Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 420 pages of information about Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius.

Since we find from history that in the countless changes which have been made from freedom to servitude and from servitude to freedom, sometimes an infinite multitude have perished, while at others not a soul has suffered (as when Rome made her change from kings to consuls, on which occasion none was banished save Tarquin, and no harm was done to any other), it may perhaps be asked, how it happens that of these revolutions, some have been attended by bloodshed and others not.

The answer I take to be this.  The government which suffers change either has or has not had its beginning in violence.  And since the government which has its beginning in violence must start by inflicting injuries on many, it must needs happen that on its downfall those who were injured will desire to avenge themselves; from which desire for vengeance the slaughter and death of many will result.  But when a government originates with, and derives its authority from the whole community, there is no reason why the community, if it withdraw that authority, should seek to injure any except the prince from whom it withdraws it.  Now the government of Rome was of this nature, and the expulsion of the Tarquins took place in this way.  Of a like character was the government of the Medici in Florence, and, accordingly, upon their overthrow in the year 1494, no injury was done to any save themselves.

In such cases, therefore, the changes I speak of do not occasion any very great danger.  But the changes wrought by men who have wrongs to revenge, are always of a most dangerous kind, and such, to say the least, as may well cause dismay in the minds of those who read of them.  But since history abounds with instances of such changes I need say no more about them.

CHAPTER VIII.—­That he who would effect Changes in a Commonwealth, must give heed to its Character and Condition

I have said before that a bad citizen cannot work grave mischief in a commonwealth which has not become corrupted.  This opinion is not only supported by the arguments already advanced, but is further confirmed by the examples of Spurius Cassius and Manlius Capitolinus.  For Spurius, being ambitious, and desiring to obtain extraordinary authority in Rome, and to win over the people by loading them with benefits (as, for instance, by selling them those lands which the Romans had taken from the Hernici,) his designs were seen through by the senate, and laid him under such suspicion, that when in haranguing the people he offered them the money realized by the sale of the grain brought from Sicily at the public expense, they would have none of it, believing that he offered it as the price of their freedom.  Now, had the people been corrupted, they would not have refused this bribe, but would have opened rather than closed the way to the tyranny.

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