Federal Constitution 1848
History of Switzerland
Switzerland's Way towards
The Restoration of 1815
After defeating Napoleon, European Kings and statesmen met at the Vienna Congress in Austria in 1815 in order to arrange peace conditions. All great powers were interested in Swiss neutrality and agreed on a common declaration of guarantees for it. Winning powers were also interested in reducing French influence. So they decided, that Valais, Geneva and Neuchâtel, that had been associated members to the old Swiss confederation before Napoleon annexed them, should be part of Switzerland (as full members). Switzerland consisted of 22 cantons now with the borders to its neighbours that are still valid today.
Switzerland could arrange it's inner affairs for itself. Conservative forces won for the moment and managed to restore a lot of old laws. The cities again dominated their rural vicinity, but not as absolutely as before: they had to grant them a reduced representation in parliaments. (for example Basel city had 90 representatives, the Basel Country only 64 members in Basel's cantonal parliament, while the countryside counted more than twice as many inhabitants compared to the city; Lucerne countryside 10 of 36 seats, Zurich coutryside 82 of 212 seats etc) Certain revolutionary achievements as the abolition of bondage, individual rights and general education remained in force.
The supporters of liberalism did not disappear altogether, however. Their principal claims were
In Basel the City still refused to grant equal rights to the countryside. Thereupon the countryside declared independence with an own constitution. The city tried to keep up the old order by military force, but was defeated twice. Negotiations under mediation of the other cantons failed, so the splitting into two half-cantons became definitive in 1833. In Schwyz, the other cantons helped to negotiate a new constitution, so this canton would not split.
In 1832 Pope Gregor XVI. condemned modern culture, the liberal way of thinking and the "impudent science". Catholic priest Alois Fuchs pleading for a democratic constitution of the church in 1833 was removed from office. A member of the Lucerne (!) cantonal government organized a meeting in Baden (Aargau), where liberal politicians defined six demands for a democratic church and state control over the church ("Badener Artikel"). These were confirmed by several cantonal parliaments. The Pope, France and Austria demanded for the cancelling of the articles.
In Zurich a reform of elementary schools, which would have led to a reduction of the children's work in the industry (note that Switzerland was one of the first continental countries to follow Great Britains industrialization) was opposed by farmers and entrepreneurs. The liberal government appointed 1839 the German theologian David Friedrich Strauss to the university, who had inspired a wave of critical Bible research with his book "Das Leben Jesu, kritisch betrachtet" [the life of Jesus, looked at discerningly] in 1835. Immediately a "faith committee" was formed and forced Strauss into retirement. The struggle for power continued, however, the cantonal government resigned after armed countrymen had marched to Zurich. New elections brought victory for the conservative party. In Ticino liberals were defeated in the elections of 1839, but seized power by force of arms. The people of canton Lucerne revised their constitution in 1841, keeping up democratic elections and the division of power between government, parliament and courts, but cancelled the secularization in education [abolition of church-run schools].
Lucerne's parliament - at that time with a conservative majority - appointed the Jesuit order (known to be intellectual and at the same time especially devoted to the Pope) - to take care of the education of catholic priests. Some prudent conservatives like the president of cantonal government Konstantin Siegwart-Müller had warned against provoking the liberals in vain. Abovementioned radical Augustin Keller from Aargau tried to obtain a resolution by the federal "Tagsatzung" [council] against this appointment, but a conservative majority of both catholic and reformed cantons rejected his draft.
The disappointed liberals and radicals did not resign and respect the majority decisions of both the cantonal parliament of Lucerne and the federal "Tagsatzung". In canton Vaud (western Switzerland) the moderately liberal government was overthrown by armed radicals in February 1845 because of it's indetermination in the Jesuit affair, a new radical constitution was proposed and accepted by a 64% majority of the people in August 1845. In spring 1845 crowds of armed radicals from several cantons marched for Lucerne. In two battles they were defeated, 185 of them were killed and 1785 imprisoned. The federal "Tagsatzung" prohibited any further armed marches. In July the leader of the conservative hardliners, Joseph Leu von Ebersol was assasinated in his bedroom. The fragil balance of powers was severely threatened.
