Constitutional Thinking: America or Roman Republic
For years I have heard many conservatives say, the United States is going the way of the Roman Republic in the 1st Century B.C. If we review the death knells of the Roman Republic, it may help us avoid the same fate.
One of the leading keepers of the liberty flame in that day was Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.), a politician, lawyer, orator and philosopher.
Rome was at the peak of its power and wealth.
He used his position to speak against the politics of envy and growing confiscatory taxation.
He was elected Consul in 63 and had to crush a violent attempt to overthrow the Republic while in office.
Julius Caesar invited him to be the fourth member of what would later be the First Triumvirate, but he refused believing it would undermine the Republic.
Cicero warned of the violent overthrow of the Republic and the fall of Rome if the populace traded in their votes and vigilance for bread and circuses, and their rights and liberties for false security and the yoke of oppression. Today, we don’t get free tickets into the Coliseum (Cowboy Stadium) like they did.
In looking at his fellow Senators, he asked, "Will one of these, your own, lift his eyes from his ledgers long enough to scan the Twelve Tables of Roman Law (their Constitution and Bill of Rights) and then expose those who violate them and help to remove them from power, even if it costs their lives?"
The answer to his question was usually a no.
Politicians then and now were willing to violate their oath and compromise on laws that violate the Constitution and ethics in exchange for political power and money.
His enemies worked behind the scenes to banish him for putting to death a traitor in the earlier rebellion and the future members of the First Triumvirate did not come to his aid.
He states about the verdict, "You have succeeded against me.
"Be it as you will.
"I will depart…For this day’s work, lords, you have encouraged treason and opened the prison doors to free the traitors.
"A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious, but it can not survive treason from within."
That statement is just as true today. A year later, he was recalled from exile, but he had to be careful.
A long, bloody civil war broke our in Rome, and the rule of law was discarded.
Cicero sided with Pompey in a struggle with Julius Caesar, which Caesar won, crossed the Rubicon and seized power becoming dictator.
Caesar pardoned Cicero and he hoped Caesar would restore the Republic, but the ides of March, 44 BC saw Caesar murdered.
Brutus, one of the attackers, called out Cicero’s name when he picked up the dagger, asking him to restore the Republic.
Just like today, people realized something good has been lost.
Cicero lost out to Mark Anthony in a power struggle when Octavian allied with him and Cicero was made an enemy of the state (domestic terrorist?) caught and murdered while trying to flee the country.
Do we have enough knowledge and bravery to "Restore the Republic" whatever the cost may be?
Our Founding Fathers left us a set of personal rights and freedom in our key documents that were very tied to individualism, as Alexis de Tocqueville said in his book "Democracy in America." Today however, Americans seem to put group interests ahead of individuals.
Some polls show Americans the least likely of citizens in ten countries to follow their conscience, and to be the most likely to follow their country right or wrong. I do not completely believe the polls, but we have problems.
Do we have enough real Christians to avoid Rome’s fate?
Cicero’s publisher asked him when he was writing a new book to plead the cause, "who will read it. Romans care nothing for law any longer, their bellies are too full."
When Brutus complained earlier to Cicero that Caesar had betrayed the Republic, he responded: "Do not blame Caesar, blame the people of Rome who have so enthusiastically acclaimed and adored him and rejoiced in their loss of freedom and danced in his path…"
Time passes, but human behavior doesn’t seem to change.