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THE AGRARIAN LAW OF GRACCHUS 29 casual and spasmodic. It was no longer used (as had been originally intended) for the protection of the plebeian from the patrician. Indeed patrician and plebeian were now inextricably confused in blood, and most of the staunchest oligarchs and reactionaries of the last century before Christ were of plebeian name and race. Of late the tribunate and the veto had been utilised in the most irregular and haphazard way, quite as often by the Senate against the Democrats as by the Democrats against the Senate. Sometimes it was used for purely personal ends by any vain, or eccentric, or ambitious person who had succeeded in obtaining the office. The quaintest tales may be collected, by those curious in the subject, concerning the use of the veto in these latter days. But on the whole the constitution had been saved, by a rough system of give and take, from the ever possible deadlock which the veto might bring about. The powers of the office had never been pressed to their logical extreme, though it was always possible that an obstinate man might bring matters to a crisis. At this particular moment, in B.C. 133, Rome was blessed not with one, but with two obstinate tribunes who held diametrically opposite views.
At the earliest opportunity, therefore, after his election to office, Tiberius brought forward his bill. Its most important clauses we have already noticed; but we must add that the confiscated land was to be cut up into farms Lof thirty jugera each, inalienable by the allottees, and charged with a small rent payable to the state. The former provision was intended to prevent applications by speculators, who might intend not to farm, but to sell at a profit; the latter was to keep before the eyes of the new settlers the fact that they were not freeholders, but tenants of the state. A permanent court of three commissioners “ Triumviri agris dandis assignandis,” was to
be created, not only to distribute land, but to sit as judges in all cases where there was a dispute as to what was and what was not state domain, or as to the fraction which the old tenant desired to retain, or as to any other point arising out of the law.
Both Plutarch and Appian have preserved scraps of the great speech with which Gracchus introduced his bill. They enable us to gauge perfectly the honest but emotional and high-strung temperament of the orator. “The wild beasts of Italy,” he cried, “ have their holes and dens to retire to, but the brave men who spill their blood in her cause have nothing left, when they come back from the wars, but light and air. Without hearth or home, they wander like beggars from place to place with their wives and children. A Roman general does but mock his army when he exhorts his soldiers to fight for their ancestral sepulchres and their domestic gods. For in these days how many are there of the rank and file who possess an altar that their forefathers reared, or a sepulchre in which their ashes rest? They fight and die merely to increase the wealth and luxury of the rich; they are called the masters of the world while none of them has a foot of ground of his own." Having thus painted the miseries of the present state of things, he began to explain his remedy for them. It was absolutely necessary that Rome should keep up the class from which her legions were drawn: land must be found for these landless men, and land was available. “Was it not most just to distribute the public property among the public ? Had the slaves who now tilled the estate of the possessores more claims to consideration than citizens ? Was not a soldier more valuable to the state than a man who could not fight, a Roman than a barbarian ? Accordingly it was his duty to call upon the rich men who now held the public land to take into consideration the dangerOCTAVIUS VETOES THE BILL 31 ous state into which the Republic was drifting, and to yield up their holdings of their own accord, as a free gift, if need be, to men who could rear children for the future benefit of Rome. They must be patriotic enough to subordinate their own profit to the good of the state. Surely it would be sufficient compensation that each of them was guaranteed the perpetual possession without payment of 500 jugera for himself and half as much for each of his sons.”
The speech, as all our authorities agree, was moving and eloquent enough. It roused to enthusiasm the needy crowd of dispossessed farmers, who had never before heard their own case put so strongly. They fully believed that their ruin had come not from economic causes, but from the greed of the rich; they thought that, if started again with the state's aid and protection, they might yet live off the land. The purely urban multitude was moved with the emotional fervour of the harangue, and had no objection to confiscatory measures directed against its old enemies, the governing classes. Clearly Tiberius would not lack supporters, and the angry capitalists soon saw that they would have to fight to the death, if they wished to retain the broad lands which they had so long regarded as their own. Accordingly they had got their instrument ready. A tribune was at hand, prepared to veto the law. He was named M. Octavius: all agree that he was a perfectly honest and upright man. He had been a personal friend of Gracchus, but was a thorough conservative, and (what no doubt did much to settle his politics) a considerable holder of land in possessio. When, by the order of Tiberius, the clerk began to recite the preamble of the Agrarian Law, Octavius rose and bade him desist. Tiberius from the first showed signs of temper; he turned on his colleague, we are told, and used harsh and insulting words to him. Then he postponed the introduction of the bill to the next legal day of meeting, begging his friends to see that they came down in full force to the adjourned debate.
A vast crowd appeared on the appointed day, enough, as the reformer hoped, to overawe his recalcitrant colleague. But when the clerk again began to recite the preamble, Octavius again interposed his veto; then followed a violent scene, while the tribunes exchanged hard words and the mob raged and shouted. A most unhappy inspiration then came upon the reformer. Honestly unable to understand that his colleague could have any but selfish reasons for his obstinacy, he suddenly made a most offensive proposal to him. “You are,” he said, “a considerable holder of public land. I will pay you the full value of it out of my own pocket if you will withdraw your veto.” Naturally Octavius was deeply hurt, and put aside at once the insulting offer. His colleague had taken the very course which made it a point of honour for him to persist in opposition to the very last.
Again there was a deadlock. The condition of affairs raised wild anger in the breast of Tiberius. He was still convinced that only bad motives could lead men to oppose a law in which, as he considered, lay the sole hope of salvation for the Roman state. Accordingly he resolved that these enemies of the people should be chastised. He redrafted his bill, striking out the compensation clauses, and simply evicting the possessores as a punishment for their opposition. Moreover he resolved to show that if his adversaries could use the powers of the tribune, so could he. He determined to make all state business impossible, till his bill should have had a hearing. Using an undoubted constitutional right, but one which no man but a doctrinaire in a passion would have employed at such an early stage of the proceedings he forbade all other magistrates to exercise their functions till the
THE WRATH OF GRACCHUS
Agrarian Law should have been discussed. He sealed up the state treasury in the temple of Saturn, to prevent any payments being made from it. He gave notice to the praetors that they must close the law-courts, and that if they allowed a case to be tried they should be punished by a heavy fine. In a short time every department of government was in confusion : public servants could not draw their pay; contractors could not continue their works ; every litigant found his lawsuit hung up. The confusion and anarchy caused was out of all proportion to the gravity of the provocation which Tiberius had received. The main result of it was to estrange from the reformer's cause the greater part of his more moderate partisans.There were men who had thought that the law was desirable, if the possessores could be paid off and induced to depart without too much friction. But it was obviously iniquitous to abolish the compensation clauses merely because opposition had been offered. And to put a stop to all public business was mischievous and wrong-headed in the extreme, Tiberius, however, was wrought up to such a pitch of exasperation, that he utterly refused to press his scheme in a slower and less desperate fashion. He brought forward the new and harsher form of the bill, and laid it before the Comitia at the first opportunity.
Again Octavius interposed his veto. Rioting followed, and it is said that a gang of the clients and hangers-on of the possessores made a dash for the balloting urns, and tried to break up the Comitia in order to prevent the reformer from proceeding. They were routed, however, and the meeting continued. Two friends of Gracchus, a Manlius and a Fulvius, both consulars, are then said to have suggested to him that, before going further, he might ask the Senate to plead with his colleague to allow the bill a fair hearing. The proposal, if made in good faith, was not a very wise one, considering that most senators