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The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

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of the few Americans who understand Swiss political institu-
tions, and realize the tremendous possibilities which they
unfold. The suggestions offered by Mr. Vincent are timely
and deserve careful attention.

In point of fact, the combination of the Referendum and
the Initiative is fatal to the lobby. Under its beneficent influ-
ence politics cease to be a trade ; for the power of the politi-
cians is curtailed and there is no money in the business. No
chance is offered of devising deals and little give<*and-take



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844 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

schemes, when everything has to pass before the scrutinizing
gaze of the tax payers. Moreover, second Houses, such as
our Senate, tend to become superfluous, and if the Referen-
dum were thoroughly applied would doubtless be abolished
altogether. The people constitute a second House in which
every bill must find its final verdict.

Democracies have been justly reproached for the fact that
their political offices are not always filled by men of recog-
nized ability and unstained honor ; that the best talent of the
nation, after a while, yields the political field to adventurers.
This is not the case in Switzerland, under the purifying work-
ing of the Referendum and Initiative. Nowhere in the world
are government places occupied by men so well fitted for the
work to be performed. These institutions strike a blow at
party government in the narrow sense, in the sense in which
offices are distributed only to party workers, irrespective of
capacity for peculiar duties, — party government which pro-
duces an opposition whose business it is to oppose, never to
co-operate. It would also modify our whole representative
system, which now practically endows the elected legislators
with sovereign attributes. For these systems the Referendum
and the Initiative substitute a government based upon busi-
ness principles, displaying ability and stability, simplicity and
economy.

Besides these purely practical gains there are recommenda-
tions on the score of ethics which deserve to be noticed
Consider the educational effect of institutions which obliges
every voter to investigate and pass judgment upon bills sub-
mitted to him. How much more likely it is under such cir-
cumstances that legislation will be treated on its merits, and
not with a view toward keeping a certain party or certain
persons in power. We have, in recent years, had a striking
proof of the extraordinary educational influence of presidential
campaigns in calling attention to the absurdities of our protec-
tive tariff. How much greater must be the results of a series
of such campaigns, turning in succession upon all the subjects



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RECENT CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES. 346

with which a good citizen should be familiar. Then think
of bow the Referendum and the Initiative invest the individ-
ual voter with a new dignity, and how they add to the collec-
tive sovereign people the majesty of final appeal, of which
our representative system, as at present constituted, practi-
cally deprives them.

In the eyes of some people it will undoubtedly seem an
objection to the Referendum that it seriously curtails the
powers of legislatures. But when we remember that the peo-
ple of several of our States have already found it necessary to
do this by special enactments, and when we stop to imagine
for one moment the mass of legislation, often contradictory
and inconsistent, and generally useless if not absolutely harm-
ful, which is being piled up in the legislatures of the various
States and of the Federal government, it will be seen, at a
glance, what a boon the Referendum in reality might become ;
how valuable, nay, how providential a check it might be upon
this reckless, regardless, wholesale rush of legislation ! To-
day reform lies in the direction of repeal rather than of further
laws, of liberty rather than restriction.

Those who have no faith in the principles which underlie
all genuine democracies, in the equality and brotherhood of
man, and in his natural rights; who fear the people as an
unreasoning beast which must be controlled; and therefore
look to reform by means of artificial laws rather than by those
of Nature — such men will naturally dread anything which sav-
ors of direct government, and will, of course, find the Referen-
dum and the Initiative a stumbling-block and a bugbear.

But the increasing number of those who place their utmost
confidence in the common sense of the people as a whole,
unhampered and unperverted by bosses, will welcome the
Referendum and its complement, the Initiative, as the most
important contributions to the art of self-government and the
greatest triumphs over the peculiar dangers to which repre-
sentative governments are exposed, which this century has
yet seen.



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CHAPTER X.

THE CONSTITUTIONS OF THE SWISS CONFEDERATION AND OF
THE UNITED STATES COMPARED.

