In 114 BC, Rome was a democratic Republic. Representatives elected by popular vote filled the Senate, and the Senate ran Rome. The Empire was conquered in the name of the Senate and the People of Rome, symbolized by the ever present SPQR seen on every Roman standard in every gladiator movie you have ever watched.
At the beginning of the first century BC sovereignty in Rome resided in the People, which may have inspired the most famous attribution of sovereignty in American History, “We the People” as the proclaimed authors of the Constitution. The power in republican Rome resided in the people. In a revolution that was by then legendary, they had banished their kings and established themselves as a free republic where the people assembled together to elect the Senators, the magistrates, and made all major decisions such as whether or not to go to war. And far beyond mere words much of what was early Rome was the target the Founding Fathers shot at when they established our later day republic.
And yet, by 14 AD, when Augustus died, popular elections were but a memory. Power was no longer located in the people, or in their assemblies, or their representatives in the Senate, instead power was concentrated in an Imperial Palace which was guarded, unapproachable, and foreboding.
How did this revolution occur? What led the freedom loving Romans to lay down their liberty and put on the yoke of oppression? Later Romans who longed for the freedom their ancestors had discarded pointed to 133 BC when a rich young man named Tiberius Gracchus bought his way into the office of Tribune, an executive position one step below magistrate that was meant to protect the interests of the poor. Gracchus used his office to curry personal power by giving bread and circuses to the people paid for by the public treasury. Eventually he hit on a very popular plan. He proposed to seize the lands of the rich and give them to the poor and he imposed this under his own authority, an authority he lacked under the Roman constitution. Later when he put himself forward for a second term in opposition to custom and law he was assassinated by a group of Senators.
Several generations of corrupt politicians using the same formula sought to buy personal power and popular adoration by looting the public treasury to give the people ever increasing benefits. Finally another rich young ruler arose by the name of Julius Caesar. He rose through various public offices eventually gaining the office of Proconsul or Governor of Gaul (France). He knew that to be a true Roman hero and paramount leader he needed to be a successful conqueror, so that is what he spent the next nine years doing. He conquered not only all of Gaul but much of central Europe even leading the first Roman expedition to Britain. While he accomplishing this he sent back well written dispatches to Rome which were published and widely distributed recounting his bravery and skill as a general.
All of this was too much for his political rivals in Rome. They gained enough votes to have him branded a traitor which meant little in Gaul where he had absolute power thanks to his well trained and veteran army. His rivals promised his arrest and conviction if and when he returned to the capitol. However Caesar was not to be denied so he compounded the accusations of his treason with a treasonable act leading his army across the Rubicon River to Rome.
With his troops behind him Caesar secured all power and after many adventures to suppress the forces loyal to the old order he had a compliant Senate elect him dictator for life. As his grasp of power solidified it became clear his rule would be the end of the republic. Breaking completely with tradition he began to wear purple, the color of royalty in public. Finally when his chief Lieutenant, Anthony, publicly offered him a crown it was too much and just as with Gracchus one hundred years before, Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators.
Caesar was followed by Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome who was never called Emperor. He was instead known by the republican sounding title of princeps, or first citizen. Kings were hated in Rome. The traditions of the Republic ran deep. Both Gracchus and Caesar had been killed because people thought they would make themselves king. The genius of Caesar’s nephew and successor was that Augustus made himself king in all but name while keeping the outward forms of the Republic. The elections were rigged, the Senate only did what they were told, and the people were kept happy by giveaways from the public treasury and kept in line by a smothering blanket of laws and regulations.
Fast forward to the 20th century and two other would be kings include Mussolini who decreed that calendars in Italy should begin again with October 29, 1922 the date he assumed power as the first day of year one. He proclaimed the Fascist Era was the dawn of a new age. And Hitler who said his National Socialist Nazis would reign for a thousand years.
In America today we have a leader who campaigned on a platform of cutting taxes and regulations. A man who when the economy melted down said if he didn’t solve the problem in three years he wasn’t worthy of a second term. In a classic example of bait and switch he walked over his promises to restore American greatness and suddenly announced five days before the election that he would instead transform America.
Presidents are elected to preserve, protect and defend the constitution. Nowhere in the job description does it mention anything about transforming America. He was elected to do one job and decided instead to do another. TARP was passed to clear the toxic assets out of the banks and restart the system but instead was used to seize controlling interests in AIG, GM and Chrysler and in general assert government ownership over a significant portion of the American economy. The stimulus was passed to re-energize the economy but instead it became a gift bag for the President’s supporters and a slush fund for his re-election.
Mr. Obama, with the corporations once known as the major media clearing his way and covering his tracks, compares himself to Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Reagan and God, ridicules those who cling to the old ways, and decrees that he can rule without Congress because he can’t wait. His spending has impoverished future generations and will eventually sink the ship of state. His foreign policy ignores our allies and empowers our enemies. Instead of uniting our country to get out of the hole dug by generations of failed Progressive boondoggles and giveaways he incites class warfare while the welfare rolls expand daily.
Whether we are dealing with one man devoted to personal aggrandizement or merely a teleprompter reading front man for a well-oiled CABAL we are face to face with someone who has been positioned by the generosity of American voters to do irreparable damage to our nation. We have one last chance to save the republic as we have known it. The Republicans who operate as the other half of the party of power seek to nominate another big government operator who promises little more than driving us to the poor house a little slower with new wars along the way.
What we need is a man who will work as president to re-impose the limits of the constitution. We need a man who will educate Americans as to what a constitutional government is and what it should do and not do. We need a leader who will reverse course and take us back to the days of individual liberty, personal freedom, and economic liberty. We need a leader who isn’t afraid to jettison the empire to save the republic. Now is the time for such a leader. If only enough Americans will recognize the signs of the times and rally round the flag they will still call it America.
Just as the Rome of Caligula and Nero still called itself a republic so too in the coming era of Progressive centralization and control will our beloved country still be America. The Constitution will remain on display in Washington. However, in the world turned upside down liberty will be circumscribed by political correctness and freedom will be defined by government regulations. Our schools and media will assure us that we are the most free and prosperous nation on earth while other countries that have gained their freedom pass us by. History as it is taught in America today tries to tell us that socialism works. It doesn’t. It leads to a stunted, shabby future where everyone sinks to the level of the lowest common denominator. What we need is a rebirth of republicanism with a small “r” and a big dream.
Keep the faith. Keep the peace. We shall overcome.
Dr. Robert Owens teaches History and Political Science for Southside Virginia Community College. He has authored books, including The Constitution Failed and America Won the Vietnam War! Follow Robert at @Drrobertowens.