De Gaulle (1890-1970) was in every sense a contradictory character — Jean Lacouture, an earlier biographer, called his colossal personality “a battlefield” — with tensions between “restraint and hubris, reason and sentiment, classicism and romanticism, calculation and provocation”. He was “a soldier who spent most of his career fighting the army; a conservative who often talked like a revolutionary”. And Gaullism “succeeded in becoming the synthesis of French political traditions reconciling the left to the state and the right to the nation, the left to authority and the right to democracy”. He was able to achieve this unifying transcendence because of the “legitimacy” — his favourite word — he had acquired during the Second World War as leader of the French government in exile.
Lewis Jones (2018)
Charles Andre Joseph Marie de Gaulle was born on November 22, 1890 in the region of Lille in the Nord Department. His family, specially his uncle and his grandfather inspired him to learn about history and inserted him into the lecture word. He learned compositions and was passionate about poetry. At the age of fifteen, he anticipated the future when wrote an essay with the title “General de Gaulle”, in which he imagined he was the leader of the French army on its victory over Germany in 1930. Years later, he joined the French army placing his father and his own intellectual interests about history and his country. During his first years of serving the army, he demonstrated strong abilities besides his physical qualities (height: 6’5”), and five years later he was promoted to sergeant. During his studies at the academy he started being an average student, and then he increased his skills, intelligence, knowledge, and personality being on the top of his class. The time of being proved arrived to his live when the World War I stayed.
World War I
After two months he rejoined the army as commander of the 7thCompanyand two months later he was assigned regimental adjutant. He performed a good job on his position, earning the Croix de Guerreand ascending to Captain. Once again, he received a bullet on his left hand and was out of battle during four months. Once his abilities led him coming back, he rejoined the forces, leading the 10thcompany again. For last time, he received bayonet wound on the left thigh after being stunned by a shell. He survived the effect of this incidents and the consequences of poison gas, but was captured by the Germans.
During the first days of the war he was wounded while performed as platoon commander in the Battle of Dinant.He received a bullet on his knee and was hospitalized enough time to criticize the methods of the French Militia. There were three aspect that De Gaulle found erroneous about the military tactics: the over-rapid offensive, the inadequacy of French generals, and the slowness of English troops.
De Gaulle spent almost three years on prison under the German regimen. He got depressed because he was absent on the War. This situation was for him a fatality. His passion for the battle were so strong than got him frustrated about being incarcerated. He never complained about the food, the situation, the lonely, the exile; his only concern was not being part of the French army. He used this time to read, to learn German, to discuss with other prisoners about military strategies and possibilities of victory. He also wrote his first book “ Discorde chez l’ennemi” which was published on 1924 and explained the division and issues within the German troops. When the war was terminating, he was liberated, and came back to his father’s home with his three brothers who survived the war.
Charles went to Poland to as staff of the French Military Mission to Polandand earn the decoration of Virturi Militari. Once back in France he studied at the Ecole de Guerreduring two years, in which his grades were good, but never excellent. His professor Moyrand referred to him as an intelligent man, with unique attitudes as leader and as soldier, and as extremely arrogant with excessive amount of self-confidence. One year later after finishing his studies, Charles published an essay on tactics depending of the circumstances, which constituted for many a response to his professor Moyrand. The same decade, he published other articles and lectures such as “Historical Role of French Fortresses”, “Leadership in Wartime”, and “Prestige”, ending on the formation of his book The Edge of the Sword. He came back to Ecole de Guerre as a commandant, but this time with the position of commander as he had sworn years earlier. Gaulle continued writing, even proposing his tactics to the senator, arguing for his concepts and ideas and earning prestige amount the militaries.
Tanks and rapid maneuvers rather than trench warfare.
On his book published on 1934, named Toward a Professional Army, he explained his position against the old trench warfare and the benefits of the use of tanks and rapid maneuvers. He believed so much on himself and was strong about his ideals, he defended his war strategies and his book was a success. Gaulle sold more than 700 copies on France and the thousands of copies on Germany (good numbers for that time and topic). After his book, he earned more respect and prestige across the country, and his tactics were criticized in France and followed in Germany. He was a well-known figure when he published his new book France and her Armyin 1938.
