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The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

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Copyright, 1892
By William D. McCrackan

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T^HE study of federalism as a system of government has, in
^ recent times, become a favorite subject for constitutional
writers. At present the United States and the Dominion of Canada
on this continent, the newly constituted Australian Commonwealth
at the Antipodes! and in Europe the German Empire, the Austro-
Hungarian Empire, and the Swiss Confederation are all examples
of the application of the federal principle in its various phases.
What makes all researches into this branch of political learning
particularly difficult, and, perhaps, for that reason, also exceptionally
fascinating, is the fact that federated states seem forever oscillating
between the two extremes of complete centralization and decentral-
ization. The two forces, centripetal and centrifugal, seem to be
always pulling against each other, and producing a new resultant
whidi varies according to their proportionate intensity. One is
almost tempted to say that there must be an ideal state somewhere
between these two extremes/ some point of perfect balance, from
which no nation can ever depart very far, without either falling apart
into anarchy or being consolidated into despotism. Whatever,
therefore, can throw a light upon these obscure forces is certainly
entitled to our deepest interest.

But not all representatives of federalism possess an equal value
for us, in our search after improvements in the art of self-govern*
ment. The study of the constitutions of the German and Austro-
Hungarian Empires can only be of secondary importance to us
Americans, because these states are founded upon monarchical prin-
ciples, quite foreign to our body politic. To a limited extent, the
same objection may be made to the Canadian and Australian consti-
tutions, since the connection of those countries with the monarchical
mother-country has not been constitutionally severed. But there is

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another federated state in existence, until lately almost ignored by
writers on political subjects, whose example can, in reality, be of the
utmost service to us. The Swiss Confederation is as near as possi-
ble a counterpart in miniature of the United States. Prof. Albert
Bushnell Hart, in his "Introduction to the Study of Federal Govern-
ment ", declares with justice that, " Oi all the confederations of his-
tory, Switzerland bears the closest resemblance in institutions to the
United States."^

Within two years, by what seems like an extraordinary revival of
interest, four books have appeared in English devoted to the eluci-
dation of Swiss political institutions, but the history of the country
still awaits scholarly and scientific treatment. It is, in fact, the mis-
fortune of Swiss history, that although very little is popularly known
about it, that little is almost invariably incorrect The subject has
so long lain neglected in the literary garret that cobwebs have gath-
ered over it and obscured the truth.

There is a widespread but vague idea that a regularly organized
republic has existed in the Alps from time immemorial, under the
name of Helvetia. Nothing could be more misleading — for, as a
matter of fact, the territory now known as Switzerland had no sepa-
rate political existence prior to the end of the thirteenth century,
and its condition resembled that of Central Europe in general.
The Swiss Confederation made its entry upon the historic stage in
1 29 1, when three small and obscure peasant communities, Uri,
Schwiz, and Unterwalden, concluded a perpetual pact in order to
defend themselves against the encroachments of the nobility in gen-
eral, and of the family of Habsburg in particular. As for the Celtic
tribe of the Helvetii, who inhabited a part of the country when it is
first mentioned by Roman writers, they had nx> more to do with
foimding the Swiss Confederation, than had the Indians in America
to do with framing the Constitution of the United States.

Around the three communities of Uri, Schwiz, and Unterwalden,
as a nucleus, the Swiss Confederation grew, in course of time, by
the adherence of other sovereign communities, until it reached its
present proportion of twenty-two Cantons in 18 15. The very name
of Switzerland was unknown before the fifteenth century, when, for
the first time, the eight states which then composed the Confedera-
tion began to be called collectively " Die Schweiz ", after the com-

1 Chap. IV., p. 62.

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munity of Schwiz, which was the most pronounced in its opposition
to the pretensions of the German nobility. It was not until 1648,
by the Peace of Westphalia, that the complete independence of the
Swiss from the German Empire was established beyond question.

There is another fact which must be borne in mind, namely, that
Swiss self-government, in the opinion of the writer the most perfect
yet devised by any free people, is Teutonic in character, like that of
England and the United States. Although Switzerland is now a
polyglot state, and her constitution expressly stipulates that Ger-
man, French and Italian shall all alike be considered national Ian*
guages, the majority of the inhabitants are German-speaking, and it
was from them that the original impulse toward independence made
itself felt The other Romance-speaking Cantons were acquired by
conquest, and were not admitted on a footing of equality until the
beginning of the present century.

