In the interval between the abdication of the earlier dictator and the entrance upon his office of the new one, Manlius, the tribunes —as [p. 333]
though there were an interregnum1
—held a council2
of the plebs, and it became evident which of the measures proposed were more acceptable to the plebeians, and which to their introducers.
For the tribes were on the point of passing the bills relating to interest and land, and of rejecting the one about the plebeian consul, and both policies would have been finally
disposed of, if the tribunes had not said that they were putting all these questions to the plebs collectively.
Then Publius Manlius, becoming dictator, gave the affair a turn in favour of the plebs by naming Gaius Licinius,3
who had been military tribune and was a commoner, his master of the horse. I find that the patricians took offence at this, but that the dictator was wont to excuse himself to them by alleging his close relationship to Licinius, and asserting that a master of the horse possessed no greater authority than a consular tribune.
Licinius and Sextius, when an assembly had been proclaimed for the election of plebeian tribunes, so bore themselves that while professing an unwillingness to be re-elected, they furnished the plebs with the strongest incentives to give them what they pretended not to covet.
They said it was now nine years that they had stood embattled, as it were, against the optimates, with the greatest danger to themselves and no advantage to the public.
The measures they had proposed and the whole power of the tribunate had, like themselves, grown old and useless. First the intercession of their colleagues had been employed to attack their laws; then the young men had been banished to the seat of war at Velitrae; finally they had themselves been menaced [p. 335]
with the thunderbolt of the dictatorship.
they were thwarted neither by their colleagues, nor by war, nor even by the dictator, for he had actually given them a presage of plebeian consuls by appointing a plebeian master of the horse:
no, it was the plebs themselves who stood in the way of their own advancement.
A City and a Forum rid of creditors, and lands delivered from unlawful occupation, were things they might enjoy at once, if they would. When, pray, did they expect to weigh these blessings and be duly grateful, if at the very moment of entertaining measures for their own advantage they cut off all hope of office from the men who introduced them? It was not like the reasonableness of the Roman People to ask to be relieved themselves of usury and settled on lands which the nobles had unjustly held, while leaving the men to whom they owed these advantages to grow old as tribunicians —not only without honours, but even without the hope of them.
So let them first make up their minds what it was they wished; and then declare their wishes at the election of the tribunes.
If they desired to enact together the measures which the tribunes had brought forward, there was some reason for re-electing them; for they would carry through what they had advocated; but if every man cared only for the adoption of such clauses as concerned him personally, there was no use in an invidious prolongation of their term; they would do without the tribuneship, and the people would do without the proposed reforms.