Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius
by Niccolo Machiavelli
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And, in truth, among the institutions of Rome, this of the dictatorship deserves our special admiration, and to be linked with the chief causes of her greatness; for without some such safeguard a city can hardly pass unharmed through extraordinary dangers. Because as the ordinary institutions of a commonwealth work but slowly, no council and no magistrate having authority to act in everything alone, but in most matters one standing in need of the other, and time being required to reconcile their differences, the remedies which they provide are most dangerous when they have to be applied in cases which do not brook delay. For which reason, every republic ought to have some resource of this nature provided by its constitution; as we find that the Republic of Venice, one of the best of those now existing, has in cases of urgent danger reserved authority to a few of her citizens, if agreed among themselves, to determine without further consultation what course is to be followed. When a republic is not provided with some safeguard such as this, either it must be ruined by observing constitutional forms, or else, to save it, these must be broken through. But in a republic nothing should be left to be effected by irregular methods, because, although for the time the irregularity may be useful, the example will nevertheless be pernicious, as giving rise to a practice of violating the laws for good ends, under colour of which they may afterwards be violated for ends which are not good. For which reason, that can never become a perfect republic wherein every contingency has not been foreseen and provided for by the laws, and the method of dealing with it defined. To sum up, therefore, I say that those republics which cannot in sudden emergencies resort either to a dictator or to some similar authority, will, when the danger is serious, always be undone.

We may note, moreover, how prudently the Romans, in introducing this new office, contrived the conditions under which it was to be exercised. For perceiving that the appointment of a dictator involved something of humiliation for the consuls, who, from being the heads of the State, were reduced to render obedience like every one else, and anticipating that this might give offence, they determined that the power to appoint should rest with the consuls, thinking that when the occasion came when Rome should have need of this regal authority, they would have the consuls acting willingly and feeling the less aggrieved from the appointment being in their own hands. For those wounds or other injuries which a man inflicts upon himself by choice, and of his own free will, pain him far less than those inflicted by another. Nevertheless, in the later days of the republic the Romans were wont to entrust this power to a consul instead of to a dictator, using the formula, Videat CONSUL ne quid respublica detrimenti capiat.

But to return to the matter in hand, I say briefly, that when the neighbours of Rome sought to crush her, they led her to take measures not merely for her readier defence, but such as enabled her to attack them with a stronger force, with better skill, and with an undivided command.

CHAPTER XXXV—Why the Creation of the Decemvirate in Rome, although brought about by the free and open Suffrage of the Citizens, was hurtful to the Liberties of that Republic

The fact of those ten citizens who were chosen by the Roman people to make laws for Rome, in time becoming her tyrants and depriving her of her freedom, may seem contrary to what I have said above, namely that it is the authority which is violently usurped, and not that conferred by the free suffrages of the people which is injurious to a republic. Here, however, we have to take into account both the mode in which, and the term for which authority is given. Where authority is unrestricted and is conferred for a long term, meaning by that for a year or more, it is always attended with danger, and its results will be good or bad according as the men are good or bad to whom it is committed. Now when we compare the authority of the Ten with that possessed by the dictator, we see that the power placed in the hands of the former was out of all proportion greater than that entrusted to the latter. For when a dictator was appointed there still remained the tribunes, the consuls, and the senate, all of them invested with authority of which the dictator could not deprive them. For even if he could have taken his consulship from one man, or his status as a senator from another, he could not abolish the senatorial rank nor pass new laws. So that the senate, the consuls, and the tribunes continuing to exist with undiminished authority were a check upon him and kept him in the right road. But on the creation of the Ten, the opposite of all this took place. For on their appointment, consuls and tribunes were swept away, and express powers were given to the new magistrates to make laws and do whatever else they thought fit, with the entire authority of the whole Roman people. So that finding themselves alone without consuls or tribunes to control them, and with no appeal against them to the people, and thus there being none to keep a watch upon them, and further being stimulated by the ambition of Appius, in the second year of their office they began to wax insolent.

Let it be noted, therefore, that when it is said that authority given by the public vote is never hurtful to any commonwealth, it is assumed that the people will never be led to confer that authority without due limitations, or for other than a reasonable term. Should they, however either from being deceived or otherwise blinded, be induced to bestow authority imprudently, as the Romans bestowed it on the Ten, it will always fare with them as with the Romans. And this may readily be understood on reflecting what causes operated to keep the dictator good, what to make the Ten bad, and by observing how those republics which have been accounted well governed, have acted when conferring authority for an extended period, as the Spartans on their kings and the Venetians on their doges; for it will be seen that in both these instances the authority was controlled by checks which made it impossible for it to be abused. But where an uncontrolled authority is given, no security is afforded by the circumstance that the body of the people is not corrupted; for in the briefest possible time absolute authority will make a people corrupt, and obtain for itself friends and partisans. Nor will it be any hindrance to him in whom such authority is vested, that he is poor and without connections, for wealth and every other advantage will quickly follow, as shall be shown more fully when we discuss the appointment of the Ten.

CHAPTER XXXVI.—That Citizens who have held the higher Offices of a Commonwealth should not disdain the lower.

Under the consuls M. Fabius and Cn. Manlius, the Romans had a memorable victory in a battle fought with the Veientines and the Etruscans, in which Q. Fabius, brother of the consul, who had himself been consul the year before, was slain. This event may lead us to remark how well the methods followed by the city of Rome were suited to increase her power, and how great a mistake is made by other republics in departing from them. For, eager as the Romans were in the pursuit of glory, they never esteemed it a dishonour to obey one whom before they had commanded, or to find themselves serving in the ranks of an army which once they had led. This usage, however, is opposed to the ideas, the rules, and the practice which prevail at the present day, as, for instance, in Venice, where the notion still obtains that a citizen who has filled a great office should be ashamed to accept a less; and where the State itself permits him to decline it. This course, assuming it to lend lustre to individual citizens, is plainly to the disadvantage of the community, which has reason to hope more from, and to trust more to, the citizen who descends from a high office to fill a lower, than him who rises from a low office to fill a high one; for in the latter no confidence can reasonably be placed, unless he be seen to have others about him of such credit and worth that it may be hoped their wise counsels and influence will correct his inexperience. But had the usage which prevails in Venice and in other modern commonwealths and kingdoms, prevailed in Rome whereby he who had once been consul was never afterwards to go with the army except as consul, numberless results must have followed detrimental to the free institutions of that city; as well from the mistakes which the inexperience of new men would have occasioned, as because from their ambition having a freer course, and from their having none near them in whose presence they might fear to do amiss, they would have grown less scrupulous; and in this way the public service must have suffered grave harm.

CHAPTER XXXVII.—Of the Mischief bred in Rome by the Agrarian Law: and how it is a great source of disorder in a Commonwealth to pass a Law opposed to ancient Usage and with stringent retrospective Effect.

It has been said by ancient writers that to be pinched by adversity or pampered by prosperity is the common lot of men, and that in whichever way they are acted upon the result is the same. For when no longer urged to war on one another by necessity, they are urged by ambition, which has such dominion in their hearts that it never leaves them to whatsoever heights they climb. For nature has so ordered it that while they desire everything, it is impossible for them to have everything, and thus their desires being always in excess of their capacity to gratify them, they remain constantly dissatisfied and discontented. And hence the vicissitudes in human affairs. For some seeking to enlarge their possessions, and some to keep what they have got, wars and enmities ensue, from which result the ruin of one country and the growth of another.