In ber quiet fashion, the unobtrusive little Confederation is
working out some of the great modem problems, and ber citi-
zens, with their natural aptitude for self-government, are pre*
senting object lessons which we especially in America cannot
afford to overlook. It is true that political analogies are some-
times a little perilous, for identical situations can never be
reproduced in difiFerent countries, but if there be any virtue at
all in the study of comparative politics, a comparison between
the Federal constitutions of Switzerland and of the United
States ought to throw into relief some features which can be
of service to us.

To be perfectly frank, the Swiss constitution when placed
side by side with our own, at first shows certain decided short-
comings. The Constitution of the United States is an emi-
nently logical, well-balanced document, in which a masterly
distinction is made between the executive, legislative, and
judicial functions of government, and between matters which
belong by nature to organic law, and those which may safely
be left to the statute law. In the Swiss constitution, however,
the line which separates these departments is not as clearly
drawn, so that, in fact, a certain amount of confusion in their
treatment becomes apparent. In the primitive leagues which
were concluded between the early Confederates, no attempt
was made to draw up regular constitutions, and the one now in
force dates only from 1848, with amendments made in i874»

346



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SWISS AND AMEBIC AN CONSTITUTIONS. 347

1879^ 1885, 1 89 1 and 1892, an instrument still somewhat im-
perfect, perhaps, but none the less suggestive to the student

There are two institutions in the Swiss state which bear a
very strong likeness to corresponding ones in our own.

Both countries have a legislative system consisting of two
houses, one representing the people numerically, and the
other the Guitons of which the Union is composed, and
both possess a Supreme Court, which in Switzerland goes by
the name of the Federal Tribunal. It is generally conceded
that the Swiss consciously imitated these American institu-
tions, but in doing so they certainly took care to adapt them
to their own particular needs, so that the two sets of institu-
tions are by no means identical The Swiss National Council
and Council of States, forming together the Federal Assembly,
are equal, co-ordinate bodies, performing the same functions,
whereas our House of Representatives and Senate have partic-
ular duties assigned to each, and the former occupies, in a
measure, a subordinate position to the latter. The Swiss houses
meet twice a year in regular sessions, on the first Monday in
June and the first Monday in December, and for extra sessions
if there is special unfinished business to transact. The
National Council is composed at present of 147 members, one
representative to every 20,000 inhabitants. Every citizen of
twenty-one is a voter, and every voter not a clergyman is
eligible to office. This exception is due to dread of relig-
ious quarrels, with which the pages of Swiss history have
been only too frequently stained. A general election takes
place every three years. The salary of the representatives
is four dollars a day, which is forfeited by non-attendance,
and about five cents a mile for travelling expenses. On the
other hand, the Council of States is composed of forty-four
members, two for each of the twenty-two Cantons. The length
of their terms of office is left entirely to the discretion of the
Cantons which elect them, and in the same manner their sala-
ries are paid out of the Cantonal treasuries. There are certain
special occasions when the two houses meet together and



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348 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

act in concert ; first, for the election of the Federal Council,
which corresponds in a general way to our President and his
Cabinet ; secondly, for the election of the Federal Tribunal ;
thirdly, for that of the Chancellor of the Confederation, an
official whose duties seem to be those of a secretary to the
Federal Council and Federal Assembly ; and fourthly, for that
of the Commander-in-Chief in case of war.

The attributes of the Swiss Federal Tribunal, though closely
resembling those of our Supreme Court, are not identical with
them, for the Swiss conception of the sovereignty of the peo-
ple is quite different from our own. Their Federal Assembly
is the repository of the national sovereignty, and, therefore, no
other body can override its decisions. The Supreme Court of
the United States tests the constitutionality of laws passed by
Congress which may be submitted to it for examination, thus
placing itself as arbiter over the representatives of the people ;
but the Federal Tribunal must accept as final all laws which
have passed through the usual channels, so that its duty con-
sists merely in applying them to particular cases without
questioning their constitutionality.

