In the review of the knights their censorship was very severe and harsh:
they deprived many of their horses; and after giving offence to the equestrian order in this matter, they inflamed the general displeasure to a higher degree by an edict, in which they ordered, that “no person who had farmed the public revenues or taxes from the censors Quintus Fulvius and Aulus Postumius, should attend their sale, or have any partnership or connexion in the contracts then to be made.”
When the former tax-contractors could not prevail on the senate, by their frequent complaints, to check the power of the censors, at length they found a patron of their cause in Publius Rutilius, a plebeian tribune, who was incensed against the censors in consequence of a dispute about a private concern.
They had ordered a client of his, a freed-man, to throw down a wall, which stood opposite to a public building in the Sacred Street, because it was built on ground belonging to the public. The tribunes were appealed to by the citizen.
When none of them would interfere, except Rutilius, the censors were sent to seize the property of the citizen, and imposed a fine on him in a public assembly.
When the present dispute broke out, and the old revenue-farmers had recourse to the tribunes, a bill was suddenly promulgated under the name of one of the tribunes, that “with regard to the public revenues and taxes, which Caius Claudius and Tiberius Sempronius should have hired out, all contracts made by them should be null and void: that they should all be let anew, and that every person, without distinction, should be at liberty to bid for and take them.”
The tribune appointed the day for an assembly [p. 2049]
to vote on this bill.
When the day came, and the censors stood forth to argue against the order, there was deep silence while Gracchus addressed them: when the voice of Claudius was drowned in the murmurs, he directed the crier to cause silence, that he might be heard.
When this was done, the tribune, complaining that the assembly which he had summoned was taken out of his rule, and that he was reduced to a private capacity, retired from the Capitol, where the assembly met. Next day he raised a violent commotion.
In the first place, he declared the property of Tiberius Gracchus forfeited to the gods, because he, by fining and seizing the goods of a person who had appealed to a tribune, and by refusing to admit the tribune's right of protesting, had reduced him to a private capacity.
He instituted a criminal process against Caius Claudius because he had summoned the assembly away from him, and declared his intention of prosecuting both the censors for treason; and he demanded of Caius Sulpicius, the city praetor, that he would fix a day for an assembly to try them.
As the censors offered no objection to the people passing their sentence on them as soon as they pleased, their trial for treason was fixed to come the eighth and seventh days before the calends of October.
The censors went up immediately to the temple of Liberty, where they sealed the books of the public accounts, shut up the office, and dismissed the clerks; affirming, that they would do no kind of public business until the sentence of the people was passed on them.
Claudius was first brought to trial; and after eight out of the eighteen centuries of knights, and many others of the first class, had given sentence against him, the principal men in the state, immediately taking off their gold rings, in the sight of the people, put on mourning, in order that they might suppliantly solicit the commons in his favour.
Yet, it is said, that Gracchus was the chief means of making a change in their sentiments; for when shouts arose from the commons on all sides that Gracchus was in no danger, he took a formal oath, that if his colleague were condemned, he would be his companion in exile, without waiting for their judgment concerning himself. After all, the case of the accused was so near being desperate, that the votes of eight centuries only were wanting to condemn him.
When Claudius was acquitted, the tribune said, that he would not delay Gracchus. [p. 2050]