History : Jan-Feb 2019
40 JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019 the republic. There were two consuls who each served a one-year term. They held equal power as political and military heads of state. Consuls controlled the army, presided over the Senate, and proposed legislation. On paper, the Senate’s job was to advise and consent, but because the body was made of roughly 600 elite and pow- erful patrician men, it gained much power and influence. Legislative authority rested with as- semblies, most notably the Comitia Centuriata. Plebeians could belong to this body, whose pow- ers included electing officials, enacting laws, and declarations of war and peace. In the same year Cicero clinched the consul- ship, he exposed and defeated a rebellion led by a political opponent, Catiline. The plot called for assassinations and burning the city itself. Widely considered the best orator of his time, Cicero had attempted to warn Rome about Ca- tiline’s treasonous intentions through dramatic speeches in the Senate, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. After the plot had been exposed, Catiline escaped. Five of his conspirators were caught, however, and Cicero advocated for their imme- diate execution, without trial. Most senators agreed with Cicero, with one major exception—Julius Caesar. He advocated for imprisoning the men, but his recommenda- tion was overturned. The conspirators were ex- ecuted, and Catiline died later, fighting alongside his men while making one last stand. The defeat of the Catiline conspiracy was a high mark for Cicero, whom his supporters proudly called pater patriae, father of the fatherland. Julius Caesar and his patron, Marcus Licinius Crassus, were both formidably rich, and had each used their wealth to gain popular support over the course of their political careers. In the chaos that followed the conspiracy, Julius Caesar and FOUNDING FATHERS’ FAVORITE Benjamin Franklin’s 1744 edition of Cicero’s “Cato Major” (above) was the first classic to be translated and printed in North America. GRANGER COLLECTION/AGE FOTOSTOCK A LONG LEGACY F or some scholars, the Renaissance started when Petrarch discovered Cicero’s letters to Atticus in 1345. Overjoyed with his find, Petrarch was one of the first to worship at the altar of Cicero, whose orations and defenses of liberty against tyranny would inspire generations of philosophers. Perhaps no generation would be as inspired as the Enlightenment thinkers, like John Locke, David Hume, or Montesquieu, who stated that “Cicero is, of all the an- cients, the one who had the most personal merit, and whom I would most prefer to resemble.” He was also a guiding light for the Found- ing Fathers who took En- lightenment ideals and put them into practice in North America. In 1744 Benjamin Franklin published M. T. Cicero’s Cato Major, or His Discourse of Old-Age, the first classic work translated and printed in the colonies. Thomas Jefferson drew on Cicero’s ideas when draft- ing the Declaration of In- dependence in 1776. John Adams idolized Cicero and his powerful words. In his 1787 A Defence of the Con- stitutions of Government of the United States of America, Adams cites Cicero’s ideals as support for this new gov- ernment: “As all the ages of the world have not pro- duced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero, his authority should have greater weight.” CICERO AND MODERN THOUGHT Defeating the Catilinarian conspiracy earned Cicero praise and the honorific pater patriae, father of the fatherland.