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Chapter 25

CHAPTER II

The Florentines murmur against those who had been advocates of the
war--Rinaldo degli Albizzi encourages the citizens--Measures for
the prosecution of the war--Attempt of the higher classes to
deprive the plebeians of their share in the government--Rinaldo
degli Albizzi addresses an assembly of citizens and advises the
restoration of the /Grandi/--Niccolo da Uzzano wishes to have
Giovanni de' Medici on their side--Giovanni disapproves of the
advice of Rinaldo degli Albizzi.

The defeat at Zagonara spread consternation throughout Florence; but
none felt it so severely as the nobility, who had been in favor of the
war; for they perceived their enemies to be inspirited and themselves
disarmed, without friends, and opposed by the people, who at the
corners of streets insulted them with sarcastic expressions,
complaining of the heavy taxes, and the unnecessary war, and saying,
"Oh! they appointed the ten to frighten the enemy. Have they relieved
Furli, and rescued her from the hands of the duke? No! but their
designs have been discovered; and what had they in view? not the
defense of liberty; for they do not love her; but to aggrandize their
own power, which God has very justly abated. This is not the only
enterprise by many a one with which they have oppressed the city; for
the war against King Ladislaus was of a similar kind. To whom will
they flee for assistance now? to Pope Martin, whom they ridiculed
before the face of Braccio; or to Queen Giovanna, whom they abandoned,
and compelled to throw herself under the protection of the king of
Aragon?" To these reproaches was added all that might be expected from
an enraged multitude.

Seeing the discontent so prevalent, the Signory resolved to assemble a
few citizens, and with soft words endeavor to soothe the popular
irritation. On this occasion, Rinaldo degli Albizzi, the eldest son of
Maso, who, by his own talents and the respect he derived from the
memory of his father, aspired to the first offices in the government,
spoke at great length; showing that it is not right to judge of
actions merely by their effects; for it often happens that what has
been very maturely considered is attended with unfavorable results:
that if we are to applaud evil counsels because they are sometimes
followed by fortunate events, we should only encourage men in error
which would bring great mischief upon the republic; because evil
counsel is not always attended with happy consequences. In the same
way, it would be wrong to blame a wise resolution, because if its
being attended with an unfavorable issue; for by so doing, we should
destroy the inclination of citizens to offer advice and speak the
truth. He then showed the propriety of undertaking the war; and that
if it had not been commenced by the Florentines in Romagna the duke
would have assailed them in Tuscany. But since it had pleased God,
that the Florentine people should be overcome, their loss would be
still greater if they allowed themselves to be dejected; but if they
set a bold front against adversity, and made good use of the means
within their power, they would not be sensible of their loss or the
duke of his victory. He assured them they ought not to be alarmed by
impending expenses and consequent taxation; because the latter might
be reduced, and the future expense would not be so great as the former
had been; for less preparation is necessary for those engaged in self-
defense than for those who design to attack others. He advised them to
imitate the conduct of their forefathers, who, by courageous conduct
in adverse circumstances, had defended themselves against all their
enemies.

Thus encouraged, the citizens engaged Count Oddo the son of Braccio,
and united with him, for directing the operations of the war, Niccolo
Piccinino, a pupil of his father's, and one of the most celebrated of
all who had served under him. To these they added other leaders, and
remounted some of those who had lost their horses in the late defeat.
They also appointed twenty citizens to levy new taxes, who finding the
great quite subdued by the recent loss, took courage and drained them
without mercy.

These burdens were very grievous to the nobility, who at first, in
order to conciliate, did not complain of their own particular
hardships, but censured the tax generally as unjust, and advised that
something should be done in the way of relief; but their advice was
rejected in the Councils. Therefore, to render the law as offensive as
possible, and to make all sensible of its injustice, they contrived
that the taxes should be levied with the utmost rigor, and made it
lawful to kill any that might resist the officers employed to collect
them. Hence followed many lamentable collisions, attended with the
blood and death of citizens. It began to be the impression of all,
that arms would be resorted to, and all prudent persons apprehended
some approaching evil; for the higher ranks, accustomed to be treated
with respect, could not endure to be used like dogs; and the rest were
desirous that the taxation should be equalized. In consequence of this
state of things, many of the first citizens met together, and it was
resolved that it had become necessary for their safety, that some
attempt should be made to recover the government; since their want of
vigilance had encouraged men to censure public actions, and allowed
those to interfere in affairs who had hitherto been merely the leaders
of the rabble. Having repeatedly discussed the subject, they resolved
to meet again at an appointed hour, when upwards of seventy citizens
assembled in the church of St. Stephen, with the permission of Lorenzo
Ridolfi and Francesco Gianfigliazzi, both members of the Signory.
Giovanni de' Medici was not among them either because being under
suspicion he was not invited or that entertaining different views he
was unwilling to interfere.

