Mentioned frequently at here and other places is the descriptive two words of the government created in early American history – the Jeffersonian Republic. It was created by learned men, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and other colonial-early Americans who had the advantage of being educated in classic education where the wisdom of the ancient civilizations, particularly the Greek and Roman, were taught along with contemporary wisdom of philosophers and political scientists and other studies. While the Greeks had invented democracy, it was the Romans who invented the republican form of government. Indeed, the Roman Empire had often been referred to as the Roman Republic.
The Roman Republic
began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy around 509 BC and lasted a bit over 450 years until civil wars and the Principate
form of government occurred during the Imperial period
of ancient Roman history. [I]
According to Livy
, a Roman historian, it was the overthrow
of the Etruscan king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
who’s last act of tyranny was the rape of Lucretia
. It was the first representative type of government in the history of world civilization that relied upon the Senate which contained members of the patrician class of Roman families and the election of various officials called Consuls.
The Roman Senate
in the early period of Rome, was an advisory committee to the King, as Livy
So then, by the advice of the senators, Romulus sent around ambassadors to the neighbouring states, to solicit an alliance and the right of intermarriage for his new subjects….
The overthrow of the Tarquin dynasty
was led by Junius Brutus
, who helped form a government that monarchy, but still ended up with a system where the Emperor had absolute power. Later in Roman history, a Brutus descendent who was a Republican loyalist by the name of Marcus Brutus
would be one of the senatorial conspirators in the assassination of Julius Caesar
who has been known to us through the writings of William Shakespeare
in the form of his plays, later to be portrayed in Hollywood films, the latter often portraying (as medieval drawings do) the Senate hall incorrectly as a semi-circular instead of the actual rectangular arrangement of Senate seats in Rome.
During the Roman Republic period
, Rome expanded greatly with intent not just to conquer, but to amass states that would be a coalition with one main government at the pinnacle of government power. Each state had a governor that was a Roman citizen, although the king/queen of a Roman Empire state would rule over their people, but under Roman law enforced by the Roman army. The governors were answerable to the government of Rome, ruled by its Senate and its people’s assemblies. The offices of power were divided among various elected officials in an effort to avoid monarchy, but it failed in this effort because they still retained the executive absolute power of an emperor.
The major drawback of the Roman Republic is that although it had a constitution, it was not declared in a specific written document as a government contract and that it was complex.
The gist of the Roman constitution contained much like the American Constitution of the United States, principles of a separation of powers
, checks and balances
. The constitution was merely a collection of unwritten traditions and laws. Much of the power of the government was held by Roman aristocratic families who pledged allegiance to Rome and sided with other powerful families to form a collective of powerful groups that had the capability of subverting the state, obtaining the loyalty of the basic population through promises that the interest of the common citizen and their will was represented in the process of operating a government. The public was bribed for their support by various promises and public projects, of which the practice of gladiatorial games
, for example, was built as a building that was a symbol of the Roman people and its games, as barbaric as they were, began to be used to distract the common citizen from the woes of their lives and enhance the people’s view of its government. Indeed, during times of economic stress of the common citizens, a section for Roman citizens in the Colosseum was set aside for them and often received free bread paid for by the government and their collected taxes.
Thus from the taxation of citizens of Rome and its satellite states, Rome built magnificent structures and the aristocracy lived in wealth gained from that and the operation of their villas, orchards and farms worked by slaves increased in grandeur as time went along.
In the political, economic and social classes there were mainly the Patrician
and the Plebeian
. Both were inherited by birth, although sometimes extraordinary citizens could be granted a boost in the societal ladder by an authority, such as Roman citizenship of a slave or a common citizen becoming part of the upper military class, as a general.
The Patricians had basically a monopoly of the political offices and most of the wealth of the early Roman Republic. However, there were wealthy Plebeians who had accumulated wealth through investments and circumstance, rather than just by their family heritage. The Plebeians were the working class who had gained wealth from business enterprise and opportunities, and yet were closer to the understanding of the plight of the lower class Roman citizens. The consuls were elected from among the patricians and the chain of power through quaestors
, and censors
. If some of these words are familiar, it is because they have been used in the American judicial system and in European parliamentary governments such as the United Kingdom (Britain
), derived from the Latin original, much as the concept of a republic. However, beyond the gist of the idea, the similarity ends in terms of an American or Jeffersonian republic.
The patricians relied heavily upon the plebeian class of Romans in order to retain their wealth and nobility. The plebeian class produced the grain, supplied the labor that maintained the Roman economy, and also was the recruiting base for soldiers for the Roman Legions. The Roman army was maintained with volunteers, most of the basic soldiers being those who sought to have a more stable income, for themselves and their families. Generally speaking, Americans often join the military for partly the same reason with other reasons like obtaining an affordable college or university education for a fraction of the cost. And, then as now, it is also based upon family traditions and patriotism to one’s nation.
