In 458 BC, in the years of the early Roman Republic, a barbarian tribe known as the Aequi attacked the Roman city of Tusculum. The two Roman consuls for that year responded, but when the Aequi successfully ambushed and massacred half their forces, the senators of Rome fell into a panic and authorized the nomination of a dictator—a political move of desperation in which one man is given total control of the nation. The Senate called for Cincinnatus to lead their armies.
Two senators were sent to inform the nobleman of his appointment, and when they arrived at his home, they found him outside, plowing the fields of his farm. Noticing the approaching patricians, Cincinnatus stopped his work and called to the senators, “Is everything all right?” With a clear sense of gravity, they told him they had important news for both him and his country. He dropped the reins from his hands and asked how he could be of service to his Republic—and the senators responded by hailing Cincinnatus as dictator.
Cincinnatus left for Rome that night. The next morning, the newly appointed king went to the Forum and designated his generals; he then went immediately to the assembly of the people and ordered every man of military age to appear at camp by the end of the day with twelve times the normal amount of encamping spikes. Cincinnatus and his armies marched to the relief of Tusculum where his soldiers used their spikes to quickly besiege the Aequi. But rather than slaughter the trapped barbarian tribe, Cincinnatus accepted their pleas for mercy and offered an amnesty provided that three principal offenders be executed and their leaders be delivered to him in chains. Cincinnatus then disbanded his army and returned to his farm, abandoning his power a mere fifteen days after it had been granted to him.
For this short episode, Cincinnatus was forever honored by the Roman Republic (and even has a city indirectly named after him in Ohio). The Romans lifted the humble politician up as the pinnacle of nobility.
I mostly wanted to share this story because I found it pleasant and encouraging. However in the days since I originally read it, it’s caused me to reflect more on the politicians of today.
There is an underrated value in the character of our politicians. Most of the time, we concern ourselves with skill and acumen and platform—all good things—but on the reverse side, none of that matters if the person in charge doesn’t have the right character to use those skills. Our politicians have to be someone that our kids can look up to, someone of noble character.
If House of Cards bears any semblance of truth, then we have more than enough corruption in politics to keep us worried for a while, plenty of people with despicable character, and I hate to point fingers at any individual. Instead, I want to again remind us of the previous presidency and to leave you to consider what was valuable about those two terms. I hope that each of us can see the value of a respectable leader and understand what that means and—hopefully—even vote with that understanding.