Reconstruction of Switzerland in the 19th Century

Reconstruction of Switzerland in the 19th Century

The French Revolution spilled over Switzerland only in 1798: the French republic, fought by half of Europe, needed Swiss neutrality for the defense of its eastern flank. But after Napoleon Bonaparte had created the Cisalpine republic in northern Italy in 1796, to which he added the Valtellina, until then Grigione, together with Bormio and Chiavenna, on 10 October 1797, the revolutionary danger increased, since for the defense of the southern conquests the Swiss Alpine passes became indispensable. From his return from Lombardy, after the peace of Campoformio, Bonaparte therefore urged the invasion of the Confederation; as some Swiss citizens allowed themselves to be seduced or spontaneously worked in the same direction, he managed to drag the hesitant Parisian Directory. A French army defeated Bern on March 5, 1798, which, once so powerful, abandoned by the Confederates, now offered little resistance. The Jura had already been torn up (1792-1793) and the Vaud was revolutionized (January 1798). We had to content ourselves with the fact that a unitary constitution was imposed on the country, especially since the conqueror, General Brune, even had the intention of dividing Switzerland into three small republics: Rodania, Helvezia and Tellgovia.

The constitution, copied from the French model, with its rigid centralization, with the effective exclusion of any cantonal sovereignty, certainly constituted the greatest contrast with all the previously existing conditions. In the Confederation it was therefore appreciated only as far as the military power of the conquerors reached. Opposition movements from the interior of Switzerland were however bloody repressed (April and May 1798). The same fate befell an attempted rebellion by the residents of Nidwalden in September 1798. But the outbreak of the Second Coalition War in March 1799 made the Confederation the theater of war, in which French, Austrian and Russian armies fought. Suvarov appeared from Italy, but he did not succeed in shaking the political power of the conquerors of 1798.

It is no wonder that promising attempts at internal reorganization failed. The Swiss government, which under the French protectorate was seriously struggling to overcome exceptional difficulties, was hopelessly compromised from the beginning by the despotic government of foreigners. While coups d’etat destroyed the already minimal authority of the five-member directorate, the conflict broke out between centralists and federalists. A constitution project by Bonaparte, who in the meantime became first consul (the Malmaison project), did not even bring about a conciliation, although it intended to replace a tyrannical, artificial and bureaucratic unit with a confederation of the type that was created in 1848. Only the collapse of the so-called Helvetic Republic, in the summer of 1802,

According to Napoleon’s will, Switzerland had to accept the mediation act in 1803, which again re-established the cantons as independent states. In reconfirming equality before the law, already declared in 1798, in not restoring the ancient subjection, in recognizing historical and local differences, Napoleon satisfied the needs of the country. In return he forced the Confederation into a military alliance with France, which abolished the former neutrality even more considerably than had happened during the Helvetic Republic. Forced to pay regular troop tributes of 16,000 (later reduced to 12,000) men, the Confederation was a Napoleonic vassal state. It was long ago that the sovereign did not annul, at least formally, the independence of the Confederation, that he did not annex it to France,

Napoleon, however, provided Switzerland with both internal and external peace. Cantonal life acquired increasing independence, which was above all of decisive importance for the regions of Aargau, Thurgau, St. Gallen, Ticino, etc., which in 1803 from subject regions – which they had previously been – had become States. It is true that Napoleon had already detached Valais in 1803, to make it first an independent republic, later a French department. But the rest of Switzerland merged into a multilingual whole; for the first time the French or Italian speaking parts of the country were given the opportunity to decide for themselves their fate.

