The Helvidius Group is named for Helvidius Priscus, a Roman statesman and philosopher of the first century A.D. Known for his virtue and independence of mind, Helvidius Priscus was a staunch advocate of republican government at a time when the imperial mode was ascendant. His defense of senatorial prerogative and opposition to dynastic succession brought him into direct conflict with the Emperors Nero and Vespasian, both of whom banished him. Executed by Vespasian’s order in 79 A.D., Helvidius Priscus was an early martyr of responsible government and freedom of speech.
During the ratification debate that followed the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Helvidius Priscus was the pseudonym of Anti-Federalist James Warren. Helvidius Priscus thus took his place alongside Cato and Cincinnatus among the pantheon of Roman republicans. The Helvidius Group notes that Warren’s wife, Mercy Otis, engaged in the same debate under the pseudonym, “A Columbian Patriot”. The Columbia connection, however, is somewhat tenuous—James Madison as Helvidius was opposed by Columbia alumnus Alexander Hamilton in the famous Helvidius-Pacificus Debate over the legitimacy of a proclamation of neutrality by George Washington in 1793.
The Helvidius Group disclaims any position on senatorial prerogative, dynastic succession, federalism, and U.S. neutrality in foreign wars due to the positions of Helvidius Priscus, both real and attributed.
The name Helvidius is rarely encountered in modern discourse, but Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) provided an interesting exception during a speech, as reported in The New York Times on November 20, 2002. According to Byrd, at 85, Fills the Forum With Romans and Wrath, Senator Byrd articulated the courage displayed by Helvidius Priscus in opposing Vespasian. The Helvidius Group seeks to continue his tradition of intellectual freedom and individualism.