Word War II
During War II he was the command of the 4thArmoured Division, he wrote books, criticized strategies and was in front of tanks battles. During the German invasion, he was directing the attack at Montcornet and was defeated several times by the enemies. He rejected order of withdrawal and advance into the field, enjoying one of the few victories of French. During this period, he was so secure about his tactics, rejecting superiors advises and confronting the Germans face to face. Then, he was given a mission to go to London, many of his collagenous had rejected and he accepted. On his biography he specified the depression and frustration he felt forming part of this mission. This meant his recognition of the government and a decided break from the French Army. During this time, he had several ideological problems with Churchill, demanding the rights of the French Committee (Jones, 2018).
He was recognized as the leader of the Free French and confronted as usually problems with his superiors. Gaulle’ wife and daughter had to move constantly while in London, and they were living separated for the general. He was a public figure and counted with admires in France, while the Vichy sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment and the court martial in absentia condemned him to death. After agreements and conversations, he formed the Free French National Council and then the Free French Air Force which cost him almost being killed in a plane sabotage on April 21st, 1943. To the other hand, president Roosevelt refused to accept him and even when their relationships started to improve, De Gaulle was not a trusted person to the American government. He stayed with his ideals and was clear on every meeting, he asked for being recognized as a leader figure of Free French. On June 14 of 1944 Charles went back to France in the wake of invading army. France welcomed him as deserved, and he headed the first allied troops to enter the capital: “Leclerc’s Free French second armored division. Sometime later, he was also the head of the provisional French government. In the elections of 1945, he failed to win enough votes and retired from the public life (Rudolph, 2016). The major cataclysm of France has passes, but Charles De Gaulle was not satisfied with the results, writing the following phrase:
It is not tolerable, it is not possible, that from so much sacrifice and ruin, so much heroism, a greater and better humanity shall not emerge.”
Charles De Gaulle.
The President of the Fifth Republic
The official felt that France did not need him, or at least that his ideals were so pure for a country still on recovery. He wrote his book Memories of the War. When the Fourth Republic stayed, he planted his disposal for the country. Algeria returned the power to him after winning the war, and he was assigned as president of the Fifth Republic. Instead of following Argelia’s interests, the president stayed by the France’s benefits, creating discomfort and resulting in the white revolution in Algiers. He suffered attempts against his life at this time.
His labor most important during this period were:
Trying to convert France in an atomic power rose
Healing the relationships with German
Making the first attempts of inserting Britain to the European community
Tour for 10 Latin American countries.
On the elections, he was reelected on the second ballot for seven years. Between his achievements during this period are:
Tour of 6000 miles around the Soviet Union.
He signed the declaration for the closeness between Eastern and Western Europe.
Called to EEUU to withdraw from Vietnam during a speech on Cambodia.
For his peaceful position he made of Paris a neutral point for meetings between EEUU and Vietnam.
He launched the first nuclear powered submarine in 1967.
One of the most controversial elements during these years was his visit on 1967 to Canada, where he used the slogan “Vive le Quebec libre” encouraging the French-Canadian separatism.
He continued with his foreign policy by visiting the Soviet Union, Poland and Romania in order to increase their relationship.
“The cemeteries are full of indispensable men.”
Charles De Gaulle
De Gaulle government was categorized as a “dictatorship”, and years later he admitted on his letters to his son that for ten years he was really a monarch (Jones, 2018). Young students started to fight for their rights and the necessity of taking part on the decisions of the country. This point in the French history is considered the major crisis of Gaulle. He left the country without notification and returned when military security was assured. He stayed with his arrogance and self-confidence, and at this time this characteristic is shown on the phrase he uses to refers to the revolutionary students: “When a child gets angry and oversteps the mark, the best way of calming him is to give him a smack.” (Jones, 2018). He negotiated with the students and workers, but a little later he dissolved the parliament. He won one more time the elections but was unpopular and considered too old for the government. He resigned the presidency on April 28thof 1969. He published his book The Renewal, the first of three book Memoirs of Hope, this was considered the fastest seller in France. When he was almost 80 years old, he died suddenly at his home with the company of his wife on November 9thof 1970. France and the whole world felt his death.
