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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/223

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COMPOUND POLITICAL HEADS.

which we see in the assembly of the savage horde, or in the modern public meeting. Whence there presently results the rule of a select few subject to the approval of the many.

In illustration may first be taken the rise of the Italian republics. When, during the ninth and tenth centuries, the German emperors, who had long been losing their power to restrain local antagonisms in Italy and the outrages of wandering robber bands, failed more than ever to protect their subject communities, and, as a simultaneous result, exercised diminished control over them, it became at once necessary and practicable for the Italian towns to develop political organizations of their own. Though in these towns there were remnants of the old Roman organization, this had obviously become effete; for, in time of danger, there was an assembling of "citizens at the sound of a great bell, to concert together the means for their common defense." Doubtless on such occasions were marked out the rudiments of those republican constitutions which afterward arose. Though it is alleged that the German emperors allowed the towns to form these constitutions, yet we may reasonably conclude, rather, that, having no care further than to get their tribute, they made no efforts to prevent the towns from forming them. And though Sismondi says of the townspeople, "ils cherchèrent à se constituer sur le modèle de la république romaine," yet we may question whether, in those dark days, the people knew enough of Roman institutions to be influenced by their knowledge. With more probability may we infer that "this meeting of all the men of the state capable of bearing arms ... in the great square," originally called to take measures for repelling aggressors—a meeting which must, at the very beginning, have been swayed by a group of dominant citizens, and must have chosen leaders—was itself the republican government in its incipient form. Meetings of this kind, first occurring on occasions of emergency, would gradually come into use for deciding on all important public questions. Repetition would bring greater regularity in the modes of procedure, and greater definiteness in the divisions formed, ending in compound political heads, presided over by elected chiefs. And that this was the case in those early stages of which there remain but vague accounts, is shown by the fact that a similar, though somewhat more definite, process afterward occurred at Florence, when the usurping nobles were overthrown. Definite records tell us that in 1250 "the citizens assembled at the same moment in the square of Santa Croce; they divided themselves into fifty groups, of which each group chose a captain, and thus formed companies of militia: a council of these officers was the first-born authority of this newly revived republic." Clearly that sovereignty of the people which, for a time, characterized these small governments, would inevitably arise if the political form grew out of the original public meeting; while it would be unlikely to have arisen had the political form been artificially devised by a limited class.