If you could go back in time and spend one hour in conversation with 10 people – each one separately and privately – whom would you choose?
My list isn’t the same from one day to the next, but at least a couple of the same names are always on it, without fail. One of them is Marcus Tullius Cicero.
He was the greatest citizen of the greatest ancient civilization, Rome. He was its most eloquent orator and its most distinguished man of letters. He gave his life for peace and liberty as the greatest defender of the Roman Republic before it plunged into the darkness of a welfare-warfare state.
Cicero was born in 106 B.C. in the small town of Arpinum, about 70 miles southeast of Rome. He began practicing law in his 20s, earning a reputation as a diligent attorney unafraid to speak truth to power and challenge the highest authorities for their corruption and infidelities. Roman voters rewarded him with one victory after another as he worked his way up the ladder of government to the highest position, consul, at age 43.
Only weeks on the job, Cicero emerged as the savior of the republic amid a spectacular plot to snuff it out.
The ringleader of the conspiracy was a senator named Cataline. His plan was to march on Rome with the aid of mercenaries, assassinate top leadership and seize power. Cicero quietly conducted his own investigations. Then in a series of four powerful orations before the Senate, he exposed the plot.
Before Cicero was finished, Cataline fled the Senate to rally his troops but he was ultimately killed in battle. Cicero was given temporary and total power to crush the threat. Then when he did, he walked away from power and restored the republic. He was given the honorary title of “Father of the Country.”
Sadly, Rome at the time of Cicero’s consulship was not the Rome of before, when honor, virtue, self-reliance and character were the watchwords of life. The place was rife with corruption and power lust. Many who gave lip service in public to republican values were privately conniving to secure power or wealth through political connections. Others were bribed into silence by government handouts, the so-called “bread-and-circuses” we once learned about in school.
Large numbers of Romans had discovered they could vote for a living instead of work for one.
Cicero spurned Julius Caesar’s overtures to lure him into a power-sharing agreement. Then after Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C., Cicero came out of retirement to oppose Marc Antony’s bid for total power. He thundered against Antony, “I fought for the republic when I was young. I shall not abandon her in my old age.”
Within a year, he was dead at the hands of an assassin working under Antony’s orders.
Thirteen centuries later, America’s John Adams proclaimed, “All the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher” than Marcus Tullius Cicero.
With Cicero’s death, no one of such prominence and courage was left to defend liberty, limited government and private property. So when he died, so did the republic. Tyranny followed.
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education. He writes about exceptional people, including many from his book, “Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction.” He can be reached email@example.com