CHAPTER V. THE ROMAN CONSTITUTION.

[The Roman creators of civilization.]

[The Romans sought to govern.]

[The Romans sought to govern through laws.]

[Roman sense of justice.]

It is not from a survey of the material grandeur, or the arts, or the military prowess of Rome that we get the highest idea of her civilization. These indicate strength and even genius; but the checks and balances which were gradually introduced into the government of the city and empire, by which society was kept together, and a great prosperity secured for centuries, also show great foresight and practical wisdom. A State which favored individual development while it promoted law and order; which secured liberty, while it made the government stable and respectable; which guaranteed rights to the poorer citizens, while it placed power in the hands of those who were most capable of wielding it for the general good, is well worth our contemplation. The idea of aggrandizement was, it must be confessed, the most powerful which entered into the Roman mind; but the principles of national unity, the welfare of citizens, the reign of law, the security of property, the network of trades and professions, also received attention there. The aspirations for liberty and national prosperity never left the Roman mind. The Romans were great creators of civilization, though in a different sense from the Greeks. What the principles of art were to the Greeks, those of government were to the Romans. If the Greeks made statues, the Romans made laws. If the former speculated on the beautiful, or the good, or the true, the latter realized the boast of Diogenes - the power to govern men. The passion for government was the most powerful which a Roman citizen felt, next to the passion for war. For five hundred years after the expulsion of the kings, there was the most perfect system of checks and balances in the government of the state known in the ancient world, and which is scarcely rivaled in the modern. Power was so wisely distributed that not even a successful general was able to gain a dangerous preeminence. Every citizen was a politician, and every Senator a statesman. For five hundred years there was neither anarchy nor military despotism. If every citizen knew how to fight, every citizen also knew how to govern, to submit. No consul dared to exceed his trust; no general, till Caesar, ventured to cross the Rubicon. The Roman Senate never lost its dignity - a supreme body which controlled all public interests. The Romans were sufficiently wise to bend to circumstances. Though proud, the patricians made concessions to plebeians whenever it was necessary. The right of citizenship was gradually extended throughout the Empire. Paul lived in a remote city of Asia Minor, but, by virtue of his citizenship, could appeal to a higher court than that of the governor. The Romans succeeded, by their wisdom, in extending their institutions over the countries they had conquered; and every part of the Empire was well governed even when military despotism had overturned the ancient constitution. There were, of course, cases of extortion and injustice, and most governors made large fortunes; yet the provinces were better administered, and the rule was more in accordance with justice than under the native princes. Throughout the vast limits of the Empire, life and property were safe, and the roads were free of robbers; nor were there riots in the cities, except on very rare occasions, in which they were put down with merciless severity. Yet a few hundred men were enough to preserve order in the largest cities, and a few thousand in the most extensive provinces. Even under the most tyrannical emperors, justice and order were enforced. The government was never better administered than by Tiberius, and further, was never better administered than when he was abandoned to pleasure in his guarded villa at Capri. There was the passion to govern the world, but in accordance with laws. The rule of the Romans was not that of brute force, even when the army was at the control of the Emperors. The citizens, to the last, enjoyed great social and political rights. They had great immunities, in reference to marriage, and the making of wills, and the possession of property. Their persons were secured from the disgrace of corporal punishment; they could appeal from the decision of magistrates; they were eligible to public offices; they were exempted from many oppressive taxes which still grind down the people in the most civilized states of Europe. The government of Octavius was the mildest despotism ever known to the ancient world. That Ulysses of state craft exercised the most extensive powers under the ancient forms, and all the early emperors disguised rather than paraded their powers. Contented with real power, the Roman was careless of its display. He had the tact to rule without seeming to rule; but rule he must, though not until he had first learned to obey - obedience to laws and domination were inseparably connected. This made the Roman yoke endurable, because it was not offensive or unjust. The Romans were masters of the world by conquest, yet ruled the world they had subdued by arms in accordance with laws based on the principles of equity. This sense of justice, in the enjoyment of unbounded domination, undoubtedly gave permanence to their government. The centurion was ever present to enforce a decree, but the decree was in accordance with justice. This was the idea, the recognized principle of government, although often abused. Paul appealed to Caesar. He might have been released by the governor, had he not appealed. Here was justice to Paul in allowing the appeal; and still greater justice in keeping him in bonds until acquitted by Caesar himself. [Degeneracy under emperors.]

[Skill of the Romans for government.]

[On what the prosperity was based.]

[Government the great art and science of the Romans.]