Benson John Lossing.

Harper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) online

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Very different from this was the em- sions and admitted to the franchise all
bryonic growth of political society in such families resident from time imme-
ancient Greece and Italy. There the ag- morial as did not belong to the tribes of
gregation of clans into tribes and con- eupadrids by whom the city was founded,
federations of tribes resulted directly, as But this change once accomplished, the
we have seen, in the city. There burgher- civic exclusiveness of Athens remained
ship, with its political and social rights very much what it was before. The popu-
and duties, had its theoretical basis in lar assembly was enlarged, and public
descent from a common ancestor, or from harmony was secured; but Athenian
a small group of closely related common burghership still remained a privilege
ancestors. The group of fellow-citizens which could not be acquired by the native
was associated through its related groups of any other city. Similar revolutions,
of ancestral household-deities, and through with a similarly limited purpose and re-
religious rites performed in common to suit, occurred at Sparta, Elis, and other
which it would have been sacrilege to have Creek cities. At Rome, by a like revolu-
admitted a stranger. Thus the ancient tion, the plebeians of the Capitoline and
city was a religious as well as a political Avcntinc acquired parallel rights of citi-
body, and in either character it was com- zenship with the patricians of the original
plete in itself and it was sovereign. Thus city on the Palatine; but this revolution,
in ancient Greece and Italy the primitive as we shall presently see, had different re-
clan assembly or township-meeting did not suits, leading ultimately to the overthrow
grow by aggregation into the assembly of of the city system throughout the ancient
the shire, but it developed into the co- world.

nritia or ecclesia of the city. The chief The deep-seated difference between the

magistrate was not the ealdorman of early Teutonic political system based on the shire

English history, but the rex or basilcus and the Graeco-Roman system based on the

city is now, I think, sufficiently apparent.

* Stubbs, Constitutional History, i., 625. Now from this fundamental difference



have come two consequences of enormous who were summoned by Earl Simon to

importance consequences of which it is the famous Parliament of 1265, as well as

hardly too much to say that, taken to- of the two knights from each shire whom

gether, they furnish the key to the whole the King had summoned eleven years be-

history of European civilization as regard- fore. In these four discreet men sent to

fd purely from a political point of view. speak for their township in the old county

The first of these consequences had no assembly, we have the germ of institu-

doubt a very humble origin in the mere tions that have ripened into the House of

difference between the shire and the city Commons and into the legislatures of mod

in territorial extent and in density of ern kingdoms and republics. In the sys-

population. When people live near to- tern of representation thus inaugurated

gether it is easy for them to attend a lay the future possibility of such gigantic

town-meeting, and the assembly by which political aggregates as the United States

public business is transacted is likely to of America.

remain a primary assembly, in the true In the ancient city, on the other hand,

sense of the term. But when people are the extreme compactness of the political

dispersed over a wide tract of country, the structure made representation unneces-

primary assembly inevitably shrinks up sary and prevented it from being thought

into an assembly of such persons as can ot in circumstances where it might have

best afford the time and trouble of at- proved of immense value. In an aristo-

tending it, or who have the strongest in- cratic Greek city, like Sparta, all the

terest in going, or are most likely to be members of the ruling class met together

listened to after they get there. Dis- and voted in the assembly; in a democratic

tance and difficulty, and in early times city, like Athens, all the free citizens met

danger too, keep many people away. And and voted; in each case the assembly was

though a shire is not a wide tract of coun- primary and not representative. The only

try for most purposes, and according to exception, in all Greek antiquity, is one

modern ideas, it was nevertheless quite which emphatically proves the rule. The

wide enough in former times to bring Amphictyonic Council, an institution of

about the result I have mentioned. In prehistoric origin, concerned mainly with

the times before the Norman conquest, if religious affairs pertaining to the worship

