Niccolò Machiavelli.

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exalt it to fuch an amazing height of grandeur : for
without it, that State could never have extricated it-
felf out of many fudden emergencies and difficulties,
in which their ordinary forms of proceeding, being
flow and tedious, would have had but little efficacy;
becaufe, where no particular Council or Magiftrate
has power to do every thing, but ftands in need of the
afTiftance arid afTent of others in many points, and
when it happens that the neceflity is fo prefnng, that
it requires an immediate remedy, time and opportu-
nity flip away, and are often lofl:, vvhiift they are de-
liberating upon the matter in council ♦, and when they
pome to any refolution, it is generally fo late that the
remedy to be applied proves very dangerous.

AH Republics, therefore, fliould have fome infti-
tution of this kind to fly to, in cafes of extreme ne-
ceffity : and indeed the State of Venice (which at this
day is the bed regulated Commonwealth in the world)
has referved the prerogative of vefl:ing a power in


122 Political Discourses upon Book K

fome few of its Citizens, in times of imminent dan-
ger ; by virtue of which, they may a6l according to
their own difcretion, without the advice or concur-
rence of any other Council : for, if there is not fomc
provifion of this kind made in a Commonwealth, it
mud of courle either be ruined, by (licking to its old
forms, or break them to fave itfelf. It is much to be
wifhed, that fuch emergencies might never happen in
a State, as make it indifpenfibly neceirary to have re-
courfe to extraordinary means for its prefervarion : for
though fuch means may be of admirable fervice for
the prefent, yet the example may afterwards prove
of very pernicious confequence ; becaufe, when men
have once been taught to break old laws and cuiloms
to ferve a good purpofe, they may, perhaps, another
time, plead that precedent for breaking them again
to anfwer a bad one. No Commonwealth however
can be perfect, which has not provided by its laws
againft particular exigencies, prepared remedies for
every accident, and taken care to fecure itfelf in all
events by fpecial Inflitutions ; which cannot be done
more effedually than by creating a Dictator, or fome
fuch Magiftraie or Magittrates upon extraordinary oc-
cafions -, for without that, it muft inevitably be over-
whelmed by any confiderable lliock '*,

We may conclude this Chapter with obferving, how
providently and cautioufly the Romans proceeded in
the eledion of this officer ; for, as the creation of a
Didator mud of courfe diminilh the Confular power,
and fecm to reflect fome fort of difgrace upon thofe,
who from commanding were reduced to obey, this
wife people, apprehending that fuch a ftep might ex-
cite refentment and difienfions amongft the Citizens,
prudently left the choice of a Didator to the Confuls,
well judging that, whenever there fhouid be abfolute
occafion for fuch an officer, though his authority was

• The States General accordingly inverted the Prince of Orange
with a fort of Diflatorial power in the year 1688, when it was refolved
tx) invade England ; fecrefy and expedition being abfoiuteiy neceiTary
to fecure fuccefs in that Enterprize,


Chap. XXXV. The First Decad of Livy. 12^
equal to that of a King, they would be (o far from
complaining, that they would chearfully fubmit to
him, as he was appointed by themfelves : and in fad,
we fee that men feem to feel much lefs pain from
wounds which they give themfelves, than from thole
they receive from others. Befides, in fucceeding
times, inftead of creating a Didlator, they veiled chat
authority in the Confuls themfelves by this form of
words, " Videat Conful ne quid detrimenti capiat
'' Refpublica, /. e. Let the Conful take care that the
•* Commonwealth receives no damage." Upon the
whole, 1 fay, that the neighbouring States, by en-
deavouring to crufh the Romans when they did, in-
ftead of fiiccecding in their defign, only obliged them
to make fuch provifions and inftitutions as not only
ferved to defend themfelves more effedually, but en-
abled them to aci: offenfively againft their enemies, with
more vigour, wifdom, and authority.