The conservative governments of central Switzerland were not contented, however, with the fact that the federal "Tagsatzung" supported its positions (toleration of the Jesuits, prohibition of armed marches). And they decided to give an new, denominational label to the dispute between conservatives vs. liberals: in December 1845 Konstantin Siegwart-Müller left his formerly prudent point of view and formed a coalition of cantons Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Zug, Fribourg and Valais - all of them catholic. The so-called "Sonderbund" [special alliance] explicitly referred to the time of reformation, when almost the same coalition had waged two civil wars against the reformed big cities of Zurich, Berne and Basel. When the secret alliance became public in June 1846, the reformed cantons, including the conservatives, were filled with indignation.
So public opinion changed once again. In 1846/47 a liberal constitution replaced a conservative on in Berne, Geneva and Basel, the catholic (!) people from the southern part of canton St. Gallen sent only liberal representatives to their cantonal parliament, so that St. Gallen got a liberal government, too. In Fribourg, liberals attempted a revolution. On the other hand, the Pope, Prussia and Austria (monarchies) exercised pressure on the federal "Tagsatzung". But foreign interference was firmly rejected with a (now) liberal majority and the "Sonderbund" alliance declared as illegal under federal law. Now the alliance called for Austrian help and made propositions on territorial changes in case of a victory. This shows that the conservatives had just as little respect for the right of self-determination of the cantons as the radical marchers. The federal "Tagsatzung" reacted with a resolution urging the catholic cantons to expel the Jesuits.
In October, both sides elected military commanders and mobilized soldiers. The civil war was opened on November, 3rd 1847 by attacks of the alliance on Ticino and Aargau. Federal troops marched to Fribourg and Zug, which surrendered without a battle. At the borders between Zug and Lucerne, and between Berne an Lucerne there were several battles on November, 23rd, the following days federal troops occupied Lucerne without further fighting and the other cantons of the alliance surrendered. Siegwart-Müller left Switzerland. The commander in chief of the federal army, general Guillaume Henri Dufour (of Geneva) had urged his troops to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and any plunderings. Thanks to him, the war was over fast and did not cost more than 86 lives and 500 wounded soldiers. Dufour is by the way also co-founder (together with the key player Henri Dunant) of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1864 and inventor of modern maps (1844 - 1864) that establish Switzerland's leading role in cartography.
After the defeat of the "Sonderbund" alliance the liberals used the opportunity to strengthen central power in Switzerland. They were prudent enough, however, to allow cantons extensive rights of self-determination, particularly in areas that had proven to be delicate (e.g. education). Now basic principles of the constitution of the U.S.A. were adopted:
In 1865 a partial revision of the cantonal constitution of Zurich introduced the so-called "popular initiative" (10'000 voters may demand a change of the constitution) and in 1869 a total revision introduced mandatory referendums for all changes of the constitution and all laws, the election of cantonal government by citizens instead of parliament, the abolition of lifelong posts and a progressive taxation of incomes and fortunes [ i.e. rich people have to pay a higher percentage at taxes than poor people]. Other cantons followed Zurich's reforms. In Lucerne a facultative referendum was introduced (a number of voters may demand a referendum on a new or changed law). In the first partial revision of the Federal Constitution in 1866 only one of 9 suggestions were accepted by a majority of citizens: the Jewish citizens were granted the right to settle everywhere in the country (before, they had been restricted to a few areas).
The struggle between state and church (or more precisely the radical party and the catholic church) began in two catholic cantons: In Ticino the radical government expelled 22 Italian monks and in Fribourg the bishop was expelled following a conservative attempt to seize power. New elections in Fribourg led to a landslide-like victory for the conservatives (64 of 67 seats) and a new, conservative constitution. Pope Pius IX. (1846 - 1878) fought with all means against the new spirit of the century, shaking the very foundations of his still medieval world:
With the dogma [mandatory church theorem] of the "Immaculate Conception of Mary" Pope Pius IX. in 1854 again stubbornly priorised irrational belief (not accessible to "positive" science). The reaction in Switzerland was not spectacular, but on a long-term basis effective: In St. Gallen a constitutional change in 1861 declared education to be a task of the state instead of the church. Today most schools throughout Switzerland are run by the state, private schools are allowed, but only under public quality control.
