"When a commonwealth, after warding off many great dangers, has arrived at a
high pitch of prosperity and undisputed power, it is evident that, by the
lengthened continuance of great wealth within it, the manner of life of its citizens
will become more extravagant, and that the rivalry for office, and in other
spheres of activity, will become fiercer than it ought to be."
Because the Romans began as a conquered people under the rule of the
Etruscans, they created political institutions to help protect themselves from someone
rising up as a dictator and taking over.
When they finally became a free people they decided to give all the power to
two groups: the Assembly
and the Senate
even though there were kings.
The Assembly consisted of all male citizens of military age. They would agree
and approve on certain decisions and they could veto any important decision
made concerning war, peace and justice.
The Senate was a council of elders who were chosen as members because of how
important their family was. They were mainly very conservative, very privileged,
very wealthy, and owned lots of land. They would choose who should be the next
king, and they would protect the Law of Custom, in case of any danger from a
king or a decision made by the assembly.
This was the method of checks and balances that made up the Roman government
when Rome first became free in 509 BC when the Etruscan
kings were finally cast out for good.
Since 509 BC the Roman government was under the control of two consuls. By the
middle of the 4th century BC one of those consuls had to be a plebeian (see
The Republican Government).
By the third century the consuls had similar authority as the early kings
except for the fact that they could only serve in office for one year. This would
put a limit on the possibility of a dictatorship. In fact if one consul thought
the other was getting too powerful he could veto the other consul's actions. We
get our word "veto" from the Latin word which means "I forbid."