XII. A FUTILE EFFORT AT REFORM.
One day when the conqueror of Carthage, Scipio Africanus, was feasting with other senators at the Capitol, the veteran patrician was asked by the friends about him to give his daughter Cornelia to a young man of the plebeian family of Sempronia, Tiberius Gracchus by name. This young man was then about twenty-five years old; he had travelled and fought in different parts of the world, and had obtained a high reputation for manliness. Just at this time he had put Africanus under obligations to him by defending him from attacks in public life, and the old commander readily agreed to the request of his friends. When he returned to his home and told his wife that he had given away their daughter, she upbraided him for his rashness; but when she heard the name of the fortunate man, she said that Gracchus was the only person worthy of the gift. The mother's opinion proved to be correct. The young people lived together in happiness, and Cornelia became the mother of three children, who carried down the good traits of their parents. One of these was a daughter named, like her mother, Cornelia, who became the wife of Scipio Africanus the younger, and the others were her two brothers. Tiberius and Caius, who are known as theGracchi. Tiberius Gracchus lived to be over fifty years old, and won still greater laurels in war and peace at home and in foreign lands. Cicero says that he did a great service to the state by gathering together on the Esquiline the freedmen who had spread themselves throughout the tribes, and restricting their franchise (B.C. 169). Thus, Cicero thought, he succeeded for a time in checking the ruin of the republic. [Footnote: The freedmen had been confined to the four city tribes in 220 B.C.]
There was sad need of some movement to correct abuses that had grown up in Rome, and the men destined to stand forth as reformers were the two Gracchi, sons of Cornelia and Tiberius. Their father did not live to complete their education, but their mother, though courted by great men, and by at least one king, refused to marry again, and gave up her time to educating her sons, whom she proudly called her "jewels" when the Roman matrons, relieved from the restrictions of the Oppian law, boastfully showed her the rich ornaments of gold and precious stones that they adorned themselves with. The brothers had eminent Greeks to give them instruction, and grew up wise, able and eloquent, though each exhibited his wisdom and ability in a different way.
Tiberius, who was nine years older than his brother, came first into public life. He went to Africa with his brother-in-law, when the younger Africanus completed the destruction of Carthage, and afterward he took part in the wars in Spain. It is said that, as he went through Etruria on his way to Spain, he noticed that the fields were cultivated by foreign slaves, working in clanking chains, instead of by freemen; and that because the rich had taken possession of great ranges of territory, the poor Romans had not even a clod to call their own, though they had fought the battles by which the land had been made secure. The sight of so much distress in a fertile country lying waste affected Tiberius very deeply, and when he returned to Rome, he bethought himself that it was in opposition to law that the rich controlled such vast estates. He remembered that the Licinian Rogation, which became a law more than two hundred years before this time, forbade any man having such large tracts in his possession, and thought that so beneficent a law should continue to be respected. He told the people of Rome that the wild beasts had their dens and caves, while the men who had fought and exposed their lives for Italy enjoyed in it nothing more than light and air, and were obliged to wander about with their wives and little ones, their commanders mocking them by calling upon them to fight "for their tombs and the temples of their gods," - things that they never possessed nor could hope to have any interest in. "Not one among many, many Romans," said he, "has a family altar or an ancestral tomb. They have fought to maintain the luxury of the great, and they are called in bitter irony the 'masters of the world' while they do not possess a clod of earth that they may call their own!"
It was a noble patriotism that filled the heart of Tiberius, but it was not easy to carry out a reform like the one he contemplated. It may not have appeared difficult to re-enact the old law, but we must remember that, during two centuries of its neglect, generations of men had peaceably possessed the great estates, of which its enforcement would deprive them all at once. Was it to be supposed that they would quietly permit this to be done? Was it just to deprive men of possessions that they had received from their parents and grandparents without protest on the part of the nation? Cornelia urged Tiberius to do some great work for the state, telling him that she was called the "daughter of Scipio," while she wished to be known as the "mother of the Gracchi." The war in Sicily emphasized the troubles that Tiberius wished to put an end to, and in the midst of it he was elected one of the tribunes, the people hoping something from him, and putting up placards all over the city calling upon him to take their part.