I am led to these reflections from observing that the commons of Rome were not content to secure themselves against the nobles by the creation of tribunes, a measure to which they were driven by necessity, but after effecting this, forthwith entered upon an ambitious contest with the nobles, seeking to share with them what all men most esteem, namely, their honours and their wealth. Hence was bred that disorder from which sprang the feuds relating to the Agrarian Laws, and which led in the end to the downfall of the Roman republic. And although it should be the object of every well-governed commonwealth to make the State rich and keep individual citizens poor it must be allowed that in the matter of this law the city of Rome was to blame; whether for having passed it at first in such a shape as to require it to be continually recast; or for having postponed it so long that its retrospective effect was the occasion of tumult; or else, because, although rightly framed at first, it had come in its operation to be perverted. But in whatever way it happened, so it was, that this law was never spoken of in Rome without the whole city being convulsed.

The law itself embraced two principal provisions. By one it was enacted that no citizen should possess more than a fixed number of acres of land; by the other that all lands taken from the enemy should be distributed among the whole people. A twofold blow was thus aimed at the nobles; since all who possessed more land than the law allowed, as most of the nobles did, fell to be deprived of it; while by dividing the lands of the enemy among the whole people, the road to wealth was closed. These two grounds of offence being given to a powerful class, to whom it appeared that by resisting the law they did a service to the State, the whole city, as I have said, was thrown into an uproar on the mere mention of its name. The nobles indeed sought to temporize, and to prevail by patience and address; sometimes calling out the army, sometimes opposing another tribune to the one who was promoting the law, and sometimes coming to a compromise by sending a colony into the lands which were to be divided; as was done in the case of the territory of Antium, whither, on a dispute concerning the law having arisen, settlers were sent from Rome, and the land made over to them. In speaking of which colony Titus Livius makes the notable remark, that hardly any one in Rome could be got to take part in it, so much readier were the commons to indulge in covetous schemes at home, than to realize them by leaving it.

The ill humour engendered by this contest continued to prevail until the Romans began to carry their arms into the remoter parts of Italy and to countries beyond its shores; after which it seemed for a time to slumber—and this, because the lands held by the enemies of Rome, out of sight of her citizens and too remote to be conveniently cultivated, came to be less desired. Whereupon the Romans grew less eager to punish their enemies by dividing their lands, and were content, when they deprived any city of its territory, to send colonists to occupy it. For causes such as these, the measure remained in abeyance down to the time of the Gracchi; but being by them revived, finally overthrew the liberty of Rome. For as it found the power of its adversaries doubled, such a flame of hatred was kindled between commons and senate, that, regardless of all civil restraints, they resorted to arms and bloodshed. And as the public magistrates were powerless to provide a remedy, each of the two factions having no longer any hopes from them, resolved to do what it could for itself, and to set up a chief for its own protection. On reaching this stage of tumult and disorder, the commons lent their influence to Marius, making him four times consul; whose authority, lasting thus long, and with very brief intervals, became so firmly rooted that he was able to make himself consul other three times. Against this scourge, the nobles, lacking other defence, set themselves to favour Sylla, and placing him at the head of their faction, entered on the civil wars; wherein, after much blood had been spilt, and after many changes of fortune, they got the better of their adversaries. But afterwards, in the time of Caesar and Pompey, the distemper broke out afresh; for Caesar heading the Marian party, and Pompey, that of Sylla, and war ensuing, the victory remained with Caesar, who was the first tyrant in Rome; after whose time that city was never again free. Such, therefore, was the beginning and such the end of the Agrarian Law.

But since it has elsewhere been said that the struggle between the commons and senate of Rome preserved her liberties, as giving rise to laws favourable to freedom, it might seem that the consequences of the Agrarian Law are opposed to that view. I am not, however, led to alter my opinion on this account; for I maintain that the ambition of the great is so pernicious that unless controlled and counteracted in a variety of ways, it will always reduce a city to speedy ruin. So that if the controversy over the Agrarian Laws took three hundred years to bring Rome to slavery, she would in all likelihood have been brought to slavery in a far shorter time, had not the commons, by means of this law, and by other demands, constantly restrained the ambition of the nobles.

We may also learn from this contest how much more men value wealth than honours; for in the matter of honours, the Roman nobles always gave way to the commons without any extraordinary resistance; but when it came to be a question of property, so stubborn were they in its defence, that the commons to effect their ends had to resort to those irregular methods which have been described above. Of which irregularities the prime movers were the Gracchi, whose motives are more to be commended than their measures; since to pass a law with stringent retrospective effect, in order to remove an abuse of long standing in a republic, is an unwise step, and one which, as I have already shown at length, can have no other result than to accelerate the mischief to which the abuse leads; whereas, if you temporize, either the abuse develops more slowly, or else, in course of time, and before it comes to a head, dies out of itself.

CHAPTER XXXVIII.—That weak Republics are irresolute and undecided; and that the course they may take depends more on Necessity than Choice.

A terrible pestilence breaking out in Rome seemed to the Equians and Volscians to offer a fit opportunity for crushing her. The two nations, therefore, assembling a great army, attacked the Latins and Hernicians and laid waste their country. Whereupon the Latins and Hernicians were forced to make their case known to the Romans, and to ask to be defended by them. The Romans, who were sorely afflicted by the pestilence, answered that they must look to their own defence, and with their own forces, since Rome was in no position to succour them.

Here we recognize the prudence and magnanimity of the Roman senate, and how at all times, and in all changes of fortune, they assumed the responsibility of determining the course their country should take; and were not ashamed, when necessary, to decide on a course contrary to that which was usual with them, or which they had decided to follow on some other occasion. I say this because on other occasions this same senate had forbidden these nations to defend themselves; and a less prudent assembly might have thought it lowered their credit to withdraw that prohibition. But the Roman senate always took a sound view of things, and always accepted the least hurtful course as the best. So that, although it was distasteful to them not to be able to defend their subjects, and equally distasteful—both for the reasons given, and for others which may be understood—that their subjects should take up arms in their absence, nevertheless knowing that these must have recourse to arms in any case, since the enemy was upon them, they took an honourable course in deciding that what had to be done should be done with their leave, lest men driven to disobey by necessity should come afterwards to disobey from choice. And although this may seem the course which every republic ought reasonably to follow, nevertheless weak and badly-advised republics cannot make up their minds to follow it, not knowing how to do themselves honour in like extremities.

After Duke Valentino had taken Faenza and forced Bologna to yield to his terms, desiring to return to Rome through Tuscany, he sent one of his people to Florence to ask leave for himself and his army to pass. A council was held in Florence to consider how this request should be dealt with, but no one was favourable to the leave asked for being granted. Wherein the Roman method was not followed. For as the Duke had a very strong force with him, while the Florentines were so bare of troops that they could not have prevented his passage, it would have been far more for their credit that he should seem to pass with their consent, than that he should pass in spite of them; because, while discredit had to be incurred either way, they would have incurred less by acceding to his demand.

But of all courses the worst for a weak State is to be irresolute; for then whatever it does will seem to be done under compulsion, so that if by chance it should do anything well, this will be set down to necessity and not to prudence. Of this I shall cite two other instances happening in our own times, and in our own country. In the year 1500, King Louis of France, after recovering Milan, being desirous to restore Pisa to the Florentines, so as to obtain payment from them of the fifty thousand ducats which they had promised him on the restitution being completed, sent troops to Pisa under M. Beaumont, in whom, though a Frenchman, the Florentines put much trust. Beaumont accordingly took up his position with his forces between Cascina and Pisa, to be in readiness to attack the town. After he had been there for some days making arrangements for the assault, envoys came to him from Pisa offering to surrender their city to the French if a promise were given in the king's name, not to hand it over to the Florentines until four months had run. This condition was absolutely rejected by the Florentines, and the siege being proceeded with, they were forced to retire with disgrace. Now the proposal of the Pisans was rejected by the Florentines for no other reason than that they distrusted the good faith of the King, into whose hands their weakness obliged them to commit themselves, and did not reflect how much more it was for their interest that, by obtaining entrance into Pisa, he should have it in his power to restore the town to them, or, failing to restore it, should at once disclose his designs, than that remaining outside he should put them off with promises for which they had to pay. It would therefore have been a far better course for the Florentines to have agreed to Beaumont taking possession on whatever terms.