If there is a resemblance between the Federal Assembly
and our Congress, and between the Federal Tribunal and our
Supreme Court, there is, on the other hand, a striking differ-
ence between the Federal Council and our presidential office.

The Swiss Constitution does not intrust the executive power
to one man, as our own does, but to a Federal Council of seven
members, acting as a sort of Board of Administration. These
seven men are elected for a fixed term of three years, out of
the ranks of the whole body of voters throughout the country
by the two Houses, united in joint session. Every year they
also designate, from the seven members of the Federal Council,
the two persons who shall act as President and Vice-President
of the Swiss Confederation. The Swiss President is, therefore,
only the chairman of an executive board, and presents a com-
plete contrast to the President of the United States, who is
virtually a monarch, elected for a short reign. Sir Henry



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SWISS AND AMERICAN CONSTITUTION. 349

Maine says in his book on "Popular Government", (that
somewhat exasperating but always instructive arraignment of
democracy): "On the face of the Constitution of the United
States, the resemblance of the President of the United States
to the European king, and especially to the King of Great
Britain, is too obvious to mistake. The President has, in vari-
ous degrees, a number of powers which those who know some-
thing of kingship in its general history recognize at once as
peculiarly associated with it and with no other institution."

In truth, he is vested with all the attributes of sovereignty
during his term of office. He holds in his hands the whole
executive power of the government ; he is Commander-in-Chief
of the army and navy ; possesses a suspensory veto upon legis-
lation and the privilege of pardoning ofiFences against Federal
law, and, finally, is intrusted with an appointing power unpa-
ralleled in any free country. With all this authority he is still
a partisan by reason of the manner of his election, so that he
cannot possibly administer his office impartially, and must,
from the necessity of the case, forward the interests of one
political party at the expense of the rest. It is certainly
worthy of consideration whether the Swiss Federal Council
does not contain valuable suggestions for reformers who
desire to hasten the triumph of absolute democracy in the
United States.

The institutions of the Referendum and the Initiative have
no counterparts in our own country, unless we except the
somewhat unwieldy provisions in various States for the revis-
ions of their constitutions by popular vote, and the general
right of petition. It is undoubtedly the most successful
experiment in applying the principles of direct government
which has been made in modern times.

There are, besides, a host of minor difiFerences between the
Swiss and American Constitutions, of more or less interest to
students of politics and economics.

The central government in Switzerland maintains a univer-
sity, the Polytechnic, at Zurich, and by virtue of the con-



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350 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

stitution also exerts an influence over education throughout
the Confederation. Article 27 prescribes that the Cantons
shall provide compulsory primary instruction to be placed
in charge of the civil authorities and to be gratuitous in all
public schools. In practice these provisions have been found
difficult to enforce where the spirit of the population was
opposed to them, as in Uri, the most illiterate of the Cantons,
where educational matters remain entirely in the hands of the
priesthood. Fortunately, however, the Swiss people at large
have a very keen appreciation of the value of education, so
that illiteracy, as we have it in this country, among the negroes
and the poor whites of the South, as well as amongst certain
classes of our immigrants, is really unknown in Switzerland.
Someone has jestingly said that there "the primary business
of the state is to keep school," and really, in travelling through
the country which gave birth to Pestalozzi, one is continually
impressed with the size and comparative splendor of the.
school-houses; in every village and hamlet they have the
appearance of being the very best which the community by
scrimping and saving can possibly put up.

On the subject of import duties, the Constitution lays down
the Article 29 as general rules to guide the conduct of legisla-
tors, that "materials which are necessary to the industries
and agriculture of the country shall be taxed as low as possi-
ble ; the same rule shall be observed in regard to the neces-
saries of life. Articles of luxury shall be subjected to the
highest taxes." From this set of principles it will be seen
that Switzerland levies her duties for revenue only, as the
phrase is, although it must be confessed that there is a percep-
tible tendency now manifested to raise the duties in conse-
quence of the high protectionist wave which is sweeping over
the continent of Europe at the present moment.

