly, give place.
With respect to the present dispute, this much he would gain at all events, that a business, appertaining to the jurisdiction of the people, should be determined by an order of that people, and not complimented away by the senate.
He prayed Jupiter, supremely good and great, and all the immortal gods, not to grant him an equal chance with his colleague, unless they intended to grant him equal ability and success, in the management of the war.
It was certainly in its nature reasonable, in the example salutary, and concerned the reputation of the Roman people, that the consuls should be men of such abilities, that under either of them a war with Etruria could be well managed.”
Fabius, after requesting of the people nothing else than that, before the tribes were called in to give their votes, they would hear the letters of the praetor Appius Claudius, written from Etruria, withdrew from the Comitium, and with no less unanimity of the people than of the senate, the province of Etruria was decreed to him without having recourse to lots.