This was seen afterwards by experience in the year 1502, when, on the revolt of Arezzo, M. Imbalt was sent by the King of France with French troops to assist the Florentines. For when he got near Arezzo, and began to negotiate with the Aretines, who, like the Pisans, were willing to surrender their town on terms, the acceptance of these terms was strongly disapproved in Florence; which Imbalt learning, and thinking that the Florentines were acting with little sense, he took the entire settlement of conditions into his own hands, and, without consulting the Florentine commissioners, concluded an arrangement to his own satisfaction, in execution of which he entered Arezzo with his army. And he let the Florentines know that he thought them fools and ignorant of the ways of the world; since if they desired to have Arezzo, they could signify their wishes to the King, who would be much better able to give it them when he had his soldiers inside, than when he had them outside the town. Nevertheless, in Florence they never ceased to blame and abuse M. Imbalt, until at last they came to see that if Beaumont had acted in the same way, they would have got possession Of Pisa as well as of Arezzo.

Applying what has been said to the matter in hand, we find that irresolute republics, unless upon compulsion, never follow wise courses; for wherever there is room for doubt, their weakness will not suffer them to come to any resolve; so that unless their doubts be overcome by some superior force which impels them forward, they remain always in suspense.

CHAPTER XXXIX.—That often the same Accidents are seen to befall different Nations.

Any one comparing the present with the past will soon perceive that in all cities and in all nations there prevail the same desires and passions as always have prevailed; for which reason it should be an easy matter for him who carefully examines past events, to foresee those which are about to happen in any republic, and to apply such remedies as the ancients have used in like cases; or finding none which have been used by them, to strike out new ones, such as they might have used in similar circumstances. But these lessons being neglected or not understood by readers, or, if understood by them, being unknown to rulers, it follows that the same disorders are common to all times.

In the year 1494 the Republic of Florence, having lost a portion of its territories, including Pisa and other towns, was forced to make war against those who had taken possession of them, who being powerful, it followed that great sums were spent on these wars to little purpose. This large expenditure had to be met by heavy taxes which gave occasion to numberless complaints on the part of the people; and inasmuch as the war was conducted by a council of ten citizens, who were styled "the Ten of the War," the multitude began to regard these with displeasure, as though they were the cause of the war and of the consequent expenditure; and at last persuaded themselves that if they got rid of this magistracy there would be an end to the war. Wherefore when the magistracy of "the Ten" should have been renewed, the people did not renew it, but, suffering it to lapse, entrusted their affairs to the "Signory." This course was most pernicious, since not only did it fail to put an end to the war, as the people expected it would, but by setting aside men who had conducted it with prudence, led to such mishaps that not Pisa only, but Arezzo also, and many other towns besides were lost to Florence. Whereupon, the people recognizing their mistake, and that the evil was in the disease and not in the physician, reinstated the magistracy of the Ten.

Similar dissatisfaction grew up in Rome against the consular authority. For the people seeing one war follow another, and that they were never allowed to rest, when they should have ascribed this to the ambition of neighbouring nations who desired their overthrow, ascribed it to the ambition of the nobles, who, as they believed, being unable to wreak their hatred against them within the city, where they were protected by the power of the tribunes, sought to lead them outside the city, where they were under the authority of the consuls, that they might crush them where they were without help. In which belief they thought it necessary either to get rid of the consuls altogether, or so to restrict their powers as to leave them no authority over the people, either in the city or out of it.

The first who attempted to pass a law to this effect was the tribune Terentillus, who proposed that a committee of five should be named to consider and regulate the power of the consuls. This roused the anger of the nobles, to whom it seemed that the greatness of their authority was about to set for ever, and that no part would be left them in the administration of the republic. Such, however, was the obstinacy of the tribunes, that they succeeded in abolishing the consular title, nor were satisfied until, after other changes, it was resolved that, in room of consuls, tribunes should be appointed with consular powers; so much greater was their hatred of the name than of the thing. For a long time matters remained on this footing; till eventually, the commons, discovering their mistake, resumed the appointment of consuls in the same way as the Florentines reverted to "the Ten of the War."

CHAPTER XL.—Of the creation of the Decemvirate in Rome, and what therein is to be noted. Wherein among other Matters is shown how the same Causes may lead to the Safety or to the Ruin of a Commonwealth.

It being my desire to treat fully of those disorders which arose in Rome on the creation of the decemvirate, I think it not amiss first of all to relate what took place at the time of that creation, and then to discuss those circumstances attending it which seem most to deserve notice. These are numerous, and should be well considered, both by those who would maintain the liberties of a commonwealth and by those who would subvert them. For in the course of our inquiry it will be seen that many mistakes prejudicial to freedom were made by the senate and people, and that many were likewise made by Appius, the chief decemvir, prejudicial to that tyranny which it was his aim to establish in Rome.

After much controversy and wrangling between the commons and the nobles as to the framing of new laws by which the freedom of Rome might be better secured, Spurius Posthumius and two other citizens were, by general consent, despatched to Athens to procure copies of the laws which Solon had drawn up for the Athenians, to the end that these might serve as a groundwork for the laws of Rome. On their return, the next step was to depute certain persons to examine these laws and to draft the new code. For which purpose a commission consisting of ten members, among whom was Appius Claudius, a crafty and ambitious citizen, was appointed for a year; and that the commissioners in framing their laws might act without fear or favour, all the other magistracies, and in particular the consulate and tribuneship, were suspended, and the appeal to the people discontinued; so that the decemvirs came to be absolute in Rome. Very soon the whole authority of the commissioners came to be centred in Appius, owing to the favour in which he was held by the commons. For although before he had been regarded as the cruel persecutor of the people, he now showed himself so conciliatory in his bearing that men wondered at the sudden change in his character and disposition.

This set of commissioners, then, behaved discreetly, being attended by no more than twelve lictors, walking in front of that decemvir whom the rest put forward as their chief; and though vested with absolute authority, yet when a Roman citizen had to be tried for murder, they cited him before the people and caused him to be judged by them. Their laws they wrote upon ten tables, but before signing them they exposed them publicly, that every one might read and consider them, and if any defect were discovered in them, it might be corrected before they were finally passed. At this juncture Appius caused it to be notified throughout the city that were two other tables added to these ten, the laws would be complete; hoping that under this belief the people would consent to continue the decemvirate for another year. This consent the people willingly gave, partly to prevent the consuls being reinstated, and partly because they thought they could hold their ground without the aid of the tribunes, who, as has already been said, were the judges in criminal cases.

On it being resolved to reappoint the decemvirate, all the nobles set to canvass for the office, Appius among the foremost; and such cordiality did he display towards the commons while seeking their votes, that the other candidates, "unable to persuade themselves that so much affability on the part of so proud a man was wholly disinterested," began to suspect him; but fearing to oppose him openly, sought to circumvent him, by putting him forward, though the youngest of them all, to declare to the people the names of the proposed decemvirs; thinking that he would not venture to name himself, that being an unusual course in Rome, and held discreditable. "But what they meant as a hindrance, he turned to account," by proposing, to the surprise and displeasure of the whole nobility, his own name first, and then nominating nine others on whose support he thought he could depend.

The new appointments, which were to last for a year, having been made, Appius soon let both commons and nobles know the mistake they had committed, for throwing off the mask, he allowed his innate arrogance to appear, and speedily infected his colleagues with the same spirit; who, to overawe the people and the senate, instead of twelve lictors, appointed one hundred and twenty. For a time their measures were directed against high and low alike; but presently they began to intrigue with the senate, and to attack the commons; and if any of the latter, on being harshly used by one decemvir, ventured to appeal to another, he was worse handled on the appeal than in the first instance. The commons, on discovering their error, began in their despair to turn their eyes towards the nobles, "and to look for a breeze of freedom from that very quarter whence fearing slavery they had brought the republic to its present straits." To the nobles the sufferings of the commons were not displeasing, from the hope "that disgusted with the existing state of affairs, they too might come to desire the restoration of the consuls."

