Containing a Dissertation in the Manner of St. Evremont
The ingratitude of a republic, has, some how, or other, come to be taken for a truth. It has come to be considered as admitted, that in a republic great services are forgotten, and there is not a permanence of reward corresponding with the acts done. Scipio amongst others, is given as an instance of this. I will examine the case of Scipio.
The first mention made of him by Livy, for I draw from authentic sources, is in his 26th book, where he states, that in that year, Publius Cornelius Scipio, to whom the cognomen of Africanus was given afterwards, was Curule Edile with Marcus Cornelius Cethegus, setting up for the office, the Edile-ship, the tribunes of the people opposed him, denying that he had a right to be a candidate, that the legitimate age had not arrived at which he had a right to set up for this office. If said he, the quirites, the Roman people chuse to make me Edile, I have years enough on my side. This was appealing from established laws, to the people, who had the power to depart from the rules they themselves had laid down. It is true, he was carried, but such premature aspiring to the honour laid the foundation of much dislike in the breasts of his superiors in age, and whose pretensions were prior from standing, and services. It is unsafe to obtrude ones self upon the public, but rather to wait until called for. In the smallest occurrences of life a mind of sensibility, will feel the indelicacy of taking place or precedence to which it is not entitled. A thinking mind not blinded by ambition, will see the imprudence of it. What is called politeness, learns to put on the appearance of this discretion; and when we are about to enter a room, it is but decency and good manners to give way to age. In setting up for an office in a community, what difference? The principle lies deep in human nature, and is the same. It is felt by age as a wrong done, when juniors push themselves forward, and make their way before their time. Even those of equal age feel resentment, and hate the successful adventurer. If they cannot shew it at the present moment, it will one day break out.
In offering himself as a general to carry on the war in Spain, there was less reason, or perhaps none at all to accuse Scipio of presumption in offering himself to succeed his father, who had fallen in that war, and in addition to this, his uncle had also fallen, which could not but stimulate him to revenge of the death of these relation; and at the same time on account of the bloody nature of that war. There was no one offering himself for the service. To season my book with a little salt of Latin, I will give the words of Livy. Cum alii alium nominaverunt, postremo eo decursum est, ut populus proconsuli creando in Hispaniam comitia haberet; diemque comitiis consules edixerunt. Primo expectaverant, ut qui se tanto imperio dignos crederent, nomina profiterentur. Quo ut destitutae expectatio est, redintegratus luctus accepto cladis, desideriumque imperitorum amissorum. Maesta igitur caertas, prope inops consilii.--Comitiorum die tamen in campum descendit, atque in magistratus versi circumspectant ora principum aliorum alios intuentium, fremuntque adeo perditas, desperatumque de respublica esse, ut nemo audeat in Hispaniam imperium accipere. Cum subito Publius Cornelius publii filius, quatuor ferme, et viginti annos natus, professus se petere in superiore, unde conspici posset, loco constituit.
I shall drop the Latin, lest I should be accused of pedantry in the language of persons who console themselves for their skim-surface learning, by imposing the term pedantry on all quotations of the classics, in the original language; and for good reason, because they do not understand it. But in order to introduce the farther English, I translate some part of what has gone before. It is then to this effect.
It was deliberated who they, (the Roman people) should chuse to send as general to Spain. At first they waited until those who should think themselves worthy of so great a command, should declare themselves; and no one coming forward, on account of the bloody service, and the danger of the war, suddenly Publius Cornelius Scipio, the son of the Publius who had fallen in Spain, now near the age of 24 years, professed himself a candidate for that trust; standing on a higher ground from whence he could be seen, upon whom, when the eyes of all were turned, he was received with a shout and with favour; and a vote instantly taken, he was unanimously elected.