Only after 15 years after the Roman Republic was formed, in 494 BC, there was a secession of plebeians that provided a change to the newly formed Republican government. The Plebes formed a tribal assembly in order to force the patricians to agree to the establishment of an office that would have sacrosanctity
(Latin = sacrosanctitas
). It means the right to be legally protected from any physical harm and the right to legally rescue any plebeian from the hands of a patrician magistrate
. The magistrates came to be called Tribunes
(Latin = tribuni plebes
), which later would achieve the power of the right of intercession (Latin – ius intercession
). It was the right to veto
any act or proposal of any magistrate, including another tribune, for the good of the people. The tribune also had the power to exercise capital punishment against any person who interfered in the performance of his duties. The tribune’s power was enhanced by a pledge of the plebeians to kill any person who harmed a tribune during his term of office.
Another Plebeian secession occurred in 415 BC that promoted the appointment of the decemvirate
, which was a commission of ten men. This eventually led to written laws known as the Laws of the Twelve Tables
, which raised the number of Plebeian Tribunes to 10. Another important law was the Canuleian law
declared in 445 BC that legalized marriages between patricians and members of the plebs, and also included a clause that did not restrict magistrates being patrician.
In 367 BC the plebeians also gained the right to be elected consul, and the first plebeian elected to consul occurred in 366 BC. Soon after the Licinian-Sectian
laws demanded that at least one consul would be a plebeian. When completing a term of consular office, the plebeian consul could become a member of the Senate, which meant that the patricians no longer held a monopoly in the Senate.
In 300 BC, plebeians were allowed to serve in all levels of the priesthood, so the religious order had become equal to patricians. It soon became evident that the voice of the people could be more easily heard and that Roman citizens had more control over their lives when in 287 BC the decisions and legislation of the plebeian assembly called the Concilium Plebis
(Council of the Plebeians
) became binding to both plebeians and the Roman citizen. It might be noted here that being a Roman citizen was an honor, and not all subjects or peoples of the various satellite states were Roman citizens; thus did not have the social or political status a Roman citizen had.
With the changes of the republican form of government in ancient Rome, the patrician class still had power. The patrician still had clout in their heritage as well as through clients representing the people, which then brought about a new form of aristocracy that was composed of both patrician ad wealthy plebeian families; and admission to the Senate became almost a hereditary privilege. Combined with the power of law making and administrative policies, who were the authority in matters concerning war and peace, foreign alliances, the founding of colonies, and the handling of state finances
While it helped the two powers work more together, it didn’t do much for the poorer plebeian common people. The wealthy politicians still maintained themselves as the elite of society and government. The struggles that ensued became the downfall of the Republican system.
The Roman Empire’s strength was provided by a consolidation of states
that was not always the result of conquest. Beginning in the early part of the 6th
Century BC, the Latin League
was formed comprised of states that shared common interests, such as religion, and to guarantee states the protection from invasion by the Roman Legions. [III]
During the period called Pax Romana by Edward Gibbon in his book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in Chapter II, there was a period of peace and gained prosperity with a minimum of expansion under Augustus and his immediate successors and the policy was consolidation like the original Latin League rather than expansion by force. Diplomacy was born. [IV]
Actually, the Roman Republic didn’t become an empire until the latter part of the 2nd
Century BC, when Rome won victory over Carthage, a former alliance in the Latin League, as well as conquests in the east such as Judea, et cetera. [V]
Later, with the addition of Britannia from the Celtic tribes and their Romanization, this would mark the peak of the Roman Empire by the time of Augustus who had subjugated the Spanish provinces and the Gauls and Celtic/Gallic tribes of Eastern Europe. The decline began when the Roman Republic whose Senate was diluted by the power of the Emperor, as well as corruption from within, decided that it would be best to incorporate the barbarian tribes into the Roman citizen establishment with the idea to make them loyal Roman citizens. It worked to quite the opposite. Combined with social and political corruption and lack of morality, this gave way to the rise of the persecuted Christian movement and the eventual fall of the Roman Empire.
The Roman Senate transformed from the Senate of the Roman Etruscan Kingdom to the Senate of the Roman Republic and the Senate of the Roman Empire. So has the original American republic evolved from a Jeffersonian republic to whose checks and balances between the three branches of government being slowly dissolved. Will America suffer the fate of the Roman Republic?
After the council of the committee to decide what form of government was to be adopted, Benjamin Franklin
emerged from the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, was questioned by a woman whether the new government was a Republic or a Monarchy, he replied:
A republic, if you can keep it
While the republic, in name, lasted over 450 years, the republic as the idea lasted between 200 and 250 years. Corruption, abuse of power, the immorality of the people, and the buying votes all helped to ruin it. Even when Christianity took over as the official religion of the Roman state, the Republic was on its death throes and tyranny and chaos resumed and took over.
