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In my popular Posse Comitatus column, https://perrinlovett.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/posse-comitatus/, I made a possibly confusing and unfair allusion to Caesar bringing about the demise of the Roman Republic and ushering in the Empire. It seems that “crossing the Rubicon” is too simply of an explanation for what really happened. The actual process from republic to empire lasted for decades and involved many actors in addition to Caesar.
The Roman Republic existed from roughly 500 B.C. until 27 B.C. Most republics do not make it that long. Ours, if it can still be credibly called a republic, is coming apart at the seams after only 237 years. The Roman Republic replaced the line of monarchs who had ruled Rome for over two and a half centuries. It was succeeded by the Empire, which lasted from 27 B.C. until the German Odoacer set himself up as the first King of Italy in 476 A.D.
During the Republic the government was operated by a Senate (congress) and one or two Consuls (presidents). Most public officials were limited to one-year terms. Many of these public offices, including the Consuls, survived into the Empire, though with greatly reduced authority. There had been a tremendous amount of political strife for over 100 years before Augustus Caesar (Caesar Divi F. Augustus) became the First Emperor.
Caesar (Julius Caesar of the first Triumvirate) returned from war and was expected or feared to take dictatorial control of the Republic. He became a dictator of sorts, but he never got the chance to fully dominate the Senate, being assassinated on March 15, 44 B.C. His murder at the hands of Casca, Brutus, and Cassius is one of the better known events of ancient history. However, the conspiracy included dozens of Senators. Allegedly (according to Tacitus?), once Caesar was killed, the chief leaders of the conspiracy called out repeatedly to Cicero by name, as if to showcase their good works. It is also alleged Cicero waved off the acts and attention in disgust.
(Cicero, champion of Constitutional republicanism. Google Images).
Many have theorized Cicero was a co-conspirator. I don’t think so. Marcus Tullius Cicero was a lawyer, statesman, Senator, and former Consul (63 B.C.) and is widely considered one of antiquities foremost figures. His influence on Latin language is still felt with prominence today. I quote he frequently as he was one of the most critical opponents of the Constitutional demise and all dictatorial actions. He would be one of my two picks as the Ron Paul of his day, the other being the black-robed Cato. Despite his constant opposition to totalitarianism, I do not think he would have sanctioned murder as a means to eliminate the practice. I think his morals, nobility, and steadfast dedication to the law would have prevented his involvement.
Heedless of his own peril Cicero kept up his criticism of Mark Anthony and Company (the Second Triumvirate) and was, in 43 B.C., labeled an enemy of the state and hunted down mercilessly. He was captured on December 7, 43 B.C. and immediately murdered by Anthony’s troops. His last words (according to Plutarch?) were allegedly: “There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.” He was decapitated and his head and hands displayed publicly in Rome.
This brutal display of lawlessness and savagery was formerly utilized by would-be or quasi dictators. Gauis Marius and Lucius Sulla had used similar tactics against their enemies. Such horrific treatment was the most high-tech form of intimidation at the time, drones were still more than 2000 years away.
Marius served seven terms (at intervals from 107 – 86 B.C.) as Consul despite laws enacting terms limits. His power was derived from constant warfare and the need for “emergency” powers from the Senate. War and “emergency” powers go hand in hand with dictatorship. If you haven’t watched the news in the past 12 years, perhaps you did, at least, see the three Star Wars prequel movies.
Sulla served two terms as Consul (82 – 81 B.C.) and, like Marius, gained much power as a petty dictator through war powers. Sulla’s wars were not confined to foreign enemies, marching on Rome itself in 82 B.C. The Senate foolishly conferred upon him dictatorial powers for life. These he immediately began to use, murdering 1,000s of enemies, with no semblance of Due Process. Previously, the Republic had prided itself on justice and faithful execution of the laws, rather than of citizens and nobles.
So, you see, Caesar has a product of his times as much as a dictator. His short reign came in the middle of a century marked by Constitutional decline. Caesar is the best remembered name from the period though his actual power differed little from that of his predecessors and successors. He could have done eternally great service to the Republic and perhaps changed centuries of history if he had followed in the footsteps of one of his ancient precursors.
History also remembers Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, mostly out of awe for his humility in power. Cincinnatus was Consul and was granted dictatorial powers during a time of war twice, in 458 B.C. and again in 439 B.C. Unlike 99% of historical figures granted such rare authority, Cincinnatus immediately abandoned his high position once crises abated. Perhaps Caesar had such intention but was not allowed time to exercise it. Perhaps not.
I hope you have seen, within this column, parallels to modern America. To me they seem both unmistakable and also unmistakably dire in their warnings to us.
We currently have a President who, unchallenged essentially, claims the right to murder American citizens without Due Process. At the same time, we have a craven opposition party which, rather than impeach and remove the usurper, propose to give him Constitutional powers beyond his office. All of this, consequently, stems from “emergencies” whether martial or economic. This has become an established pattern since 2001 though it has roots much older.
This year we mark the 100th anniversary of some of the most destructive Acts in our history. In 1913 the 16th and 17th Amendments killed the States’ fading power against the central government and the Federal Reserve began it’s mission to enslave the nation (publicly and privately) in debt while enabling Washington to potentially spend without limit. Around the same time the National Guard was formalized and strengthened, giving Washington military control over the entire nation.
The ensuing 100 years saw an exponential growth in government, the decline of civil liberties, constant foolish wars, and the nationalization of serfdom.
Having recently lost our Cicero and Cato figures to retirement, we can only pray for a latter-day Cincinnatus.