Corporatism and Consensus in Florentine Electoral Politics, 1280-1400

Corporatism and Consensus in Florentine Electoral Politics, 1280-1400

Corporatism and Consensus in Florentine Electoral Politics, 1280-1400

Corporatism and Consensus in Florentine Electoral Politics, 1280-1400

Excerpt

The great debate of 24 November 1292 initiated a period of approximately five years in which the consuls of the twelve guilds were the determining voice in the election of the priorate. This half decade of guild predominance in electoral politics coincided with the brief but tumultuous popular government under the leadership of Giano della Bella, which sought to recast the constitutional framework of the republic in a corporate mold and to shift the social bases of communal government by excluding a large portion of the oligarchy from the right to elective office. Indeed, the very introduction of the guilds on an equal footing into the electoral process enabled the popular party to sustain an effective presence in the Signoria and to implement these radical policies. The lawyers, bankers, and merchants who had been firmly in control before 1292 were quick to realize that the corporate foundations of the new regime threatened to become a launching pad for continuous attacks on oligarchic privilege and power. It was, therefore, inevitable that the newly won electoral authority of the guilds should become one of the most frequently and intensely debated issues in Florentine politics. Supporters of the popular government and its guild constitution struggled to retain a prominent role for the consuls in the election of the priorate, and for several years their efforts met with considerable success. After 1296, however, the tide began to turn as crucial technical modifications in the procedure for the nomination of candidates increasingly neutralized the participation of the consuls by diminishing the autonomy of the individual guilds. Thereafter, the influence of the guilds steadily waned until they were deprived of even formal representation on the electoral committees sometime after 1303. What they lost in the years between 1296 and 1303 was not regained for over a generation.

The new priors, elected according to the procedures and regulations ap-

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