By Kimiko Adler
Just as the Federalists used the pseudonym Publius, the Anti-Federalists conveyed a message with their own pseudonym, Brutus. Determining which Brutus the Anti-Federalists were referring to is a tougher question, since there were multiple “Brutuses,” or “Bruti,” in Roman memory. The most well-known Brutus was Marcus Iunius Brutus, Julius Caesar’s friend who ultimately took part in assassinating him. At the same time, the Anti-Federalists could have also been referring to Lucius Iunius Brutus, one of Marcus Brutus’s ancestors. Lucius Brutus was a leader in overthrowing the Roman monarchy and establishing the Republic. He was also a colleague of Publius Poplicola.
Regardless of which Brutus the Anti-Federalists were referring to, both Bruti directly linked themselves with fighting against those who sought unlimited political power, a strikingly Anti-Federalist sentiment.
Brutus Part One Politically, Lucius Brutus emphasized squashing the possibility of another Roman king. After helping to overthrow Tarquinius Superbus alongside Publius, Lucius Brutus was elected as one of Rome’s first consuls. Before setting up the framework of the Roman Republic, Brutus’s first acts as consul was to ask the Roman populus to “swear an oath that they would suffer no man to be king in Rome.”1 Preventing tyranny was Lucius Brutus’s priority as consul, as his acts reflected. Rather than solely commit himself publicly to maintaining the Republic, Lucius Brutus’s opposition to tyranny prompted him to go to extraordinary lengths for the betterment of the Republic, including convicting his own son.
Lucius Brutus’s commitment to the Republic superseded his familial ties. Plutarch viewed Brutus as austere and perhaps too committed to his principles. As Plutarch described, when Lucius Brutus discovered that his sons were traitors of the Republic, he convicted them and sentenced them to death.
From a legal perspective, a father had the authority to sentence his children to death, no matter how old they were. However, by the time Plutarch was writing in the 2nd century CE, the practice became archaic and was seldom used. As Andrew Riggsby writes, the father’s power extended to “his right to execute them at will, though actual instances are so rare that some have questioned the rule itself.”2 So, when Plutarch described Lucius Brutus watching his sons die without “the least glance of pity to soften and smooth his aspect of rigor and austerity” and that he “sternly watched his children suffer,”3 it was not complimentary. By watching his children suffer, Lucius Brutus (in Plutarch’s eyes) was perhaps too zealous in his maintenance of the Roman Republic.
No matter how extreme Lucius Brutus was in applying the principles of the Roman Republic, he ultimately sacrificed himself for its preservation. As Tarquinius Superbus invaded Rome in order to reclaim his throne, Lucius Brutus died in the fighting. Everything that Lucius Brutus did was for the benefit of the Republic, especially in his focus on preventing any king from rising again. Lucius Brutus protected the Republic, even if doing so meant dying. His descendants, especially Marcus Brutus, showed no less zeal.
1 Livy, History of Rome, 221.
2 Riggsby, Andrew M. Roman Law and the Legal World of the Romans. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010: 106.
3 Plutarch, Parallel Lives, 115.