Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/357

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

its deliberations have become more general in their scope, there survive traces of this origin.

In Rome, where the king was above all things the general, and where the senators, as the heads of clans, were, at the outset, war chiefs, the burgesses were habitually, when called together, addressed as "spear-men": there survived the title which was naturally given to them when they were present as listeners at war-councils. So, during later days in Italy, when the small republics grew up. Describing the assembling of "citizens at the sound of a great bell, to concert together the means of their common defense," Sismondi says, "This meeting of all the men of the state capable of bearing arms was called a Parliament." Concerning the gatherings of the Poles in early times we read: "Such assemblies, before the establishment of a senate, and while the kings were limited in power, were of frequent occurrence, and. . . were attended by all who bore arms"; and at a later stage "the comitia paludata, which assembled during an interregnum, consisted of the whole body of nobles, who attended in the open plain, armed and equipped as if for battle." In Hungary, too, up to the beginning of the sixteenth century, "les seigneurs, à cheval et armés de pied en cap comme pour aller en guerre, se réunissaient dans le champ de courses de Rakos, près de Pesth, et là discutaient en plain air les affaires publiques." Again, "the supreme political council is the nation in arms," says Stubbs of the primitive Germans; and though, during the Merovingian period, the popular power declined, yet, "under Chlodovech and his immediate successors, the people assembled in arms had a real participation in the resolutions of the king." Even now the custom of going weapon in hand is maintained where the primitive political form remains. "To the present day," writes M. Laveleye, "the inhabitants of the Outer Rhodes of Appenzell come to the general assembly, one year at Hundwyl and the other at Trogen, each carrying in his hand an old sword or ancient rapier of the middle ages." Mr. Freeman, too, was witness to a like annual gathering in Uri, where the inhabitants assemble in arms to elect their chief magistrate and to deliberate.

It may, indeed, be alleged that in early, unsettled times the carrying of arms by each freeman was needful for personal safety, especially when a place of meeting very far from his home had to be reached. But there is evidence that, though this continued to be a cause for assembling in arms, it was not by itself a sufficient cause. While we read of the ancient Scandinavians that "all freemen capable of bearing arms were admitted" to the national assembly, and that, after his election from "among the descendants of the sacred stock," "the new sovereign was elevated amid the clash of arms and the shouts of the multitude," we also read that "nobody, not even the king or his champions, were allowed to come armed to the assizes."