Historians mark the appearance of the plebeians in Rome during the reign of Ancus Marcius. Most were likely foreigners who settled in Rome as naturalized citizens. In those early days of the Roman Republic, the elites maintained a monopoly on political power and social status. The plebeians were excluded from public institutions and were not even permitted to learn the Roman laws that governed them.
In time a growing dissatisfaction with the elite’s stranglehold on society erupted. General strikes — a secessio plebis — shook the establishment. In extreme acts of civil disobedience, the plebeians withdrew en masse from Rome, leaving the wealthy elites behind. In the span of 200 years, 5 dramatic plebeian walkouts took place.
Eventually, these actions resulted in garnering greater political influence for the plebeians. The publication of the laws and rights were formalized. The rights for plebeian intermarriage with the higher classes and other social restrictions were lifted. The concept of egalitarian rights took root for Roman citizenry. Eventually the plebeians gained power through their unrelenting efforts to force reforms.
So, now we arrive in the new Millennium at the precipice of the digital age. We’ve advanced society far from hardscrabble of antiquity. Yet the themes of plebeian struggle from those distant times still echo today.
The American Revolutionary Era was another dramatic step that fits into that very same plebeian spirit. A fresh sense of liberty and possibilities swept across the American Colonies and sparked the creation of the American Constitution. In those times, Benjamin Franklin used the term “leather aprons” to describe the hardworking everyday folks that made colonial American vibrant and new — essentially a new era for the very same plebeian spirit.
Today, the digital age hails another transformation era — brimming with opportunities and fraught with dangers. And again, it will be the plebeians who will do the hard work, make the discoveries, write the code, and create a new society. But deep down our core values and principles remain steadfast as they’re inscribed into America’s founding documents — our cherished aspirations. We reaffirm more inclusively than ever the notion that we are all endowed with certain unalienable rights. Among these are: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Now, let’s do this.