“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”
Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was born on March 28, 1738 in Saintes, located in southern France– he was an aries. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin always excelled within his studies in Reims, France; he was interested in the arts and for a brief period of time, he became literature professor at the University of Bordeaux. Despite his success, Guillotin left for Paris and soon became an established physician, one of the best in the city. He was instrumental in the beginnings of the French Revolution as a chosen representative in the Estates General. One of the more outspoken members, Guillotin advocated for an equal representation of all of the classes and more non-nobility citizens in the Estates General, one of its undeniable flaws. He even supported women’s rights to be represented amongst the Estates General, something very uncommon during this time. Dr. Guillotin was a very outspoken and intelligent man. In a culture where almost everything is predetermined based on your social status and there is not much freedom to use other skills in a professional field, a literature major and professor moved forward towards an intricate field: medicine. Even in today’s “progressive” society, this is not common in France nor is it often even imagined by those lucky enough to continue their education, yet Dr. Guillotin accomplished this feat and much more. Not only did he then become an established doctor, but he also never gave up his literature background; by using his foundations as a scholar and writer, he became an active politician fighting for human rights- something that once was the core value of the Revolution, but became twisted along the way.
Despite his infamous killing machine, the guillotine, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was a capital punishment abolitionist; he was staunchly against any practices revolving around executions. He believed that all of the current killings were unnecessarily cruel and was simply sorted based on your class in society. Whenever people of the lower, working classes were sentenced to death, they would often be: hung, which could take hours if improperly executed, quartered, painfully ripped apart by horses running in different directions, or even sentenced to the breaking wheel, where one’s bones would be broken and then bludgeoned or stoned to death. Wealthier or upper classes, would be privileged with the opportunity to be beheaded, however, this too had many issues. Each family or individual would have to hire their own executioner, with some being swifter and “better” than others. Otherwise, those families on the lower tier of the upper class would often risk hiring executioners who may have dull blades or simply would not complete the job in one swing; nonetheless, it always depended upon how much money you were willing to spend, even on your death bed.
These injustices, along with his personal experience as a doctor, pushed Guillotin to advocate against the death penalty, often writing many pamphlets criticizing against it. However, as time elapsed and the gruesome executions continued to occur, Guillotin realized that he should switch his focus to solving the most immediate concern: the way in which people are being tortured to death. This concern is what led him to propose to the National Assembly a law that would make the guillotine the official instrument of capital punishment, until its abolition in 1981. He oversaw the development of the first prototype and advocated for its use within the Assembly, that led to its successful use. Many critique Dr. Guillotin for the contradictions between his actions and his morals, and label him as a hypocrite for going against one of his fundamental beliefs against capital punishment. However, I fully disagree with these critiques of his character. Rather than being a hypocrite, Dr. Guillotin was an actor of change. The only reason why he chose to oversee the development of this machine was because he recognized that at this specific point in time, despite all of his efforts, he was not going to be able to prevent death nor would he be able to prevent capital punishment. Injustices were still occurring based on social class, people were still being tortured to death so he needed to make a decision, a change. He was an intelligent person and considering the political and societal environment at the time, this was the only solution to prevent unnecessarily cruel deaths.
After its invention, the guillotine soon became the favorite object of the National Assembly and its successors soon after. During its height in the Reign of Terror under Maximilien Robespierre, between 1793-1794, almost 2,600 people had been sentenced to execution. By 1799, it was an upwards count of over 15,000 who had been beheaded. The guillotine did not discriminate between class, as was Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin’s main purpose, it claimed the lives of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as well as common thieves and those who were “against the state.” Also, during Nazi Germany, Hitler was reported for using the guillotine and killed around 16,500 people by decapitation.
Despite this widely used machine, Dr. Guillotin did not want to be associated with it nor did he ever wish for his name to be used in connection with the machine because, as previously mentioned, he was a staunch capital punishment abolitionist. Moreover, he only aimed to invent this device to provide equality in death for all French citizens; he did not believe that they should be subjected to cruel and unnecessarily violent deaths. The guillotine was never intended to be such a public nor entertaining event. He wished that it would take place in a private center, however, he was horrified by the increasing fanfare and bloodlust for dire entertainment amongst his fellow citizens. It is easy to see why he and his family petitioned the French government to change the name of the machine; after they were rejected, they decided to change their family name altogether.
Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was an active advocate for human rights in France and was one of the leaders in advocating for structural change. In his Petition of the Citizens Living in Paris, this pamphlet argued for the humane and egalitarian executions as well as an equal representation within the Estates-General for all citizens. Once elected as a representative within the National Assembly, he was able to pass a law that required all sentences of death to be carried out by his machine. During a follow up speech in 1789 defending his machine, he has been quoted as saying, “Now with my machine I take off your head in the twinkling of an eye, and you never feel it.” Many critics soon shamed his words and ridiculed him and his speech in various periodicals, nonetheless, he stayed dedicated to getting his plan approved and passed into law.
