Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/196

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its Venetian model as a narrow oligarchy. This is so far correct, that the more democratic features of the model had been adopted, while the Florentine executive retained the democratic principle of rapid rotation, of ruling and being ruled in turn. The term nobility as applied to the ruling class at Venice created some little difficulty; it was explained that this was a misnomer,—that it implied only an official distinction, involving no personal rights over other men. Soderini indeed declared that as many possessed citizenship at Venice as were fit to enjoy it at Florence. The origin of the two systems was more alike than the Florentines probably knew. At the date of the "Closing of the Grand Council" at Venice (1296) a reform of the constitution had become imperative; and then, as at Florence in 1494, the alternative, lay between an oligarchy and a more popular form, between a group of families and a considerable section of the citizens. In both cases it was decided in favour of the latter; in both, the new citizenship had an official basis, for at Venice membership of the old Council during several generations corresponded to the Florentine qualification of past office in the three greater magistracies. In both, all classes which had not previously enjoyed power were, subject to insignificant exceptions, permanently excluded. There was however this important difference, that in Florence the noble houses had, since the Ordinances of Justice, been disfranchised. The Medici had done much to break down this antiquated distinction, but many families still remained almost outside the State, some of them enjoying great social, and indirectly no little political influence. Hitherto there had been possibilities of recovering qualification through membership of the Arts; this avenue was now closed. Hitherto they could at all events belong to the Council of the Commune: this Council was now abolished. Thus, a wealthy and influential class was placed in inevitable opposition towards the new government.

If the highest class lost by the constitutional change, the lower classes did not gain. There was no extension of the franchise in the modern sense; no new class obtained a share in government. Citizenship still depended on membership of the Artl (the Greater or the Less); in each magistracy the former were represented in the proportion of three to Even in the Council, a little consideration will show that the same one. proportion must have been approximately maintained, unless it be urged that three generations of a poorer class will produce more children than three of a richer. Government was left, as before, in the hands of the upper middle classes, with a preponderance in favour of the uppermost.

The name of Savonarola has been indissolubly connected with this constitution. He did not probably first propose it, nor had he, as far as is known, any share in drafting its actual provisions. But unquestionably he created an overpowering public feeling in its favour. Henceforth he regarded the Grand Council as his offspring, whose life