How it came to pafs that the Creation of the Decemvirate
was prejudicial to the liberties of Rome, though ii was
done by free and public fuffrage,

THE choice which the Romans made of ten Ci-
tizens to new model their laws, who yet footi
after encroached upon their liberties, and became Ty-
rants, may feem, perhaps, to overthrow my former
afifertion, " That authority legally conferred by the
*' fufFrages of the people is not dangerous to the
" State, but that which is ufurped and affumed by
'^ violence.'* We muft confider, therefore, the
bounds and limitations of that authority, and the
term for which it was granted: for an abfolute autho-
rity, when granted for a long time (that is, for a year
or more) will always be very dangerous, and produce
either good or bad eue6ls, according to the difpofi-
tipn of thofe to whom it is given. If then we com-

J24. Political Discourses upon Book 1,

pare the power of the Decemviri with that of the
Didators, the former will appear to have been much
more extenfive than the latter : for by the creation of
a Didator, neither the majcfty of the Senate or the
Confuls was abolillied, nor were the Tribunes depriv*
cd of their authority. The Didlator could not do
that, and if he had the power to remove any one out
of the ConfuKhip, or Senate, or Tribunelhip, yet he
could not annul the order nor make new laws : fo
that the Senate, Confuls, and Tribunes, ftill fubfifl:-
ing, were a check upon him, and prevented him from
doing the State any harm. But the cafe was quite
otherwife in the creation of the Decemviri ; for the
Senate, Confuls, and Tribunes, were totally laid
afide, and not only the pov/er of making laws, but
of doing every thing elfe, in fliort, that of the whole
people, was entirely transferred to thefe ten Citizens,
who, finding themfelves thus free from all check or
controul, and no right of appeal referved to any one
from them to the people, became inlolent and into-
lerable the very next year after their creation •, of
which we have a remarkable mltance in the ambitious
proceedings of Appius.

It muft be obferved then, that when I fay an autho-
rity, legally conferred by the free fuffrages of the
people, never hurts any Commonwealth, I prefuppofe
that the people do not confer it without proper re-
ftridlions, or for any longer than a limited time : for
"when they are either fo rafh or {o blind as to give an
abfolute and unlimited power to one or more Magil-
trates, as the Romans did to the Decemviri, they will
always fuffer for it in the fame manner. This will
plainly appear, if we examine to what caufes it was
owing that the Didlators were always good Citizens,
and the Decemviri became Tyrants ; and confider
likewife in what manner thofe States acled that were
cfteem.ed wife and provident, and m.aintained good
order and liberty, though they conferred the fupreme
authority upon one or more for a long term, as the
Spartans did to iheir Kings, and the Venetians ftill


Chap.XXXVL The First Decad of Livy. 12:5
do to their Doges ♦, for then we fhall find that fuch
reftraints and limitations were annexed to their power,
as effectually prevented them from abufing it, if they
were fo difpofed. Nor is it of any importance in this
cafe whether the people are become corrupt or not (for
abfolute authority will very foon corrupt a people
and create itftlf friends and partizans) nor whether
the perfon that is pofTefTed of it be rich or poor, of
hh-rh or low extradion; becaufe fuch a degree of power
will foon fupply the want of riches, and birth, and
every thing elle •, as we fhall fhew more particular*
ly, when we come to fpeak of the creation of the


^hat Citizens who have filled the highefi pcfls in the State^
ought not to be above Jerving in thofe of a lower de-

IN the ConfulQiip of Marcus Fabius and Cneius
Manlius, the Romans obtained a glorious vidory
over the Veientes and Etrufci ; in which Quintus Fa-
bius (brother to iVIarcus) was flain, who had httvi
Conful himfelf three years before. From hence we
may obferve, how well the cufioms and pradice of
that Republic were calculated for the aggrandizement
of their Empire, and what an error other States are
guilty of that deviate from their example. For
though the Romans were as ambitious of glory and
command as any other people; yet they thought it
no difparagement to obey thofe whom they had com-
manded before, nor to ferve as inferior officers in an
army of which they had once been Generals. But fo
different is the cuflom and fpirit of our times, that
even at Venice, a Citizen, who has once filled a great
employment, will never afterwards accept of a lefs,
and he is thought excufable for it by the government'>
which indeed may be looked upon as honourable and


1^6 Political Discourses upon Book L

magnanimous in a private man, but is certainly of
great difadvantage to the Public •, becaufe a Govern-
ment may reafonably conceive greater hopes, and put
more confidence in one that condefcends to accept of
a lower pod after he has filled a high one, than in one
who is preferred from an inferior rank to a greater
command •, and people cannot well be fuppofcd to
rely much upon a raw young man, except he has per-
ions of fufficient wifdom and authority about him to
check his youth and corredl his inexperience. If,
therefore, the fame cuftom had prevailed at Rome as
at Venice, and in fome other Republics of thefe times,
that a perfon who had once been Conful, would ne-
ver ferve again in any inferior command, many dif-
afters would have happened which mufl: have en-
dangered its libertyt as well from the errors of new
and unexperienced Generals as from their ambition,
which they might have freely indulged, when they
had no body near them of whom they iiood in any
fort of awe, to be a check upon their condudt ; and
thus a full loofe being given to their appetites, the go-
vernment muft have fuffered no fmail injury from it.