It is, indeed, surprising to notice how that country, with whose
name we are accustomed to associate some of our noblest concep-
tions of liberty, has run up the gamut of self-government, striking
all the intervening notes between complete subjugation and unques-
tioned independence. The history of the Swiss Confederation
presents for our inspection six centiuies of growth from the very
rudiments of liberty to its full flower in the present day. It
fumbhes a veritable catalogue of priceless precedents for our
edification and guidance, and the indifference with which it has
heretofore been viewed by English-speaking scholars is, therefore,

Of course, the prevailing neglect of this promising historical field
is susceptible of certain explanations, which do not, however, con-
done the fault of the neglect itself.

Switzerland is visited for the sake of its scenery ; for recreation,
not for study. The Swiss people themselves do not, at first sight,
invite interest, nor does the national character stimulate the imagin-
ation. Public affairs are managed with so much moderation and
sobriety that the attention of the world at large is not attracted to
them. The coimtry is too small, and apparently insignificant, amid
the great powers of Europe, to arouse the enthusiasm of the super-
ficial observer.

And yet, how disproportionately large has been the share of
Switzerland in the work of overthrowing the feudal system, of

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hastening the triumph of the common people over the privileged
few, and turning great world-tendencies definitely toward democ-
racy! How the victories of the peasantry at Morgarten and Sem-
pach, where the flower of Austrian chivalry was utterly defeated,
lighted up the gloom which brooded over the serfs of the middle
ages! How Zwingli and Calvin strove to emancipate the human
conscience from ecclesiastical tradition, and how such men as Lava-
ter, Rousseau, and Pestalozzi, each after his own fashion, laid the
foundation for that great study of humanity which has distinguished
our own century I

. The issue constantly at stake, throughout the history of the Swiss
Confederation, has been one of the noblest and the most persistent
with which human nature has had to grapple — the question of
self-government. In these days Switzerland has become the stand-
ard-bearer in all reforms which make for direct democracy and pure
politics. Her historical development ought, therefore, to be fully
known and duly appreciated by American scholars.

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I. The Lake Dwellers . . . .

II. Helvetia and the Roman Occupation .

III. The Teutonic Ancestors of the Swiss

IV. The Supremacy of the Franks
V. Queen Bertha of Burgundy

VI. The House of Zaeringen .

VII. The House of Savoy .

VIII. The House of Habsburg .






I. The Origin of the Swiss Confederation 69

II. Uri 73

III. Schwiz 78

IV. Unterwalden 83

V. The First Perpetual League .... 85

VI. The Legend of William Tell .... 92

VII. Other Legends 105

VIII. The Origin of the Swiss Confederation and of the

United States Compared . . .111

IX. The Confederates against Habsburg- Austria . 116

X. The Battle of Morgarten 123

XI. Luzem 129

XII. Ziirich 136

XIII. Glarus and Zug 147

XIV. Bern 154

XV. Invasion of the Gugler and Feud with Kiburg . 162

XVI. The Battle of Sempach 167

XVII. The Battle of Nafels 177

XVIII. Constitutional Organization of the Confederation of

Eight States 184


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I. Appenzell and St. Gallen . . 193

II. The Valais and GraubUnden . . . . 203

III. The Conquest of Val Leventina and Aargau . 208

IV. The First Civil War 213

V. The War with Charles of Burgundy . . 219

VI. The Covenant of Stans 232

VII. The War against the Empire .... 236
VIII. Switzerland and the Balance of Power in Europe 239
IX. The Thirteen Swiss States and the Thirteen Ameri-
can Colonies 243



