THE example of the republic of Rome in becoming imperial in territory, is a point worthy of careful consideration just now in view of the career of imperialism in territory that is just now opening before the republic of the United States. This, because imperialism in territory was the open road through which the republic of Rome walked to every other sort of imperialism.
Foreign territory once acquired, must be governed and the governors must be sent from Rome. The Senate was the governing power of the provinces, and had the appointing of the governors. And the governorship was the goal of wealth. A governor could go out from Rome poor, perhaps a bankrupt, hold his province for one, two, or three years, and return with millions.
“To obtain a province was the first ambition of a Roman noble. The road to it lay through the praetorship and the consulship: these offices, therefore, became the prizes of the State, and being in the gift of the people, they were sought after by means which demoralized alike the givers and the receivers. The elections were managed by clubs and coteries; and, except on occasions of national danger or political excitement, those who spent most freely were most certain of success.
“Under these conditions the chief powers in the commonwealth necessarily centered in the rich. There was no longer an aristocracy of birth, still less of virtue…. But the door of promotion was open to all who had the golden key. The great commoners bought their way into the magistracies. From the magistracies they passed into the Senate.”—Froude. And from the Senate they passed to the governship of a province.
To obtain the first office in the line of promotion to the governship, men would exhaust every resource, and plunge into what would otherwise have been hopeless indebtedness: yet having obtained the governship, when they returned, they were fully able to pay all their debts, and still be millionaires.
The highest offices of State were open in theory to the meanest citizen: they were confined, in fact, to those who had the longest purses, or the most ready use of the tongue on popular platforms. Distinctions of birth had been exchanged for distinctions of wealth. The struggle between plebeians and patricians for equality of privilege was over, and a new division had been formed between the party of property and a party who desired a change in the structure of society.”—Froude.
Everybody can see how exactly this sketch of the political character of Rome in her republican days is paralleled already in the political character of the United States. And now this prospective imperialism in territory of the United States opens the door to be a further parallel and a further development of the imperial spirit, through provincial and colonial systems of governments.
Of course, republican Rome did not go the full length at a plunge. She began in genuine “republican simplicity.” Indeed, “the governor was bound by law to administer his office with republican honesty and frugality.” Accordingly, “Cato, when governor of Sardinia, appeared in the towns subject to him on foot and attended by a single servant who carried his coat and sacrificial ladle; and, when he returned from his Spanish governorship, he sold his war-horse beforehand, because he did not hold himself entitled to charge the State with the expenses of its transport.”
But, “The new provincial system necessitated the appointment of governors, whose position was absolutely incompatible, not only with the welfare of the provinces, but with the Roman Constitution. As the Roman community in the provinces took the place of the former rulers of the land, so the governor appeared there in the position of a king.” “But it is not practicable for any length of time to be at once republican and king. Playing the part of governors demoralized the Roman ruling class with fearful rapidity. Haughtiness and arrogance toward the provincials were so natural in the circumstances, as scarcely to form matter of reproach against the individual magistrate.”—Mommsen.
Now read the following analysis by Harper’s Weekly, of what will be the governing power in the colonial possessions, which by the present war, are being almost forced under the authority or the protectorate of the American republic:—
“There is no doubt as to the power of Congress to acquire territory. The power to declare war and the power to make treaties imply the power to acquire territory. There is no one who questions its existence. It has been declared over and over again by the Supreme Court. Neither is there any doubt as to the power of Congress to govern territory so acquired. This is expressly granted to Congress in the provision of the Constitution which authorizes the legislative branch of the Government to make needful rules and regulations respecting territories. As Justice Bradley said in ‘The Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints vs. United States’: ‘It would be absurd to hold that the United States has power to acquire territory and no power to govern it when acquired.’
“Nothing, then, can prevent the annexation of territory that may be acquired in war with Spain or through a treaty of peace; whether a resolution of annexation would hold is another question, which, however, is not likely to be raised. And territory once acquired, it will be governed absolutely by Congress; the President and the regular judiciary having nothing to say in the matter after the organic law establishing the territorial government, if such a law be passed, is once in operation. If, however, Congress assumes full control as a local government, it will be free to do as it will—to pass one law for one territory and another for another, or to neglect all impartially; while as to the executive and judicial authorities of these territories, they will be such men as the politicians of Congress prefer.”
Thus in this “imperial” career that opens before the republic of the United States, and which the multitude are insisting that she shall accept, the Congress of the United States will stand exactly in the attitude in which the Senate of the Roman republic stood. And with politics already in this republic, an exact parallel with that in the Roman republic, who can soberly and honestly doubt that the like results will follow here, that followed there as certainly as this republic allows herself to be drawn into this course of imperialism which now is opened?
A. T. J.