When the statistics of Switzerland's general trade, including
all goods in transit, which, of course, make a considerable por-
tion of the whole, are compared with those of other European
states, it is found that she possesses a greater amount of gen-



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SWISS AND AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONS. 351

eral trade per head of population than any other European
country, more even than England.

The telegraph and telephone systems are managed by the
central government, as well as the post-office, with excellent ^
results. Not only are these departments conducted in an
exemplary manner upon cheap terms, but a respectable rev-
enue is also derived from them, which makes a "good showing
in the annual budget.

Ever)rthing which is connected with the army, from the
selection of the recruits to the election of the Commander-in-
Chief, also possesses exceptional interest, because Switzerland
is the only country in the world which has so far succeeded in
maintaining an efficient militia without the vestige of a stand-
ing army.

An attempt was made, in 1885, to deal with the evils of
intemperance, by establishing a state monopoly of the manu-
facture and sale of spirituous liquors, the revenue thus derived
being apportioned amongst the Cantons according to popula-
tion, with the proviso that ten per cent of it be used by them
to combat the causes and effects of alcoholism in their midst.
It is too early to speak of the final results of this legislation,
but for the moment there seems to be a decided falling off in
the consumption of the cruder and more injurious qualities.

Amongst other matters which the Federal authorities have
brought under their supervision, are the forests, river improve-
ments, ordinary roads and railroads, and bridges, etc., not man-
aging them all directly, but reserving the right to regulate
them at will. Even hunting and fishing come within the juris-
diction of the central government, this constitutional power
having been used to preserve the chamois in certain mountain
ranges where they were threatening to disappear completely,
but where, thanks to timely interference, they are now actually
on the increase.

Apart from these constitutional provisions, the general drift
of legislative action seems to have set in very strongly toward
a mild form of state socialism, somewhat after the form of the



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352 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

Prussian system, but with this difference, that in the case of
Switzerland it is the people who unite to delegate certain pow-
ers to the state, while in the latter country this policy is
* imposed upon the people from above by the ruling authorities.
The altogether exceptional clauses in the Swiss Constitution
referring to the exclusion of the Jesuits, a survival of the war
of 1848, to the so-called Heitnatlosefty or those who have no
commune of origin, and to the police appointed to control the
movements of foreign agitators seeking asylum in the country,
all these have a purely local interest, and need not be especially
examined.

What, then, is the peculiar mark and symbol of the Swiss
Constitution, taken as a whole } When all has been said and
done, the most characteristic provisions are those which intro-
duce forms of direct government or of pure democracy, as the
technical expression is. The supremacy of the legislative
branch, as representing the people, the peculiar make-up of
the Federal Council, the limited power of the Federal Tri-
bunal, and above all the institution of the Referendum and
Initiative, are all evidences of this tendency toward direct
government. In the Cantonal governments the same quality
is more apparent, for it is from them that the Swiss Federal
Constitution has borrowed the principles which underlie these
characteristic provisions. In point of fact, representative de-
mocracy has never felt quite at home in Switzerland ; there has
always been an effort to revert to simpler, more straightfor-
ward methods; to reduce the distance which separates the
people from the exercise of their sovereignty ; and to consti-
tute them into a court of final appeal.

In view of the marvellous stability which the pure demo-
cracy of Switzerland has displayed, there is something comical
in the horror of all forms of direct government expressed by
most constitutional writers. De Tocqueville, whom we honor
for his appreciation of our own Constitution, declared, "that
they all tend to render the government of the people irregular
in its action, precipitate in its resolutions and tyrannical in its



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SWISS AND AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONS. 353

acts." ^ Mr. George Grote* also condemned the Referendum,
and, of course, one cannot expect pure democracy to be
praised by Sir Henry Maine. On the other hand, Mr. Dicey
recently discussed the practicability of introducing the Refer-
endum into the English political system in a favorable
manner.' After all, is not this very quality of directness a
great recommendation, when we consider the rubbish which at
present clogs the wheels of our political machinery, the com-
plications which confuse the voter and hide the real issues
from his comprehension ? The very epithets, pure and direct,
satisfy at once our best aspirations and our common sense.