I. The Rise of the Reformation in Switzerland . 251

II. Zwingli in Zurich 259

III. The Growth of the Reformation . 264

IV. Calvin in Geneva 271

V. Decay of National Life 278

VI. The Growth of Aristocracy, and the Feasants' War 281



I. Signs of National Regeneration . 289

II. The Helvetic Revolution 295

III. The Helvetic Republic 300

IV. Switzerland the Battle-field of Europe ... 308
V. Napoleon's Act of Mediation . . . 313

VI. The Feriod of Reactionary Restoration . 319

VII. Democratic Reforms in the Cantons . . 325

VIII. The War of the Sonderbund and the Constitution of

1848 .331

IX. Recent Constitutional Changes in the Cantons . 338
X. The Constitutions of the Swiss Confederation and of

the United States Compared . . 346

XI. The Neutrality of Switzerland . 354

XII. Appendix 3^4

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THE earliest traces of man's existence which have been
found in the territory covered by modern Switzerland,
are represented by some fragments of basket-work, imbedded in
a lignite formation at Wetzikon near Zurich. Geologists rec-
ognize two glacial eras as having passed over the country, and
this lignite is the vegetation, now carbonized, which sprang up
after the retreat of the first ice and before the advance of the
second, so that the presence of man in these regions has been
established during a period, the antiquity of which can only be
estimated by geological formulas.

Man's next appearance dates from the tinre when the second
glacial era was on the wane, and the outskirts of the country
were already free from ice. Traces of a primitive people,
known to antiquarians as Troglodytes, have been discovered in
a few isolated caves, at the foot of the Sal^ve near Geneva, at
Villeneuve, and notably at Thayngen near Schaflfhausen. At
this last place a cave has been exhaustiieely examined, and has
amply rewarded the pains expended upon it, for besides a mass
of flint and bone implements, the searchers came upon a bone
fragment upon which the image of a reindeer was engraved.
The drawing is so good, that there was some excuse for the
incredulity with which its appearance was popularly received.
Amongst the*contemporary fauna may be mentioned the mam-

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moth, the woolly haired rhinoceros, two species of wild bull,
the elk, the cave bear, and the hyaena, besides a number of
animals still existing in Switzerland. These Troglodytes knew
the use of fire, but not that of metals. As for their origin and
subsequent fate, both are absolutely unknown ; there is little
doubt, however, that they belonged to the same race which has
left similar traces over the whole of Western Europe.

After an interval of many centuries, during which the cli-
mate changed to something like its present condition, and the
animals enumerated above, vanished or emigrated, the so-called
Lake Dwellers made their appearance. Probably the transi-
tion from Cave Dwellers to Lake Dwellers came about
through a complete change of race, for even the earliest lake
dwellings bear evidence that their inhabitants were many
degrees in advance of their predecessors in everything that
constitutes civilization.

The discovery of these lake dwellings in Switzerland ranks
amongst the most notable achievements of modern antiquarian
science. From time to time during the first part of this cen-
tury, and even earlier, ancient wooden stakes and stone imple-
ments of finished workmanship had been noticed along the
shores of the lakes of Zurich and Constance. They were
objects- of wonder for awhile, but were soon forgotten.
Finally during the severe winter of 1853-54 a peculiar circum-
stance forced the whole subject upon public attention. In
that year the lakes and rivers of Switzerland were unusually
low, and the receding waters left great stretches of bottom-land
exposed to view. The inhabitants of Obermeilen, a village on
the lake of Zurich, profiting by this rare opportunity, set to
work reclaiming as much as possible of the uncovered ground
for gardens and quays. In the course of their labors they
came upon piles driven deep into the soil, and presenting
every appearance of great age, while scattered about in the
immediate vicinity lay stags' horns and stone utensils. Fortu-
nately the village school-master, Herr Aeppli was sufficiently
impressed by these finds to notify the Antiquarian Association

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of Zurich, and so it was that Dr. Ferdinand Keller, the Presi-
dent of that society, repaired to Obermeilen, and having exam-
ined the remains, announced the discovery of prehistoric lake

As compared with some of the great tourist show-places of
Switzerland, the lake of Zurich cannot perhaps claim to pos-
sess exceptional beauty of scenery. It has neither the roman-
tic loveliness of the lake of Luzem, enhanced as that is by
historical and legendary traditions, nor the wealth of color and
the majestic sweep of Lake Leman, but the discovery of the
first lake dwellings upon its shores has secured it an imperish-
able name in the annals of science. By searching the shores
of other lakes in Switzerland, similar remains were found in
great quantities, grouped in stations or villages, the number of
which has now grown to more than two hundred. Usually,
however, the most important discoveries were made by acci-
dent, like that of Obermeilen, when dredging operations were
in progress or piers were being built in the water. Some
years ago the Swiss government inaugurated a great engineer-
ing enterprise, known as the «* Correction des Eaux du Jura^'
which was designed to drain a district of marshland lying
between the lakes of Neuchatel, Bienne, and Morat, and
marked upon the map as the *^Grosse Moos,'' This undertak-
ing is now practically complete, and the level of the three
lakes has been lowered some six or eight feet, unexpectedly
revealing the existence of numerous lake dwelling villages
along the shores, which had heretofore been hidden under
water. In the same way interesting finds were made at
Zurich when the beautiful new promenades were being built
along the lake front

