Campaign Tips From Cicero

The Art of Politics, From the Tiber to the Potomac


In 64 BC, the great Roman lawyer and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero ran for consul, the highest office in the republic. Marcus was 42 years old, brilliant, and successful. But he was not a member of the nobility, and that would ordinarily have eliminated him from consideration. The other candidates that year were so unappetizing, however, that he had a chance of winning -- at least, thought his younger brother, Quintus, if Marcus could run a good campaign. At this time in Rome, any adult male citizen could cast a ballot, but voting was done in a complicated system of groups. The richest citizens had disproportionate power, social and political patronage was crucial, and campaigns were accompanied by some bribery and occasional violence, but the electoral process was orderly and usually reasonably fair. The Commentariolum Petitionis, or "Little Handbook on Electioneering," purports to be a memo written by Quintus to Marcus telling him how to proceed. Some scholars believe it is just that; others think it was written by another ancient writer. Either way, the author clearly knew a lot about Roman politics in the first century BC, which turn out to have a distinctly familiar feel. What follows are excerpts from a new translation of the Commentariolum by Philip Freeman, with some observations on its contemporary relevance by James Carville.


To my brother Marcus,

Although you already have all the skills a man can possess through natural ability, experience, and hard work, because of the affection we have for one another I would like to share with you what I have been thinking about night and day concerning your upcoming campaign. . . .

It is crucial that you take stock of the many advantages you possess. . . . Few outsiders have the number and variety of supporters that you do. All those holding public contracts are on your side, as well as most of the business community. The Italian towns also support you. Don't forget about all the people you have successfully defended in

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