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The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

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sionists only a little over 37,000, or, counting in the poorly
organized reserve {Landsium)^ about 85,000. In equipment
and discipline the advantage was also decidedly on the Union
side. The seceded states, moreover, formed a difficult piece
of territory to defend; the centre, composed of the Forest
Cantons, was a strong position, but .Fribourg was absolutely
isolated, and Valais connected with the rest only by high
Alpine passes. If the Secessionists could be said to have
any element of success in their midst, it was the strength
derived from religious fanaticism — of that they possessed
great abundance. For this reason it is, perhaps, strange that

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332 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

the commander-in-chief on the side of the Sonderbund, Salis-
Soglio, should have been a Protestant. He was> however, an
experienced soldier, who had received his schooling, like
Dufour, during the Napoleonic wars.

The first act of the war was a sudden and momentarily suc-
cessful invasion of Ticino by the Secessionist leader, Siegwart-
Miillen Like the firing on Sumpter in our own rebellion, it
roused the whole country to a sense of the necessity for
immediate action.

Dufour adopted the plan of completely surrounding the
enemy by a system of extended detachments. He then
marched with 20,ocx> men upon Fribourg, to strike an immedi-
ate blow where the Sonderbund was weakest The city
surrendered to superior numbers after very little resistance,
and the Union cause was able, from the very outset, to enjoy
the military and moral advantage of a decided victory. This
task accomplished, Dufour directed his divisions to concen-
trate upon Luzem, determined to crush the rebellion at its
centre.

The Secessionists had already been partly successful in a
number of skirmishes with his troops, stationed in the
Aargau ; the order to advance, therefore, came none too soon.
On the 2 1 St of November, Zug capitulated. On the 23d,
Dufour ordered two divisions to march upon Luzern — one
along the Reuss, by Honau and Gislikon, and the other
from Zug, by way of MeyerskappeL The first division
encountered determined opposition at Gislikon, where the only
real battle of the Sonderbund War was fought. The enemy
were strongly posted in the village and on the heights which
rise behind it, so that their well-directed artillery fire could
check the advance of the Federalists for some time, and, in
fact, very nearly put them to flight. But with reinforcements
the latter broke all resistance, and drove the enemy upon
Luzem. In the meantime, the second division had made its
way, fighting steadily, along the pre-arranged route, so that by
nightfall the two Federal divisions were masters of the situa-



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THE WAR OF THE SONDERBUND. 333

tion. They could have proceeded immediately to attack the
city, but preferred to wait until they had made their own con-
nections more secure.

Next day Luzem surrendered without fighting. The Seces-
sionist leaders had fled to Fluelen by steamboat, leaving utter
confusion behind them. Organized resistance seemed out of
the question, and, in fact, the entry of the Federal troops was
not unwelcome to a good part of the population. Of the
other operations of the war, now practically decided, it need
only be said that they were insignificant, and uniformly
turned to the advantage of the Federal cause. Soon after,
Unterwalden surrendered, then Schwiz and Uri, and, on the
29th of November, Valais, so that the war was finished by a
campaign of not quite twenty days. In the whole struggle
there were only seventy-eight dead and two hundred and sixty
wounded to deplore. It was, therefore, a singularly bloodless
affair, showing Dufour's careful manoeuvring and masterly
massing of troops where their presence would do the most
work.

As the conduct of the campaign had been expeditious, so
the feeling of hostility between the two sides was soon
allayed. The conquered Cantons were fined the costs of war;
but when they had paid less than half the stipulated sum, the
balance was remitted to them in a brotherly spirit of forgive-
ness. It may be stated as a fact that there is to-day not a par-
ticle of sore feeling in Switzerland between the old antagonists
of the Sonderbund War. Both the singular generosity of the
victors and the rise of new political issues have long ago
diverted public attention into new channels. There was no
waving of the bloody shirt in Switzerland. Neuchatel,
Appenzell, and Inner Rhoden were heavily fined for not hav-
ing taken part on the Federalist side. By a sort of poetic
justice the fund thus obtained was used for pensioning the
Federalist wounded and the widows and orphans of the
slain. The Secessionist Cantons were, of course, subjected
to a short military occupation until they were sufficiently



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334 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

reconstructed to manage their own aflfairs, but then Swit-
zerland's crisis was over, and an era of reforms was inau-
gurated, which led inevitably to a revision of the Federal
constitution in a liberal sense.