When the year for which the decemvirs were appointed at last came to an end, the two additional tables of the law were ready, but had not yet been published. This was made a pretext by them for prolonging their magistracy, which they took measures to retain by force, gathering round them for this purpose a retinue of young noblemen, whom they enriched with the goods of those citizens whom they had condemned. "Corrupted by which gifts, these youths came to prefer selfish licence to public freedom."

It happened that at this time the Sabines and Volscians began to stir up a war against Rome, and it was during the alarm thereby occasioned that the decemvirs were first made aware how weak was their position. For without the senate they could take no warlike measures, while by assembling the senate they seemed to put an end to their own authority. Nevertheless, being driven to it by necessity, they took this latter course. When the senate met, many of the senators, but particularly Valerius and Horatius, inveighed against the insolence of the decemvirs, whose power would forthwith have been cut short, had not the senate through jealousy of the commons declined to exercise their authority. For they thought that were the decemvirs to lay down office of their own free will, tribunes might not be reappointed. Wherefore they decided for war, and sent forth the armies under command of certain of the decemvirs. But Appius remaining behind to govern the city, it so fell out that he became enamoured of Virginia, and that when he sought to lay violent hands upon her, Virginius, her father, to save her from dishonour, slew her. Thereupon followed tumults in Rome, and mutiny among the soldiers, who, making common cause with the rest of the plebeians, betook themselves to the Sacred Hill, and there remained until the decemvirs laid down their office; when tribunes and consuls being once more appointed, Rome was restored to her ancient freedom.

In these events we note, first of all, that the pernicious step of creating this tyranny in Rome was due to the same causes which commonly give rise to tyrannies in cities; namely, the excessive love of the people for liberty, and the passionate eagerness of the nobles to govern. For when they cannot agree to pass some measure favourable to freedom, one faction or the other sets itself to support some one man, and a tyranny at once springs up. Both parties in Rome consented to the creation of the decemvirs, and to their exercising unrestricted powers, from the desire which the one had to put an end to the consular name, and the other to abolish the authority of the tribunes. When, on the appointment of the decemvirate, it seemed to the commons that Appius had become favourable to their cause, and was ready to attack the nobles, they inclined to support him. But when a people is led to commit this error of lending its support to some one man, in order that he may attack those whom it holds in hatred, if he only be prudent he will inevitably become the tyrant of that city. For he will wait until, with the support of the people, he can deal a fatal blow to the nobles, and will never set himself to oppress the people until the nobles have been rooted out. But when that time comes, the people, although they recognize their servitude, will have none to whom they can turn for help.

Had this method, which has been followed by all who have successfully established tyrannies in republics, been followed by Appius, his power would have been more stable and lasting; whereas, taking the directly opposite course, he could not have acted more unwisely than he did. For in his eagerness to grasp the tyranny, he made himself obnoxious to those who were in fact conferring it, and who could have maintained him in it; and he destroyed those who were his friends, while he sought friendship from those from whom he could not have it. For although it be the desire of the nobles to tyrannize, that section of them which finds itself outside the tyranny is always hostile to the tyrant, who can never succeed in gaining over the entire body of the nobles by reason of their greed and ambition; for no tyrant can ever have honours or wealth enough to satisfy them all.

In abandoning the people, therefore, and siding with the nobles, Appius committed a manifest mistake, as well for the reasons above given, as because to hold a thing by force, he who uses force must needs be stronger than he against whom it is used. Whence it happens that those tyrants who have the mass of the people for their friends and the nobles for their enemies, are more secure than those who have the people for their enemies and the nobles for their friends; because in the former case their authority has the stronger support. For with such support a ruler can maintain himself by the internal strength of his State, as did Nabis, tyrant of Sparta, when attacked by the Romans and by the whole of Greece; for making sure work with the nobles, who were few in number, and having the people on his side, he was able with their assistance to defend himself; which he could not have done had they been against him. But in the case of a city, wherein the tyrant has few friends, its internal strength will not avail him for its defence, and he will have to seek aid from without in one of three shapes. For either he must hire foreign guards to defend his person; or he must arm the peasantry, so that they may play the part which ought to be played by the citizens; or he must league with powerful neighbours for his defence. He who follows these methods and observes them well, may contrive to save himself, though he has the people for his enemy. But Appius could not follow the plan of gaining over the peasantry, since in Rome they and the people were one. And what he might have done he knew not how to do, and so was ruined at the very outset.

In creating the decemvirate, therefore, both the senate and the people made grave mistakes. For although, as already explained, when speaking of the dictatorship, it is those magistrates who make themselves, and not those made by the votes of the people, that are hurtful to freedom; nevertheless the people, in creating magistrates ought to take such precautions as will make it difficult for these to become bad. But the Romans when they ought to have set a check on the decemvirs in order to keep them good, dispensed with it, making them the sole magistrates of Rome, and setting aside all others; and this from the excessive desire of the senate to get rid of the tribunes, and of the commons to get rid of the consuls; by which objects both were so blinded as to fall into all the disorders which ensued. For, as King Ferrando was wont to say, men often behave like certain of the smaller birds, which are so intent on the prey to which nature incites them, that they discern not the eagle hovering overhead for their destruction.

In this Discourse then the mistakes made by the Roman people in their efforts to preserve their freedom and the mistakes made by Appius in his endeavour to obtain the tyranny, have, as I proposed at the outset, been plainly shown.

CHAPTER XLI.—That it is unwise to pass at a bound from leniency to severity, or to a haughty bearing from a humble.

Among the crafty devices used by Appius to aid him in maintaining his authority, this, of suddenly passing from one character to the other extreme, was of no small prejudice to him. For his fraud in pretending to the commons to be well disposed towards them, was happily contrived; as were also the means he took to bring about the reappointment of the decemvirate. Most skilful, too, was his audacity in nominating himself contrary to the expectation of the nobles, and in proposing colleagues on whom he could depend to carry out his ends. But, as I have said already, it was not happily contrived that, after doing all this, he should suddenly turn round, and from being the friend, reveal himself the enemy of the people; haughty instead of humane; cruel instead of kindly; and make this change so rapidly as to leave himself no shadow of excuse, but compel all to recognize the doubleness of his nature. For he who has once seemed good, should he afterwards choose, for his own ends, to become bad, ought to change by slow degrees, and as opportunity serves; so that before his altered nature strip him of old favour, he may have gained for himself an equal share of new, and thus his influence suffer no diminution. For otherwise, being at once unmasked and friendless, he is undone:

CHAPTER XLII.—How easily Men become corrupted.

In this matter of the decemvirate we may likewise note the ease wherewith men become corrupted, and how completely, although born good and well brought up, they change their nature. For we see how favourably disposed the youths whom Appius gathered round him became towards his tyranny, in return for the trifling benefits which they drew from it; and how Quintus Fabius, one of the second decemvirate and a most worthy man, blinded by a little ambition, and misled by the evil counsels of Appius, abandoning his fair fame, betook himself to most unworthy courses, and grew like his master.

Careful consideration of this should make those who frame laws for commonwealths and kingdoms more alive to the necessity of placing restraints on men's evil appetites, and depriving them of all hope of doing wrong with impunity.

CHAPTER XLIII.—That Men fighting in their own Cause make good and resolute Soldiers.