As Thomas Wolke
wrote at Jeffersonian Republic Now
, January 10th
Some people have tried to draw a parallel between the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and the current condition of the United States. To me, however, the period of Rome’s late Republic, seems eerily similar to what is happening to America. How? As the Roman Republic grew (conquering Italy just as we conquered much of North America), the prosperity of the country grew apace. … The patricians found it financially beneficial to obtain slaves from the conquered peoples to run their estates and man their factories. The result was to throw millions of free Romans out of work or into poverty either because they were replaced by slaves or because wages dropped so much due to competition for remaining jobs that families could not subsist on them. … This is an overly simplified version of what happened to Rome’s republic. But if any of this resembles the current model of how the United States is operating or where we’re heading, then there’s cause for alarm. The question is, will we Americans maintain our Constitutional Republic (which was modeled in large part on the Roman Republic’s constitution of checks and balances and a bicameral legislature), or will we disintegrate economically and constitutionally until we, too, are swept into the dust bins of history?
It is up to the People. If they wish to trade freedom for false security of government controlling the citizen’s lives from cradle and grave, as long as they allow government to conduct public business behind closed doors, trade votes for favors and promises, then it will be a republic that no longer stands.
was conducting business in France as a minister of the United States when the Federal Constitution was written initially in 1787; however, his correspondence in the form of letters helped influence the development of a federal government. While Mr. Jefferson was not the sole drafter of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it was his wisdom and classic education that afforded him the knowledge to present ideas of how to make a more perfect
republic. Not only did he perform a major service in establishing our government, but he also was the key figure in the planning, design and construction of our nation’s capitol and the federal district we know today as Washington, DC. Mr. Jefferson also established the principle and the tradition of turning over the power of the President of the United States, transition of power, peacefully after the election was over. He called his election as the 3rd
President of the United States (against John Adams
) a triumph and the second American Revolution
. He was known for stopping the importation of slaves in an effort of hope that the people would do away with slavery eventually and his insistence in keeping church and state separate, as well as his expansionism and his foreign affair policies that included a war against the Barbary Pirates who were disrupting American and other nation’s in the practice of free trade; will continue to go down in history as remarkable accomplishments and a blueprint of foreign policy today.
Thomas Jefferson also recognized the freedom of the press, but also recognized a growing practice of the media (press) abusing the First Amendment. The people knew and know today the importance of an objective and informative media, not a media that utilitizes the powers of the press for personal or political reasons, rather than neutrality and truth. The media today has gone so far as to ensure the monopoly of the two traditional political parties by not giving fair and balanced exposure to independent and third party candidates for office. This must stop. Freedom of the Press does not mean that national security measures should be broadcasted to allow enemies of the United States and free nations use the information against us; however, public affairs should not ever be denied access by the media or the people as behind-closed-door meetings in Congress.
Thomas Jefferson saw in his later years some changes, not all were good, but was still optimistic about the American republic, he wrote in 1799:
The spirit of 1776 is not dead. It has only been slumbering. The body of the American people is substantially republican. But their virtuous feelings have been played upon by some fact with more fiction; they have been the dupes of artful maneuvers, and made for a moment to be willing instruments in forging chains for themselves.
The American people have been duped into thinking that those that run our government, supposedly For the People, can do better those things that we have before and can still do for ourselves. Those that we have elected have told us that health care can be better managed by the government, ignoring the fact that they have already implemented a program called Medicare that has become corrupted and wasteful of taxpayer dollars – it is a program that they invest in through forced payroll deductions that can only be used when 65 years of age or older. We can look at the efficiency of Social Security to determine if government can handle something as important as health care. We are told that illegal aliens must be introduced into society after being here so long and circumventing and breaking our laws in the name of humanity … but among those poor and destitute honest people are criminals and Islamic fascists determined to destroy civil law and the fabric of our nation’s greatness. Those we elected are eager to provide amnesty for over 12 million illegal aliens, mostly from Mexico, in order to obtain a larger mass of voters – who would gratefully vote for them for getting them off the hook for breaking US immigration and official identification laws.
Yes, Dr. Franklin, if We the People
, can keep it.
If not, freedom and liberty will not have just fallen away to history in America; indeed it may be gone around the world.Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman, 106-43 BC:
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 and gave him triumphal processions. … Blame the people who hail him when he speaks in the Forum of the ‘new, wonderful good society’ which shall now be Rome’s; interpreted to mean ‘more money, more ease, more security, more living fatly at the expense of the industrious.
Further Reading and Sources:
Decline of Roman Empire … UNRV History