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From the Roman wars we may turn aside for a moment to consider the civil and

constitutional progress of the state. An era of some importance was the

censorship of Appius Claudius, in the year B. C. 312. This man, a descendant of

Appius Claudius, the decemvir, resembled his ancestor in character and

disposition. At the expiration of his term of office he refused to resign, but

continued as a usurper to exercise authority. For this he was denounced in the

assembly of the people by the tribune Publius Sempronius, who was supported by

six of his colleagues. The other three tribunes, however, being suborned by the

patricians, supported the usurpation, and Appius was thus enabled to continue in

the censorship for another year. But when he proceeded to add impiety to

arrogance, the deities took the cause in hand, and vindicated both their own and

the rights of Rome. It appears that the family of the Potitii, to whom had been

entrusted the performance of the religious rites peculiar to the worship of

Hercules, were permitted by the censor to delegate their sacred office to clients

and dependents. For this sacrilege the whole family became suddenly extinct, and

for permitting it Appius Claudius was smitten with blindness, thus obtaining from

the Roman people the surname of Caecus, or the Blind.

In the year B. C. 304, during the censorship of Quintus Fabius, an important

change was effected in the political distribution of the people. It was in the

nature of things at Rome that those elements of society which in a modern city

would be designated as the dangerous classes constantly increased and became more

turbulent. The state was always menaced by a surging crowd of hungry creatures

who could easily be incited to violence and insurrection. It was with a view to

the protection of the better classes of society from the menace of this horde

that the legislation of Quintus Fabius was enacted. It was provided that this

multitude of the poor, consisting of the lowest classes, and generally the

children of enfranchised slaves, should be arranged in four urban tribes, thus

preventing the pressure which would be felt from the admission of this dangerous

element into the tribes already established by the census. Though the measure

itself was aristocratic in its origin and tendency, it can hardly be doubted that

the new statute conduced-at least for the present-to the welfare of society.

This success of the nobility by the separation of the rabble from the more

reputable class of citizens was counteracted in some measure by popular movements

in another quarter. A certain Cneius Flavius, a man of the people, who had been a

clerk of Appius Claudius, was elected curule aedile over the candidate of the

aristocracy. Following up his success, he audaciously published on a white

tablet, which was exhibited to the people, those forms of legal procedure which

the patricians had been able by craft and subtlety to monopolize for their own

advantage. Flavius had himself become familiar with these forms while in the

service of Appius. The whole mystery of the law was thus given away to the

populace, and the patrician suddenly awoke to the fact that his plebeian

dependent would no longer be obliged to apply to him for a knowledge of those

civil procedures by which his rights were to be maintained in the Roman courts.

It was a virtual opening of the tribunals of the city to the practice of the

people. The courts became equally free to all, and there was a sudden

emancipation of the Roman commons from the judicial thralldom in which they had

been previously held by the aristocracy.

Notwithstanding these forward movements in the way of popular rights and

privileges, the advance of the Roman people was slow and unsteady. The superior

intelligence of the patricians enabled them time and again to counteract in

practice what the plebeians had gained in theory. It thus happened that the same

social questions which had been apparently settled by legislative enactment would

rise again to the surface and demand a new solution. The same intestine quarrels

which had disturbed the people in the preceding century broke out afresh-

questions of debt, of domestic rights, marriage relations, enrollment, and

taxation-every thing, indeed, which was calculated to disturb the political quiet

of the Republic.