From what has been touched upon above, we are also led to remark how wide is the difference between an army which, having no ground for discontent, fights in its own cause, and one which, being discontented, fights to satisfy the ambition of others. For whereas the Romans were always victorious under the consuls, under the decemvirs they were always defeated. This helps us to understand why it is that mercenary troops are worthless; namely, that they have no incitement to keep them true to you beyond the pittance which you pay them, which neither is nor can be a sufficient motive for such fidelity and devotion as would make them willing to die in your behalf. But in those armies in which there exists not such an attachment towards him for whom they fight as makes them devoted to his cause, there never will be valour enough to withstand an enemy if only he be a little brave. And since such attachment and devotion cannot be looked for from any save your own subjects, you must, if you would preserve your dominions, or maintain your commonwealth or kingdom, arm the natives of your country; as we see to have been done by all those who have achieved great things in war.

Under the decemvirs the ancient valour of the Roman soldiers had in no degree abated; yet, because they were no longer animated by the same good will, they did not exert themselves as they were wont. But so soon as the decemvirate came to an end, and the soldiers began once more to fight as free men, the old spirit was reawakened, and, as a consequence, their enterprises, according to former usage, were brought to a successful close.

CHAPTER XLIV.—That the Multitude is helpless without a Head: and that we should not with the same breath threaten and ask leave.

When Virginia died by her father's hand, the commons of Rome withdrew under arms to the Sacred Hill. Whereupon the senate sent messengers to demand by what sanction they had deserted their commanders and assembled there in arms. And in such reverence was the authority of the senate held, that the commons, lacking leaders, durst make no reply. "Not," says Titus Livius, "that they were at a loss what to answer, but because they had none to answer for them;" words which clearly show how helpless a thing is the multitude when without a head.

This defect was perceived by Virginius, at whose instance twenty military tribunes were appointed by the commons to be their spokesmen with the senate, and to negotiate terms; who, having asked that Valerius and Horatius might be sent to them, to whom their wishes would be made known, these declined to go until the decemvirs had laid down their office. When this was done, and Valerius and Horatius came to the hill where the commons were assembled, the latter demanded that tribunes of the people should be appointed; that in future there should be an appeal to the people from the magistrates of whatever degree; and that all the decemvirs should be given up to them to be burned alive. Valerius and Horatius approved the first two demands, but rejected the last as inhuman; telling the commons that "they were rushing into that very cruelty which they themselves had condemned in others;" and counselling them to say nothing about the decemvirs, but to be satisfied to regain their own power and authority; since thus the way would be open to them for obtaining every redress.

Here we see plainly how foolish and unwise it is to ask a thing and with the same breath to say, "I desire this that I may inflict an injury." For we should never declare our intention beforehand, but watch for every opportunity to carry it out. So that it is enough to ask another for his weapons, without adding, "With these I purpose to destroy you;" for when once you have secured his weapons, you can use them afterwards as you please.

CHAPTER XLV.—That it is of evil example, especially in the Maker of a Law, not to observe the Law when made: and that daily to renew acts of injustice in a City is most hurtful to the Governor.

Terms having been adjusted, and the old order of things restored in Rome, Virginius cited Appius to defend himself before the people; and on his appearing attended by many of the nobles, ordered him to be led to prison. Whereupon Appius began to cry out and appeal to the people. But Virginius told him that he was unworthy to be allowed that appeal which he had himself done away with, or to have that people whom he had wronged for his protectors. Appius rejoined, that the people should not set at nought that right of appeal which they themselves had insisted on with so much zeal. Nevertheless, he was dragged to prison, and before the day of trial slew himself. Now, though the wicked life of Appius merited every punishment, still it was impolitic to violate the laws, more particularly a law which had only just been passed; for nothing, I think, is of worse example in a republic, than to make a law and not to keep it; and most of all, when he who breaks is he that made it.

After the year 1494, the city of Florence reformed its government with the help of the Friar Girolamo Savonarola, whose writings declare his learning, his wisdom, and the excellence of his heart. Among other ordinances for the safety of the citizens, he caused a law to be passed, allowing an appeal to the people from the sentences pronounced by "the Eight" and by the "Signory" in trials for State offences; a law he had long contended for, and carried at last with great difficulty. It so happened that a very short time after it was passed, five citizens were condemned to death by the "Signory" for State offences, and that when they sought to appeal to the people they were not permitted to do so, and the law was violated. This, more than any other mischance, helped to lessen the credit of the Friar; since if his law of appeal was salutary, he should have caused it to be observed; if useless, he ought not to have promoted it. And his inconsistency was the more remarked, because in all the sermons which he preached after the law was broken, he never either blamed or excused the person who had broken it, as though unwilling to condemn, while unable to justify what suited his purposes. This, as betraying the ambitious and partial turn of his mind, took from his reputation and exposed him to much obloquy.

Another thing which greatly hurts a government is to keep alive bitter feelings in men's minds by often renewed attacks on individuals, as was done in Rome after the decemvirate was put an end to. For each of the decemvirs, and other citizens besides, were at different times accused and condemned, so that the greatest alarm was spread through the whole body of the nobles, who came to believe that these prosecutions would never cease until their entire order was exterminated. And this must have led to grave mischief had not Marcus Duilius the tribune provided against it, by an edict which forbade every one, for the period of a year, citing or accusing any Roman citizen, an ordinance which had the effect of reassuring the whole nobility. Here we see how hurtful it is for a prince or commonwealth to keep the minds of their subjects in constant alarm and suspense by continually renewed punishments and violence. And, in truth, no course can be more pernicious. For men who are in fear for their safety will seize on every opportunity for securing themselves against the dangers which surround them, and will grow at once more daring, and less scrupulous in resorting to new courses. For these reasons we should either altogether avoid inflicting injury, or should inflict every injury at a stroke, and then seek to reassure men's minds and suffer them to settle down and rest.

CHAPTER XLVI.—That Men climb from one step of Ambition to another, seeking at first to escape Injury and then to injure others.

As the commons of Rome on recovering their freedom were restored to their former position—nay, to one still stronger since many new laws had been passed which confirmed and extended their authority,—it might reasonably have been hoped that Rome would for a time remain at rest. The event, however, showed the contrary, for from day to day there arose in that city new tumults and fresh dissensions. And since the causes which brought this about have been most judiciously set forth by Titus Livius, it seems to me much to the purpose to cite his own words when he says, that "whenever either the commons or the nobles were humble, the others grew haughty; so that if the commons kept within due bounds, the young nobles began to inflict injuries upon them, against which the tribunes, who were themselves made the objects of outrage, were little able to give redress; while the nobles on their part, although they could not close their eyes to the ill behaviour of their young men, were yet well pleased that if excesses were to be committed, they should be committed by their own faction, and not by the commons. Thus the desire to secure its own liberty prompted each faction to make itself strong enough to oppress the other. For this is the common course of things, that in seeking to escape cause for fear, men come to give others cause to be afraid by inflicting on them those wrongs from which they strive to relieve themselves; as though the choice lay between injuring and being injured."

Herein, among other things, we perceive in what ways commonwealths are overthrown, and how men climb from one ambition to another; and recognize the truth of those words which Sallust puts in the mouth of Caesar, that "all ill actions have their origin in fair beginnings." [1] For, as I have said already, the ambitious citizen in a commonwealth seeks at the outset to secure himself against injury, not only at the hands of private persons, but also of the magistrates; to effect which he endeavours to gain himself friends. These he obtains by means honourable in appearance, either by supplying them with money or protecting them against the powerful. And because such conduct seems praiseworthy, every one is readily deceived by it, and consequently no remedy is applied. Pursuing these methods without hindrance, this man presently comes to be so powerful that private citizens begin to fear him, and the magistrates to treat him with respect. But when he has advanced thus far on the road to power without encountering opposition, he has reached a point at which it is most dangerous to cope with him; it being dangerous, as I have before explained, to contend with a disorder which has already made progress in a city. Nevertheless, when he has brought things to this pass, you must either endeavour to crush him, at the risk of immediate ruin, or else, unless death or some like accident interpose, you incur inevitable slavery by letting him alone. For when, as I have said, it has come to this that the citizens and even the magistrates fear to offend him and his friends, little further effort will afterwards be needed to enable him to proscribe and ruin whom he pleases.

