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was to break down the barriers of division, or else, by scaling them, to become an inhabitant of the greater, where the curule chair was set or the solemn shrine upreared. Yet the Patricians, with magistracies, assemblies, and priesthoods in their possession, were unprepared to bate a jot of their authority, or admit the citizens they had kept without their pale into the midst of their stately habitations. In relating the events of the period immediately following the secession, in such defiance as is possible to make of an obscurity which no researches can remove, we shall sometimes be obliged to follow a peculiar course. Where any tradition is to be had, it may be adopted with great reservation upon its authenticity of detail, but also, according to the principle thus far maintained, with perfect reliance upon its general testimony to some occurrence that has faded like an ancient fresco from the walls of history. Those which belong to the progress of liberty will be inserted without much commentary, and, in one or two instances, wherever they seem to fit in best with the circumstances of the conflict between the Patricians and the Plebeians. Accordingly, the first narrative to attract our attention is that of the proposal by Spurius Cassius of an Agrarian law, the earliest of a series, each one of which, for centuries, will form an epoch in the history of Roman liberty. Cassius was a Patrician, the same who had been chosen Consul during the secession, and who, some seven years afterwards, was elected for the third time to the highest office of the Commonwealth. He was, plainly, of distinguished birth, and, but for one or two occurrences, would be as plainly illustrious for having supported the liberal principles which then depended, in chief degree, upon the character of the moderate party, by which they were maintained amongst the Patricians. One of these equivocal circumstances is his election to the mastership of the Knights, at the time the office was first established with the dictatorship;” for though the sole purpose of these magistracies may not have been the oppression of the Plebeians, it was yet such as to make both the Master and the Dictator suspected, whatever might have been their previous conduct towards the lower estate. Cassius was likewise the reputed author of the league concluded with the Latins, while the seceders held the Sacred Hill; by which, however earnestly he urged the proposal and the ratification of peace betwixt his fellow-citizens, he showed himself determined to uphold his order against the perils on which many of the Plebeians were relying for their own success. He could not, therefore, but be doubted by his countrymen on both sides: by the Patricians for his professions in behalf of their inferiors, and by the Plebeians for his decision, in the moment of universal danger, to sustain their adversaries. As years, however, passed, and the course he had pursued could be more calmly judged, Cassius was again appointed to the consulship, as if the prepossessions against him had been forgotten.
It happened in the ensuing year, according to the narrative of Livy,” that the Hernicans, a nation of Sabine race, and long at enmity with Rome, were reduced to peace on conditions that could have been accepted by them only after disastrous conflicts. A large part of their territory being formally surrendered by the treaty, which Cassius is again supposed to have framed, he preferred a law to divide the newly acquired domains according to a different system from that which had hitherto put the Patricians in possession, or, as we should say, in occupation, of all conquered lands. This law, called the Agrarian, in relation to the Agri Publici, or public lands, alone, ordered that one portion of the Hernican territory should be left to the nation from whom the whole was taken, that a second should be given over to the Latins, and still a third distributed among the Roman Plebeians. But as the wants of his own countrymen were too large to be satisfied by a few acres of the land last acquired by their arms, Cassius went farther still in venturing for their relief; and proposed in the same law, that some of the public domain previously conquered, and long in the occupation of the Patricians, should be surrendered to the Commonwealth by its richer tenants, and then assigned, in moderate shares, to the necessitous citizens. There does not seem any thing, at first sight, to object to a proposal not more generous than just; but the Patricians, who had, from time immemorial, regarded the public lands in the same light as the public honors and the public resources, that is to say, as exclusively their own, were as much enraged as if the Consul had proposed to turn them out of their offices or their dwellings. To a certain degree, they were excusable for any amount of opposition to the law; for, besides the long fixed notion that the domain of the Commonwealth was their own, and that their payment of a tithe of the produce" was a sacrifice rather than a duty on their part, they had made improvements and erected buildings upon the lands, and had bequeathed or inherited them, as legacies to which their title was indisputable. It does not appear that Cassius attempted to take back, in the name of the Commonwealth, any of its estates that had been most improved or longest occupied; but had his law been composed in the most moderate terms possible, it would still have been resisted, as it was, by the Patricians, with might and main. The law, however, passed;" but the commissioners whose appointment it required to divide the domain obtained from its occupants were never even named. The Patricians were probably unable to prevent the Plebeians from voting in their own behalf; and the Consul, perhaps, was so supported by members of either estate, that the opposition he excited was for an instant overcome; but whether he had set his heart on doing good to others, or on raising himself to great authority, he was soon disappointed or betrayed. The rumor may have been spread that he was seeking to become the king of Rome; and the Plebeians, remembering his mastership and his Latin league, may have mistrusted his motives for professing to relieve their poverty: but whatever their actual reason might have been, he was undoubtedly abandoned, just as he touched the highest point of all his greatness. Accused at the expiration of his office, probably before the Curies, and by them condemned as guilty of treason to the Commonwealth, Cassius was immediately executed;" and his house being razed to the ground, its site long remained vacant before one of the great temples in Rome. His deeds appear to have been worthy of a better fate; but the contrast between his life and his death, as far as it can be indistinctly made out, extorts the confession that Spurius Cassius is almost the least known of all the early Romans. Perhaps the only moral to be drawn is, that there was then no middle course to pursue between the factions by which the Commonwealth was sundered.’
3 Which is here followed, simply for the sake of the illustration it affords concerning the proposed division of lands. All probabilities are against the submission of the Hernicans at the present time; but
it is only conjecture that can substitute the real terms of the league. See Liv., Il. 41; Dion. Hal., VIII. 77; and Niebuhr's chapter on the League with the Hernicans, in his second volume.
4 Niebuhr assumes, without much from those whom his law left in necessity, that Cassius also proposed occupation of the undivided lands. to exact the tithe more regularly 5 See Dion. Hal., VIII. 76.