1 De Tocqueville. Democracy in Switzerland.

< Grote, G. Seven Letters concerning the Politics of Switzerland in 1847.

* Dicey, £. Article in Contemporary Review. April* 1890.



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CHAPTER XL

THE NEUTRALITY OF SWITZERLAND.

HAPPILY, that period of national degradation, which
Switzerland traversed at the beginning of the century,
is now only an evil memory. The Confederation has risen
from the state of complete prostration into which she had
fallen, has collected her forces during many succeeding years
of peace, and after various vicissitudes, has at length won her
present position of honor and usefulness amongst the nations.

Switzerland's geographical position imposes upon her the
choice between two utterly distinct foreign policies. She
must either cast in her lot with one of the rival European
powers, or else she must observe strict neutrality toward them
all Since the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, Switzerland has
adhered, without the slightest deviation, to the latter policy;
thus fulfilling the two-fold mission of providing neutral terri-
tory in the midst of armed Europe, and of representing the
principles of democracy on the continent.

But it is one thing to be endowed with the privilege of per-
petual neutrality and quite another matter to maintain it invio-
late. The complications, to which the intense rivalry of the
powers now and again give rise, often make this task
extremely embarrassing.

The so-called question of Savoy, a legacy of the Congress of
Vienna, deserves to be especially noticed. In 1859, ^^^ ^^^
sion of Nice and Savoy to France led to negotiations between
the Confederation and Napoleon III. The latter offered to
concede certain further rights over the zone in Savoy to Swit-

854



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THE NEUTRALITY OF SWITZERLAND. 355

zerland, but they were refused as insufficient, and, during an
interchange of notes between the two governments, in 1883,
it was acknowledged that the conditions created by the act of
18 1 5 were still in force. The zone presents, therefore, the
strange anomaly of being French territory, and yet enjoying
the same sort of neutrality as Switzerland ; of furnishing sol-
diers for the French army, and in the event of a European war,
being forbidden ground for contending armies. Moreover,
any interference of Switzerland in that quarter, to which she
is legally entitled according to the terms of the act of 181 5,
would now undoubtedly produce grave international complica-
tions ; so that the whole question may be considered to be in
a very unsatisfactory state, and to be prevented from endan-
gering peace only by the especially friendly relations which
exist between the Swiss and the French.

As has been shown, Switzerland displayed the greatest pres-
ence of mind, in 1847, at the time of the Sonderbund War, in
rejecting the ofiFer made by the powers to intervene in the inter-
est of peace. The so-called question of Neuchatel, of 1 857, also
gave the Confederation the opportunity of showing Europe a
determined front, and more recently she asserted her neuti^ity
by a show of armed force, in 1871, during the closing months of
the Franco-German war. In February of that critical year, the
French army of the East, under Bourbaki, had retreated from
Belfort upon the Swiss frontier, and then, surrounded by the
Germans, decimated by cold and hunger, had taken refuge
upon Swiss soil to the number of about 85,000 men, with
10,000 horses and 200 guns. A body of 20,000 Swiss troops
promptly disarmed them and distributed them over Switzerland,
where for something like seven weeks they were cared for in a
manner which has always been remembered with gratitude by
the French nation, and is still frequently mentioned upon pub-
lic occasions.

It is the right of asylum which has given Switzerland the
greatest trouble in the exercise of her neutrality. The late Sir
F. O. Adams, Minister of Great Britain, at Bern, says in regard



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366 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

to this point, in his book, " The Swiss Confederation " : " The
question of the right of asylum has been at times a difficult one
for Swiss statesmen ; but the invariable principle that has



Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 27 of 32)