A republic ought, therefore, to provide by its ordinances that none of its citizens shall, under colour of doing good, have it in their power to do evil, but shall be suffered to acquire such influence only as may aid and not injure freedom. How this may be done, shall presently be explained.

[Footnote 1: Quod omnia mala exempla ex bonis initiis orta sunt. (Sall. Cat. 51.)]

CHAPTER XLVII.—That though Men deceive themselves in Generalities, in Particulars they judge truly.

The commons of Rome having, as I have said, grown disgusted with the consular name, and desiring either that men of plebeian birth should be admitted to the office or its authority be restricted, the nobles, to prevent its degradation in either of these two ways, proposed a middle course, whereby four tribunes, who might either be plebeians or nobles, were to be created with consular authority. This compromise satisfied the commons, who thought they would thus get rid of the consulship, and secure the highest offices of the State for their own order. But here a circumstance happened worth noting. When the four tribunes came to be chosen, the people, who had it in their power to choose all from the commons, chose all from the nobles. With respect to which election Titus Livius observes, that "the result showed that the people when declaring their honest judgment after controversy was over, were governed by a different spirit from that which had inspired them while contending for their liberties and for a share in public honours." The reason for this I believe to be, that men deceive themselves more readily in generals than in particulars. To the commons of Rome it seemed, in the abstract, that they had every right to be admitted to the consulship, since their party in the city was the more numerous, since they bore the greater share of danger in their wars, and since it was they who by their valour kept Rome free and made her powerful. And because it appeared to them, as I have said, that their desire was a reasonable one, they were resolved to satisfy it at all hazards. But when they had to form a particular judgment on the men of their own party, they recognized their defects, and decided that individually no one of them was deserving of what, collectively, they seemed entitled to; and being ashamed of them, turned to bestow their honours on those who deserved them. Of which decision Titus Livius, speaking with due admiration, says, "Where shall we now find in any one man, that modesty, moderation, and magnanimity which were then common to the entire people?"

As confirming what I have said, I shall cite another noteworthy incident, which occurred in Capua after the rout of the Romans by Hannibal at Cannae. For all Italy being convulsed by that defeat, Capua too was threatened with civil tumult, through the hatred which prevailed between her people and senate. But Pacuvius Calavius, who at this time filled the office of chief magistrate, perceiving the danger, took upon himself to reconcile the contending factions. With this object he assembled the Senate and pointed out to them the hatred in which they were held by the people, and the risk they ran of being put to death by them, and of the city, now that the Romans were in distress, being given up to Hannibal. But he added that, were they to consent to leave the matter with him, he thought he could contrive to reconcile them; in the meanwhile, however, he must shut them up in the palace, that, by putting it in the power of the people to punish them, he might secure their safety.

The senate consenting to this proposal, he shut them up in the palace, and summoning the people to a public meeting, told them the time had at last come for them to trample on the insolence of the nobles, and requite the wrongs suffered at their hands; for he had them all safe under bolt and bar; but, as he supposed they did not wish the city to remain without rulers, it was fit, before putting the old senators to death, they should appoint others in their room. Wherefore he had thrown the names of all the old senators into a bag, and would now proceed to draw them out one by one, and as they were drawn would cause them to be put to death, so soon as a successor was found for each. When the first name he drew was declared, there arose a great uproar among the people, all crying out against the cruelty, pride, and arrogance of that senator whose name it was. But on Pacuvius desiring them to propose a substitute, the meeting was quieted, and after a brief pause one of the commons was nominated. No sooner, however, was his name mentioned than one began to whistle, another to laugh, some jeering at him in one way and some in another. And the same thing happening in every case, each and all of those nominated were judged unworthy of senatorial rank. Whereupon Pacuvius, profiting by the opportunity, said, "Since you are agreed that the city would be badly off without a senate, but are not agreed whom to appoint in the room of the old senators, it will, perhaps, be well for you to be reconciled to them; for the fear into which they have been thrown must have so subdued them, that you are sure to find in them that affability which hitherto you have looked for in vain." This proposal being agreed to, a reconciliation followed between the two orders; the commons having seen their error so soon as they were obliged to come to particulars.

A people therefore is apt to err in judging of things and their accidents in the abstract, but on becoming acquainted with particulars, speedily discovers its mistakes. In the year 1494, when her greatest citizens were banished from Florence, and no regular government any longer existed there, but a spirit of licence prevailed, and matters went continually from bad to worse, many Florentines perceiving the decay of their city, and discerning no other cause for it, blamed the ambition of this or the other powerful citizen, who, they thought, was fomenting these disorders with a view to establish a government to his own liking, and to rob them of their liberties. Those who thought thus, would hang about the arcades and public squares, maligning many citizens, and giving it to be understood that if ever they found themselves in the Signory, they would expose the designs of these citizens and have them punished. From time to time it happened that one or another of those who used this language rose to be of the chief magistracy, and so soon as he obtained this advancement, and saw things nearer, became aware whence the disorders I have spoken of really came, the dangers attending them, and the difficulty in dealing with them; and recognizing that they were the growth of the times, and not occasioned by particular men, suddenly altered his views and conduct; a nearer knowledge of facts freeing him from the false impressions he had been led into on a general view of affairs. But those who had heard him speak as a private citizen, when they saw him remain inactive after he was made a magistrate, believed that this arose not from his having obtained any better knowledge of things, but from his having been cajoled or corrupted by the great. And this happening with many men and often, it came to be a proverb among the people, that "men had one mind in the market-place, another in the palace."

Reflecting on what has been said, we see how quickly men's eyes may be opened, if knowing that they deceive themselves in generalities, we can find a way to make them pass to particulars; as Pacuvius did in the case of the Capuans, and the senate in the case of Rome. Nor do I believe that any prudent man need shrink from the judgment of the people in questions relating to particulars, as, for instance, in the distribution of honours and dignities. For in such matters only, the people are either never mistaken, or at any rate far seldomer than a small number of persons would be, were the distribution entrusted to them.

It seems to me, however, not out of place to notice in the following Chapter, a method employed by the Roman senate to enlighten the people in making this distribution.

CHAPTER XLVIII.—He who would not have an Office bestowed on some worthless or wicked Person, should contrive that it be solicited by one who is utterly worthless and wicked, or else by one who is in the highest degree noble and good.

Whenever the senate saw a likelihood of the tribunes with consular powers being chosen exclusively from the commons, it took one or other of two ways,—either by causing the office to be solicited by the most distinguished among the citizens; or else, to confess the truth, by bribing some base and ignoble fellow to fasten himself on to those other plebeians of better quality who were seeking the office, and become a candidate conjointly with them. The latter device made the people ashamed to give, the former ashamed to refuse.

This confirms what I said in my last Chapter, as to the people deceiving themselves in generalities but not in particulars.

CHAPTER XLIX.—That if Cities which, like Rome, had their beginning in Freedom, have had difficulty in framing such Laws as would preserve their Freedom, Cities which at the first have been in Subjection will find this almost impossible.

How hard it is in founding a commonwealth to provide it with all the laws needed to maintain its freedom, is well seen from the history of the Roman Republic. For although ordinances were given it first by Romulus, then by Numa, afterwards by Tullus Hostilius and Servius, and lastly by the Ten created for the express purpose, nevertheless, in the actual government of Rome new needs were continually developed, to meet which, new ordinances had constantly to be devised; as in the creation of the censors, who were one of the chief means by which Rome was kept free during the whole period of her constitutional government. For as the censors became the arbiters of morals in Rome, it was very much owing to them that the progress of the Romans towards corruption was retarded. And though, at the first creation of the office, a mistake was doubtless made in fixing its term at five years, this was corrected not long after by the wisdom of the dictator Mamercus, who passed a law reducing it to eighteen months; a change which the censors then in office took in such ill part, that they deprived Mamercus of his rank as a senator. This step was much blamed both by the commons and the Fathers; still, as our History does not record that Mamercus obtained any redress, we must infer either that the Historian has omitted something, or that on this head the laws of Rome were defective; since it is never well that the laws of a commonwealth should suffer a citizen to incur irremediable wrong because he promotes a measure favourable to freedom.