The collapse of the Napoleonic empire caused the collapse of the Constitutions of 1803 in the Confederation as well as in the cantons. If the Napoleonic continental block had already greatly oppressed the country economically, and if one had to continually fear the annexation of Ticino by Napoleon, now a real abyss was opening up. Since the empire was not parted in time, the Allies marched against France on Swiss soil at the end of December 1813. Metternich’s desire to establish an Austrian protectorate over the Confederation was prevented by Tsar Alexander I; but the reorganization of the whole situation unleashed serious differences of opinion, between the powers as well as between the Swiss themselves. Everywhere he wanted to restore the ancient. Ancient subjects were threatened, who had lived for ten years in complete independence. For a short time it seemed that chaos was about to erupt: Bern claimed its subject regions of Vaud and Aargau, which had been snatched from it in 1798; Uri the Leventina; the abbot of St. Gallen his principality, which has long been secularized.

Thanks to the Tsar’s intervention, however, it was possible to keep away such threats of selfish restoration. With the cooperation of foreign diplomats, a diet in Zurich, which lasted a year and a half, drafted a new federal treaty, which substantially strengthened the direction that had instead been weakened since 1803. An articulated confederation was re-established, similar to that which existed before 1798. If during the Napoleonic period a provincial governor, who certainly had no importance on his own, summed up the executive power, now this was again transmitted to the main cantons, which alternated every two years. Since then, federal life has been almost unconditionally dominated by cantonal sovereignty. The classes already predominant in the past, took possession of most of the offices, constituting a true oligarchy, especially among the historic cantons of the Confederation. But the independent cantons could not be undermined, as Alexander I interposed his absolute veto. The reaction planned by the Bernese aristocracy could in fact have been supported only on Austrian bayonets: now the Russian political interest did not tolerate any hegemony of the House of Habsburg over central Europe.

The Congress of Vienna, which fixed the European territorial conditions, then reassigned to the Confederation the regions of Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva, which had once been taken from it by France. After long negotiations, the city of Calvino obtained not only the territorial communication, which it had lacked up to now, with the Vaud, but a series of Catholic municipalities, sold by the Sardinian government. Certainly there was no annexation of northern Savoy, as envisaged earlier, since the Swiss themselves did not come to an agreement; and thus it was not possible to round off the territory of the Confederation towards the south: the Valtellina, together with Bormio and Chiavenna, was occupied by Austria, which restored its power over Lombardy. Although Austria had never reigned over the upper Adda valley, this was now administered from Milan. Since the Grisons feared that with the return of these ancient subjects of the Valtellina, the Catholics would gain the upper hand; since the elevation of Valtellina to an independent canton encountered other opposition, these strategically important provinces were definitively lost for the Confederation. We had to be glad that at least Ticino preferred to stay with Switzerland rather than join the Habsburg dominion, despite the fact that the cantonal bailiffs in the past had not always governed in an edifying way. these strategically important provinces were definitively lost for the Confederation. We had to be glad that at least Ticino preferred to stay with Switzerland rather than join the Habsburg dominion, despite the fact that the cantonal bailiffs in the past had not always governed in an edifying way. these strategically important provinces were definitively lost for the Confederation. We had to be glad that at least Ticino preferred to stay with Switzerland rather than join the Habsburg dominion, despite the fact that the cantonal bailiffs in the past had not always governed in an edifying way.

After the Confederation had played an almost ridiculous part in the last struggle against Napoleon I, with the siege of Besançon, the constitution was solemnly and definitively sworn on 7 August 1815, which had been accepted only provisionally a year earlier. On November 20 – on the occasion of the second peace of Paris – the powers also recognized that the neutrality and independence of Switzerland and its territorial integrity were in the real interest of all of Europe. Unlike what happened with the neutralization of Belgium in 1831, a situation of international law was simply recognized here, which was the age-old result of the country’s special conditions of existence, a situation which in 1798 had been completely reversed. The Confederation of the 22 cantons was thus concluded.

