De Legibus "The Safety Of The People Shall Be Their Highest Law"

Cicero

"The Safety Of The People Shall Be Their Highest Law"

Context: Cicero was a public figure of Rome. Several times he ran for the office of Consul. He decided to follow in the footsteps of his esteemed Plato, who wrote a treatise on the Republic and its functions. Cicero's original plan was for an imaginary conversation between early Roman statesmen; however, upon the advice of those who saw his draft of the first books, he turned them first into essays, and finally into a series of conversations between his brother and himself, two books a day over three days. Having completed his task about 46 B.C., he started another series of conversations, this time about laws; beginning with an introduction concerning Law and Justice in general. This was followed by a section stating what religious laws his ideal state required, and finally, laws governing officials of the state. Whatever additional books he completed have not survived. The chief importance of the work is its statement of Cicero's political ideals. The earliest manuscript, at Leyden, dates from 800–1100. A variation of this quotation, instead of "Salus populi" (The health [or safety] of the people) is "Vox populi, vox dei," "The voice of the people is the voice of god." Alcuin (735–844) used this version in a letter to Charlemagne, about 800, and the Archbishop Walter Reynolds repeated it in an admonition during the coronation sermon when Edward III ascended the English throne in 1327. Cicero's phrasing of this democratic idea is:

Let two magistrates be invested with sovereign authority. Since they lead, judge, and confer, from their functions they shall be called praetors, judges, and consuls. In the field they shall hold the supreme military power; they shall be subject to no one; the safety of the people shall be their highest law. . . .