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The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

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the Reformer's authority remained practically undisputed until
his death. Geneva became the headquarters of the various
Reformed churches, the Protestant Rome ; England and Scot-
land, the Netherlands and Germany sent scholars to study
under Calvin and to spread his peculiar doctrines to the ends
of the earth. Calvin himself died in 1 564, at the age of fifty-
five, after having written an important page in the world's
history.

1 Qechsli, W. Quellenbuch. p. 344.



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CHAPTER V.



DECAY OF NATIONAL LIFE.,



WHEN we consider the religious and political difiPerences
to which the Reformation had given rise in the Swiss
Confederation, the looseness of the bonds which held the vari-
ous States together, and the total absence of any central
power, impartial enough to render acceptable verdicts, or
strong enough to enforce them upon the contestants, we may
well wonder that the Confederation should have survived the
trials of this period. The gigantic struggle between Protest-
tantism and revived Catholicism, which was raging in Europe
at large, reproduced its various phases in miniature within the
Confederation. Every success or failure of the foreign con-
tending armies was made the occasion for public rejoicing or
bewailing by the two parties in Switzerland, until the senti-
ment of a distinct, national life was lost in the heat of confes-
sional dissensions.

Indeed, it is doubtful whether any remnants of the old Swiss
spirit could have survived this ordeal, had it not been for the
possession of common subject lands, for whose administration
the hostile States were obliged to take concerted action.

In the middle of the sixteenth century, a strong reaction
against the excesses of Protestantism came over Europe, cul-
minating in the Catholic, or Counter-Reformation. Starting
with the Council of Trent, in 1545- 1563, this movement was
carried forward with surprising vigor and success by the newly
founded order of the Jesuits and the reorganized Capucines.
In Switzerland, such men as Aegidus (Giles) Tschudi, of
Glarus, the historian, and Ludwig Pfyffer, of Luzem, nick-

278



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DECAY OF NATIONAL LIFE. 279

named "The Swiss King", on account of his wealth and influ-
ence, labored for the revival of Catholicism. The Five States
concluded a defensive and ofiFensive alliance with the Pope;
while in Milan, Carlo Borromeo, Archbishop and leader of this
revival, founded a *' Collegium Helveticum'\ where a certain
number of Swiss youths could be educated free of charge and
sent back to spread the faith. Moreover, a Jesuit college was
created in Luzem itself, and a regular nunciature established
there. Finally the Five Catholic States, with Fribourg and
the Valais, cut themselves off from the Protestant Cantons, in
1586, by concluding a separate league, known as the "Golden '*,
on account of the gilded initial letters of the document then
drawn up. In 161 2, Zurich and Bern, on their side, entered
into a special alliance with the Margrave of Baden. The
State of Appenzell, where the two faiths had hitherto existed
side by side, was torn asunder into Catholic and Protestant
divisions, known as Inner Rhoden and Ausser Rhoden.

The confessional disputes and rivalries which had agitated
Europe since the beginning of the Reformation, in 161 8,
ended in the long and disastrous struggle known as the Thirty-
Years' War. Of course Switzerland could not remain uninflu-
enced by the war of extermination which was raging around
her borders, but fortunately all the efforts, which Catholics and
Protestants alike made to involve the country in direct par-
ticipation, were fruitless. Gustavus Adolphus in vain admon-
ished the Swiss of their traditional relationship with the
Swedes. They displayed a self-possession and unanimity,
which were truly remarkable considering their internal jealous-
ies, for they refused to enter into the contest, and, for the first
time, gave a practical application to the principle of neutrality,
which has since become an established national policy with
them, guaranteed by the European powers. ^

It was a period of utter demoralization in politics, but
strangely enough an era of progress in art, science, and letters.
Culture advanced while patriotism was dying, a fact which can
only be accounted for by the stimulating effect of the doctri-



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280 THE RISE OF THE SWISS EEPUBLIC.

nal controversies^ then in vogue, and the presence of many
foreign fugitives, bringing new ideas, new arts and new proc-
esses of manufacture into the country. Strangely enough,
also, it was at this very time of national degradation and confu-
sion, that the work of Swiss independence received its final
glorious culmination.

