Volero, having been taken into favour by1
the plebs, was at the next election made plebeian tribune for that year which had Lucius Pinarius and Publius Furius for consuls.
And contrary to the expectation of all, who believed that he would employ his tribuneship in persecuting the consuls of the preceding year, he set the general welfare above his private grievance, and without attacking the consuls by so much as a word, brought a bill before the people providing that plebeian magistrates should be chosen in the tribal assembly.2
It was no trivial matter which he proposed under this form, which at [p. 409]
first sight appeared so harmless, but one that3
completely deprived the patricians of the power of using their clients' votes to select what tribunes they liked.
This measure was extremely welcome to the plebs; the Fathers opposed it with all their might, yet the only effectual resistance —to wit, a veto by some member of the tribunician college —neither consuls nor nobles were sufficiently influential to command. Nevertheless the legislation, which its very importance rendered difficult, was drawn out by party strife to the end of the year.
The plebs re-elected Volero tribune: the senators, thinking the quarrel was sure to proceed to extremities, made Appius Claudius, soil of Appius, consul, a man whose unpopularity with the plebs and hostility towards them went back to the struggles between their fathers. For colleague they gave him Titus Quinctius.
The new year was no sooner begun than discussion of the law took precedence of everything else, and it was urged not only by its author, Volero, but by his colleague Laetorius as well, whose advocacy of it was at once fresher and more acrimonious.
He was emboldened by the great reputation he enjoyed as a soldier, since no one of that generation surpassed him in physical prowess. While Volero spoke of nothing but the law, and forbore to inveigh against the consuls' persons, Laetorius launched out into an arraignment of Appius and his family, as most cruel and arrogant towards the Roman plebs.
But when he strove to show that the patricians had elected, not a consul, but an executioner, to harass and torture the plebeians, the inexperienced tongue of the soldier was inadequate to express his audacity and spirit.
Accordingly when words began to fail him he cried, [p. 411]
“Since speech is not so easy for me, Quirites, as it is4
to make good what I have spoken, be at hand tomorrow. I will either die here in your sight or carry through the law.”
The tribunes were the first on the scene next day, and possessed themselves of the rostra;5
the consuls and nobles took their stand in the assembly, with the purpose of obstructing the passage of the law. Laetorius ordered the removal of all but those who were voting.
The youthful nobles stayed where they were and would not give way at the officer's behest. Then certain of them were ordered by Laetorius to be seized.
The consul Appius declared that the tribune had no authority over anybody but a plebeian, seeing that he was not a magistrate of the people, but of the plebs; and even if he were, he could not, consistently with the custom of the Fathers, command the removal of anyone, by virtue of his authority, since the formula ran thus: “If it seems good to you, depart, Quirites.” It was an easy matter to throw Laetorius into a passion by these contemptuous remarks about his rights.
It was therefore in a blaze of anger that the tribune dispatched his attendant to the consul;
while the consul sent his lictor to the tribune, crying out that Laetorius was a private citizen, without power, and no magistrate; and the tribune would have been mishandled, had not the whole assembly rallied fiercely to his support against the consul, while men rushed into the Forum from all over the City, in an excited throng.
Still, Appius was obstinately holding out, despite the fury of the tempest, and a sanguinary battle would have ensued, if Quinctius, the other consul, had not entrusted the senators of consular rank with the task of getting his colleague out [p. 413]
of the Forum, by force, if they could not achieve6
it otherwise; while he himself now appealed to the raging populace with soothing entreaties, and now besought the tribunes to dismiss the council.
Let them give their anger time: time would not rob them of their power, but would add wisdom to their strength; the Fathers would be subject to the people, and the consul to the Fathers.