The American Cyclopedia, Vol. 5

The American Cyclopedia, Vol. 5

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Excerpt from The American Cyclopedia, Vol. 5: A Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge; Code-Demotica

Less authority than they afterward acquired all these existed before the legislation of Lycur gus; so also the distinction between Spartans and Laconians, and the still greater d1st1nct10n between the former and their serfs the helots. Usages had grown up corresponding to this isolation of a small number in the midst of a numerous subject people, and it was for the carrying out more efficiently the design of these usages that Lycurgus prepared the code whlch thenceforth became the fixed law of Sparta. In like manner the Athenian state was harmonized by the laws of Solon, but more particularly by his constitution of political powers. The ar chonship, the areopagus, and the council of 400 were constituent parts of the government before his revision of the laws. The assembly of the people had also taken some part in public affairs, but in a rude, irregular manner, without any fixed authority or prescribed mode of proceed ing. Solon constituted it the chief legislative body, yet with the restriction that they were to consider only what was proposed by the senate. This restriction was afterward evaded, because the assembly could modify any propo sitiou that came before them without sending it back to the senate for approval; and again, when a law was desired by the people, any one could present it to the senate and procure the preliminary action necessary for bringing it be fore the people. A still greater popular power was conferred by the judicial authority given to the dicasteries, which Were composed of a large number of citizens, drawn by lot, pre sided over by one of the archons. The num ber of jurors in important cases was very large, sometimes including the whole body of citizens qualified to serve. The other laws of Solon corresponded with this development of the popular element. All citizens over the age of 20 were entitled to speak and vote in the assembly, and to sit as jurors in the dicasteries; trade and manufacturing industry were en couraged, and intercourse with foreigners was promoted by giving to them greater privileges than were allowed by any other Grecian state. Still it appears that all his legislation was in consonance with the spirit of the people, and the particular laws were probably for the most part reenactments of customs already existing, but with some wholesome restraints or new provisioiis intended for the maintenance of the argest liberty within the proper limit of civil order. - The same principle is again exhibited In the Roman laws of the twelve tables. The account given by Livy is, that commissioners were sent into Greece to examine the laws and institutions of the principal states, and to transcribe the laws of Solon; that atter their return, another commission (the decemvirs) was constituted to draw up a code of laws, the result of which was the compilation of the twelve tables. But the laws of Solon were certainly not incorporated in the code of the decemvirs, nor, so far as we are able to judge.

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