The American Tribune Substack: Following in the Footsteps of the Gracchi in the Crisis of the American Republic
Make America Functional Again
Rome Had Tribunes for a Reason. America Needs Them Too
Why “The American Tribune?” How does a political office from the Roman Republic relate to the issues currently plaguing America and present a potential solution to our current societal ills? Why does the visage of Tiberius Gracchus grace our masthead?
Because if there was a civil innovation in the Roman Republic’s body politic that enabled it to survive without pulling itself apart for as long as it did, it was the addition of the tribuni plebis.
Instituted after the Republic nearly dissolved due to fighting between patricians (descendants of 100 men Romulus made Senators) and plebeians (everyone else), the tribunes of the plebes protected them from the patrician predation. Then, when victories abroad led to the destruction of the middle class at home, a tribune, Tiberius Gracchus, stood up for and attempted to preserve the dispossessed yeomanry.
Such a position is needed in America now. That would ideally be a political office. Unfortunately, that is unlikely because the middle class in America has so little political power. However, there can be tribunes in the public sphere who call out what the regime is doing in an attempt to stop it.
Did you know AG Bill Barr’s dad hired Epstein to work at the Dalton School, and then Epstein mysteriously died under Barr’s watch? Did you know Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell owns part of a PLAN-tied shipping company? Did you know Wall Street helped fund the Bolshevik Revolution, Ghislaine Maxwell appears to have attempted to refound an Etruscan city and the Etruscans were known for child sacrifice, the share of corporate earnings taken home by American workers has fallen dramatically as their productivity has increased, and male testosterone levels are down dramatically as plastics saturate the water and air?
Perhaps you did already know those things; perhaps you didn’t. But knowing them informs one’s view of the American oligarchy and what impulses lead it to act, whether those impulses are avaricious or degenerate. That knowledge, in turn, informs both how one views politics and for whom and what one votes. For now, there is no college of tribunes that can tell our Senators “no!” But, if properly informed, the American people still can and will say “no” to the regime, as 2016 showed.
So, consider reading this article to learn the history of the tribunes and how they relate to America, then consider subscribing to learn the unflattering truth about the current American regime.
The History of the Tribuni Plebis
The creation of the College of the Tribunes of the Plebes in 494 BC brought dramatic change to Roman society. Before its creation, the consuls and Senators, all patricians, could dictate to the plebes. After its creation, the tribunes were a potent force to counter the rapaciousness of the patricians and look out for the interests of the less fortunate. That, in turn, helped society hold. The tribunes could maintain some degree of social equilibrium by consulting with and, when necessary, blocking the initiatives of the consuls and the Senate. Because the yeomen farmers were protected and that class grew, the Roman economy and the number of potential legionnaires grew too. Because of those developments, the Republic prospered. The patricians and plebes could work together for Roman glory rather than suspiciously eye each other in the forum and get nothing done.
Injustices still occurred, of course. However, thanks to the tribunes, the Roman farmers were not slaves of some Oriental despotism. Rather, a Roman yeoman could farm his acres while raising his family, participate as part of his tribe in the elections every year, and know that he was part of the res publica. While far from being as wealthy as the patricians in their villas, a Roman yeoman could build his life and share somewhat in the riches and glory of the Republic.
Then came the Punic Wars. With those titanic conflicts came a breakdown in the social order. The yeomen were sent off to war as legionaries, as at that time only land-owning citizens could serve in the legions, and they perished in the tens of thousands. One hundred thousand perished at sea after the Battle of Cape Hermaeum during the First Punic War. During the Second Punic War, thirty thousand died at Trebia, fifteen thousand at Lake Trasimine, and over sixty-seven thousand at Cannae. Disaster followed disaster for them as Hannibal ravaged the Italian countryside. Though the Republic was victorious in the end, the fields of the fallen yeomen laid fallow. The small farmers that used to cultivate them were ruined.
Meanwhile, the patricians prospered. With the final defeat of Carthage in the Third Punic War and Rome’s simultaneous conquering of Macedonia, thousands of slaves flowed into Italy along with an immense amount of wealth to a degree that the previously unseen by the austere Romans. The result was that the oligarchs used their newfound wealth to buy the land of fallen legionnaires and their newly bought slaves to farm it, turning what was a system of small farms and responsible landowners into a collection of dispossessed urban poor and vast latifundia owned by the oligarchs.
As Mike Duncan put it in The Storm Before the Storm, "The final victory over Carthage in the Punic Wars led to rising economic inequality, dislocation of traditional ways of life, increasing political polarization, the breakdown of unspoken rules of political conduct, the privatization of the military, rampant corruption, endemic social and ethnic prejudice, battles over access to citizenship and voting rights, ongoing military quagmires, the introduction of violence as a political tool, and a set of elites so obsessed with their own privileges that they refused to reform the system in time to save it.”