But even the confederation treaty that was finally concluded, without foreign intervention, as a necessary compromise, could not possibly satisfy in the long run. Its insufficiency was soon understood at least by the most advanced cantons of the Confederation. Already the economic organism of the cantons was in a depressed condition: guarded by the great powers – as numerous fugitives sought refuge on their territory – they were exploited by the English and French manufacturing industry, since due to the inability of action of the National Assembly was impossible to oppose the economic protectionism of the neighbors. Clearly economic reasons therefore pushed to transform the faulty state order. Furthermore, the ideal world of the revolution was by no means definitively over,

Therefore, if a vast change was already in preparation between 1820 and 1830, the Parisian revolution of July 1830 ended up giving the starting point to a movement, which fundamentally changed the conditions of the cantons of Zurich, Bern, Aargau, Thurgau, Solothurn, etc. The period of the Restoration was followed by a period of reform and regeneration. Following popular uprisings and demonstrations, the representative system was established: that is, representation of the people by means of cantonal parliaments which had legislative power, approval of new taxes, supervision of courts and governments, drafting of instructions for the National Assembly. Equality before the law, freedom of trade and industry, the possibility of petitioning, freedom of the press, of religion and of domicile were granted, although the capital cities of the cantons still retained a certain pre-eminence vis-à-vis the countryside. In short, the decision rested with the sovereign people, with the attenuation of the sole representation.

The attempt to extend this reform to the whole Confederation failed in 1832-33. While bitter struggles between liberals and conservatives caused a split in the Confederation; while the canton of Basel was to be divided into two parts (Basel city and Basel-country) – the same fate was avoided by the small canton of Schwyz almost by chance – foreign diplomacy also objected. The Prince de Metternich argued that neutrality and territorial enlargement had been granted to Switzerland in 1815 only on condition that it did not change its constitution by means of a simple majority of votes. The reform movement, which got off to a promising start, ran aground. The contrasts between right and left, between Catholics and Protestants,

On the other hand, however, the Confederation was oppressed by dependence on foreign countries, as resulted precisely during the period following 1830 in a series of conflicts with Austria and France. Mazzini’s expedition against Savoy already in 1834 caused serious difficulties, because the cantons had not prevented it in time. When the Aargau government in 1841 – contrary to a guarantee proclaimed in the treaty of the Confederation – abolished the convents in its territory, a bitter conflict arose. Under the leadership of Lucerne, where a clerical wave simultaneously swept away the liberal regime of 1830, the conservative element of the Confederacy united for a decisive defense. Already at the beginning of 1830 the liberals had concluded a mutual constitutional guarantee agreement, Siebenerkonkordat); but their opponents formed, from 1843, a real separatist federation (the Sonderbund). And since the National Assembly contented itself with restoring four monasteries of nuns, the clerical party insisted on calling the Jesuits to Lucerne. To avoid this the liberals undertook two expeditions of volunteer corps, which failed (1844-45). Faced with this danger, the Conservatives in mid-December 1845 completed their separatist federation, whose opponents demanded the dissolution. Not having obtained the latter, a majority of the National Assembly decided armed action in early November 1847 – although Austria, France, Prussia and Russia were on the side of the Catholics and only Palmerston’s England supported Swiss liberalism. However, all the sympathy of the powers could not avoid a severe defeat for the Swiss Orthodox minority. Under the leadership of the Genevan citizen, GE Dufour, elected general, with a campaign of 26 days it was possible to completely crush the separatist federation and thereby pave the way for that long-needed revision of the confederation treaty. Foreign cabinets still threatened military intervention; but this danger disappeared with the outbreak of the Parisian revolution of February 1848. The general revolution was rampant in Austria, Prussia, Italy, Hungary, etc. An offensive and defensive alliance, desired by Carlo Alberto of Sardinia, in April 1848, to fight in common the House of Habsburg was rejected by a weak majority by the National Assembly. This alliance would not have saved the king’s fate, while it would have brought serious international complications to the Confederation. The Ticino population strongly sympathized with Garibaldi, who fought on Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. Meanwhile, Switzerland reconciled its differences of opinion on the question of the constitution. In long discussions conducted with mutual regard for the opponent’s points of view, the project for the ordering of the Confederation was defined.