not before the completed union of Eng- of the Delphic Apollo, furnished a prece-

land under Edgar, the shire-mote or dent for a representative, and indeed for

county assembly, though in theory still a federal, assembly. Delegates from

a folk-mote or primary assembly, had various Greek tribes and cities attended

shrunk into what was virtually a witen- it. The fact that with such a suggestive

agemote or assembly of the most important precedent before their eyes the Greeks

persons in the county. But the several never once hit upon the device of repre-

townships, in order to keep their fair sentation, even in their attempts at fram-

share of control over county affairs, and ing federal unions, shows how thoroughly

not wishing to leave the matter to chance, their whole political training had operated

sent to the meetings each its representa- lo exclude such a conception from their

lives in the person of the town-reeve and minds.

four " discreet men." I believe it has The second great consequence of the
not been determined at what precise time Graeco-Roman city system was linked in
this step was taken, but it no doubt long many ways with this absence of the rep-
antedates the Norman conquest. It is resentative principle. In Greece the
mentioned by Professor Stubbs as being al- formation of political aggregates higher
ready, in the reign of Henry ITT., a custom and more extensive than the city was,
of immemorial antiquity.* It was one until a late date, rendered impossible,
of the greatest steps ever taken in the The good and bad sides of this peculiar
political history of mankind. In these phase of civilization have been often
four discreet men we have the forerun- enough commented on by historians. On
ners of the two burghers from each town the one hand the democratic assembly of

such an imperial city as Athens furnished

* Stubbs, Select Charters, 401. a school of political training superior to



anything else that the world has ever seen, of the quantity of warfare and in the

It was something like what the New Eng- narrowing of its sphere. For within the

land town-meeting would be if it were con- territorial limits of any great and perma-

tinually required to adjust complicated nent state the tendency is for warfare to

questions of international polity, if it were become the exception and peace the rule,

carried on in the very centre or point of In this direction the political careers of

confluence of all contemporary streams of the Greek cities assisted the progress of

culture, and if it were in the habit every civilization but little.

few days of listening to statesmen and Under the conditions of Greece-Roman
orators like Hamilton or Webster, jurists civic life there were but two practicable
like Marshall, generals like Sherman, poets methods of forming a great state and di-
like Lowell, historians like Parkman. minishirig the quantity of warfare. The
Nothing in all history has approached the one method was conquest with- in corpora-
high-wrought intensity and brilliancy of tion, the other method was federation.
the political life of Athens. Either one city might conquer all the
On the other hand, the smallness of the others and endow their citizens with its
independent city, as a political aggregate, own franchise, or all the cities might give
made it of little or no use in diminishing up part of their sovereigntv to a federal
the liability to perpetual warfare which is body which should have power to keep the
the curse of all primitive communities, peace, and should represent the civilized
In a group of independent cities, such as world of the time in its relations with out-
made up the Hellenic world, the tendency lying barbaric peoples. Of these two
to warfare is almost as strong, and the methods, obviously the latter is much the
occasions for warfare are almost as fre- more effective, but it presupposes for its
quent, as in a congeries of mutually hostile successful adoption a higher general state
tribes of barbarians. There is something of civilization than the former. Neither
almost lurid in the sharpness of contrast method was adopted by the Greeks in their
with which the wonderful height of hu day of greatness. The Spartan method of
inanity attained by Hellas is set off extending its power was conquest without
against the fierce barbarism which charac- incorporation: when Sparta conquered an-
terized the relations of its cities to one an- other Greek city, she sent a harmost to
other. It may be laid down as a general govern it like a tyrant; in other words she
rule that in an early state of society, virtually enslaved the subject city. The
where the political aggregations are small, efforts of Athens tended more in the direc-
warfare is universal and cruel. From the tion of a peaceful federalism. In the great
intensity of the jealousies and rivalries Delian confederacy which developed into
between adjacent self-governing groups of the maritime empire of Athens, the Aegean
men, nothing short of chronic warfare can cities were treated as allies rather than
result, until some principle of union is subjects. As regards their local affairs
evolved by which disputes can be settled they were in no way interfered with, and
in accordance with general principles ad- could they have been represented in some
mitted by all. Among peoples that have kind of a federal council at Athens, the
never risen above the tribal stage of aggre- course of Grecian history might have been
gation, such as the American Indians, war wonderfully altered. As it was, they were
is the normal condition of things, and all deprived of one essential element of
there is nothing fit to be called peace sovereignty, the power of controlling
there are only truces of brief and uncer- their own military forces. Some of them,
tain duration. Were it not for this there a? Chios and Mitylene, furnished troops at
would be somewhat less to be said in the demand of Athens; others maintained
favor of great states and kingdoms. As no troops, but paid a fixed tribute to
modern life grows more and more compli- ^Athens in return for her protection. In
cated and interdependent, the great state either case they felt shorn of part of their
subserves innumerable useful purposes; dignity, though otherwise they had nothing
but in the history of civilization its first to complain of; and during the Pelopon-
s< rvice, both in order of time and in order nesian war Athens had to reckon with
of importance, consists in the diminution their tendency to revolt as well as with