That’s when Tiberius Gracchus rose to prominence. An aristocrat by birth, Tiberius served bravely as a military tribune in the legions during the Third Punic War. Plutarch wrote that he was one of the first to scale the walls of Carthage in the final assault. Then, returning to Rome, he was elected tribune of the plebes for 133 BC and set to work attempting to ameliorate the desperate situation of the former yeomanry.
He did so by taking the fight to the oligarchs with a land reform bill. That bill was the Lex Agraria. Passed to the horror and over the objections of the patricians, it would have, if given more time to be affected, redistributed the land from the oligarchs to the dispossessed yeomen. To do so, the law would have used the money that Attalus III of Pergamum left to Rome in his will to buy the land from the oligarchs and give it to the plebians, turning the urban poor back into yeoman farmers.
Plutarch recorded Tiberius’ famous speech on the bill and subject of the dispossessed farmers, one which echoes down through history. In the moving address, he said, “The wild beasts that roam over Italy... have every one of them a cave or lair to lurk in; but the men who fight and die for Italy enjoy the common air and light, indeed, but nothing else; houseless and homeless they wander about with their wives and children. And it is with lying lips that their [commanders] exhort the soldiers in their battles to defend sepulchres and shrines from the enemy; for not a man of them has an hereditary altar, not one of all these many Romans an ancestral tomb, but they fight and die to support others in wealth and luxury, and though they are styled masters of the world, they have not a single clod of earth that is their own.”
Naturally, the oligarchs were furious about that reasonable plan. So, when legal expedients proved insufficient to stop the bill, they murdered Tiberius and his supporters on Capitoline Hill in broad daylight. Though his law was not repealed, returning the land to the disposed yeomen was quickly stopped.
Further, the oligarchs were thenceforth determined to let no Tiberius rise again and Tiberius’ death began a series of violent oligarchic quashings of populist energy. when Tiberius’ brother, Gaius Gracchus, attempted to ram through similarly populist laws, he too was killed. The tribunes of the plebes then lost most of their power under Sulla.
With the tribunes gone, the corrupt optimates were free to prey on the poor to slake their rapacious greed. Their greed then led to the acceptance of Caeser’s destruction of the Republic and frustration in Rome, rather than exaltation, when he was killed. Augustus then became both tribune and consul after defeating Marc Antony, symbolizing that Caesar would balance the interests of the patricians and plebians.
The American Context
America now needs her tribunes. Whereas America was once a land of yeomen farmers and then their modern equivalent, small business owners, our oligarchic elites destroyed that functional society and replaced it with one seemingly designed to destroy the middle-class family.
Financialization led to the consolidation of the economy, turning sectors once run by local small businesses into ones dominated by corporate behemoths. Chains replaced local grocers, hardware shops, and all manner of other businesses Americans rely on for their day-to-day lives. In the process, small-business owners who were tied into and committed to developing their communities were replaced by employees of corporate behemoths. They and their corporate bosses couldn’t care less about the local populace, so America’s small communities unraveled as the usual suspects got richer and richer.
Similarly, low interest rates sent financial behemoths in search of returns and gave them the capital to do it. That led to Blackrock buying up single-family homes and turning owners into renters while pricing out young couples, with all the costs on society that entails as small businesses were bought up or forced out.
Corporations run farms, not small farmers. Amazon sends you books, not a local bookshop. Grocery chains replaced butchers, bank branches replaced community banks, and strip malls full of chain stores replaced beautiful little businesses on a well-maintained Main Street.
Everywhere you look, what used to be a collection of modern yeomen is now a collection of dispossessed poor and spiritually battered employees told to keep quiet by their corporate overlords as a tidal wave of immigration drives down their wages and inflation eats away what’s left. Like Rome after the Third Punic War, the consequences of victory have enriched an avaricious elite and dismantled the system that created a middle class. Globalization shuttered small businesses, nearly cost-free capital-empowered monopolies, and blue-collar jobs were sent half a world away.
Unfortunately, we at The American Tribune, unlike our Roman namesakes, have no veto power over the bills of the legislature or the actions of its agents. Otherwise, that power would have been exercised continuously for the past few decades.
But we can call it out. The corruption of the oligarchs, the attempts of the modern optimates to bash to bits our populares, and all they did to turn a functional society that glittered into wealth extraction schemes for the financiers and their enablers can be reported on. It’s what we aim to call out before it’s too late. Give us a follow to join us on that journey into the fetid swamps of the Deep State and examine what, like the Lex Agraria, might possibly fix it in this crisis of the American Republic.
Thanks for reading The American Tribune! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.