Many of the most important offices of the state depended upon the votes of the people; and as the people had very little opportunity to become acquainted with the real merits of the case in respect to questions of government, they gave their votes very much according to the personal popularity of the candidate. Public men had very little moral principle in those days, and they would accordingly resort to any means whatever to procure this personal popularity. They who wanted office were accustomed to bribe influential men among the people to support them, sometimes by promising them subordinate offices, and sometimes by the direct donation of sums of money; and they would try to please the mass of the people, who were too numerous to be paid with offices or with gold, by shows and spectacles, and entertainments of every kind which they would provide for their amusement.
This practice seems to us very absurd; and we wonder that the Roman people should tolerate it, since it is evident that the means for defraying these expenses must come, ultimately, in some way or other, from them. And yet, absurd as it seems, this sort of policy is not wholly disused even in our day. The operas and the theaters, and other similar establishments in France, are sustained, in part, by the government; and the liberality and efficiency with which this is done, forms, in some degree, the basis of the popularity of each succeeding administration. The plan is better systematized and regulated in our day, but it is, in its nature, substantially the same.
[Sidenote: Amusements for the people.]
In fact, furnishing amusements for the people, and also providing supplies for their wants, as well as affording them protection, were considered the legitimate objects of government in those days. It is very different at the present time, and especially in this country. The whole community are now united in the desire to confine the functions of government within the narrowest possible limits, such as to include only the preservation of public order and public safety. The people prefer to supply their own wants and to provide their own enjoyments, rather than to invest government with the power to do it for them, knowing very well that, on the latter plan, the burdens they will have to bear, though concealed for a time, must be doubled in the end.
[Sidenote: Provided by the government.] [Sidenote: How the people were supported.] [Sidenote: Agrarian laws.]
It must not be forgotten, however, that there were some reasons in the days of the Romans for providing public amusements for the people on an extended scale which do not exist now. They had very few facilities then for the private and separate enjoyments of home, so that they were much more inclined than the people of this country are now to seek pleasure abroad and in public. The climate, too, mild and genial nearly all the year, favored this. Then they were not