But returning to the matter under consideration, we have, in connection with the creation of this new office, to note, that if those cities which, as was the case with Rome, have had their beginning in freedom, and have by themselves maintained that freedom, have experienced great difficulty in framing good laws for the preservation of their liberties, it is little to be wondered at that cities which at the first were dependent, should find it not difficult merely but impossible so to shape their ordinances as to enable them to live free and undisturbed. This difficulty we see to have arisen in the case of Florence, which, being subject at first to the power of Rome and subsequently to that of other rulers, remained long in servitude, taking no thought for herself; and even afterwards, when she could breathe more freely and began to frame her own laws, these, since they were blended with ancient ordinances which were bad, could not themselves be good; and thus for the two hundred years of which we have trustworthy record, our city has gone on patching her institutions, without ever possessing a government in respect of which she could truly be termed a commonwealth.

The difficulties which have been felt in Florence are the same as have been felt in all cities which have had a like origin; and although, repeatedly, by the free and public votes of her citizens, ample authority has been given to a few of their number to reform her constitution, no alteration of general utility has ever been introduced, but only such as forwarded the interests of the party to which those commissioned to make changes belonged. This, instead of order, has occasioned the greatest disorder in our city.

But to come to particulars, I say, that among other matters which have to be considered by the founder of a commonwealth, is the question into whose hands should be committed the power of life and death over its citizens' This was well seen to in Rome, where, as a rule, there was a right of appeal to the people, but where, on any urgent case arising in which it might have been dangerous to delay the execution of a judicial sentence, recourse could be had to a dictator with powers to execute justice at once; a remedy, however, never resorted to save in cases of extremity. But Florence, and other cities having a like origin, committed this power into the hands of a foreigner, whom they styled Captain, and as he was open to be corrupted by powerful citizens this was a pernicious course. Altering this arrangement afterwards in consequence of changes in their government, they appointed eight citizens to discharge the office of Captain. But this, for a reason already mentioned, namely that a few will always be governed by the will of a few and these the most powerful, was a change from bad to worse.

The city of Venice has guarded herself against a like danger. For in Venice ten citizens are appointed with power to punish any man without appeal; and because, although possessing the requisite authority, this number might not be sufficient to insure the punishment of the powerful, in addition to their council of Ten, they have also constituted a council of Forty, and have further provided that the council of the "Pregai," which is their supreme council, shall have authority to chastise powerful offenders. So that, unless an accuser be wanting, a tribunal is never wanting in Venice to keep powerful citizens in check.

But when we see how in Rome, with ordinances of her own imposing, and with so many and so wise legislators, fresh occasion arose from day to day for framing new laws favourable to freedom, it is not to be wondered at that, in other cities less happy in their beginnings, difficulties should have sprung up which no ordinances could remedy.

CHAPTER L.—That neither any Council nor any Magistrate should have power to bring the Government of a City to a stay.

T.Q. CINCINNATUS and Cn. Julius Mento being consuls of Rome, and being at variance with one another, brought the whole business of the city to a stay; which the senate perceiving, were moved to create a dictator to do what, by reason of their differences, the consuls would not. But though opposed to one another in everything else, the consuls were of one mind in resisting the appointment of a dictator; so that the senate had no remedy left them but to seek the help of the tribunes, who, supported by their authority, forced the consuls to yield.

Here we have to note, first, the usefulness of the tribunes' authority in checking the ambitious designs, not only of the nobles against the commons, but also of one section of the nobles against another; and next, that in no city ought things ever to be so ordered that it rests with a few to decide on matters, which, if the ordinary business of the State is to proceed at all, must be carried out. Wherefore, if you grant authority to a council to distribute honours and offices, or to a magistrate to administer any branch of public business, you must either impose an obligation that the duty confided shall be performed, or ordain that, on failure to perform, another may and shall do what has to be done. Otherwise such an arrangement will be found defective and dangerous; as would have been the case in Rome, had it not been possible to oppose the authority of the tribunes to the obstinacy of the consuls.

In the Venetian Republic, the great council distributes honours and offices. But more than once it has happened that the council, whether from ill-humour or from being badly advised, has declined to appoint successors either to the magistrates of the city or to those administering the government abroad. This gave rise to the greatest confusion and disorder; for, on a sudden, both the city itself and the subject provinces found themselves deprived of their lawful governors; nor could any redress be had until the majority of the council were pacified or undeceived. And this disorder must have brought the city to a bad end, had not provision been made against its recurrence by certain of the wiser citizens, who, finding a fit opportunity, passed a law that no magistracy, whether within or without the city, should ever be deemed to have been vacated until it was filled up by the appointment of a successor. In this way the council was deprived of its facilities for stopping public business to the danger of the State.

CHAPTER LI.—What a Prince or Republic does of Necessity, should seem to be done by Choice.

In all their actions, even in those which are matters of necessity rather than choice, prudent men will endeavour so to conduct themselves as to conciliate good-will. This species of prudence was well exercised by the Roman senate when they resolved to grant pay from the public purse to soldiers on active service, who, before, had served at their own charges. For perceiving that under the old system they could maintain no war of any duration, and, consequently, could not undertake a siege or lead an army to any distance from home, and finding it necessary to be able to do both, they decided on granting the pay I have spoken of. But this, which they could not help doing, they did in such a way as to earn the thanks of the people, by whom the concession was so well received that all Rome was intoxicated with delight. For it seemed to them a boon beyond any they could have ventured to hope for, or have dreamed of demanding. And although the tribunes sought to make light of the benefit, by showing the people that their burthens would be increased rather than diminished by it, since taxes would have to be imposed out of which the soldier's stipend might be paid, they could not persuade them to regard the measure otherwise than with gratitude; which was further increased by the manner in which the senate distributed the taxes, imposing on the nobles all the heavier and greater, and those which had to be paid first.

CHAPTER LII.—That to check the arrogance of a Citizen who is growing too powerful in a State, there is no safer Method, or less open to objection, than to forestall him in those Ways whereby he seeks to advance himself.

It has been seen in the preceding chapter how much credit the nobles gained with the commons by a show of good-will towards them, not only in providing for their military pay, but also in adjusting taxation. Had the senate constantly adhered to methods like these, they would have put an end to all disturbances in Rome, and have deprived the tribunes of the credit they had with the people, and of the influence thence arising. For in truth, in a commonwealth, and especially in one which has become corrupted, there is no better, or easier, or less objectionable way of opposing the ambition of any citizen, than to anticipate him in those paths by which he is seen to be advancing to the ends he has in view. This plan, had it been followed by the enemies of Cosimo de' Medici, would have proved a far more useful course for them than to banish him from Florence; since if those citizens who opposed him had adopted his methods for gaining over the people, they would have succeeded, without violence or tumult, in taking his most effective weapon from his hands.

