Constitution of the Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire, despite its name, was not a unitary state, but a defensive confederation of states, most hereditary monarchies, but some elected aristocracies, and the head position of "emperor" was elected, serving for life, but not hereditary, with limited powers. He ruled from Rome. But there was no requirement that he be a subject or resident of the Empire, only that he be one of the hereditary nobility of Europe. During its height, it extended over much of north-central continental Europe, from Belgium to the border of Poland, and across the northern half of Italy, with hegemony over other nearby countries. The princes that could cast votes for emperor were called "electors". Its borders and extent changed often from 962 through 1806, but during that period it retained roughly the same "constitution", expressed not in a single written document, but in a large number of separate treaties and charters.

It is sometimes said that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution had no model for an extended federal union or republic, but that is not quite correct. Many of their design ideas, and some of their terms, came from the example of the Holy Roman Empire. It is from it that the choice was made to call the members "states", from the German stadt, and to adopt the Electoral College, consisting of "electors" as the method of electing the President.

The following links are to documents that tell more of the story:

  1. HTML Version The Holy Roman Empire — General discussion
  2. Constitutions of Frankfurt 1220 — Recognising the rights of spiritual and temporal princes.
  3. Constitutions of Frankfurt 1232 — Further recognising the rights of spiritual and temporal princes.
  4. Constitution of 1338 (Frankfurt) freeing the election of the emperor from papal control.
  5. The Golden Bull of the Emperor Charles IV 1356 A.D. — Defines role of the electors.
  6. Edict of pacification (Ewiger Landfriede) of 1495, on criminal justice.
  7. Ordinances (Ordnungen) of 1495 (revised 1555) and 1518 (revised 1654) on the courts of justice.
  8. Capitulatio Caesarea (Wahlkapitulation), issued at each election from 1519, consolidated in a perpetual edict in 1711.
  9. Religious treaties (Passau 1552, Augsburg 1555) on religious toleration.
  10. Concordats with the Holy See: Worms 1122, amended Vienna 1448.
  11. Main resolution of the imperial delegation (ReichsdeputationshauptschluĂź) of 1803.
  12. HTML Version HTML Version Treaty of Westphalia (1648) (English)
  13. HTML Version Samuel Pufendorf, The Constitution of the German Empire (1667) (English)

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Maintained: Constitution Research
Original date: 2014/4/6 —