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MURDER OF TIBERIUS
49 Thus miserably perished a young man of excellent intentions and perfect honesty, who thought himself destined to be the regenerator of Rome, and merely succeeded in launching the state upon a hundred years of bitter civil strife. No man is fit for a party leader who combines an emotional temperament, an impatience of opposition, and a complete inability to look at contested questions from his opponent's point of view as well as his own. It is probable that Tiberius was attempting an impossible task: without the introduction of Protection agriculture was doomed in Central Italy, and Protection could not be got, because it was against the interests of the urban multitude. But the agrarian question had to be fought out, and the contest, if waged with the usual gravity and self-restraint of ancient Roman politics, need not have ended in confiscation without compensation on the one side, or riot and massacre on the other. For the course that events took Gracchus himself must bear the responsibility: his enemies were greedy and narrowminded, but he himself was harsh, reckless, and provocative beyond measure. When, in a moment of pique, he struck out the compensation clauses from his bill, he challenged the possessores to a fight to the death. Morally speaking there can be no doubt that they were entitled to some sort of amends for being evicted, without warning, from estates which they and their fathers had occupied for several generations. Having ruined many men of mark and impoverished many more, Tiberius had secured for himself an enmity that was bound to end either in his death or exile, or in his being compelled to seize autocratic power. His means were even worse than his ends : no statesman has a right to pull down the constitution about the ears of the people, the moment that he finds himself checked in his designs. However bad a constitution may be, the man who upsets it, before he has
arranged for anything to put in its place, is a criminal and an anarchist, if he knows what he is doing, a mischievous madman if he does not. It would seem from the general bent of the reformer's character that it is to the latter class that he must be consigned. He had many private virtues,—but so had Robespierre: a man may be eloquent, incorruptible, and thoroughly convinced of his own good intentions, but if he is sufficiently reckless, vain, and autolatrous, he may blossom out into the worst sort of tyrant—the philosophic doctrinaire. Looking at the emotional and impatient character of Tiberius, it is quite possible to conceive that, if that scuffle on the Capitol had had another result, he might ultimately have become that which his enemies declared that he wished to be—the tyrant of Rome.
In studying the career of Tiberius Gracchus we were investigating a very simple phenomenon. The great tribune was aiming at nothing more than the redress of social and economic evils, and had no thought of reconstructing the Roman constitution. When the provisions of that constitution stood in his way, he recklessly overrode them ; but when they chanced to suit his purpose, he utilised their most tiresome and absurd formalities to the utmost limit. It was characteristic of the shortsighted Tiberius to press the tribunicial authority to its most exaggerated extension one month, by shutting up the law courts and the treasury, while in the next he struck at the very roots of that authority, and taught men to despise it, by illegally deposing a tribune by the vote of the Comitia. Whether such conduct was likely to strengthen the position of future tribunes, he does not seem for one moment to have reflected. But as a substitute for the old constitution, which he was so ruthlessly breaking up, Tiberius had nothing to put forward. When we examine his programme—the list of reforms that he intended to bring forward in his second tribunate—we find that it does not include any scheme for rearranging the machinery of the state, but only certain proposals to change points of detail, such as the composition of juries, the conditions of military service, and (perhaps) the limits of the franchise. There was no attempt to settle the great problems of sovereignty and imperial administration, which were the really pressing questions of the day. Apparently he was prepared to entrust the unwieldy Public Assembly with the details of the governance of the empire, for which it was even more unfitted than was the oligarchic Senate.
But, in spite of Tiberius's short-sightedness, the aftereffects of his career were such as to make constitutional changes likely, and even necessary. He had broken up for ever the tacit agreement between Senate and People, by which alone the clumsy machinery of the Roman administration could be kept working. He had shown that the Comitia, if galvanised into activity by a reckless and restless tribune, was capable of reasserting its old theoretical powers, and of passing laws in defiance of the Senate, and in opposition to the Senate's dearest interests. No state can contain two sovereigns, and it had now to be settled which was really supreme at Rome -the Senate, according to the practice of the last two centuries, or the People, as theory required. It was only necessary that a capable leader should again come forward to put himself at the head of the Democratic party, and then the struggle for sovereignty must force itself to the front as the main problem of the day.
Leaders of a sort were not long wanting, but at first they were mere noisy agitators, who only stirred the surface of things. C. Papirius Carbo and M. Fulvius Flaccus, the immediate successors of the elder Gracchus, were not men of mark or ability. Their doings had little practical importance. Carbo tried to pass a declaratory law, to the effect that tribunes might legally be re-elected year after year [B.C. 131]. He failed, fell away from his Democratic beliefs, and relapsed, for reasons obscure but probably discreditable, into the ranks of the Optimates. A few years later, however, the bill was passed by other hands. Flaccus, who was a genuine enthusiast, but fickle of purpose and lacking in perseverance, began to meddle REVOLT OF FREGELLAE
with another and a much more important question—the enfranchisement of the Italian allies. He brought in a bill for this very just and wise purpose, saw it blocked by the tribunicial veto, and then, instead of persevering with it, suddenly left Rome, and plunged into a series of campaigns in Southern Gaul (B.C. 125). The Senate deliberately threw the chance of military glory in his way by assigning him the Gallic province; he could not resist the opportunity, and disappeared from home politics for two years. The only practical result of his agitation was the rebellion of one isolated Italian city, Fregellae, which was crushed with ease by the praetor Opimius [B.C. 125-4].
Ten years passed away from the death of Tiberius, and then there arose a man who knew his own mind, who accurately gauged the problems of the time, and saw that not only the social and economic difficulties of Rome, but also the question of sovereignty must be faced, if the Democratic party was to triumph.
Caius Gracchus was nine years younger than his brother Tiberius, and had been too young to aid him in his schemes, though not too young to be appointed one of the famous triumvirs of the Land Commission—that family party which had given so much offence to the Optimates. When the powers of the Commission were gradually whittled away, and its judicial duties assigned to the consuls (who simply refused to discharge them), Caius sank for a moment into obscurity. But it was not for long; like every other young Roman of good family and active spirit, he put himself in the regular political career, and sued for the quaestorship, as the first step in the cursus honorum. Once started he was bound to go far.
Caius was not a mere enthusiast and humanitarian like his brother : he was a clever, many-sided, wary man, who saw all the dangers of the task he was going to take