The influence acquired in Florence by Piero Soderini was entirely due to his skill in securing the affections of the people, since in this way he obtained among them a name for loving the liberties of the commonwealth. And truly, for those citizens who envied his greatness it would have been both easier and more honourable, and at the same time far less dangerous and hurtful to the State, to forestall him in those measures by which he was growing powerful, than to oppose him in such a manner that his overthrow must bring with it the ruin of the entire republic. For had they, as they might easily have done, deprived him of the weapons which made him formidable, they could then have withstood him in all the councils, and in all public deliberations, without either being suspected or feared. And should any rejoin that, if the citizens who hated Piero Soderini committed an error in not being beforehand with him in those ways whereby he came to have influence with the people, Piero himself erred in like manner, in not anticipating his enemies in those methods whereby they grew formidable to him; I answer that Piero is to be excused, both because it would have been difficult for him to have so acted, and because for him such a course would not have been honourable. For the paths wherein his danger lay were those which favoured the Medici, and it was by these that his enemies attacked him, and in the end overthrew him. But these paths Piero could not pursue without dishonour, since he could not, if he was to preserve his fair fame, have joined in destroying that liberty which he had been put forward to defend. Moreover, since favours to the Medicean party could not have been rendered secretly and once for all, they would have been most dangerous for Piero, who, had he shown himself friendly to the Medici, must have become suspected and hated by the people; in which case his enemies would have had still better opportunities than before for his destruction.

Men ought therefore to look to the risks and dangers of any course which lies before them, nor engage in it when it is plain that the dangers outweigh the advantages, even though they be advised by others that it is the most expedient way to take. Should they act otherwise, it will fare with them as with Tullius, who, in seeking to diminish the power of Marcus Antonius, added to it. For Antonius, who had been declared an enemy by the senate, having got together a strong force, mostly made up of veterans who had shared the fortunes of Caesar, Tullius counselled the senate to invest Octavianus with full authority, and to send him against Antonius with the consuls and the army; affirming, that so soon as those veterans who had served with Caesar saw the face of him who was Caesar's nephew and had assumed his name, they would rally to his side and desert Antonius, who might easily be crushed when thus left bare of support.

But the reverse of all this happened. For Antonius persuaded Octavianus to take part with him, and to throw over Tullius and the senate. And this brought about the ruin of the senate, a result which might easily have been foreseen. For remembering the influence of that great captain, who, after overthrowing all opponents, had seized on sovereign power in Rome, the senate should have turned a deaf ear to the persuasions of Tullius, nor ever have believed it possible that from Caesar's heir, or from soldiers who had followed Caesar, they could look for anything that consisted with the name of Freedom.

CHAPTER LIII.—That the People, deceived by a false show of Advantage, often desire what would be their Ruin; and that large Hopes and brave Promises easily move them.

When Veii fell, the commons of Rome took up the notion that it would be to the advantage of their city were half their number to go and dwell there. For they argued that as Veii lay in a fertile country and was a well-built city, a moiety of the Roman people might in this way be enriched; while, by reason of its vicinity to Rome, the management of civil affairs would in no degree be affected. To the senate, however, and the wiser among the citizens, the scheme appeared so rash and mischievous that they publicly declared they would die sooner than consent to it. The controversy continuing, the commons grew so inflamed against the senate that violence and bloodshed must have ensued; had not the senate for their protection put forward certain old and esteemed citizens, respect for whom restrained the populace and put a stop to their violence.

Two points are here to be noted. First, that a people deceived by a false show of advantage will often labour for its own destruction; and, unless convinced by some one whom it trusts, that the course on which it is bent is pernicious, and that some other is to be preferred, will bring infinite danger and injury upon the State. And should it so happen, as sometimes is the case, that from having been deceived before, either by men or by events, there is none in whom the people trust, their ruin is inevitable. As to which Dante, in his treatise "De Monarchia," observes that the people will often raise the cry, "Flourish our death and perish our life."[1] From which distrust it arises that often in republics the right course is not followed; as when Venice, as has been related, on being attacked by many enemies, could not, until her ruin was complete, resolve to make friends with any one of them by restoring those territories she had taken from them, on account of which war had been declared and a league of princes formed against her.

In considering what courses it is easy, and what it is difficult to persuade a people to follow, this distinction may be drawn: Either what you would persuade them to, presents on the face of it a semblance of gain or loss, or it seems a spirited course or a base one. When any proposal submitted to the people holds out promise of advantage, or seems to them a spirited course to take, though loss lie hid behind, nay, though the ruin of their country be involved in it, they will always be easily led to adopt it; whereas it will always be difficult to persuade the adoption of such courses as wear the appearance of disgrace or loss, even though safety and advantage be bound up with them. The truth of what I say is confirmed by numberless examples both Roman and foreign, modern and ancient. Hence grew the ill opinion entertained in Rome of Fabius Maximus, who could never persuade the people that it behoved them to proceed warily in their conflict with Hannibal, and withstand his onset without fighting. For this the people thought a base course, not discerning the advantage resulting from it, which Fabius could by no argument make plain to them. And so blinded are men in favour of what seems a spirited course, that although the Romans had already committed the blunder of permitting Varro, master of the knights to Fabius, to join battle contrary to the latter's desire, whereby the army must have been destroyed had not Fabius by his prudence saved it, this lesson was not enough; for afterwards they appointed this Varro to be consul, for no other reason than that he gave out, in the streets and market-places, that he would make an end of Hannibal as soon as leave was given him to do so. Whence came the battle and defeat of Cannae, and well-nigh the destruction of Rome.

Another example taken from Roman history may be cited to the same effect. After Hannibal had maintained himself for eight or ten years in Italy, during which time the whole country had been deluged with Roman blood, a certain Marcus Centenius Penula, a man of mean origin, but who had held some post in the army, came forward and proposed to the senate that were leave given him to raise a force of volunteers in any part of Italy he pleased, he would speedily deliver Hannibal into their hands, alive or dead. To the senate this man's offer seemed a rash one; but reflecting that were they to refuse it, and were the people afterwards to hear that it had been made, tumults, ill will, and resentment against them would result, they granted the permission asked; choosing rather to risk the lives of all who might follow Penula, than to excite fresh discontent on the part of the people, to whom they knew that such a proposal would be welcome, and that it would be very hard to dissuade them from it. And so this adventurer, marching forth with an undisciplined and disorderly rabble to meet Hannibal, was, with all his followers, defeated and slain in the very first encounter.

In Greece, likewise, and in the city of Athens, that most grave and prudent statesman, Nicias, could not convince the people that the proposal to go and attack Sicily was disadvantageous; and the expedition being resolved on, contrary to his advice and to the wishes of the wiser among the citizens, resulted in the overthrow of the Athenian power. Scipio, on being appointed consul, asked that the province of Africa might be awarded to him, promising that he would utterly efface Carthage; and when the senate, on the advice of Fabius, refused his request, he threatened to submit the matter to the people as very well knowing that to the people such proposals are always acceptable.

I might cite other instances to the same effect from the history of our own city, as when Messer Ercole Bentivoglio and Antonio Giacomini, being in joint command of the Florentine armies, after defeating Bartolommeo d'Alviano at San Vincenzo, proceeded to invest Pisa. For this enterprise was resolved on by the people in consequence of the brave promises of Messer Ercole; and though many wise citizens disapproved of it, they could do nothing to prevent it, being carried away by the popular will, which took its rise in the assurances of their captain.

I say, then, that there is no readier way to bring about the ruin of a republic, when the power is in the hands of the people, than to suggest daring courses for their adoption. For wherever the people have a voice, such proposals will always be well received, nor will those persons who are opposed to them be able to apply any remedy. And as this occasions the ruin of States, it likewise, and even more frequently, occasions the private ruin of those to whom the execution of these proposals is committed; because the people anticipating victory, do not when there comes defeat ascribe it to the short means or ill fortune of the commander, but to his cowardice and incapacity; and commonly either put him to death, or imprison or banish him; as was done in the case of numberless Carthaginian generals and of many Athenian, no successes they might previously have obtained availing them anything; for all past services are cancelled by a present loss. And so it happened with our Antonio Giacomini, who not succeeding as the people had expected, and as he had promised, in taking Pisa, fell into such discredit with the people, that notwithstanding his countless past services, his life was spared rather by the compassion of those in authority than through any movement of the citizens in his behalf.

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