Meanwhile the situation had just escaped from being compli-
cated by foreign interference, for, on the 30th of Nov., when
hostilities were practically over, the French ambassador pre-
sented a collective note to the President of the Federal Diet
and to the Sonderbund Council of War, in the name of his
own government, and of Austria, Great Britian, Prussia, and
Russia, offering to mediate between the two sides. As pre-
liminary conditions to this mediation the Sonderbund Cantons
were to ask the Pope's advice concerning the question of the
Jesuits, and were to give up their separate league ; the Diet
must promise to protect the Cantons exposed to Freischaaren-
ziigey and to adopt no new articles i«to the constitution, which
were not approved by all the members of the Confederation.
On the 7th of Dec, the Diet answered, rejecting the proflfered
oflfer, on the ground that the civil war was already decided in
its favor ; that the proposed conditions were not consistent with
Switzerland's position, as defined by European treaties; and
that the security of neighboring states was in nowise endan-
gered. This bold stand of the Federal authorities had its
effect. Great Britain, which seems to have been an unwilling
participator in this foreign interference, withdrew from further
attempts at coercion, and when Austria sent another note in
the interest of the conquered Cantons, the Diet answered with
gfreat firmness and dignity, insisting upon the complete inde-
pendence of Switzerland from all foreign influence. With that
the diplomatic incident was closed.^

Of course this war of the Sonderbund can only be said to
resemble our own civil war in miniature, for the forces engaged,
the territory covered, the loss of life and property, and the
duration of the contest in Switzerland were comparatively
insignificant. One misses the terrific battles, the long marches,

^ Oechsli, W. Quellenbuch, p. 513-523.



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THE WAE OF THE SONDERBUND. 335

and the feats of endurance which characterized the American
war. At the same time, it must be remembered that it is not
the number of troops engaged, or of the men slain, which
makes a war notable in history or otherwise, it is the issue at
stake in the conflict. In this respect, the likeness between the
wars of the two countries is remarkable. The fundamental
issue in both cases was a political one. It was that of Federal
union versus extreme states rights, of centralization as opposed
to decentralization, but in both cases a deep-seated evil came to
complicate the situation and embitter the two sides. In Swit-
zerland there was the question of the Jesuits, and in the
United States the institution of slavery.

The parallel may be extended to other details, e. g., the party
of Secession was recruited in both countries from that element
which was least aflfected by progressive ideas, was most remote
from the great centres, and mainly agricultural and pastoral.
Even the disproportion between the resources of the two sides
serves to carry out the likeness between the Sonderbund and
the American war. The Freischaaren raids, which preceded
the struggle in Switzerland, were like the armed emigrations
to Kansas and the attack of John Brown on Harper's Ferry.
So also did the neutral Cantons in the Swiss conflict resemble
our own doubtful States.

Not to prolong this historical analogy to tedious length, let
me pass on to the great and lasting results of the Sonderbund
War in Switzerland. After the military struggle was over, a
constitutional reform movement was inaugurated. It was
generally acknowledged that the antiquated Federal Pact of
1815 must give way to a revised constitution, more in keeping
with the needs of the Confederation. A committee was,
therefore, chosen to draw up a complete draft of a new con-
stitution, to be submitted to the people and the Cantons for
final acceptance or rejection. If the framers of this document
showed any hesitation at first in performing their task in a
radical spirit, they were soon encouraged by the outbreak of
the so-called February revolution of 1848, in Paris, which set all



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336 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

Europe ablaze. Not only did that foreign triumph of demo-
cracy react upon the Swiss Liberals, but it also prevented the
great powers who were threatened by internal difficul-
ties, from interfering in the affairs of the reconstructed
Confederation.