In 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia put an end to the Thirty-
Years' War, and, what is more important for our special con-
sideration, in a separate article formally acknowledged the
independence of the Swiss Confederation from the German
Empire. In the words of the text : " Aforesaid city of Basel
and the remaining Cantons of the Helvetians are in possession
of as good as full freedom and exemption from the Empire,
and are in no way subject to the Dikasterien and courts of
that Empire."!

Thus did the labor of the early patriots against the House of
Habsburg reach its full fruition, and the independence of Swit-
zerland, which was virtually an accomplished fact after the Swa-
bian War, receive the official sanction of the world at large.
1 OechsU, W. Quellenbuch, p. 364.



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CHAPTER VI.

THE GROWTH OF ARISTOCRACY AND THE PEASANTS* WAR.

IT is perhaps a mistake to imagine primitive Switzerland as a
country in which pure democratic principles, as we under-
stand the term in this century, held unlimited sway. Equal
rights for all is a modern conception and phrase. It was not
understood at the time when the Confederation was founded.
But with all these political shortcomings and prejudices, the
early Swiss were, nevertheless, the best democrats of their
day, unconscious, but practical exponents of the virtues of self-
government. This was especially the case in the sequestered
mountain districts, where simple habits of freedom sprang
naturally from the rocky soil. In the cities, the common
people had been forced to wage a long warfare against feudal
masters and privileged classes, so that their progress toward
complete liberation had been somewhat retarded. . But we may
say that, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, before the
spirit of foreign conquest had invaded the public mind, or the
possession of subject lands had perverted the sense of natural
rights, the Swiss States, both country districts and towns,
were organized upon democratic principles.

Unfortunately, in the course of the sixteenth century, a
retrograde movement began to make its appearance, an aris-
tocratic spirit manifested itself, which acquired ascendancy
during the seventeenth century, and was not successfully
stamped out until the end of the eighteenth, when it was
swept away by the hurricane of the French Revolution. All
political and lucrative offices were monopolized by privileged



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282 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

families; the Cantonal magistrates, as well as those which
belonged to the Confederation at large ; the bailiwicks of sub-
ject lands ; and the posts of ambassadors to foreign courts.
All were held by a few men and their relatives, or were even
inherited from father to son, as in the early days of the Feudal
Age.

These abuses were more conspicuous in the cities, with
their larger populations and greater wealth. It is also notice-
able that those in which the Guilds had no political power, like
Bern, Luzem, Fribourg, and Solothurn, were more readily sub-
jected to the rule of aristocratic factions, while the Guild
cities of Zurich, Basel, and Schafifhausen retained their demo-
cratic organization much longer.

Nor did the Country States escape altogether from the pre-
vailing tendency, for, although they never abolished the Lands-
gemeinden, still the actual governing powers tended more and
more to be monopolized by certain powerful families.

What are the facts which can account for the growth of this
aristocratic spirit in a country which was organized upon the
principles of self government? One thing is certain, mere
political conditions are not sufficient to explain so great a
transformation.

It is true that since the entry of the Swiss Confederation
into European politics, everything had tended to produce a
distinct governing class. There were the great mercenary
captains, the ambassadors to foreign courts, and the bailiffs of
subject lands ; men who acquired wealth and titles abroad, and
expended them in establishing their political power at home.
But economic and social abuses were at the root of these pol-
itical privileges.

The great fundamental wrong in Switzerland was the same
as that which has brought to ruin in succession the various
great empires of the world. The treatment of the conquered
provinces, of the new lands, and the men who tilled them, was
continually at variance with the early traditions of the Con-
federation. As soon as the era of conquests had set in, an



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THE GROWTH OF ARISTOCRACY. 283

aristocratic class had naturally developed. The conquered
provinces were not accorded equal rights with the actual mem-
bers of the Confederation, but were held in subjection, were
fleeced by rapacious bailiffs, and denied the least expression of
their own will.

