After this one would naturally be inclined to ask
what part is left for the people in the constitution, when the Senate has these various
functions, especially the control of the receipts and expenditure of the exchequer; and when the Consuls, again,
have absolute power over the details of military preparation,
and an absolute authority in the field? There is, however,
a part left the people, and it is a most important one.
For the people is the sole fountain of honour and of punishment; and it is by these two things and these alone that
dynasties and constitutions and, in a word, human society are
held together: for where the distinction between them is not
sharply drawn both in theory and practice, there no undertaking can be properly administered,—as indeed we might expect
when good and bad are held in exactly the same honour.
The people then are the only court to decide matters of life
and death; and even in-cases where the penalty is money, if
the sum to be assessed is sufficiently serious, and especially
when the accused have held the higher magistracies. And in
regard to this arrangement there is one point deserving especial
commendation and record. Men who are on trial for their
lives at Rome
, while sentence is in process of being voted,—if
even only one of the tribes whose votes are needed to ratify the
sentence has not voted,—have the privilege at Rome
departing and condemning themselves to a voluntary exile.
Such men are safe at Naples
or at Tibur
at other towns with which this arrangement has been duly
ratified on oath.
Again, it is the people who bestow offices on the deserving,
which are the most honourable rewards of virtue. It has also
the absolute power of passing or repealing laws; and, most
important of all, it is the people who deliberate on the question
of peace or war. And when provisional terms are made for
alliance, suspension of hostilities, or treaties, it is the people
who ratify them or the reverse.
These considerations again would lead one to say that the
chief power in the state was the people's, and that the constitution was a democracy.