It is especially interesting for us Americans to know that
the example of our own constitutional organization exerted a
strong influence upon Swiss statesmen at this time; Our sys-
tem of two legislative houses, one representing the states and
another the people numerically, was the model from which
the framers of the Swiss constitution of 1848 drew their inspi-
ration for the Council of States and the National Council, in
Switzerland. It was a case of deliberate and acknowledged
imitation, urged by such men as the great Bluntschli himself
and by Riittiman, the author of a work^ comparing Swiss and
American politics.

In September, 1848, the new constitution was accepted by
fifteen and a half Cantons as against seven, and by a majority
of the voters. It was, therefore, declared to be in force. The
minority submitted to the voice of the majority, and cheer-
fully acquiesced in the provisions of the new organic law.

As a careful translation of the whole of the constitution
will be found in the Appendix, with amendments up to 1892,
it will not be necessary here to enter into an examination of
its many details. Switzerland was thereby converted from a
loose confederation into a federal union, or, as the German
constitutional writers delight to express themselves, from a
Staatenbund into a Bundesstaat, The central government
assumed control over all the foreign relations of the Cantons,
and abolished the mercenary system, forbidding all military
capitulations and foreign pensions and titles. It took charge
of the customs, of the postal service, of coinage, weights and
measures, and of the manufacture and sale of gunpowder.
It divided responsibility with the Cantonal governments on

1 Riittiman. Das Nordamerikanische Bundesstaatsrecht verglichen mit den pol-
itischen Einrichtungen der Schweiz.



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TBE WAR OF THE 80NDERBUND. 337

the matter of the national military and educational systems,
and of public works and police. The Federal government
also guaranteed certain fundamental popular rights, such as
the equality of all citizens before the law, the right of free
settlement anywhere on Swiss soil, freedom of faith, the
liberty of the press, and the rights of assembly and petition.

Thus was the evolution from a mere aggregate of sovereign
states into a compact Confederation at length complete.
There has been steady growth on the same lines since 1848,
tending toward increasing centralization ; the Cantons have
learned to sacrifice one prerogative after the other, the Fed-
eral government to absorb a multitude of new powers. How
far this movement may go without converting Switzerland into
a unitary state, remains to be seen, but of this we may be
sure, as long as the inalienable rights of man, the birthright
of the individual, remain unharmed and inviolate, the process
of unification may go on apace without danger to the state.
As soon as the work of centralization shall involve the curtail-
ment of any of the fundamental liberties of the citizen, no
matter how magnificent the apparent results or how attractive
the momentary glamor, in that hour the decline of the nation
will have begun.



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CHAPTER IX.

RECENT CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES IN THE CANTONS AND
THE CONFEDERATION.

PERHAPS the most encouraging feature of modem Swiss
statesmanship is that steady striving after a fuller recog-
nition and practice of popular sovereignty, which has been
expressed in the institutions of the Referendum and the Initia-
tive. There is no movement in any other country, at present,
which can be compared to this masterly and systematic reform
on democratic lines. It is full of great possibilities. It has
already fulfilled many of its earlier promises. It is rapidly
converting the Swiss people into a nation governing itself
upon an almost ideal plan, directly, logically, and without
intermediaries.

The keynote to this reform is its directness. Whereas, in
the United States the practice of direct government, such as
it still exists in the Massachusetts Town Meeting and kindred
bodies, tends yearly to become obsolete, in Switzerland it
flourishes with renewed vigor. In fact, the parliamentary
representative system has never taken very firm foothold in
that country. It was a foreign imitation, and as such has
always been viewed somewhat askance. The appearances are
that it will be still more modified and limited in the future.

The first steps toward the introduction of this modem form
of direct government in Switzerland were taken by the Canton
of St. Gallen, in 183 1. At that time there was granted to
the people the right of veto over acts of the Cantonal Grand

338



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RECENT CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES. 339

Council. On the whole, this institution did not give entire
satisfaction, but it paved the way admirably for the more
radical Referendum and Initiative. The Canton of Vaud, in
1845, adopted both these latter institutions in a modified form»
and, from that time on, the example has been followed by
almost all the other members of the Confederation, and by the
Federal government itself.