The Confederates assumed the feudal rights of the nobility
which they had driven out ; their bailiffs ruled like sovereigns,
held miniature courts, and exacted the same tribute, in the
shape of taxes and personal service, as the former feudal
rulers. As far as the subject lands were concerned, it was a
mere exchange of masters, and sometimes a most disadvan-
tageous bargain. The administration of these subject lands
certainly forms one of the darkest pictures in Swiss history.
Every State in the Confederation became a land-owning cor-
poration. The aristocratic factions within the city developed
into an idle body, who lived upon the unearned increment of
land, or the pensions received from foreign military service.
It made no difference that the Swiss peasants were generally
allowed to remain in nominal possession of the land they
tilled — in distinction to their fellows in France, Germany,
and Italy — for mortgages, taxes, and personal services swal-
lowed up the apparent advantage, and made their position fully
as miserable.

This was the original cause which produced the aristocratic
revival, and led to the terrible outbreak in the middle of the
seventeenth century, known as the Peasants' War. After
numerous unsuccessful risings in protest against these wrongs,
a general movement was inaugurated, in 1653, in the Entle-
buch, a valley subject to Luzern. It spread to other Cantons
and finally embraced almost the whole Confederation. Popu-
lar assemblies were held everywhere by the peasants to protest
against the tyrannies of the local governments, and a g^eat
wide-spreading "League of the People" was established, under
the leadership of two devoted men, Christian Schibi and
Nicholas Leuenberger. But the badly organized and ignorant
peasantry, burning under a sense of injustice, without definite



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284 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

plans or remedies, were no match for the well-equipped author-
ities of the various States.

It will be remembered that an article had been inserted into
the famous Covenant of Stans, pledging the governments of
the contracting States to support each other against popular
up-risings. At the time when this agreement was made the
country had been disturbed by the armed exploits of various
bands of unemployed mercenaries, returned from foreign ser-
vice, and there was, in reality, urgent need for concerted action
upon the part of the authorities ; but in this case the peasants
were not seditious vagabonds, to be repressed without a hearing.
They were men with legitimate grievances, and it is a distress-
ing sign of the loss of the true democratic spirit in Switzer-
land that no serious effort was made by the governments to
redress their wrongs. The Covenant of Stans reads like a
contract between governments, instead of between peoples.

In the armed encounters which resulted from this state of
affairs, the poorly equipped peasantry were beaten, and their
leaders arrested. Leuenberger and Schibi were tortured and
executed ; Leuenberger being specially honored by having his
body quartered as a final expression' of the hatred of the
authorities.

After this victory, the democratic movement gained renewed
force, and the autocratic, absolute rule by the magistrates,
quite upon the same pattern as that in vog^e amongst the sur-
rounding monarchical states, was substituted for the old self-
government of the people. Popular sovereignty ceased to be
acknowledged, and in its place arose the doctrine of the divine
authority of the magistrates.

A period full of national degradation and shameful submis-
sion to foreign influences was the natural result.

Louis XIV., of France, succeeded in bringing the Confeder-
ates completely under his control, by binding them to him in a
treaty, originally concluded in 1602 but renewed in 1663, in
which they pledged themselves to supply him with at least six
thousand men, or at most sixteen thousand annually, in return



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THE GROWTH OF ARISTOCRACY. 286

for certain commercial privileges. He granted annuities of
three thousand francs to each Canton and regular pay to the
mercenaries beside.

Thus it was that Swiss soldiers fought under bis banners
against the Dutch Republic, in the Palatinate, and in all the
great wars which Louis XIV. brought upon Europe.

Switzerland, in all but name, became a dependency of the
French Crown. Bom in the thirteenth century, she had
passed through her heroic age in the fourteenth ; had expanded,
first by natural assimilation, and then by conquest, in the fif-
teenth and sixteenth; and in the seventeenth and the first
part of the eighteenth was lying passive, unprog^essive, and
apparently in decay. Within the small circle of the Confed-
eration the utmost confusion and diversity of interests reigned
supreme ; localism was carried to the farthest possible limits
in the different States ; different systems of coinage, different
measures and military establishments conflicted with each
other. The national, patriotic spirit was in abeyance.

