Roman Mixed Government as the Model

The Roman Republic Romulus Polybius James Madison

The History of Rome by Titus Livy tells of the founding of the city of Rome, the early kings, and the uprising of the people in orde to form the Roman Republic, which lasted from 509 BC to 27 BC. 

Legend has it that the city of Rome was founded on the Tiber river in 753 BC by its first king, Romulus, "as a place of asylum" for outcasts looking for opportunity, "slaves and freemen alike, eager for a fresh start" (Livy, 17). Romulus also chose 100 men from the families that came to Rome to become Senators, the descendents of which would be referred to as "patricians." The second class of Roman people were "plebeians" who were the lower caste of the public. These classifications were Rome's original model for "the one, the few, and the many." 

After Romulus' 40 years, six more kings ruled Rome from 713 BC to 509 BC. The end of Roman monarchy came when the plebeians, inflamed by tyrannical rule of Lucius Tarquinius "Superbus." Tarquinius and his family committed atrocities of seizing public wealth for their own family, forced labor of the plebeians, and his son committing the famous rape of Lucretia, the wife of a member of the royal class. Fed up with the violations of human dignity, Brutus vowed he would not allow the Tarquin family "or anyone else to be King at Rome" (Livy, 82). He then succeeded with the plebeians in driving the Tarquin family outside the city walls. Rome was liberated in 509 BC when Brutus and Collatinus were chosen to be the first two consuls of the city, serving as joint executives for a one year term. The precedent was set by Brutus that all new consuls would "swear an oath that they would allow no man to be king in Rome" (Livy, 85). Then, "to increase the strength of the Senate, Brutus brought its numbers up to 300," this new senate called "conscripti," Livy remarks amazingly "contributed to the harmony of the state and to uniting the plebs with the senators" (Livy, 85). 

The republican system of governance constituted in Rome was referred to as "a res publica" meaning commonwealth. Romans, motivated by a desire for personal liberty and harmony, believed their mixed government would organize "the power of the one (the two consuls), the few, and the many were all balanced against each other" (Richard, 108). Polybius thought that this system would work because it combined the strenghts of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy in line so that transfers of power and inevitability of tyranny could be avoided. 

In Polybius', Histories he wrote:

As for the Roman constitution, it had three elements, each of them possessing sovereign powers: and their respective share of power in the whole state had been regulated with such a scrupulous regard to equality and equilibrium, that no one could say for certain, not even a native, whether the constitution as a whole were an aristocracy or democracy or despotism."

These ideas were so informing of the American Constitution's creation of checks and balances that James Madison wrote in Federalist 47:

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny" (Madison, 298).