her Dorian enemies. Such a confederation that which prevailed throughout the Med-
\vas naturally doomed to speedy over- iterranean world in pre-Christian times,
throw. the more barbarous method of conquest

In the century following the death of with incorporation was more likely to be
Alexander, in the closing age of Hellenic successful on a great scale. This was well
independence, the federal idea appears in illustrated in the history of Rome a civic
a much more advanced stage of elabora- community of the same generic type with
tion, though in a part of Greece which Sparta and Athens, but presenting spe-
had been held of little account in the cine differences of the highest importance,
great days of Athens and Sparta. Be- The beginnings of Rome, unfortunately;
tween the Achaian federation, framed in ure prehistoric. I have often thought that
274 B.C., and the United States of Amer- if some beneficent fairy could grant us the
ica, there are some interesting points of power of somewhere raising the veil of
resemblance which have been elaborate- oblivion which enshrouds the earliest ages
ly discussed by Mr. Freeman, in his His of Aryan dominion in Europe, there is no
tory of Federal Government. About the place from which the historian should be
same time the Aetolian League came into more glad to see it lifted than from Rome
prominence in the north. Both these in the centuries which saw the formation
leagues were instances of true federal gov- of the city? and which preceded the expul-
ernment, and were not mere confedera- sion of the kings. Even the legends,
tions ; that is, the central government acted which were uncritically accepted from the
directly upon all the citizens and not mere- days of Livy to those of our grandfathers,
ly upon the local governments. Each of are provokingly silent upon the very points
these leagues had for its chief executive as to which we would fain get at least a
officer a general elected for one year, with hint. This much is plain, however, that
powers similar to those of an American in the embryonic stage of the Roman com-
1 resident. In each the supreme assembly monwealth some obscure processes of
was a primary assembly at which every fusion or commingling went on. The
citizen from every city of the league had a tribal population of Rome was more hete-
right to be present, to speak, and to vote; rogeneous than that of the great cities oi
but as a natural consequence these assem- Greece, and its earliest municipal religion
blies shrank into comparatively aristo- seems to have been an assemblage of va-
cratic bodies. In Aetolia, which was a rious tribal religions that had points of
group of mountain cantons similar to contact with other tribal religions through-
Switzerland, the federal union was more out large portions of the Groeco-Italic
complete than in Achaia, which was a world. As M. de Coulanges observes,*
group of cities. In Achaia cases occurred Rome was almost the only city of an-
in which a single city was allowed to deal tiquity which was not kept apart from
separately with foreign powers. Here, as other cities by its religion. There was
in earlier Greek history, the instinct of hardly a people in Greece or Italy which
autonomy was too powerful to admit of it was restrained from admitting to par-
complete federation. Yet the career of the ticipation in its municipal rites.
Achaian League was not an inglorious However this may have been, it is cer-
one. For nearly a century and a half it tain that Rome early succeeded in freeing
gave the Peloponnesos a larger measure itself from that insuperable prejudice
of orderly government than the country which elsewhere prevented the ancient city
had ever known before, without infringing from admitting aliens to a share in its
upon local liberties. It defied successfully franchise. And in this victory over prime-
the threats and assaults of Macedonia, and val political ideas lay the whole secret of
yielded at last only to the all-conquering Rome s mighty career. The victory was
might of Rome. not indeed completed until after the ter-