Joseph-Ignace Guillotin struggled with the legality of the death penalty. While morally he knew that he could not stand behind or support capital punishment, within his government, he struggled to defend against it. This same fight is one that is held all over the world in the current international system. As of 2017, there are about 142 countries around the world that have abolished the death penalty and many more that have not used it within the past 10 years or allow the penalty in extraneous circumstances. Nonetheless, in the United States, the death penalty is legal in 30 states, including Florida. As a prospective criminal attorney with hopes of living and working within Florida, this same battle is a reality that I may face. Whether I will be on the prosecution or the defense is still a mystery, however, I will be faced with the same dilemma: how does one justify capital punishment? This is something that I have and will continue to struggle with as I move throughout my law career. Thankfully, in part to Dr. Guillotin, society does not have to face the torturous deaths that were rampant during these times. However, despite the newfound “equality in death,” the death penalty is still an extreme and permanent punishment. Death cases do carry a heavy toll on one’s heart because an actual life is on the line, whether or not you are on opposing sides of the bench, the fate of an entire person’s life rests in your hands. While I am against the death penalty, as I do not feel it is within mankind’s authority to end a person’s life, because the method is egalitarian and not painful, it does make the extreme decision to do so a lighter burden to many. Nevertheless, the law does not entirely reflect nor does it care about “feelings.” It also would be wrong to deny that in extreme cases, the thought of capital punishment would be so heinous; for example, it would seem almost crazy that people would be against Ted Bundy getting the death penalty. But still, should humans be the ones to decide on life and when to end it? This is still something that I struggle with and will continue to do so throughout my entire career. Nonetheless, these discussions should occur within our society and should reflect the beliefs of all of the citizens. Dr. Guillotin’s arguments have helped to propel the fight to abolish capital punishment all over the world.
Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin lived a life dedicated to trying to achieve equal rights for all people, regardless of social or economic class. Though his machine helped to define a Reign of Terror, he did not advocate for any of the senseless killings to occur. As a proponent for equality under the law as well as equal representation, he has helped to shape our society today. Though creating this machine had made it easier to execute people by justifying the lack of pain, he also did create an egalitarian way for all to be executed and put an end to a torturous death that was common to the previous eras. His writings have been used to help abolish capital punishment in France and all over the world, while it has also served to ensure that those states that continue to practice capital punishment do so in a way that does not discriminate against anyone and is as painless as possible. He truly changed the landscape and redefined what it meant to have equality in death.
Britannica, T. E. (2017, October 26). Guillotine. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/guillotine
Death of Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.historytoday.com/archive/months-past/death-joseph-ignace-guillotin
Death Penalty Facts. (2019, March 22). Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2013/07/19/us/death-penalty-fast-facts/index.html
Joseph Ignace Guillotin – Alchetron, the free social encyclopedia. (2018, July 28). Retrieved from https://alchetron.com/Joseph-Ignace-Guillotin#-
Joseph Guillotine – The Doctor of Death | History Channel on Foxtel. (2017, June 09). Retrieved from https://www.historychannel.com.au/articles/joseph-guillotine-the-doctor-of-death/
Russo, N. (2016, March 25). The Death-Penalty Abolitionist Who Invented the Guillotine. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/03/the-man-behind-the-guillotine-opposed-the-death-penalty/475431/
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.whonamedit.com/doctor.cfm/2275.html
Team, R. C. (2018, October 14). Death penalty: How many countries still have it? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-45835584
In today’s fast paced world, it is easy to get lost in the
moment, forget about the past, and neglect the future. This post aims to do the
exact opposite by creating a connection between the Roman Republic and the
United States – two of the greatest civilizations to have ever existed. This
post will place special focus on the legislative systems of each great society,
allowing the reader to understand the roots of the concepts and institutions
often taken for granted.
The Roman Republic’s and the United
States’ legislative systems, though hundreds of years apart, bear considerable
similarities while being discernibly different. Both consist of a multi-tier
legislative system with some form of executive overseeing it all. The Roman
system consisted of the Assemblies, the Senate, and the Consuls and other magistrates
with veto power.[i]
The American system consists of the House,[ii] the Senate,[iii] and the President[iv] and his cabinet. Unlike
the Roman system in which any one of the institutions could create and pass
laws,[v] the American system has a
hierarchy in which laws start in the House of Representatives, move to the
Senate, and then are approved by the President.[vi] Needless to say, the
United States took a myriad of the concepts first used by Romans in their
government and applied them in theirs.