This term " Referendum " is part of the old formula, ** ad
referendum et audiendum^' and means that laws and resolutions
framed by the representatives must be submitted to the people
for acceptance or rejection. A distinction is made between a
compulsory and optional Referendum, e,g,^ in some Cantons all
laws must be submitted, in others only certain kinds or only
those which are demanded by a certain number of voters.

As far as the historical genesis of the Referendum is con-
cerned, it appeared in a rudimentary form as early as the six-
teenth century in the Cantons of Graubiinden and Valais»
before those districts had become full-fledged members of the
Swiss Confederation, and while they were still known as Zuge-
wandte Orte^ or Associated States. Delegates from their sev-
eral communes met periodically, but were always obliged to
refer their decisions to the communes themselves for final
approval. In the same manner, the delegates from the vari-
ous Cantons to the old Federal Diet used to refer their meas-
ures to their home governments before they became laws.
To-day, every Canton, except priest-ridden. Ultramontane Fri-
bourg, has either the compulsory or the optional Referendum
incorporated into its constitution, and the central government
in the Federal Constitution possesses the optional, e,g.^ in the
words of the text : " Federal laws as well as federal resolutions
which are binding upon all, and which are not of such a nature
that they must be despatched immediately, shall be laid before
the people for acceptance or rejection, when this is demand^
by 30,000 Swiss voters or by eight Cantons."^

Not satisfied, however, with passing judgment upon the

1 Federal Constitution, Article 89.



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340 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

laws made by their representatives, the people soon de-
manded the right of proposing measures themselves; this is
the Initiative, or the right of any voter or body of voters to
initiate proposals for the enactment of new laws, or for the
alteration or abolition of existing laws. At present seventeen
Cantons out of twenty-two have incorporated the Initiative
into their constitutions. On the 7th of July, 1891, moreover,
the Swiss people accepted an amendment to the Federal Con-
stitution which introduces the same principle also into that
document. Hereafter the right of the Initiative is applicable,
"When 50,000 voters demand the enactment, abolition or
alteration of special articles of the Federal Constitution." ^ It
can only be a question of a few years, therefore, before all the
Cantons of the Confederation are governed by the Referendum
and Initiative.

Hereafter, Switzerland must become more than ever the
standard bearer in all reforms which make for direct and efRc-
ient self-government, while we of the greater Republic must
acknowledge with humiliation that we have been distanced in
the race for pure politics.

This Swiss Referendum must not be confoimded with the
French plebiscite, and deserves none of the odium which
attaches to that destructive institution. The latter is a tem-
porary expedient, illegal and abnormal, used only at moments
of great national excitement, when the popular vote has been
carefully prepared and ascertained, by unscrupulous adven-
turers. The plebiscite has invariably proved itself to be a
device invented by tyrants to entrap the people into giving
assent to their usurpations, whereas the Referendum acts
through regular channels, established by law, sanctioned by
the people and, therefore, constitutional.

Nor must the right of the Initiative be considered as equiva-
lent to the general privilege of petition, which is enjoyed by
the inhabitants of every state which makes any pretentions
whatever to political liberty. The latter is merely a request,

1 Federal Constitution. Article 121.



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RECENT CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES. 341

addressed to the authorities in power, by a number of more or
less irresponsible persons. The authorities may, or may not,
take it into consideration, as they see fit But the Initiative
is a demand, made upon the government by a body of voters,
to discuss a certain project, and to return it to the people for
final acceptance or rejection. The authorities are obliged to
take it into consideration, or to draw up a bill of their own,
incorporating the same principle.

In Switzerland, therefore, the introduction into practical pol-
itics of any question which attracts public notice, can be
accomplished in a simple and direct manner. While in this
country we are confronted by the almost insurmountable diffi-
culties connected with the election of representatives pledged
to lay reform bills before the House, or are obliged to content
ourselves with harmless petitions.

