This agrarian law, though well intentioned, did not go to
the root of the real difficulty—foreign competition. No legislation could have
helped the farming class, except import duties to keep out the cheap grain from
abroad. But the idle mob at Rome, controlling the assemblies, would never have
voted in favor of taxing their food, thus making it more expensive. At the same
time the proposal to take away part of the public domains from its possessors
roused a hornet's nest about the reformer's ears. Rich people had occupied the
public land for so long that they had come to look upon it as really their own.
They would be very sure to oppose such a measure. Poor people, of course,
welcomed a scheme which promised to give them farms for nothing. Tiberius even
wished to use the public funds to stock the farms of his new peasantry. This
would have been a mischievous act of state philanthropy.
FAILURE AND DEATH OF TIBERIUS, 133 B.C.
In spite of these defects in his measure, Tiberius urged
its passage with fiery eloquence. But the great landowners in the Senate got
another tribune, devoted to their interests, to place his veto on the
proposed legislation. The impatient Tiberius at once took a revolutionary step.
Though a magistrate could not legally be removed from office, Tiberius had the
offending tribune deposed and dragged from his seat. The law was then passed
without further opposition. This action of Tiberius placed him clearly in the
wrong. The aristocrats threatened to punish him as soon as his term of office
was over. To avoid impeachment Tiberius sought reelection to the tribunate for
the following year. This, again, was contrary to custom, since no one might
hold office for two successive terms. On the day appointed for the election,
while voting was in progress, a crowd of angry senators burst into the Forum
and killed Tiberius, together with three hundred of his followers. Both sides
had now begun to display an utter disregard for law. Force and bloodshed,
henceforth, were to help decide political disputes.