Rinaldo degli Albizzi addressed the assembly, describing the condition
of the city, and showing how by their own negligence it had again
fallen under the power of the plebeians, from whom it had been wrested
by their fathers in 1381. He reminded them of the iniquity of the
government which was in power from 1378 to 1381, and that all who were
then present had to lament, some a father, others a grandfather, put
to death by its tyranny. He assured them they were now in the same
danger, and that the city was sinking under the same disorders. The
multitude had already imposed a tax of its own authority; and would
soon, if not restrained by greater force or better regulations,
appoint the magistrates, who, in this case, would occupy their places,
and overturn the government which for forty-two years had ruled the
city with so much glory; the citizens would then be subject to the
will of the multitude, and live disorderly and dangerous, or be under
the command of some individual who might make himself prince. For
these reasons he was of opinion, that whoever loved his country and
his honor must arouse himself, and call to mind the virtue of Bardo
Mancini, who, by the ruin of the Alberti, rescued the city from the
dangers then impending; and that the cause of the audacity now assumed
by the multitude was the extensive Squittini or Pollings, which, by
their negligence, were allowed to be made; for thus the palace had
become filled with low men. He therefore concluded, that the only
means of remedying the evil was to restore the government to the
nobility, and diminish the authority of the minor trades by reducing
the companies from fourteen to seven, which would give the plebeians
less authority in the Councils, both by the reduction in their number
and by increasing the authority of the great; who, on account of
former enmities, would be disinclined to favor them. He added, that it
is a good thing to know how to avail themselves of men according to
the times; and that as their fathers had used the plebeians to reduce
the influence of the great, that now, the great having been humbled,
and the plebeians become insolent, it was well to restrain the
insolence of the latter by the assistance of the former. To effect
this they might proceed either openly or otherwise, for some of them
belonging to the Council of Ten, forces might be led into the city
without exciting observation.

Rinaldo was much applauded, and his advice was approved of by the
whole assembly. Niccolo da Uzzano who, among others, replied to it,
said, "All that Rinaldo had advanced was correct, and the remedies he
proposed good and certain, if they could be adopted without an
absolute division of the city; and this he had no doubt would be
effected if they could induce Giovanni de' Medici to join them; for
with him on their side, the multitude being deprived of their chief
and stay, would be unable to oppose them; but that if he did not
concur with them they could do nothing without arms, and that with
them they would incur the risk of being vanquished, or of not being
able to reap the fruit of victory." He then modestly reminded them of
what he had said upon a former occasion, and of their reluctance to
remedy the evil when it might easily have been done; that now the same
remedy could not be attempted without incurring the danger of greater
evils, and therefore there was nothing left for them to do but to gain
him over to their side, if practicable. Rinaldo was then commissioned
to wait upon Giovanni and try if he could induce him to join them.

He undertook this commission, and in the most prevailing words he
could make use of endeavored to induce him to coincide with their
views; and begged that he would not by favoring an audacious mob,
enable them to complete the ruin both of the government and the city.
To this Giovanni replied, that he considered it the duty of a good and
wise citizen to avoid altering the institutions to which a city is
accustomed; there being nothing so injurious to the people as such a
change; for many are necessarily offended, and where there are several
discontented, some unpropitious event may be constantly apprehended.
He said it appeared to him that their resolution would have two
exceedingly pernicious effects; the one conferring honors on those
who, having never possessed them, esteemed them the less, and
therefore had the less occasion to grieve for their absence; the other
taking them from those who being accustomed to their possession would
never be at rest till they were restored to them. It would thus be
evident that the injury done to one party, was greater than the
benefit they had conferred upon the other; so that whoever was the
author of the proposition, he would gain few friends and make many
enemies, and that the latter would be more resolutely bent on injuring
him than the former would be zealous for his defense, for mankind are
naturally more disposed to revenge than to gratitude, as if the latter
could only be exercised with some inconvenience to themselves, while
the former brings alike gratification and profit. Then, directing his
discourse more particularly to Rinaldo, he said, "And you, if you
could call to mind past events, and knew how craftily affairs are
conducted in this city, would not be so eager in this pursuit; for he
who advises it, when by your aid he has wrested the power from the
people, will, with the people's assistance, who will have become your
enemies, deprive you of it. And it will happen to you as to Benedetto
Alberti, who, at the persuasion of those who were not his friends,
consented to the ruin of Giorgio Scali and Tommaso Strozzi, and
shortly afterward was himself sent into exile by the very same men."
He therefore advised Rinaldo to think more maturely of these things,
and endeavor to imitate his father, who, to obtain the benevolence of
all, reduced the price of salt, provided that whoever owed taxes under
half a florin should be at liberty to pay them or not, as he thought
proper, and that at the meeting of the Councils every one should be
free from the importunities of his creditors. He concluded by saying,
that as regarded himself, he was disposed to let the government of the
city remain as it was.

Niccolo Machiavelli