Of course the aristocratic factions, which had gained the
upper hand, endeavored to perpetuate their rule by secret
methods, by organizations of spies and the enactment of
sumptuary laws controlling every detail of private life. Some
of these ordinances read like jokes perpetuated for the amuse-
ment of the people rather than serious efforts at legislation.
Thus it was that Johannes Miiller, Switzerland's classic his-
torian, was forced to print Boston as the place where his
great history was published, instead of Bern, in order that it
might escape the scissors of the local censor, and the
pamphlet of Freudenberger, showing the Danish origin of the
legend of William Tell, was publicly burned by the hangman
of Uri. An aversion to everything new characterized the rul-
ing powers, and a timid clinging to everything old. Society
seemed once more organized upon a feudal basis, without,
however, the compensations which had made the old system so
long tolerated.

But even while Switzerland presented this doleful aspect,



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286 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

and seemed to have wandered hopelessly from her original
ideals and traditions, new forces were beginning to work in her
midst, preparing a movement which should eventually lead to a
complete national regeneration. Switzerland was soon to be
purged of the artificial, aristocratic, and autocratic abuses
which had fastened themselves upon her public life. After
many vicissitudes she was destined to become the most demo-
cratic, and best governed of modem states.



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BOOK V.

THE MODERN CONFEDERATION.



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CHAPTER I.

SIGNS OP NATIONAL REGENERATION.

A WHOLE list of world celebrities lived and worked on
what is now Swiss territory, during the second half of
the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth.
Zurich, Bern, and Basel, the republic of Geneva, Neuchatel (at
that time a Prussian Province), and the land of Vaud (still in
subjection to Bern), were all the homes of men whose influ-
ence radiated over the whole of Europe.

It suffices to mention the names of Voltaire, Rousseau,
Madame de Stael, Gibbon, Lavater, and Pestalozzi, in order to
indicate what tremendous powers were concentrated on Swiss
soil during that period.

In truths it was a revival of literature, of the arts and sci-
ences, which gave the original impulse to the national regener-
ation of Switzerland. Political reorganization seems to have
followed in the footsteps of this awakening instead of preced-
ing it, as one might have expected.

The honor of starting the movement of reform, of touching
the public conscience, must be ascribed to Johann Jacob Bod-
mer, of Zurich, who gathered about himself a school of devoted
scholars, bent upon the task of reviving patriotism, and found-
ing a veritable independent Switzerland. He seems to have
drawn his inspiration principally from the master-pieces of
English literature, for which he conceived an ardent admira-
tion. In conjunction with Johann Jacob Breitinger, he .
founded a review in imitation of the English reviews, with a
somewhat fanciful name, "The Discourses of Painters," in
which be and his followers gave expression to their ideas upon



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290 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

national topics. Bodmer was also in constant communication
with the celebrated Klopstock, known as the Father of modern
German prose.

While this school of thought was actively engaged in Zurich,
Albrecht Von Halle'r, in Bern, was writing patriotic poems,
which found a ready echo all over Switzerland. It was not
long before every place of inportance in the country had
become the centre of stirring, literary activity, fostered by
correspondence with foreign scholars, or by the visits of great
men, such as Goethe and Fichte. This age saw Lavater, the-
ologian and original investigator into the science of Physiog-
nomy and Phrenology; Salomon Gessner, the author of "Swiss
Idylls'*; Isaak Iselin, of Basel, the philosopher; and Pestalozzi,
whose labors in educational matters have become the common
heritage of mankind; It is significant of the extent to which
culture had advanced in Switzerland as compared with Ger-
many, that a little place like Solothum supplied three times
as many subscribers to Goethe's works as either Berlin or
Vienna.

In Basel, the family of Bemouilli were attracting universal
attention by their achievements in various branches of science,
notably in mathematics. It was at this time, too, that Gottlieb
Emanuel Haller, of Bern, and Johannes Muller, of Schaff-
bausen, the classic historian of Switzerland, were inflaming
patriotic zeal by their writings on national history. Fearless
investigators were beginning to show the legendary character
of the national hero, William Tell. As a result of De Saus-
sure's ascent of Mont Blanc and his various exploits and des-
criptions, the Alps now, for the first time, acquired a charm in
the eyes of the world. The Ancients had regarded them
only as horrible, uncanny manifestations of nature, to be
avoided if possible ; now men were led to seek new inspirations
and serene pleasures in their midst. Tourists began to flock
to them, new roads and maps to multiply.

