bread and water and the voting process

In our currently paralyzed political condition in the United States, we could learn a little from some of the ancient political systems in history. Take the Holy Roman Empire, for example. Now there were some people who knew how to get stuff done.

The Holy Roman Empire was an elective monarchy since the 10th century. That is, the Emperor and King (always the same person) was not “passed down” by family or appointment, but was in fact a member of the upper nobility from all of the various states of the empire, who was elected to that position by other members of the upper nobility.

So how did that work, exactly? All of the candidates (or “prince-electors”) would travel from their various locations across the empire to Frankfort. They would meet at the Church of Saint Bartholomew. Each of them would place their hands on the Gospel and take an oath administered by the archbishop of Mainz, declaring that they promise to elect the most suitable candidate as the King of the Romans and Emperor of the known world, and they they promise that they will do so without the influence of any bribe or pact or promise and so on and so forth.

But wait! This is the best part. After they take the oath, they have thirty days to pick one among themselves who will be the emperor and king. They may not leave the city in that time, and:

And from now on [after they have taken the oath] they shall not disperse from the said city of Frankfort until the majority of them shall have elected a temporal head for the world and for the Christian people; a king, namely, of the Romans and prospective emperor. But if they shall fail to do this within thirty days, counting continuously from the day when they took the aforesaid oath: when those thirty days are over, from that time on they shall live on bread and water, and by no means leave the aforesaid city unless first through them, or the majority of them, a ruler or temporal head of the faithful shall have been elected.

—from the Golden Bull of Emperor Charles IV, 1356 A.D., translation by Altmann Bernheim

The bold-faced emphasis is mine: that is the part that I think is most important.

Just to re-iterate: if they cannot come to a majority agreement about who should be Emperor within thirty days, they will live on bread and water and cannot leave until they come to an agreement!

I want that rule back! Just think what it could do for our congressional budgeting process. Enough said.

p218_BreadandWater



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