ROME became imperial when the fabric of the Roman republic fell to pieces. Imperialism came not upon Rome by chance; it came never by chance upon any country. Imperial Rome came because the Roman republic fell to pieces; and the republic fell to pieces because the capacity for self-government had become lost in the Roman people.
Whenever the capacity for self-government is lost by any people, republican government is with them no longer possible, and imperialism no longer avoidable.
The last days of the Roman republic were marked by the division of society into two opposing classes,—the rich, and the poor. It was marked by the elimination of the middle class—that bodyguard of republican government, holding the balance of power between the social extremes. This class of the people being eliminated, there was nothing to check the struggle between poverty and wealth, which went on continuously. The rich obtained their riches by the most unscrupulous use of power, and the poor were held in poverty by the unscrupulous exercise of the power of wealth. And the poor became possessed of the idea that the state owed them a living, and preferred to depend for a living upon the state, rather than to make vigorous efforts to help themselves.
The political atmosphere was full of the questions to which the struggle between wealth and poverty gives rise. There was the land question: the land was passing from the hands of the people into the control of monopolists, who tilled it by gangs of slaves. Monopoly enabled the man of wealth to shut out competition, just as it does to-day; and the poor land holder, not being able to compete with the slave owner, became discontented and preferred the life of the city. The people flocked to the cities, and the transfer of their lands to the monopolists, and of themselves to the centres of wealth and political power, only made more unstable the trembling equilibrium of the government.
There was urgent need of purification in politics. The word had become the synonym of corruption. Political power meant the money to buy votes, and the voter was as ready to sell his vote as the politician was to buy it. Public offices were bought and public officials of all ranks were open to bribery. Everywhere gold outweighed justice and a feather outweighed crime.
Industry had dwindled in its meaning until it signified only the pursuit of money. This was the all-absorbing craze among all classes. The poor man sold his vote for money, and the rich man bought it in order that he might use its power to get wealth. There was a general eagerness to get rich, and to get rich without hard work. Immense fortunes were acquired at a bound by the unscrupulous use of the power of political office. The man who had bribed his way to the position of governor of a province, although he went to his new field heavily in debt came back in two or three years with a fortune which excited the envy and dazzled the judgment of his humbler fellows. The successful adventurer, no matter what his maxims and methods, became an example to be copied if possible.
Another feature that marked the decay of the republic was the development of the innate tendency of human nature to want to get something for nothing. This was a marked feature of life in the large cities. People who were without money wanted to be supported by the state. The conception of the state as a paternal entity endowed with unlimited capacity to support the people had become widespread. From the public granaries, grain was supplied to the indigent populace at a nominal price, while they were entertained at shows provided at state expense. This was the regime which the people preferred to self-support and self-government. They put their dependence upon that which, apart from the people, was nothing but a name; and of course, the fancied support soon failed. The republic was all the time sinking lower into the sea of anarchy and despotism.
Yet at this time Rome as a political division of the earth was rising to the zenith of her power. Her legions, under the leadership of renowned warriors, were sweeping all before them to the extreme limits of the known world. The prowess exhibited abroad gave no hint of the weakness that was a reality at home. But the power of the army was not the power of the republic; it was in reality the power of despotism. This the Romans finally perceived; this, in her own case, the French republic is perceiving to-day; and this the United States will perceive when this republic shall have become the great military power which it now aspires and is planning to be.
Such was Rome in the last days of the republic. And all this was because the people themselves, individually, had lost the capacity for self-government. The principle had become corrupted within them, and this individual corruption was the disease which manifested itself in upheavals in the affairs of state. And the remedies proposed and tried were only to cure the symptoms and not the disease itself; and when at last the would-be liberators of their country performed the desperate deed which  removed from the Roman stage the imperial figure of Julius Cesar, the imperialism within the republic went on unchecked. New and worse symptoms of the disease speedily appeared in the place of those that had been eliminated; new Cesars far more despotic and cruel succeeded to the throne of the first.
And who that has thoughtfully and candidly observed the trend of affairs in the American Republic to-day can fail to discern the same waning of the power of self-government, the same symptoms developing, if yet less advanced, which marked the last days of the republic of Rome? Knowing these, we may be assured what in the natural course of events, will be the end.