But, continues the historian, Scipio was not only admirable for his real virtues, but (arte quoque quadam) of a certain cunning, or craft, from his early youth, fashioned to the ostentation of these virtues; alleging amongst the multitude, a number of things that he had seen in visions by night, or had been revealed to him from heaven, by impressions on his mind; whether it was that he himself had been affected with some degree of superstition, or that he feigned those things that his orders and counsels might be obeyed without delay as being inspired, and sent from an oracle. Moreover, from the very beginning, preparing the public mind from the time that he took up the Toga Virilis, no day passed that he undertook any public or private business, before he went into the capital, and entering into the temple, sat down, and for the most part alone, in a secret place, there, wore out a length of time. This custom of his which was preserved by him through his whole life, whether designedly or heedlessly, procured with some a faith in his being a man of divine stock; and revived the report first published respecting Alexander the great, for vanity and fable alike, that he had been conceived from the embrace of a huge serpent, and that an appearance of that prodigy had bee often seen in his mothers chamber; and that at the approach of men, it had always coiled itself up, and slipped away out of sight. Credit to these miracles were never disclaimed by himself; but rather increased by a certain art of neither denying, nor affirming any thing of this nature openly.--Many other things of the same kind, some true, some pretended, exceeded the limit of human admiration in that young man; relying on which alone the state entrusted such a weight of things and such a command, to so young a person.
We see in this portraiture of Scipio the exact prototype and counterpart of some candidates for offices amongst ourselves. There is the same hypocrisy, though in a different way accommodated to the religion of the times. There is said to be more of this in the northern states, because religion there, in Connecticut especially, called the land of steady habits, is more fashionable, and the government itself is, not in constitutional appearance, but de facto a hierarchy. They tell me that no man can be elected to an office there, without the previous approbation and favour of the priest-hood. Not that I find fault with this, if I was always sure that good morals alone and sincere piety, and not compliments or gifts to the pastor, were the criterion of his predilection. In the western and southern states there is not so much to be gained by playing off the grimace of religious appearances; yet, in some places, there is still something of this procuration: and what generous mind is there that will not feel a diminution of respect for such as take these means to advance themselves? What need we wonder, therefore, if at a distant day, and after he had performed great services, we find a latent ill will break out against Scipio, which had been sown at this early period, by the indignation implanted in the breasts of competitors for fame and elevation; nay, an indignation by the wise and good, at the arts by which the populace had been managed, for a private purpose and individual ambition? Why need we wonder, if at an advanced age, even though a good use had been made of this ill-gotten power; or power gotten by unfair and improper means, we should find charges against Scipio, and prosecutions founded, not in the truth of the accusations, but in the memory of the ways and means by which he had unduly acquired popularity, and the suffrages of the people.
After great success in Spain, and his return to Rome, the war being concluded, when, says the historian, men carried it in report, that, extra sortem, or out of his lot, the province of Africa was destined for Scipio, and he himself not content with moderate glory, said that he had been declared consul, not to carry on the war, but to finish it, which could not be otherwise done than by transporting the army into Africa, and he openly said that he would accomplish that by the people, in other words, the populace, if the senate opposed it; and when that proposition was not pleasing to the primore of the fathers, and there were others who through fear of ambition were muttering; and Quintus Fabius, being asked his opinion, spoke upon the occasion.
I will not take the trouble of translating this speech. But, for the sake of those that cannot be supposed, to understand the learned languages, nor from whom such skill ought to be expected, ladies and gentlemen not bred to a profession, and farmers and mechanics, I will give the scope of it, viz. That he was opposed to the carrying the war into Africa. Scipio, on the other hand, spoke in favour of the measure, and supported his pretensions to the command. This speech was not favourably received; but it being pretty generally made known, that if he could not carry his point with the senate, to have Africa decreed to him, he would instantly bring it before the people. Therefore Quintus Fulvius, who had been four times consul and censor, demanded of Scipio, that he would openly say in the senate whether he would leave it to the fathers to determine respecting the provinces, and would abide by their determination, or would carry it before the people. Scipio answered that he would do what was for the interest of the republic. Then said Fulvius, it was not because I did not know what you were about to answer, and what to do, that I asked you, when it was evident that it was your object rather to feel than to consult the senate; and if we did not immediately decree to you the province which you wished, you have your appeal at hand. Therefore I demand of you, tribunes of the people, continued he, that though I do not give my opinion, which notwithstanding it may be carried, the consul is not about to ratify, you will be my support. Thence a contention arose, when the consul (Scipio) denied that it was proper that the tribunes should interfere, but that every senator being asked his opinion, should give it in his place. The tribunes so decreed, that if the consul leaves it to the senate to determine concerning the provinces, it is proper to stand to that which the senate has determined, nor will we suffer it to be brought before the people. But if he does not leave it to the senate, we shall support him who shall refuse to give his opinion. Thus it was left by the tribunes to Scipio himself to say whether he would leave it to the senate. Scipio carried his point; but very far from being to the satisfaction of every one; not that they thought him unequal to the trust, but that honours were heaped upon him with too great rapidity.