TVhat tumults and diforders were occafioned at Rome by the
Agrarian Law \ and how difgujlful it is to make a new
Law that looks backwards too far ^ in cppofttion to old

T has been obferved by ancient writers, that diffcr-

ent caufes often produce the fame effect, and that

mankind are naturally as apt to be fatiated with prof-
perity, as impatient of adverfity ; and when they are
no longer obliged to quarrel by neceffity, they will
quarrel from motives of ambition, which is fo rivet-
ted in the human heart, that they are never contented,
even when they arrive at the higheft pitch of gran-

Chap.XXXVII. The First Decad OF LivY. 127

deur -. The reafon of this I take to be, that men are
born with fuch appetites as are never to be fully gratifi-
ed in this State: lb that their delires being greater than
the power to fulfil them, a fort of difcontenr, diflatisfac-
tion and longing for more, is incident to all ranks and
conditions. Hence arife the vicifTitudes of their for-
tune : for as they are not only afraid of lofing what
they have got, but continually grafping at more, they
fall firft into private quarrels and animofities, and
from fuch diffenfions to open wars, which commonly
end in the ruin of one State and the exaltation of an-

This I thought fit to premife, in fome meafure to ac-
count for the conduct of the Plebeians, at Rome 5
who, not being content with having fecured them-
felves againlt the infolence of the Nobility, by the cre-
ation of Tribunes, which (indeed they were compel-
led to do by abfoiutc necelTity) began to quarrel with
them afredi when they had gained this point, out of
ambitious motives, and wanted to (hare with them in
their honours and eftares alfo ; two things that are the
mod eagerly coveted by mankind. This gave birth to
all the contefts that happened about the Agrarian Law,
which at lad: proved the deflrudion of that Common-
wealth. Now fince all well governed Commonwealths
ought to take care that the Public be rich, and the ci-
tizens poor, it feems, as if that of Rome was guiky
of an error with regard to this law, either in not mak-
ing it one of their fundamental conftitutions at firfl,
that fo there might have been no occafion to difpute
the matter repeatedly, as they were obliged to do af-
terwards ; or in deferring it fo long that retrofpedlion
became difguftful and dangerous-, or if fuch a provi-
fion v^as made, by fuffering it to lofe its force thro*
negled: and difufe. For (however the matter might
be) it is certain, that whenever the Agrarian Law was
brought into queftion at Rome, every thing in that Ci-
ty v/as thrown into confufion.

* " He thnt thinks to fatiate his defires by pofTefTing the things he
" wiOies for," Cays :}n Eaftern Sage, " is like a man that endeavours
*' to extinn-uUh hre by heaping fliavv upon it,"


12B Political Discourses upor* Book I.

The heads of this Law were, firft, that no Citizen
fhould be allowed to poflefs above lb many acres of
land ; fecondly, that all the lands that were taken from
an enenrjy (hould be equally divided amongft the peo-
ple ; both which articles gave great offence to the
Nobility : for by the former, all thofe that pofTcflcd ^
iTiOre land than that Lav/ allowed of (who were No- ^
bles for the moft part) were to be flripped of the ^
overplus; and in confequence they were deprived of
all means of further enriching themfclves. The Pa-
tricians, therefore, being mofhinterefted in the matter,
and the Plebeians thinking they were defending the
caufe of the Public at the fame time that they were
afferting their own rights, fuch an uproar was raifed
whenever it was brought upon the carpet, that the
whole City was in a manner turned topfy-turvy, as I
faid before "^. Sometimes the Nobility openly op-
pofed it, fometimes they endeavoured to ward it off,
either by engaging the people in a war, or fetting up
one Tribune to oppofe another ; fometimes again, by
giving up a part of their lands, and at others, by