These discoveries in Switzerland stimulated antiquarian
researches in other parts of Europe, so that traces of lake
dwellings have been found throughout an area extending from
the British Isles to the great rivers of the Black Sea, and
from Scandinavia to Northern Italy. Besides the typical lake
dwellings such as are found in Switzerland, there are other vari-

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eties : The crannogs of Ireland and Scotland, the terp-mounds
of Holland, and th^ palafittes and terramare of Italy, all bear-
ing witness to the extent to which this curious manner of
building obtained at one period of man's development.

The only references to these lake dwellings which have
come down to us in literature are contained in two passing
notices of Herodotus and Hippocrates. Says Herodotus:
"And they likewise who inhabited Lake Prasias [near the
mouth of the Struma in Macedonia] were not conquered by
Megabazus. He sought indeed to subdue the dwellers upon
the lake but could not effect his purpose. Their manner of
living is the following: Platforms supported upon tall piles
stand in the middle of the lake, which are approached from the
land by a single narrow bridge. . . . Each has his own
hut, wherein he dwells, upon one of the platforms, and each
has also a trapdoor giving access to the lake beneath; and
their wont is to tie their baby children by the foot with a
string to ^ave them from rolling into the water. "^

Hippocrates' account is confined to a few lines and refers to
settlements along the river Phasis, to the east of the Black

Fortunately, however, for the cause of science the deposits,
which had gathered under the dwellings in the course of cen-
turies, have been preserved for the inspection of antiquarians
by the mud in which they were imbedded. It has, therefore,
been possible to examine these layers or Kulturschichten, as
the Germans so aptly call them, and to reconstruct a certain
amount of the history of these ancient Lake Dwellers.

The writer does not intend to present a complete and fin-
ished picture of this early civilization, especially as the whole
subject has recently been exhaustively treated by an archeolo-
gist of note, Mr. Robert Munro, in " The Lake Dwellings of
Europe." But for the sake of those who do not care to enter
so deeply into the matter, let me sum up the principal discov*

1 History. Book V, 16.
2DeAeribus XXXVII.

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eries which have been made, and the theories to which they
have given rise.

Taking all the settlements together, they have demonstrated
in a yery striking manner the correctness of the classification
of prehistoric remains into the great periods of stone, bronze
and iron, which antiquarians had made before the discovery of
lake dwellings. There are stations where only stone and bone
implements have been found, and no vestige of metal appears ;
others in which copper and bronze utensils begin to show
themselves in small quantities ; others again where bronze pre-
dominates and faint traces of iron are to be seen, and finally
there is one settlement at least, La T^ne, in which iron reigns
supreme. Some stations even passed through several success-
ive stages, but in general those situated in the eastern part of
Switzerland did not long survive the first appearance of metal,
while those of the western part continued through the bronze
and into the dawn of the iron ages.

Amongst the chief articles found in the deposits under the
dwellings, the following will give an idea of the truly astonish-
ing advance in civilization which this mysterious race had

There are hearth-stones, corn-crushers, spindle-whorls, sick-
les, scissors, needles, harpoons, fish-hooks, crucibles, axes of
various descriptions, flint-saws, arrow-heads, lance-heads, clubs,
daggers and swords ; parts of a chariot, of horse-bits and bri-
dles, a wooden yoke, a canoe, basket-work and a bow of yew-
wood ; for personal adornment there are bracelets, arm-bands,
rings, hair-pins, beads of amber, glass and gold, combs of wood
and bronze, and girdles ; specimens of woven cloth, of fish-nets,
mats, thread, ropes, even of embroideries and checked muslin.
As for examples of pottery, they are of all kinds and of all
degrees of fineness, but it is noteworthy that while the Troglo-
dytes decorated their implements with images of real objects, as
for instance of a reindeer, the Lake Dwellers drew only imag*
inary designs, such as geometrical patterns and arabesques.
A few rude plastic images of animals have been discovered,.

Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 1 of 32)