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Michael Gaismair’s Territorial Constitution for Tyrol (1526)

Michael Gaismair (1490-1532), formerly an official of the prince-bishop of Brixen/Bressanone, drafted the Tyrolean Constitution in 1526. One of the most significant reform programs of the Peasants’ War, it envisions a single territory, Tyrol, as an egalitarian republic inspired by the principles of Ulrich Zwingli. Indeed, the Tyrolean Constitution takes its Biblicism and its emphasis on the principle of “godly law” from the Zürich reform. Gaismair’s constitution includes detailed plans for a social welfare system and for the reform of agriculture, industry, and trade. It ends with a discussion of mining. The constitution is based on mercantilist principles, i.e., the supremacy of small producers, and it presents the framework for a self-sufficient, communally organized territorial state in a single land. Tyrol was an apt site for this project, because it possessed a strong peasantry, a weak nobility, minimal urbanization, and a mixed economy of farming, stock-raising, vineyards, and mining.

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First you should take an oath and swear to band your body and goods together and not to abandon each other. Instead you should advance or lay siege together, always following orders. Be faithful and obedient to your superior authorities and do not act to your own advantage, but rather seek foremost the glory of God and then the common good, so that God the Almighty might grant us mercy and aid (as he has promised many times to those who are submissive to his commandments). We should trust completely in this, for he is entirely honest and misleads no one.

2. You should chase down and expel all those godless people who persecute the Word of God, oppress the poor common man, and hinder the common good.

3. That you aim to establish and live by a completely Christian law based on all points on the divine Word of God.

4. All privileges shall be abolished, for they are contrary to the Word of God and falsify justice, according to which no one should have an advantage over the other.

5. The walls of all the towns should be torn down, as should the fortresses and fortifications in the country. From now on, there should be no towns, only villages, so that there is no distinction made among men. None shall be considered superior or better than another, which leads to turmoil as well as arrogance and rebellion. Rather, equality should be [maintained] everywhere.

6. All images, wayside shrines, and chapels which are not parish churches shall be abolished, as should the mass in the entire territory, for it is an anathema to God and completely unchristian.

7. The Word of God shall be truly and faithfully preached everywhere in Gaismair’s land, and all sophistry and jurisprudence [i.e. legal mumbo-jumbo] is to be discontinued and such books burned.

8. The courts, as well as the parishes, shall be situated conveniently everywhere in the land so as to keep costs to a minimum.

9. Every commune should elect a judge and eight jurors to its court every year. They are to oversee the court for that year.

10. Court should be held every Monday and all matters addressed. They are not to be adjourned until the next session but rather continued the next day. The judge, jurors, clerk, advocate, court officials, and messengers shall not accept anything from anyone in the court proceedings. Rather they shall be paid by the land and accordingly shall appear at their own expense every Monday at the place of court ready to serve.

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