Thus in so far as Greece contributed rible social war of B.C. 90, but it was
anything towards the formation of great begun at least four centuries earlier with
and pacific political aggregates, she did it the admission of the plebeians. At the
tli rough attempts at federation. But in so

low a state of political development as * La Cite Antique, 441,



consummation of the conquest of Italy in tion of the primitive tribal and municipal
B.C. 270 Roman burghership already ex- religions, thus clearing the way for Chris-
tended, in varying degrees of complete- tianity a step which, regarded from a
ness, through the greater part of P^truria purely political point of view, was of im-
and Campania, from the coast to the mense importance for the further consoli-
mountains; while all the rest of Italy was dation of society in Europe. The third
admitted to privileges for which ancient benefit was the development of the Roman
history had elsewhere furnished no prece- law into a great body of legal precepts
dent. Hence the invasion of Hannibal half and principles leavened throughout with
a century later, even with its stupendous ethical principles of universal applica-
victories of Thrasymene and Cannse, effect- bility, and the gradual substitution of this
ed nothing towards detaching the Italian Roman law for the innumerable local
subjects from their allegiance to Rome; usages of ancient communities. Thus
and herein \ve have a most instructive arose the idea of a common Christendom,
contrast to the conduct of the communities of a brotherhood of peoples associated both
subject to Athens at several critical mo- by common beliefs regarding the unseen
ments of the Peloponnesian War. With this world and by common principles of action
consolidation of Italy, thus triumphantly in the daily affairs of life. The common
demonstrated, the whole problem of ethical and traditional basis thus estab-
the conquering career of Rome was solved, lished for the future development of the
^11 that came aftenvards w r as simply a great nationalities of Europe is the most
corollary from this. The concentration of fundamental characteristic distinguishing
all the fighting power of the peninsula into modern from ancient history,
the hands of the ruling city formed a While, however, it secured these benefits
stronger political aggregate than anything for mankind for all time to come, the
the world had as yet seen. It was not Roman political system in itself was one
only proof against the efforts of the great- which could not possibly endure. That ex-
est military genius of antiquity, but when- tension of the franchise which made
over it was brought into conflict with the Rome s conquests possible, was, after all,
looser organizations of Greece, Africa, and the extension of a franchise which could
Asia, or w r ith the semi-barbarous tribes of only be practically enjoyed within the
Spain and Gaul, the result of the struggle walls of the imperial city itself. From
was virtually predetermined. The univer- first to last the device of representation
sal dominion of Rome was inevitable, so was never thought of, and from first to
soon as the political union of Italy had last the Roman cowitia remained a pri-
been accomplished. Among the Romans mary assembly. The result was that, as the
themselves there were those who thorough- burgherhood enlarged, the assembly be-
ly understood this point, as we may see came a huge mob as little fitted for the
from the interesting speech of the Em transaction of public business as a town-
peror Claudius in favor of admitting Gauls meeting of all the inhabitants of New
to the senate. York would be. The functions which in
The benefits conferred upon the world Athens were performed by the assembly
by the universal dominion of Rome were of were accordingly in Rome performed large-
quite inestimable value. First of these ly by the aristocratic senate; and for the
benefits, and (as it were) the material conflicts consequently arising between the
basis of the others, was the prolonged senatorial and the popular parties it was
pr-sice that was enforced throughout large difficult to find any adequate constitu-
portions of the world where chronic war- tional check. Outside of Italy, moreover,
fare had hitherto prevailed. The pax ro- in the absence of a representative system,
rnana has perhaps been sometimes depict- the Roman government was a despotism
ed in exaggerated colors; but as compared which, whether more or less oppressive,
with all that had preceded, and with all could in the nature of things be nothing
that followed, down to the beginning of else than a despotism. But nothing is
the nineteenth century, it deserved the en- more dangerous for a free people than the
comiums it has received. The second bene- attempt to govern a dependent people des-
fit was the mingling and mutual destruc- potically. The bad government kills out



