Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/197

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it was his most solemn duty to safeguard. His influence too induced the Twenty to resign before their term of office had expired, and from June 10, 1495, the Council assumed full sovereign authority. Even before this date his sermons had directly affected legislation. The first Act carried by the Council was an amnesty for the past; this was followed by a measure granting an appeal to the Council to any citizen qualified for office, who, for a political offence, had been sentenced by a vote of two-thirds of the Slgnoria or the Eight. This question of "appeal from the Six Beans" was the first which seriously agitated the new republic, and ultimately gravely affected Savonarola and his party. The SigTioria and the Eight possessed by law an unlimited power of punishment. This they were usually too timid to exercise on their own responsibility, but they might easily be made the tools of a dominant faction for party purposes. Political opponents might be proscribed under legal forms without the chances afforded by delay or by an appeal to popular feeling. Hence this appeal to the Council was proposed and was warmly debated in that peculiar Florentine institution termed a Pratica.

The Pratica was no formal element in the constitution new or old, and yet so strong were its traditions that, when in later years the Gonfalonier Piero Soderini preferred to consult the regular magistracies, the innovation was almost regarded as unconstitutional. The upper magistracies and committees sometimes composed the Pratica, but on important occasions the executive added a considerable number of leading citizens and legal luminaries. The timid executive thus widened the area of responsibility, and obtained a preliminary test of the drift of public opinion. A Pratica was the only assembly in which questions were freely debated; hence it somewhat threw into the shade not only the Eighty, but the Council itself. In Savonarola's career, on the three most critical occasions, the interest centres in the debates of the Pratica.

The final vote in favour of appeal was large both in the Eighty and the Council, but during the discussion the result had seemed very doubtful. The aristocrats, who had hitherto manipulated the Signoria, could show that such a measure would still further weaken the already feeble executive. A section of them had, however, become aware that henceforth the executive would be wielded by the people, and that, after the Medicean leaders, the prominent oligarchs might be the victims of a sudden sentence: delay would be in favour of men of position, who in the Council would not be without adherents. On the other hand those who were irreconcilable with the Medici urged that the executive was the sword of the people, and that to blunt its edge was to weaken the people's power. Savonarola had previously proposed an appeal, not to the Council, but to a smaller body. He seems however to have attributed no importance to the distinction, and preached earnestly in favour of the government proposal. Against the Dominican his opponents