So pronounced an awakening in literature could not fail to
exert a reflex action upon politics, and to stimulate patriotism.



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SIGNS OF NATIONAL REGENERATION. 291

In 1762, a so-called Helvetian society was organized, with the
avowed object of studying and introducing practical reforms in
every department of public life. The Baths of Schinznach,
near Bnigg, were selected as a rendezvous for the members of
this society. It was agreed that complete religious toleration
should reign over their consultations.

About the same time, an agricultural society was formed in
Bern, the Oekonomische Gesellschaft (1759), said to have been
the first of its kind in Europe. The old system of rotation of
crops, with all its waste and primitive methods, began to be
abandoned, every farmer planting when and where he chose.
The Allmenden^ also, those peculiar landmarks of Swiss coun-
try districts, tended to disappear, and with them that primitive
communism of which they were the outward expression. In
other branches of production, changes manifested themselves.
Manufactures of silk, wool, and cotton were erected in the
Eastern part of Switzerland ; in French Switzerland watch-mak-
ing was introduced, and has maintained itself there ever since.

Simultaneously with these manifestations of the modem spirit
in the old Confederation, there was in progress a marvelous
quickening of thought, a veritable upheaval of tradition, on the
borders of the lake of Geneva. The premonitory symptoms of
the French Revolution were abroad in the air. The philos-
ophy of enlightenment was making converts. A host of dis-
satisfied, expectant, speculative thinkers were undermining
long-cherished institutions in every department of life.

The Republic of Geneva had been torn throughout the cen-
tury by internal conflicts between the ruling, oligarchical fac-
tion and the common citizens. The situation was aggravated
by the presence of a third group, the descendants of foreigners,
who had settled in Geneva, principally as a result of the
Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in 1685. Although these
families formed the most progressive and enlightened element
in the community, they were without political rights in their
adopted city, but were oppressed alike by the aristocracy, and
the native citizens. It was to them that Voltaire said: "My



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292 THE RISE OF THE SWISS BEFUBUC.

friends, you resemble somewhat those flying fish, who, when
out of water are eaten by birds of prey, and when they dive
back again into the waves, are devoured by big fisii.**^ There
was almost universal discontent.

By a somewhat unusual coincidence, two men arrived in
Geneva, in the same year, 1754, who were destined to exert
an overmastering influence upon their time. Rousseau was
returning there after a wandering, unstable youth, spent prin-
cipally in France, and Voltaire entered the city to spend the
declining years of his life. Between them they succeeded in
creating a veritable revolution in theology, literature, and
politics, attracting followers, but attacking each other without
mercy or scruple.

Jean Jacques Rousseau was bom in Geneva, in 171 2. H.
T. Amiel calls him, "The most powerful advocate of individ-
ualism." He preached the gospel of the natural rights of
man. In his "Nouvelle Hdorse", he gave an idyllic picture
of primitive society, in "Emile," pleaded for the natural
method of educating children, and in the "Contrat Social",
outlined an ideal state. But his writings are often mixtures
of sublime truths and strange sophisms. Always invigorat-
ing, palpitating with earnestness and actuality, never fail-
ing to provoke thought, Rousseau, at times, fell into error and
showed a warped judgment. After his "Emile" had been
publicly burned by the hangman, he fled to Yverdon, and
thence to Mdtiers, in the then Prussian Province of Neuchatel.
But his "Letters from the Mountain", provoking the peasants
of his retreat to threaten his life, he withdrew to the little
island of St. Pierre, in the lake of Bienne. Hunted even from
this shelter soon after, by the authorities of Bern, he went
abroad to Strassburg, and also visited his friend, David Hume,
in England. He died in 1778, before the great revolution, of
which he was the chief apostle, had culminated in the revolt
of the French people. A warm-hearted, unbalanced creature,
filled with the immortal promptings of liberty, Rousseau seems

^ Godet, Philippe. Histoire Litt^raire de la Suisse Fran9aiBe» p. 229.



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SlOJrS OF NATIONAL REGENERATION 293



Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 22 of 32)