* Appius Claudius, the grandfather of him that was afterwards the
Cliief of the Decemviri; in ordei' to prevent the comolaints of the Ple-
beians, propofed that ten CommifJioners fliould be chofen by the Se-
nate, to make a ftrift enquiry concerning thofe lands which originally
belonged to the Public ; that part of them fhould be fold for the ufe
of the Commonwealth j that another part fliould be diftributed amongft:
the pooreft Citizens, who had no land of their own j that marks (hould
be fet up to diftinguiih the limits of every one's pofleifions ; the want
of which had occafioned the grievance of whic|i the people then com-
plained. What remained of the Public lands, he propofed to let out
for five years at a reafonable rent 5 which rent was to be laid out in
corn for thofe Plebeians that ferved in the army, and for their pay.
This, he imagined, would hinder the people from thinking any more
of having ti;e lands divided afrelh amongft them 5 and that they would
rather choofe to have corn, money, and a fettled allowance during
the whole campaign, than a piece of ground which ihey would be ob-
liged to cultivate themfelves. He added, that he knew no better me-
thod to reform abufes, than to put things upon the fame footing again
that they were at f.rll. Kis advice was followed, though moft of the
Senators, vvlio had lands that originally belonged to the Common-
wealth, could not bear the very name of a retrofpedtion : however, to
am ufe the people, they nivide a Decree according to the propofals of
Appius : but it was not put in execution till five and thirty years after,
•when his grandfou was made the firft of the Decemviri, Dion. Ha«
licarnaf, lib. Vil.



Chap. XXXVlI. The First Decad of Livr. 129

fending a colony to take poITcnion of the ellates that
were, to be divided ; as they did to AnriLim, upon a
difpute that was occafioned by ehis law about the di-
vifion Oi' that territory : but the people in general
were \o averle to going thither, that very few could
be found who would fee down their names fur than
purpofe : upon which Livy obferves, that they were
better conrented, even with afpiring to a fortune an
Rome, than the certain poiTelfjon of one at Antium.
The conteils occafioned by this Law continued till the
Romans had extended their conqueils to the utrer-
molt bounds of Italy, and even beyond them ; after
which thev feemed to be at an end : for the terri-
tories which had been taken from their enemies, be-
ing a great diftance from Rome, and in countries
whither the people could not conveniently go to cul-
tivate them, they became lefs defirous of what did
not lie immediately under their own eyes : befides,
the Romans after a while grew more gentle and mer-
ciful to their enemies, and if they deprived any frate
of its lands, thev diftributed the inhabitants amono;fl
the Colonies which they fent thither.

For thefe reafons the Agrarian Law was dropt till
the time of the Gracchi, who revived it, to the utter
dellruftion of the Roman liberties : for the Nobility
were grown then much ftronger, and oppofed the Ple-
beians with fuch inveteracy, that they at lad came to an
open rupture,which occafioned muchbloodfhed and in-
finite confufion amongft them: fo that the Magillrates
finding their authority infufncient to remedy thefe e-
vils, and neither fadlicn expedling to find any redrefs
from them, they both had recourfe to other expedients,
and each fide began to look out for fome Chief to
head and defend them. The Plebeians therefore fixed
upon Marius, and threw all their weight into his fcale
in fuch a manner, that he was four times chofen Con-
ful, with a very fhort interval betwixt each Confulfhipj
during which time, he fo firmly eflablifhed his power,
that he made himfelf thrice Conful afterwards. The
Nobility therefore, having no other remedy left, were

Vol. IIL K forced

130 Political Discourses upon Book I.

forced to thVow the-nfelves into the arms of Sylla;
and having made him the head of th.eir fadion, a
civil v/ar immediately eiifued : in which, after terri-
ble fiaughter on both rides, and many changes of for-
tune, that of the Nobility at lall prevailed. Thefe
animoiities being afterwards revived in the time of
Ccefar and Pornpey, Cselar put himfelf at the head of
the Marian, and Pompey efpoufed the Syllan fadlion :
but Casfar getting the better of all oppofuion, was ihQ
firft that made himfelf abfolute in Rome -, after which,
the State never recovered its Liberty.

Such was the beginning and fuch the confe-
quences of the Agrarian Law, wliich may feem per-
haps to invalidate what I have afTerted eifewhere, viz,
** That the diiTenfions which happened at Rome be-
" twixt the Patricians and Plebeians contributed to
*' preferve its liberties, by occafioning many good
*' laws for that purpofe. " However I am fliil of
the fame opinion : for fuch is the ambition of the
Nobility in every republic, that if they are not ef-
jedlually rePirained by proper lav/s, the State muit foon
be ruined. So that if it was above three hundred
years before the diiTenfions about the Agrarian Lav/,
occafioned the fubverfion of the Roman Common-
wealth, that event, in all probability, would have
happened much fooner, if the ambition of the No-
bility had not been frequently curbed by the terror
of jthatLaw, and feveral other ilruggles, which were
made by the Plebeians for the fupport of their liber-