To fully understand how any legislative
system works, it is crucial to understand how each position is filled and who
is responsible for filling it. Therefore, it is best to explain it from the
grassroots to the elite, from elected officials to appointed ones, from the
Assemblies to the Senate.
Roman Assemblies & American House of Representatives
The Assemblies in Classic Rome were
made up of the people, they indirectly elected the magistrates, accepted or
rejected laws, administered justice, and declared war.[vii] It is important to
understand that for the Romans, at least initially, this was the most important
branch of the legislative, as they selected a number of officials with
substantial veto power. When discussing the role of these assemblies in the
legislative structure of Rome there are three that must be discussed: the
Centuriate Assembly, the Tribal Assembly, and the Plebian Council. Each of
these had a key role in the creation and adoption of laws and was composed of
different sections of the populace.
One of the most powerful institutions
of Rome was the Centuriate Assembly (Comitia Centuriata). This committee, as
its name suggests, was originally composed of all Roman citizens, which at the
time were soldiers, divided into groups of 100. To reach a decision, each group
of 100 would vote within itself and the decision from each group would be
recorded, each group received 1 vote and whenever a side received a majority of
the vote the matter was settled, and voting was no longer necessary. The
Centuriate Assembly was so powerful because it was the one that selected and
empowered the highest-ranking Roman Magistrates, including: Consuls, Praetors,
and Censors, who were crucial in the legislating process.[viii] After a while, the
groups were no longer divided into 100 Roman citizens but rather they were
divided by social status and wealth, meaning that those in the upper rungs of
society had a disproportionate effect on the outcome of elections.[ix]
Another important Assembly was the Tribal
Assembly (Comitia Populi Tribute). This committee worked very similarly to the
Centuriate Assembly when voting on legislative issues. It was composed of all
Roman citizens divided into Tribes, each one of the 35 tribes would vote within
itself and then report the majority of the vote; each tribe had one vote and
whenever one side of the matter received a majority of the votes it was no
longer necessary to continue. The Tribal Assembly was noticeably weaker than
the Centuriate Assembly because it did not elect any Magistrates and its
decisions could easily be vetoed by a number of other actors. [x]
Lastly, the Plebeian Council (Concilium Plebis) must certainly be discussed when talking about Rome’s legislative structure. Unlike any of the other Assemblies listed above, the Plebeian Council was composed exclusively of the commoners also referred to as plebeians. This Council was originally not very powerful, but slowly grew to be one of the most powerful institutions in Rome. It could adopt laws which applied only to Plebeians at first, but later to all Roman citizens, it elected a number of key magistrates with veto power, and could try specific judicial cases.[xi]
As explained earlier, the American
system employs a number of ideas from Roman times. A very clear example of this
is the multi-tier legislative system. Like the Roman Assemblies which divided
the people into sections, asked them vote within those sections, and report the
majority votes to decide the outcome of several decisions. The American
founding fathers employed this very same system as the basis for the American voting
system and later on the election of House of Representative members.[xii] Like in Roman times,
American voters are divided into equal groups based on censuses done every 10
years; each group gets to vote for a representative in the House of
This way – one could argue – the people are indirectly choosing which
legislation they support and which one they oppose by voting for someone with
similar ideals to theirs. Separately, and very similarly to Roman Assemblies
when electing Magistrates, [xiv]
these sections of voters play an essential role in legislating by electing who
will run the executive and have veto power on a series of matters.[xv] Unlike Romans, who
selected each Magistrate separately, Americans select only the President, who
then has leeway to choose his Cabinet.[xvi]
Roman Magistrates & American Executive
Now let’s move to analyze the
Magistrates of Rome and their role within the policymaking structure. Generally,
Magistrates in Rome were elected by the citizens of Rome to rule in their name
and held a series of powers over certain religious roles, the military, the
judicial system, and could call assemblies to vote and preside over them.[xvii] Some of them played a
very important role in the legislating structure of Rome, namely the Consuls,
the Censors, the Plebeian Tribunes, and in extreme situations the Dictators.