The Confederation was governed by an effective executive power and with the bicameral system, according to the American model. The distribution of tasks between cantonal power and central power did not take place according to the thinking of the radicals; instead, excessive centralization was avoided. Indeed, one of the two parliamentary assemblies, the Council of “states”, was intended to represent the cantons (each canton is represented there with two members, each half-canton with one; the vote no longer depends on cantonal instructions as in the old National Assembly) while the National Council had to represent the people (one member for every 20,000 souls; today for every 22,000). In short, that general government was established, based in Bern, which until now had been lacking in the Confederation (leaving aside the unsuccessful experiment of the Helvetic Republic). If the individual cantons appeared, now as before, fundamental elements of the federal state, and even in possession of partial military sovereignty, from now on it was only the common government that could declare war and conclude peace, make alliances or political treaties with abroad and have official relations with it.

If only with the constitution accepted on 12 September 1848 an effective overall body was born, it was still several years before the powers ceased their attempts, always renewed since 1815, to exercise troublesome protection. While the country was finally becoming a state economically and politically, with the uniformity of duties, weights and measures, post offices, etc., with the creation of a single monetary system according to the French model, independence had to be continually defended. internal and external policy. Only with difficulty was it possible to prevent the radicals from supporting their political colleagues abroad, that is, to prevent them from participating in the revolts in Lombardy and the Grand Duchy of Baden in the years 1848-49. L’ Austria therefore decreed in 1852 a severe prohibition of the trade in food and traffic with Ticino, which enthusiastically sympathized with the Italian patriots, and which through printing presses, in Lugano and Capolago, exercised a strong influence on the movement for the freedom of the neighboring country. despite all the oppression of the Habsburg censorship. And it was only thanks to the discord of the powers that an occupation of the south and the west of Switzerland was then avoided. As during the Sonderbund War, so too now the liberal England was of great help to the threatened patriots, while more than 10,000 expelled Ticinesi had to leave Lombardy. it exerted a strong influence on the freedom movement of the neighboring country, despite all the oppression of the Habsburg censorship. And it was only thanks to the discord of the powers that an occupation of the south and the west of Switzerland was then avoided. As during the Sonderbund War, so too now the liberal England was of great help to the threatened patriots, while more than 10,000 expelled Ticinesi had to leave Lombardy. it exerted a strong influence on the freedom movement of the neighboring country, despite all the oppression of the Habsburg censorship. And it was only thanks to the discord of the powers that an occupation of the south and the west of Switzerland was then avoided. As during the Sonderbund War, so too now the liberal England was of great help to the threatened patriots, while more than 10,000 expelled Ticinesi had to leave Lombardy.

On the other hand, in 1856-57 there was a success in the disagreement with Prussia due to the principality of Neuchâtel, which in 1848 had effectively become a Swiss canton. Threats of war by Frederick William IV, on the occasion of a revolt by his partisans in September 1856, had, it is true, for a moment the apparent support of Napoleon III. But since Europe – immediately after the end of the Crimean war – could not be helped by a new conflict of the great powers, Prussia finally had to yield: in the spring of 1857 it renounced the very distant territory of the Jura, whose purchase in 1707 it had been made possible by Bern, when it was a question of preventing Louis XIV from advancing over the mountaintops to Protestant territory.

If in this case the foreign claim could be rejected, mobilizing the army under the supreme command of Dufour, the attempt to prevent the cession of Savoy to France in 1860, after the Austro-Piedmontese war of 1859, failed radically. Since then Geneva has been surrounded by French territory. The federal council could not prevent this disadvantageous modification of the territorial state of affairs, as it represented the condition of Napoleon’s support for Cavour’s projects. Wanting to obtain the cession of northern Savoy to Switzerland by force, occupying territories beyond Lake Geneva, as Federal Councilor Stämpfli planned, would have meant the outbreak of a conflict with the Second Empire, probably also with the new kingdom of Italy..

An inevitable catastrophe would thus have put an end to an adventure, suggested by megalomania.