• From hence we may likewife obferve, how much
greater value Men let upon riches than honours :
for whenever there was any difpute about the latter,
the Nobility often gave up a fhare of them to ths
people without much reludance or oppofition : but
when their eftates were at Stake, they defended them
with fuch obftinacy that the people were obliged
to have recourfe to extraordinary means in order
£0 gratify themfclves, as I have juft now fhewn ; to
which they were inlligated by. the Gracchi, whofe good


Chap. XXXVIII. The First DecAd of Livy. 13 1

intentions were more to be commended than their pru-
dence. For to think of eradicating an evil that is
j?rown inveterate in a Commonwealth, by making a
Law that looks back too far, is a great piece of indif-
cretion, and only ferves to bring it to a criHs the foon-
tv, as i have demonftrated before at large : whereas
by temporizing, it may be palliated a longer time, if
hot totally difcufTed, before it comes to a he^d^ 2Lnd
caufes a preneral diffolutiorl.


^'bal weak P.epUhlics are always irrefolute^ and take wron£
jneajures : a7idif they come to any refotutiGn^ it is rather '
the effect of nccffity than choice.

^"Y^HE Volfci and iEqiii being informed that Rome
J^ was vifited with a dreadful pedilence, thought
the time Was arrived when they (hould be able to con-
quer that State; and having alfembled a powerful ar- '
my, they invaded the territories of the Latins and
Hernici, fpoiling and laying wafle their country in fucli
a manner, that they were forced to apply to the Ro-
mans for afTjflance •, who being prevented fending any
by the peftilence, returned for anfwer, that they mull
^rm themfelves, and make the bell defence they could^
fince it v/as not in their power to fuccour them. From
this inllance we may obferve the prudence and gene-
fofity of that Senate, v^hich maintained its dignity ini
all viciffitudes of fortune, and conftantly prcfcnbed
the condu(5t that was to be obferved by thofe that were
dependent upon it ; being never afham.ed' to take a
reiblution that v/as contrary to their ulual manner of
proceeding or former maxims, when neceffuy required
it. 7^his I fay, becaufe the fame Senate had forbad
thofe people to take up arms upon any occafiori what-
foever ; and any other Senate lefs prudent than this,
perhaps v/ould have thought it derogatory to their ho-
iiourj if it had fufFcred them to arm and defend them-

K 2 fclvea

132 Political Discourses upon Book I.

fclves at that time. But that body righdy judged
that in luch cafes, to choofe the lefs of two evils was
the befl: refolution that could be taken : and though
it mortified them, without doubr, not only to find
they were not able to protect their fubje(5ls, but that
they murt be obliged to fuffer them to defend them-
felves, for many reafons, (fome of which have been
already afligned, and others are obvious to every one)*,
yet feeing it was abfolutely neceflary, as the enemy
had already invaded them, they took the moll ho-
nourable courfe, and with great majefty fent them
word they had their leave to defend themielves if they
pleafed •, which indeed they mult have been forced
to do without it •, but this was to fave appearances,
and to prevent them from doing fo upon other occa-
fions without their perniifTion, when there was no ne-
ceflity for it.

Now though it Is eafy to fay any other Republic
muft have done the fame ; yet i afiirm, that weak
and ill adviied Commonwealths neither can, nor know
how to acl in that manner, nor to fave their honour
in fuch exigencies of the State. Duke Valentine hav-
ing made himfelf mafter of Faenza, and compelled
Bologna to fubmit to his own terms, fent an ofhcer
to dem.and a pafTage for fome of his troops through
Tufcany, that were upon their march back again to
Rome : upon which, a Council being called at Flo-
rence to deliberate in what manner they fhould Si6l
upon this occafion, it was unanimoufly reiblved not
to comply with the Duke's demand. This was not
behaving like the Romans : for the Duke having a
very powerful army, and the Florentines being in no
condition to oppofe him, it would have been more for
their honour to grant him a irec pafTage, than to fuf-
fcr him to force one : that fo, what they could not
polTibly prevent, might feem to be the effedl of
courtefy^ which would have been a means of preferv-
ing their reputation, at leaft in fome degree. But
the worft properly in weak Commonwealths, is that
they are irrefolute j and if ever they take any laud-

Chap. XXXVIII. The First Decad of Livv. 133
able rcfolution, it is rather through necelTiry, than the
efie6l of wifdom or good counlel : of which I fnall
produce two inftances that happened in Iriorence in
our own times.

In the year 1500, Lewis XII. King of France,
having repofTefled himfelf of the Duchy of Milan,
was inclinable to have reflored Pifa to the Florentines,

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