Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/198

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

set up the eloquent Franciscan Fra Domenico da Ponzo, and the populace flocked from San Marco to Santa Croce and back again, to be taught its politics from the pulpit. The triumph of the government was complete, and the law was carried; time only could show whether, amid party passions, it would be observed. Savonarola's share in this law has recently been denied; but contemporary friends and enemies ascribed to him its initiation and success. His panegyrists have no need to be ashamed of a measure which rightly gave the power of pardon to the sovereign authority. In a democracy, wrote Aristotle, the people should have the power of pardoning, but not of condemning. Savonarola's reputation was afterwards injured, not by the law of appeal, but by the failure of his party to observe it.

In a kindred proposal to pare the claws of the executive, Savonarola had a yet more direct share. From the pulpit of San Marco was uttered the death-warrant of the primeval Florentine assembly, the Parlamento. This was a curious survival of the old municipal life of a comparatively small city, in which the people at large was the ultimate resort on any change of government. Under altered conditions it was doubtless an abuse. Each dominant party could induce the Signoria, which was its nominee, to summon a Parliament, and there propose measures of greater or less importance, with the purpose of prolonging or enhancing its own authority. By this simple expedient the constitution was more than once suspended. Savonarola saw that a single Signaria with an aristocratic or Medicean majority might, through such a plebiscite, overthrow in an hour the fabric of the new republic. On no political subject was his language more intemperate. There was now, he cried, no need of Parliaments: the sovereignty of the people was vested in the Council, which could make every law that the people could desire: Parliament was the robbery of the people's power. He warned his congregation, if ever the bell of the Palazzo rang for Parliament, to hack to pieces every Prior that stepped upon the platform: the Gonfaloniers of the companies must swear that on the first stroke of the bell, they would sack the Priors' houses, and of each house sacked, the Gonfalonier and his company should divide the spoils. Within sixteen days of Savonarola's sermon this ferocious proposal, though modified in its penal details, became law. Thus the middle classes deprived the lower of even the semblance of a share in government. The Parliament which abolished the Medici regime had shouted away its own existence. Hitherto every insignificant bafia had required the assent of this popular assembly; but the sweeping change which established the new republic had never received its sanction. The time might come when even this faint echo of the people's voice might be regretted.

In these two deliberate attempts to weaken the executive, Savonarola was probably less influenced by theoretic democratic considerations, than by feverish anxiety to fend off the immediate danger, a recrudescence of