The confederation did not dare to expose itself to the risk of such an enterprise, especially as it was modernizing its economic and commercial system. Railway companies had sprung up as early as 1852, after the Confederation’s diet ruled in favor of the principle of private construction. And while the project of a federal university failed, thus leaving only the cantonal universities, in 1854 the Zurich Polytechnic was born, to be supported by federal means; banks and anonymous joint stock companies were set up; the country’s prosperity increased. Foreign policy mistakes would have destroyed it.

The discontent for the defeat was certainly great, and contributed to the obfuscation of the authority of the liberal party which, since 1848, had governed the fate of the country almost dictatorially. Previously, the rights of the people had been increased in some cantons. Vetoes, initiatives, referendums, were soon introduced, now in this, now in that canton; then the assize courts, the popular election of governments and more. From the representative system implemented up to that moment, pure democracy was slowly developing. The optional referendum – that is, the organization of popular interrogations, whenever these were ordered by the councilors, or requested by 30,000 voters, or by eight cantons – was accepted in 1874 in the renewed federal constitution.

Even now the country’s basic law remained a compromise between unitarianism and particularism. The powers of the central government of Bern were increased in matters of economic and cultural matters; An industrial law was established and at the same time the cantons were obliged to provide sufficient, compulsory and free primary education. The federal court was also perfected, already created in 1848, and now only transformed into a permanent institution with career judges, who were to take up residence in Lausanne. But the individual states retained for their governments and their parliamentary assemblies a series of notable partial competences. The contrasts of language and religion, between mountains and plains,

Consequences of such democratic decentralization – self government, which had always characterized the Swiss state – were a general resumption of activity, up to the periphery, a strong economic momentum. The fact that public education did not depend on a unitary order, but was decided by the cantons, made it possible to avoid differences of race or language, while confessional conflicts were slowly disappearing, after the so-called “Kulturkampf” in the seventies and the eighties had once again provoked strong contrasts with the expulsion from Geneva of the apostolic vicar, the future Cardinal Mermillod, with the dismissal of Bishop Lachat of Solothurn in the Jura. There is no question of minorities for the Confederation for the reason that the Romanesque cantons (Western Switzerland and Ticino) can regulate their affairs completely according to their own will. Any centralism, on the other hand, would inevitably lead to friction, which could threaten the stability and the very life of a community that has existed for six hundred years.

Further development was therefore not jeopardized by internal political struggles. The construction of the Gotthard railway, carried out with methodical energy by Alfredo Escher of Zurich and inaugurated in 1882 (Italian and German subsidies facilitated and made possible the execution of the works for the Gotthard railway company, directed, at least in the decisive phase, by the Escher) better linked Ticino with the Confederation. But with this also changed the situation from the point of view of traffic, of the whole confederal territory: it became a central node of international relations.

At the beginning of the sixties and seventies the International Red Cross was founded on the initiative of a Swiss, the Geneva-born Enrico Dunant: the first impetus was given by the horrors of the battlefield of Solferino. Later the World Postal Union (1865), the International Telegraphic Union (1874), etc. were established in Bern, the supervision of which was entrusted to the Swiss Federal Council, which appoints the officials of these central organizations, formed by effect of international conventions.

In the meantime, however, the Confederation itself was elaborating the legislative provisions made possible by its new constitution. Although the latter has never been renewed as a whole, it has often been changed by partial revisions. When modern life made free trade unsustainable, the letting go and let go of liberalism, it became necessary to limit the unlimited freedom of industry and trade, once guaranteed by the constitution. With the ever increasing industrialization a workers’ movement, of a socialist tone, arose – albeit relatively late – while the government, introducing social reforms, tried to meet urgent needs for its part. In 1911 the Schweizer Unfallversicherungsanstalt was created (Swiss insurance company against

The modest degree of unification, established by the constitution of ’74 was soon overcome. Already in 1898 it was decided the redemption by the state of the most important railway lines: which, due to the deficit of the lines themselves, today constitutes a serious concern for federal finances. In 1897, the water and forestry police, which had previously been federally ordered only for the high mountains, were extended to the whole country. In 1912 the unified civil code came into force. In 1916, a law on hydraulic power ensured the country of its hydraulic wealth in the face of unauthorized transfers abroad. Thus the participation of the cantons in military sovereignty has been steadily diminished, in the interest of greater defensive capacity. The system, slowly renewed for centuries, of the militia (lack of permanent troops) nevertheless corresponds to principles of democratic internal politics. It is of course not easy to adapt such an organism to the rapidly progressing technical requirements of the present.

