"'But,' you will say, ' from the time the kings were expelled no plebeian has ever been consul.' Well, what then?. Must no new institution be adopted? Ought that which has not yet been done —and in a new nation many things have not yet been done —never to be put in practice, even if it be expedient?
There were neither pontiffs nor augurs in the reign of Romulus; Numa Pompilius created them. There was no census in the state, no registration of centuries and classes; Servius Tullius made one. There had never been any consuls; when the kings had been banished, consuls were elected.
Neither the power nor the name of dictator had ever been known; in the time of our fathers they began. Plebeian tribunes, aediles, and quaestors, there were none; men decided to have them. Within the past ten years we have elected decemvirs for drawing up the laws, and removed them from the commonwealth.
Who can question that in a city founded for eternity and of incalculable growth, new powers, priesthoods, and rights of families and individuals, must be established?
Was not this very [p. 271]
provision, that patricians and plebeians might not1
intermarry, enacted by the decemvirs a few years since, with the worst effect on the community and the gravest injustice to the plebs? Or can there be any greater or more signal insult than to hold a portion of the state unworthy of intermarriage, as though it were defiled?
What else is this but to suffer exile within the same walls and banishment? They guard against having us for connections or relations, against the mingling of our blood with theirs.
Why, if this pollutes that fine nobility of yours —which many of you, being of Alban or of Sabine origin, possess not by virtue of race or blood, but through co-optation into the patriciate, having been chosen either by the kings, or, after their expulsion, by decree of the people —could you not keep it pure by your own private counsels, neither taking wives from the plebs nor permitting your daughters and sisters to marry out of the patriciate? No plebeian would offer violence to a patrician maiden: that is a patrician vice.
No one would have compelled anybody to enter a compact of marriage against his will.
But let me tell you that in the statutory prohibition and annulment of intermarriage between patricians and plebeians we have indeed at last an insult to the plebs. Why, pray, do you not bring in a law that there shall be no intermarrying of rich and poor?
That which has always and everywhere been a matter of private policy, that a woman might marry into whatever family it had been arranged, that a man might take a wife from that house where he had engaged himself, you would subject to the restraint of a most arrogant aw, that thereby you might break up our civil [p. 273]
society and make two states out of one.
you not enact that a plebeian shall not live near a patrician, nor go on the same road? That he shall not enter the same festive company? That he shall not stand by his side in the same Forum? For what real difference does it make if a patrician takes a plebeian wife, or a plebeian a patrician? What right, pray, is invaded?
The children of course take the father's rank. There is nothing we are seeking to gain from marriage with you, except that we should be accounted men and citizens. Neither have you any reason to oppose us, unless you delight in vying with each other how you may outrage and humiliate us.