Now the Initiative is a necessary corollary of the Referen-
dum. Both institutions are mediums for the expression of the
popular will, but viewed from different standpoints. The
Referendum is a passive force ; it says merely **aye'* or **nay*
and is essentially judicial in character. The Initiative, on the
other hand, is an active creative force ; it supplies the progres-
sive element in the process of legislation, while the Referen-
dum acts as a critical, controlling check upon the adoption of
laws. Taken together these two institutions form the most
perfect contrivance, so far devised by a free people, for the
conduct of self-government. They create a sort of political
pendulum, which oscillates in a groove strictly marked by the
constitution. They produce a steady see-saw of legislation, a
continual to-and-fro movement, which carries certain expres-
sions of the public will directly from the people to the legisla-
ture, and back again to the people for their verdict.

In the Landsgemeinde Cantons voters have always pos-
sessed the right to initiate proposals for legislation, and these
proposals have always been submitted to the verdict of the
assembled people, so that the Referendum and the Initiative
may be said to have always existed in those Cantons. Practi-



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342 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

cally, of course, the right of the Initiative has often been
hedged in by more or less significant conditions. At the pres*
ent time, the six Cantons and Half-Cantons, whfch still main-
tain their open-air assemblies, «how considerable differences in
this respect, but such limitations as are impose^ are very
slight, and do not interfere with a reasonable exercise of this
right

It will always remain the chief honor and glory of Swiss
statesmanship to have discovered the solution of one of the
great political problems of the ages : how to enable great
masses of people to govern themselves directly. By means of
the Referendum and the Initiative, this difficulty has been
brilliantly overcome. The essence and vital principle of the
popular assembly has been rescued from perishing miserably
before the exigencies of modern life, and successfully grafted
upon the representative system.

It has become somewhat of a commonplace assertion that
politics in the United States have reached the lowest stage to
which they may safely go. There seems to be no longer any
necessity to prove this proposition, for the general conviction
has gone abroad, amply justified by the whole course of his*
tory, that no democracy can hope to withstand the corrupting
influences now at work in our midst, unless certain radical
reforms are carried to a successful conclusion. Our calm
American complacency seems, at length, to have received a
shock ; our habitual optimism to have given place to a feeling
of apprehension, lest the maligant forces, now uppermost in
our national life, may not, after all, prove too strong for us ;
and a corresponding desire is being manifested to set in
motion other benign forces, which shall save the state from
destruction while there is yet time.

Unfortunately all attempts to probe the fundamental, first
causes of our corruption are checked at the outset, by the diffi-
culty of bringing the popular will to bear upon public ques-
tions. Our whole administrative system, and all the methods
by which the people are supposed to make known their desires



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RECENT CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES. 343

are perverted and diseased, so that the sovereign body are pre-
vented by mere tricksters from exerting their legitimate con*
trol over the making of the laws which are to govern them.
We are suffering, not only from deep-seated economic and social
diseases, of which, perhaps, the most alarming symptom is the
concentration of wealth into the hands of a few, but from the
rule of the Boss, and from the lamentable fact that the people
at large are divorced from legislation. As a matter of fact,
nothing stands between us and the tyranny of Municipal, State,
and Federal bosses, as unscrupulous as any feudal lordlings in
the thirteenth century, except public opinion, imperfectly
expressed by the press.

In so far as nuxlem parliamentary systenu have set up bar-
riers between the people and legislation, they have departed
from their real function, which is to take the propositions ema-
nating from the people, and, having examined and adjusted
them to suit the peculiar requirements of the case, then to
return them to the people for acceptance or rejection.

In the light of these facts, the question of the hour resolves
itself into this : How best to bring our representative system
into conformity with the principle of popular sovereignty.

As for the introduction of the Referendum and the Initia-
tive into the United States, there are, in reality, no insur-
mountable obstacles to bar the way. Those who are interested
in this question cannot do better than read what has been
written by Mr. J. M. Vincent in his recent work on " State
and Federal Government in Switzerland." Th.e author is one



Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 26 of 32)