This war with the Carthagenians being finished, and a general about to be chosen for that against Antiochus, whom Hannibal had stirred up against the Romans, it was with great address and management that he procured to himself the command. In fact, he could not in name, as he was not then in the consulship, and so Asia could not be decreed to him as a province. Lucius Cornelius Scipio, his brother, was one of the two consuls at the time. Caius Laelius, was the other consul, and having great interest in the senate, wished it to be left to them to designate the provinces, saying it would be a genteeler thing (elegantius) to leave it to the senate, than to be drawing lots for the choice. Lucius Scipio, having got a hint from his brother, the great Scipio, agreed to it. It was to the no small astonishment of Laelius, who was sure of being appointed to Asia, which was his choice, the Publius Africanus, as he was then called, declared that if Laelius, his brother, was chosen, he would serve under him as lieutenant.
This could not be resisted, so great was his reputation with the people for his victories over the Carthagenians and Hannibal, whom he was sent once more to encounter. But this did not fail to make Laelius his enemy, and all his connections and particular friends. Besides it was a proof of an ambition that could not be satisfied. For though Lucius had the command nominally, yet it was evident that Publius had the actual command, and it was under that idea that out of his course he had obtained. It was, in fact, an evasion of the law, and an invasion of the equal rights of the Roman nobility, all of whom were emulous of glory in their turn.
What wonder that on the return of the Scipios, notwithstanding the war had been successfully terminated, there were accusations against them. That of having embezzled the public money, or converted to their own use the treasures taken from Antiochius, was the charge that was finally fixed upon as the ground of his impeachment before the people. Not, it is to be presumed, that there was any thing in the charge, but because it was most likely to be believed, and to affect the accused.--For it is not to be inferred from their not appearing to answer the charge that they were guilty, but that seeing the prejudice against them, they despaired of a fair trial. When the day came, having prevailed so far as to get the trial put off, Publius withdrew into exile: Lucius, the younger brother, who had been the highest in command, though but nominally, pretending sickness, did not appear.
Scipio (Africanus) withdrew to Liternum, and nothing more was said about him. There he spent his life without any wish to return to the city; and when dying gave orders that he should be buried in that very place, that he should not have his funeral in his ungrateful country.
It is a pretty strong presumption against the character of Scipio, that Marcus Portius Cato, the censor, as remarkable for courage as integrity, was his enemy; and during his life, did not cease to inveigh against his ambition. Though not until the death of Scipio, did it appear what enemies he had, whose indignation, says the historian, burst out, which had been in some degree concealed before. There must have been a cause for this; and what do we find in his life, but his taking precedence of others, and grasping at command out of season and turn. This will never be borne in a republic, where the human mind has free play to show itself, and talents ought to have a fair chance for office and appointment. It is a robbery to engross as to number, or to usurp prematurely by intrigue, or those arts that take the populace; such as have recourse to these, even though they achieve great actions, have no right to complain of ingratitude from their country, when notwithstanding what they have done, the ways and means begin to be considered, by which they usurped the opportunity of doing them, to the injury of other great minds, who might have shown equal talents and accomplished the same things. It is sapping all foundation of republican equality and right to countenance this. It is very possible that a certain public character, whom I could name, would have made an abler president than Thomas Jefferson. But the presidency was not intended for him, and it was a fraud upon the electors not instantly to have disclaimed a competition. We have seen in what manner the not having done so, injured his reputation, and, in my opinion, deservedly. It has prevented him from rising to the elevation of the presidency, which I am confident in four years he would have attained. But had he attained that elevation at the time he attempted it, and performed even great services, it is not probable but that the strong indignation of those affected, would have followed him; nor would he have had good reason to complain of the ingratitude of his country, if they had ultimately wrought him a mischief.