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Roman Government
A Comparison Between the American System and the Roman System of Government

The government or the Roman Republic is considered fairly close to the American system. Knowing what you do about the American System, compare and contrast the two systems.

American System = Democracy
A democracy is based on balancing the power between each branch of the government so that one branch is not so powerful that it is able to control the whole.

Executive Legislative Judicial
" is the only branch of the government that can declare war
" leader of the military
" can veto laws passed by the Legislature
" makes appointments to many committees
" suggests laws and proposes budgets
" can take military action without approval of Congress
" is the only branch of the government that can pass laws
" makes and passes laws
" passes budgets and allocates funds to departments and projects
" can withhold funds for military actions, but otherwise has no military power
" can pass new tax laws without a vote of the people

Supreme Court
" is the only branch of the government that interprets and enforces the Constitution, Bill of Rights and codified law
Basis of Power
" elected by the population through a vehicle called the electoral college
Basis of Power
" elected by a majority of votes cast in the states whom they represent
Basis of Power
" appointed by the President and ratified by the Legislature
Limits on Power
" two 4-year terms
" has no judicial power except to pardon criminals
" has no power to tax the people and must get funding from the Legislature
" has no power over the Legislature except through public opinion. Has power over the Judiciary because the President appoints new judges.
Limits on Power
" has no judicial power except for investigation
" has no power over other branches except to impede the passage of laws or special programs
Limits on Power
" has no power to write law
" has no power over the military
" have no power to tax the people and must get their funding through the Legislature
" has no power over the other two branches except through stricter or looser interpretations of the law

In the American System of government, the only legitimate action that the government can take is in the best interest of all the people, not a special interest group, or the rich, or the elderly, or the poor, or the powerful.

Roman System = combination of Monarchy, Aristocracy and Democratic
The Roman system of government was based on:

2 Consuls plus Magistrates
Senate Assembly of Tribes and the Tribune
" could only get office if named by the Senate as a candidate
" key role of Consuls was to be the generals of army
" controlled the military
" introduce urgent issues to Senate for consideration
" in charge of public affairs
" summoned the assemblies
" introduced measures for a vote
" authority over how a decision made by the Assembly (people) would be executed
" could get any funds needed for initiating military action
" right to select all soldiers
" right to punish soldiers in the
field however they wished
" acted as judges
" acted as chief priests
" could issue edicts
" selected candidates for consul
" control of the treasury
" controlled money spent on public buildings and maintenance
" could pass laws
" investigated all capitol crimes
" act as ambassadors between Rome and foreign countries
" declare war and negotiate peace
" voted on selection of consul
" approved or rejected laws
" acted as the final court and could pass judgment in capital crimes
" pass judgment over people who held high office
" could veto actions of magistrates
" elect the Senate and Consuls
" ratify (pass) laws
" decided whether to go to war
" decided whether to make a truce
" could bring charges against a consul who is at war if they believed they have broken a law
Basis of Power
" had the "right to rule" or imperium
" Rome needed leadership that consul's could provide
Basis of Power
" members were the richest men in Rome
Basis of Power
" provided most of the soldiers
Limits on Power
" one year term
" one consul could veto the decisions of the other
Limits on Power
" could not control the army
" needed a majority of the senators to be soldiers
" barred from participating on commerce
Limits on Power
" often paid as "clients" by the rich, so their interests were compromised

Each branch of the government acted in its own self-interests.

How the Branches of the Roman Government Interacted
The Roman Senate was very powerful and the Consuls needed to work with them and keep them happy because they could harm the Consul in several ways. Here's how:

  • If a Consul was leading a military fight, the Senate could "forget" to send food, supplies and pay to the soldiers. Without those things, the commander would soon be without an army.
  • In the middle of a fight, the Senate could send in a new Consul (if the old consul's term expired) to take over for the Consul in the field rather than extend the old consul's command. That was generally a very mean thing to do unless the consul was ill.
  • The Senate could fail to put on a big celebration for the returning Consul who was commander of a victorious fight - this would certainly decrease the fame of the returning Consul.
  • Finally, a Consul was immune from prosecution while in office, however after his year was up, he could be prosecuted by the people or the Senate. (Julius Caesar knew he would be prosecuted after he returned from Gaul because the Senators from the opposing (Optimate) party were cooking this up. Instead of returning peacefully to Rome, he marched against Rome. Since there was no army to fight Caesar, the Optimate Senators fled to Greece and Caesar took over the government.)

Senators were considerably less sensitive to their popularity with the masses because:

  • One real threat to a Senator was in the conviction and sentencing by the Tribune. If a Senator was especially unpopular with the masses of people, things could go badly for him if he were prosecuted for a crime.
  • The biggest fear of the Senate was that a decision the Senate made would not be ratified, or passed, by the Tribune. If this happened, the Senate came to a stand still - something no one wanted because then all public work stopped. Since the "censors", men who arranged for the public works projects to happen, were under the authority of the Senate, the working man was at the mercy of the censors and Senate to get government work. It was not in their interest to stop the government over the passage of laws that the Senate wanted to pass.

The Tribune or Tribes had two primary powers:

  • They could veto a decision by the Senate
  • They had the power to select the consuls
  • They sentenced convicted criminals

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