the good government as surely as slave- sions of the fifth century, local political
labor destroys free-labor, or as a debased life had gone far towards extinction
currency drives out a sound currency. The throughout Roman Europe, and the tribal
existence of proconsuls in the provinces, organization of the Teutons prevailed in
with great armies at their beck and call, the struggle simply because it had come
brought about such results as might have to be politically stronger than any or-
been predicted, as soon as the growing ganization that was left to oppose it.
anarchy at home furnished a valid excuse We have now seen how the two great
for armed interference. In the case of the political systems that were founded upon
Roman world, however, the result is not the ancient city both ended in failure,
to be deplored, for it simply substituted a though both achieved enormous and last-
government that was practicable under the ing results. And we have seen how large-
circumstances for one that had become ly both these political failures were due
demonstrably impracticable. to the absence of the principle of repre-
As regards the provinces the change sentation from the public life of Greece
from senatorial to imperial government at and Rome. The chief problem of civiliza-
Rome was a great gain, inasmuch as it tion, from the political point of view, has
substituted an orderly and responsible always been how to secure concerted ac
administration for irregular and irrespon- tion among men on a great scale without
sible extortion. For a long time, too, it sacrificing local independence. The an-
was no part of the imperial policy to cient history of Europe shows that it is
interfere with local customs and privi- not possible to solve this problem without
leges. But, in the absence of a represent- the aid of the principle of representation,
ative system, the centralizing tendency Greece, until overcome by external force,
inseparable from the position of such a sacredly maintained local self-government,
government proved to be irresistible. And but in securing permanent concert of ac-
the strength of this centralizing tendency tion it was conspicuously unsuccessful,
was further enhanced by the military char- Rome secured concert of action on a gigan-
acter of the government which was neces- tic scale, and transformed the thousand
sitated by perpetual frontier warfare unconnected tribes and cities it conquered
against the barbarians. As year after into an organized European world, but
year went by, the provincial towns and in doing this it went far towards extin-
cities were governed less and less by their guishing local self-government. The ad-

local magistrates,

and more by vent of the Teutons upon the scene seems

prefects responsible to the emperor only, therefore to have been necessary, if only
There were other co-operating causes, to supply the indispensable element with-
economical and social, for the decline of out which the dilemma of civilization
the empire; but this change alone, which could not have been surmounted. The tur-
was consummated by the time of Dio- bulence of Europe during the Teutonic mi-
cletian, was quite enough to burn out the grations were so great and so long con-
candle of Roman strength at both ends, tinned that on a superficial view one
With the decrease in the power of the local might be excused for regarding the good
governments came an increase in the bur- work of Rome as largely undone. And in
dens of taxation and conscription that the feudal isolation of effort and apparent
were laid upon them.* And as " the dis- incapacity for combined action which
location of commerce and industry caused characterized the different parts of Eu-
by the barbarian inroads, and the in- rope after the downfall of the Carolin-
creasing demands of the central adminis- g ian empire, it might well have seemed
tration for the payment of its countless that political society had reverted towards
officials and the maintenance of its troops, a primitive type of structure. In truth,
all went together," the load at last became however, the retrogradation was much
greater "than human nature could en- slighter than appeared on the surface,
dure." By the time of the great inva- Feudalism itself, with its curious net-work

Online LibraryBenson John LossingHarper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) → online text (page 54 of 76)