The world war therefore meant a very serious test for the Confederation. If the position of the supranational state, neutral within an imperialist Europe was already difficult in itself, the difficulties still increased due to its position in the interior of the continent, which made it surrounded only by the territories of belligerent countries. Certainly, Germany, Austria, France recognized in the summer of 1914 the Swiss neutrality already proclaimed in 1815; Italy did the same in the spring of 1915, when it entered the war. But not only the difference in sympathies in different parts of the country threatened to become a real danger. Due to the long duration of the struggle, a sufficient supply often seemed impossible. Distrust and suspicion arose among the different linguistic lineages. Scum from all over Europe used the neutral ground for dubious business, espionage or attempts at upheaval.

If Switzerland became precious to the belligerents with its charitable activities (activities of the Red Cross, repatriation of civilian internees, asylum for seriously injured people, establishment of an information service on hundreds of thousands of prisoners), on the other hand also on the social unrest took place on its soil, anti-militarist propaganda took place.

The borders had to be occupied for more than four years, at certain times with extensive calls to arms: the armistice of 11 November 1918 made the threat in foreign policy vanish. But at the same time a socialist-communist general strike broke out. The representatives of the Red International had not found each other in vain during the war in Zimmerwald, in the canton of Bern, just as Lenin had run from Switzerland to Petersburg in revolution. But the planned subjugation of the bourgeoisie failed. The introduction, already requested before, of the proportional system for elections to the national council (1919), of the week of 48 hours, etc. however, he showed that he was inclined to satisfy legitimate aspirations and needs. The serious economic crisis, which followed, as in 1648, the conclusion of the war, it meant a worsening of the situation of previous years. But the Confederation, thus distressed, showed its willingness to fulfill international commitments as well. In 1920 it entered the League of Nations after violent internal debates. The London Declaration of the Great Powers of February 13, 1920 took into account Swiss neutrality, as the Confederation was obliged to participate only in coercive measures of a commercial and financial nature against those who violate the league’s pact, and not in military measures, to allow passage of troops or to allow military preparations on its territory (in 1935-36 on the occasion of the Geneva sanctions against Italy, Switzerland could only with difficulty agree its neutrality with the obligations of member of the League of Nations). Despite this exceptional condition, under the influence of President Wilson, Geneva was designated as the headquarters of the new world organization. By concluding numerous arbitration agreements with other states, the Confederation has sought to secure its difficult position in an armed Europe; it did the same both by participating in the work of the League of Nations and by further strengthening its military organizations.

If we summarize the development of this which is today the oldest republic in Europe, its high particularity cannot be ignored. As it brings together four languages, so it has sought its own path over the centuries. Especially since 1848 its development curve has been pronounced in a completely different direction from that of neighboring countries. Within its borders a certain communion of a Germanic and Latin character takes place. Already due to its geographical position, Switzerland appears to be a country of transition, in which influences from the Mediterranean countries meet with influences from the north, forces that come from the West with forces that come from the East.

The historical destiny has allowed a political organism to be formed from the late Middle Ages onwards, which has not disappeared like others, but which has established itself. From a confederation of states with separatist tendencies, it was formed, especially during the second half of the century. XIX, a confederation capable of giving unitary life to the action of the states that constitute it. Confederation which, in the sense of the 1815 document of neutrality, can without exaggeration be baptized an indispensable integral part of Europe. Political interest has proved stronger than any difference of race, language, religion, etc.

Reconstruction of Switzerland in the 19th Century