These offices, except that of the Censors, are essential in legislating because
of the veto power they hold. This means that unless they agree with a proposed law
being passed, the law will never come into force. Among these, special
attention must be brought to the Plebeian Tribunes who were elected by the Plebeian
Council and whose role was to protect the interests of the plebeians by vetoing
any legislation that was likely to be negative for them.[xviii] Lastly, the Censors
had a special role in legislating. Aside from conducting the censuses and
censoring public behavior, the Censor’s role included appointing the members of
the Senate in the early Republic – this role was then overtaken by the Consuls.
The power of appointing Senators allowed the people to indirectly select who
would be part of the Senate and implicitly what the future of Rome would look
The American system’s counterpart to
the Magistrates would be the Executive, but like in Rome, the powers that these
elected officials hold is substantially limited. For starters, only one actor –
the President – is elected and has veto power over legislation, and this power
is not absolute as that of Roman Magistrates as it can be undone with a
supermajority of the Senate or by Judicial decisions.[xx] This branch of government
definitely shares most of the roles and powers that Roman Magistrates had, but
with regards to policymaking its power has become more limited.
Roman Senate & American Senate
Lastly, the most important and most
powerful institution in the Roman Republic was the Senate. This institution
evolved, as did all others, from being composed entirely of patricians to being
composed of plebeians as well.[xxi] Senators were appointed
for life, first by the Censors and then by the Consuls, and in theory they
could only advise the Magistrates and indirectly propose legislation. However,
the Senate’s advice was followed, making them the de-facto leaders of Rome. Separately,
the Senators controlled the finances and foreign policies of Rome, allowing
them the most control over the lives of Romans. Furthermore, the Senate had the
exclusive right to appoint a Dictator for a short period of time and could
suspend civil government and rule Rome by itself.[xxii]
The American system has its own Senate,
but it is definitely different than the one seen in Rome. First of all,
American Senators are elected, though they do serve long terms in office in
what seems to be a lifetime position, they can be removed if the people will it
so. Secondly, the American Senate has a larger influence in legislating since
they are one of the two chambers of Congress that need to approve every law by
having a majority vote in favor. Lastly, American Senators alone do not control
the finances or have power to elect a dictator, though they can vote to remove
a sitting president from office and must agree, alongside with the House of
Representatives and the President, on the country’s budget.[xxiii]
Roots of the Systems
Both systems have the same underlying
root of anti-monarchical sentiment but have adapted to remain practical. Romans
had overthrown the last king of the Roman Monarchy and were determined to never
have another totalitarian ruler;[xxiv] this is the reason they
had such a strong and effective checks and balances system.[xxv] Separately, Romans used
a rough idea of what would later be known as federalism when they conquered new
lands and allowed them to maintain fragments of their own culture and often
Nonetheless, they realized that a system of checks and balances would be
impractical when dealing with war and other urgent matters – this is the reason
why the Romans created a way to consolidate power into one individual, a
Dictator, to effectively deal with the situation at hand.[xxvii] Romans also realized
that the prestige, wealth, and power of its elite families could be used for
the benefit of Rome and therefore allowed them to wield influence over
policymaking and foreign policy by being part of the Roman Senate.[xxviii] Lastly, to combat
monarchy, Romans created the Assemblies in which the people indirectly voted on
laws and elected Magistrates as describes above. It is in this way that the
Roman legislative structure took the best from monarchies, oligarchies, and
democracies in order to work efficiently.
Similarly, Americans had declared their
independence from the British Monarchy and won their Revolutionary War. Like
the Romans, the founding fathers sought to never have the United States ruled
by a monarch and they did so by instituting very similar checks and balances to
that of the Romans and used the principle of federalism in which each state
could have its own set of freedoms which included choosing a religion and
enacting its own laws.[xxix] Similarly to the Roman
system, the American one sought to be democratic with a concealed oligarchy by
restricting who could vote and be part of government.[xxx] Nonetheless, as the
system has evolved, it has become markedly more democratic and liberal.
Functional Checks and Balances
Ancient Romans and Americans both
discovered that the best way to prevent tyranny and totalitarianism was to
distribute power to prevent any one person or branch of government from
becoming too powerful. Both systems achieved this through a complex system of
checks and balances. The Roman system had twelve veto players: any of the ten
Plebeian Tribunes could veto legislation unfavorable to the Plebeian class[xxxi] and the two Consuls could veto any legislation
as well.[xxxii] The power was balanced
among the institutions named above in which each was responsible for a section
of any process, ensuring that no institution grew too powerful.[xxxiii] An example of this
can be seen within the legislating process: the Senate can only advice
Magistrates on what legislation they believe should be passed, these in turn
take that advice to the Assemblies and call for a vote, then a number of other
minor Magistrates must enforce it if it is within their scope of power.
