At the very time when these opinions were finding expression in the senate, Canuleius held forth in this fashion in behalf of his laws and in opposition to the consuls:
"How greatly the patricians despised you, Quirites, how unfit they deemed you to live in the City, within the same walls as themselves, I think I have often observed before, but never more clearly than at this very moment, [p. 265]
when they are rallying so fiercely against these1
proposals of ours.
Yet what else do we intend by them than to remind our fellow citizens that we are of them, and that, though we possess not the same wealth, still we dwell in the same City they inhabit?
In the one bill we seek the right of intermarriage, which is customarily granted to neighbours and foreigners —indeed we have granted citizenship, which is more than intermarriage, even to defeated enemies;
—in the other we propose no innovation, but reclaim and seek to exercise a popular right, to wit that the Roman People shall confer office upon whom it will.
What reason is there, pray, why they should confound heaven and earth; why they should almost have attacked me just now in the senate; why they should declare that they will place no restraint on force, and should threaten to violate our sacrosanct authority?
If the Roman People is granted a free vote, that so it may commit the consulship to what hands it likes, if even the plebeian is not cut off from the hope of gaining the highest honours —if he shall be deserving of the highest honours —will this City of ours be unable to endure? Is her dominion at an end? When we raise the question of making a plebeian consul, is it the same as if we were to say that a slave or a freedman should attain that office?
Have you any conception of the contempt in which you are held? They would take from you, were it possible, a part of this daylight.
That you breathe, that you speak, that you have the shape of men, fills them with resentment. Nay, they assert, if you please, that it is sinning against Heaven to elect a plebeian consul. Tell me, if we are not admitted to consult the [p. 267]
or the Commentaries of the Pontiffs,3
therefore ignorant of what all men, even foreigners, know, viz. that the consuls succeeded to the place of the kings, and possess no jot nor tittle of right or dignity that belonged not to the kings before?
Come! Would you believe the story was ever heard how Numa Pompilius —not only no patrician, but not even a Roman citizen —was sent for from the country of the Sabines, and reigned at Rome, by command of the people and with the senators' consent?
And again, how Lucius Tarquinius, who was not even of Italian stock —not to mention Roman —being the son of Demaratus of Corinth, and an immigrant from Tarquinii, was made king, while the sons of Ancus were still living?
And how after him Servius Tullius, son of a captive woman from Corniculum, who had nobody for his father and a bond-woman for his mother, held the royal power by his innate ability and worth? For why should I speak of Titus Tatius the Sabine, with whom Romulus himself, the Father of the City, shared his sovereignty?
Well then, so long as men despised no family that could produce conspicuous excellence, the dominion of Rome increased. And are you now to scorn a plebeian consul, when our ancestors were not above accepting alien kings, and when the City was not closed against the meritorious foreigner, even after the expulsion of the kings?
The Claudian family at least we not only received from the Sabine country, after the kings had been driven out, and gave them citizenship, but even admitted them to the number of patricians.
Shall the son of a stranger [p. 269]
become patrician and then consul, but a Roman5
citizen, if plebeian, be cut off from all hope of the consulship?
Do we not believe it possible that a bold and strenuous man, serviceable both in peace and in war, should come from the plebs, —a man like Numa, Lucius Tarquinius, or Servius Tullius?
Or shall we refuse, even if such an one appear, to let him approach the helm of state? Must we rather look forward to consuls like the decemvirs, the vilest of mortals, who nevertheless were all of patrician birth, than to such as shall resemble the best of the kings, new men though they were?