CHAPTER V. THE ROMAN CONSTITUTION.
[Prosperity of the government.]
It must, however, be confessed that, after the Caesars were fairly established on their throne, a great indifference to public affairs ensued. Every office was then, directly or indirectly, in the hands of the emperor. Cicero expressed the popular sentiment of his day when he said, "that was the most perfect government which was a combination of popular and aristocratic authority;" - but in the eighth century of the city, the system of checks and balances would have fallen to pieces in the hands of a degenerate people. A constitutional monarchy even was no longer possible. The vices of the oligarchy, and the fierce reactions of the democracy, had destroyed all the dreams of the earlier patriots. The mass of the people had long been passive under the sway of factions and political intriguers, and they resigned themselves to the despotism of the emperor without a struggle. But even in this degradation the power of government remained among the leading classes. The governors of provinces, taken generally from the Senate and the nobles, were skillful in their administration of public affairs. They were enlightened in all political duties. The traditional ideas of government survived for several generations, even as the mechanism of the army made it powerful after all real spirit had fled. The Roman still regarded himself as the favorite of the gods, destined to achieve a vast mission, even the reduction of the world to political unity. Augustus made every effort, while he reigned, in the ruin of political institutions, to revive the forms and traditions of other days. The patricians were favored and honored, and the Senate still was made to appear august, with a prostrate world at its feet, to which it was bound to dictate laws and institutions. Political unity was the grand idea of the Romans, and this idea has survived to our own times. It was one of the great elements of Roman civilization. Universal empire was based, in the better days of the Republic, on public morality, in the iron discipline of families, in a marvelously well-trained soldiery, in a military system which made the civil society an army almost ready for the field, in a recognition of public rights and duties, in a wise system of colonization, in conciliatory conduct to the conquered races, and in a central power as the dispenser of all honor and emoluments. The civil wars broke up, in a measure, this wise and considerate policy; still citizenship extended to all parts of the empire, even when it was manifest it must soon fall into the hands of barbarians. And as for the administration of justice, it was probably better conducted under the emperors than under the supreme rule of the Senate. Even bad emperors knew how to govern. To the Roman mind every thing was subordinate to the art of government. And every characteristic fitted the Romans to govern - energy of will, practical good sense, the conception of justice, an unyielding pride, fortitude, courage, and lust of power. And the spirit of domination was carried out into every thing. It was made a science, an art. Whatever would contribute to the ascendency of the state was remorselessly adopted; whatever would interfere with it was abandoned or swept away. Fierce and tolerant by turns, and as circumstances prompted - such was the Roman. With submission life was easy, and the government was mild. And the supreme government rarely entrusted power except to faithful, capable, and patriotic rulers. The wisest and best were selected for important offices. The governors of provinces were men of great experience; they were generals and senators who had passed their term of active service. They easily made great mistakes. They carried out the policy of the State. They were acquainted with laws, and the customs of the people whom they ruled. They were versed in the literature of their day. They were men of dignity and fortune. They were moderate, conciliatory, and firm. They were models for rulers for all subsequent ages. There were, of course, exceptions, but the small number of riots and rebellions shows the contentment of the people, for they were not ground down by oppressive laws and exactions, until their spirit was broken. How munificent were the emperors to such cities as Athens and Alexandria! Athens was the seat of learning and culture, to the very end of the empire. Arts and literature and science were fostered in all the cities. They were adopted as parts of the empire, not treated like conquered territories. After the destruction of Carthage, the Romans had no jealousy of cities that once were equals. Their arts were made to subserve Roman greatness, indeed, but they were left free to develop their resources. The development of resources was a vital principle of the Roman government. Spain, Syria, and Egypt, were never more prosperous than under the imperial rule. All the provinces were more thriving under the emperors than they had been under their ancient kings, until the era of barbaric invasions. If war had been the mission of the republic, peace was the pride of the empire. There were no wars of importance for three hundred years, except those of necessity. The end of the emperors was to govern, to preserve peace, and secure obedience to the laws.
[The aristocracy the real rulers of the state.]
[Defects of Democratic ascendency.]
[The people unfit to govern when unenlightened.]
[Popular element in the Roman state.]
[Rich Plebeians had a great influence in the government.]