The founding fathers faced a similar concern, they feared
that if they did not establish a sound system with effective checks and balances
they would soon be back to monarchical rule.[xxxiv]
Loosely basing the system on Rome’s, the founding fathers balanced the system
by dividing it into three branches (Legislative, Executive, and Judicial) with equal
power and different roles in every government action. They also gave these
branches veto power, allowing them to veto any legislation they thought was in
violation of the Constitution.[xxxv]
Another distinction between the systems is that of the Judicial branch; unlike
in ancient Rome where either the people via Assemblies or Magistrates were in
charge of administering justice, the founding fathers created a separate
Judiciary to ensure that laws were applied to all equally.[xxxvi]
Something that makes both systems stand
out in very similar ways is the practicality of its legislative systems. Early
on both realized that the effective checks and balances would likely yield the
best laws and policies for the people and the state but failed to work
efficiently in times of crises. For this reason, both Romans and Americans were
very pragmatic and had a solution in place for this very problem. The Roman
Senate could appoint a Dictator – the highest office in Ancient Rome – until
his task was complete or for 6 months, whichever came first. This individual
would be given 24 fasces which meant he had supreme authority over all matters
regarding the problem he was assigned to solve (usually it was war) – including
capital punishment without trial – and all other legislative institutions were
only allowed to veto his actions in very extreme cases.[xxxvii] The American system
has something similar in place, whenever the country has found itself in times
of war or economic troubles, the executive has been given almost unchecked
power in order to solve the issue with the legislative bodies cooperating and rarely
vetoing the President’s actions. This is evident when the roles of the American
President are analyzed: the office holds the power over all foreign policy and
can deploy a limited number of troops anywhere in the world without
This individual would be given 24 fasces which meant he had supreme authority over all matters regarding the problem he was assigned to solve (usually it was war) – including capital punishment without trial – and all other legislative institutions were only allowed to veto his actions in very extreme cases.[xxxvii] The American system has something similar in place, whenever the country has found itself in times of war or economic troubles, the executive has been given almost unchecked power in order to solve the issue with the legislative bodies cooperating and rarely vetoing the President’s actions. This is evident when the roles of the American President are analyzed: the office holds the power over all foreign policy and can deploy a limited number of troops anywhere in the world without Congressional approval.[xxxviii]
Another similarity that both systems have
is the social statuses of each position. In the Roman system, like the American
one, each position in the legislative structure brought with it an implied
status. In both systems there was an implied idea that the legislative system,
as well as the political one, was akin to a ladder with each position being a
rung which would allow the individual to climb socially and politically.
In the Roman system, Senators were
definitely the ones with the highest status: they were appointed for life, were
usually rich or became rich via their position, and usually their families were
part of the elite or became a part of the elite after their appointment as
senators. Senators were usually chosen from previous consuls, who in turn had
been Praetors, Aediles, and Tribunes before having the position. It was rare to
see someone being appointed Senator without either a family history of Senators
or a long history of public service as elected Magistrate.[xxxix]
Similarly, in the American system,
there is a generally agreed upon norm where people climb up the metaphorical
ladder. Like in ancient Rome, Senators are the most respected ones and tend to
either be wealthy or become wealthy during their tenure in office. These
usually come from the House of Representatives or from high state offices such
as Governor. The system is quite similar within each state with the slight
difference that it is seen as the beginning of a politician’s career rather
than its climax. However, unlike in Rome, the highest office is arguably that
of President. Past Presidents have historically climbed up the ladder and been elected
public servants or military generals before being elected into office.[xl]
The Evolution of the Systems:
The government and especially the legislative structures of Rome evolved like those of no other civilization before it. They overthrew the monarchy and established what can only be classified as an early Republic, guaranteeing great liberties, protection, and civic participation to its citizens.[xli] By today’s standards it was by no means democratic or liberal but at its time it was incredibly forward thinking. Rome was the hegemon of its time, a civilization all other civilizations have studied and will continue to study for millennia to come. That is not to say that they were a flawless civilization. The Roman Republic was plagued by issues which became evident as it evolved. The most noticeable one was the disproportionate amount of power the aristocracy had. Whether it was because they were the original members of the Senate or because nothing was ever done without them knowing about it, one thing is certain – they were simply too powerful. This issue came to its climax when Julius Caesar declared himself dictator for life and effectively ended the Republic and though most legislative institutions continued to exist they were only a façade to keep the people from overthrowing another king.
If looked at in a timeline, the Roman
Republic existed for 464 years according to most historians, and once it
morphed into the Roman Empire it lasted an additional 430 years ruled by
emperors. The United States has existed for less than 250 years. This begs a
series of questions, where is America headed? Will the United States give in to
authoritarianism? Will its carefully designed system of institutions persevere
and keep democracy alive forever? What is the future of American democracy?
As similar as the
United States is to Rome and as many great empires have fallen in the past
foreshadowing a very ominous future for the United States, I believe that the home
of the free and the land of the brave will never stop functioning in such a
democratic way, if anything, its slow and gridlock-prone legislative system
will build a better future for all in ways we are currently unable to imagine.
[xxiv] Cornell, Tim J. “Ch. 9: The Beginnings of the Roman Republic.” The beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars(c. 1000 – 264 BC). Oxford: Routledge, 1995, pp. 215-236.
[xxv] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. XI: The Balance of the Constitution.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 191-214.
[xxvi] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VII: The Higher Magistrates and Pro-Magistrates.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 104-121.
[xxvii] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VII: The Higher Magistrates and Pro-Magistrates.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 109-113.
[xxviii] Byrd, Robert C. “Ch. 8: Erosion of Senate Authority,” The Senate of the Roman Republic: Addresses on the History of Roman Constitutionalism. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995, pp. 93-105.
[xxix] Hamilton, Alexander, or Madison, James. Federalist No. 51: The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments. New York Packet, 8, Feb. 1788.
[xxxi] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VIII: Tribunes, Aediles, and Minor Magistrates.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 121-129.
[xxxii] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VII: The Higher Magistrates and Pro-Magistrates.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 104-121.
[xxxiii] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. XI: The Balance of the Constitution.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 191-214.
[xxxiv] Hamilton, Alexander, or Madison, James. Federalist No. 51: The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments. New York Packet, 8, Feb. 1788.
[xl] Makse, Todd. “Foundation of American Democracy.” Florida International University, POS 2041, 21-28 Aug. 2017.
[xli] Cornell, Tim J. “Ch. 9: The Beginnings of the Roman Republic.” The beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars(c. 1000 – 264 BC). Oxford: Routledge, 1995, pp. 215-236.
Join Professor Bailly for an introduction to the France, Italy, & Spain study abroad programs of the FIU Honors College. Meet students that have completed the programs and have all your questions answered. Whether you are going to Europe in Summer 2020 or considering 2021 or 2022, this session will be helpful.
Join us for the last Europe Study Abroad info session before registration closes for Summer 2018. Professor John William Bailly will provide information on Spain, France, & Italy. After a brief overview of each program, he and program alumni will be available for a question and answer session.
Students are also welcome to “shop” the programs by visiting on the first day of classes. Questions to firstname.lastname@example.org Find out more about our programs here:
In an effort to make study abroad programs more accessible to students, the FIU Honors College has recently changed its policy regarding administrative fees. In the past, students had to pay a $250 fee per program, now, the Honors College will wave that fee for any student taking two programs in one summer.
For example, if a student is participating in Spain in June 2018 and France in July 2018, that student will only be required to pay one fee of $250. Previously, the student would have had to pay $500.
Another cost-saving advantage of completing two programs in one summer is that the student will only need to purchase one plane ticket to Europe.
Lastly—and this is especially important for out-of-state and international students—one little-known advantage of FIU study abroad is that all students pay in state tuition, which makes studying abroad a more affordable option for certain students.
For more information on the FIU Honors College programs, please contact Luli Szeinblum, FIU Honors College Coordinator of Study Abroad, at 305.348.4100
What do FIU students do in France? How long are they there for? How do they get there? Is French food really that good? This panel discussion will focus on FIU students experiences in France. The students speak about their perception prior to the trip and the reality they encountered while in France. The students visited Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Normandy, and the Alps.
These FIU Office of Study Abroad programs will see you hike in the Alps while retracing the steps of the French Resistance. Bike Rome’s greatest road, the Appia Antica. Wander the medieval streets of Toledo. Markets, towers, museums – a class without a classroom.
All FIU Honors College students are encouraged to attend.