Industrialization had led to considerable immigration of catholics from rural areas into reformed cities like Zurich, Basel, Berne and Geneva. In 1865 the Pope wanted to appoint separate Geneva from the diocese of Lausanne and appointed a bishop without consulting the local government first. The government refused to acknowledge the bishop - and the diocese of Lausanne and Geneva remained united till today.
The first Vatican council [bishop meeting] declared in 1871 against better knowledge the dogma of the "Infallibility of the Pope" [meaning: the Pope will never be wrong,, if he publicly announces a religious doctrine], although with exact study of the collection of church doctrines (see Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum) one may easily find examples, where a Pope declares doctrines of a predecessor (to be found in the same collection) as erroneous. So obviously one (if not both) must be "fallible". When the bishop of Basel publicly supported the dogma, some 412,000 catholics left the Roman Catholic Church, only some 73,000 of them joined the Christian-Catholic (old catholic church) that formed in protest against the dogma in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany. When Bishop Lachat proceeded excluding priests opposing the dogma from the Roman Catholic Church, the cantonal governments declared him and 97 priests dismissed, 84 were expelled from Switzerland.
In 1874 the Federal Constitution was completely revised. The central administration became more important compared to the cantons, in other fields cantons remained responsible, but had to keep up to new federal standards. Referendums had proven to be a reasonable instrument and were now introduced on federal level as well. Citizens moving to a different canton were granted full rights of vote after three months. This was to the benefit of catholics emigrating from central Switzerland to the big cities Zurich, Basel and Berne. The revised constitution was accepted with a 63% majority of votes. In 1883 a new law standardized legal grounds for contracts and commerce throughout Switzerland. The standardized civil code of 1907 came into effect in 1912 and remained valid since except for regulation on marriage, these were totally revised and adapted to modern concepts of a equal partnership in 1985.
The struggle between state and church left its traces: The statement of civil status and the marriage ceremony, so far tasks of the churches became functions of the political authorities. This meant a substantial restriction of church control over the life of citizens. The federation also received the authority "to take suitable action against interferences of church authorities into the rights of the citizens and the state". The establishment of new dioceses became explicitly subject to the permission of the federation. The Jesuit order was banned and the foundation of new or reopening of closed monasteries was forbidden. Jesuits in fact returned to Switzerland already early in the 20th century, but the ban was formally removed from the constitution as late as 1973.
Due to the election system that every constituency would send one member to the parlament, cantonal elections in 1889 gave a solid majority of two thirds to the conservatives in Ticino, while they had only won 51.5% of the votes. The conservative government prevented a referendum over a reform initiative. Thereupon in 1890 a government member was shot and other taken hostage in an armed revolution. An intervention troop of the federation re-established the order and achieved a provisional reconciliation of the parties. Two revisions of the cantonal constitution in 1891 and 1892 redesigned the organization of constituencies and introduced election of a larger number of members of parliament per constituency in proportion to the number of votes given to the parties. Proportional elections were introduced in Neuchâtel in 1891 as well, but this time it was conservatives that would profit.
On federal level several approaches to introduce the proportional election mode failed. First the right to popular initiatives (50,000, nowadays 100,000 voters can demand a referendum on a change to the constitution, known to several cantons since 1865) was introduced on federal level in 1891. And this was used in 1918 to finally bring about the proportional election mode on federal level. This dramatically influenced the outcome of 1919's elections. The formerly dominant Free-Democratic Party (FDP) was limited to 63 out of 189 seats, while the Catholic Conservative and the Social-Democratic party scored 41 each, several new smaller parties a total of 44.
Until 1891 all members of the federal had beed elected from the liberals. The government member Emil Welti had favoured the nationalization of railways, but was defeated clearly in a referendum, so he resigned. In his place, Josef Zemp, a conservative and member of the supervisory board of a big railway company, was elected. Not all conservatives were happy to share responsibility of government, however. In 1929 the first member of the farmer's party was elected into the government, in 1943 the first member of the social democrats. From 1959 to 2003 the "magic formula" is unwritten, but was always respected: 2 liberals, 2 christian democrates (formerly conservatives), 2 social democrats, 1 farmer's party. Since 1971 the farmer's party has changed into a populist right-wing party by the name of "Swiss people's party" and has constantly gained votes at the cost of the christian democrats. Consequently the people's party is represented with two seats in the government starting from 2004 while the christian democrats become the "junior partner" with only one seat.
The first women's federation was created 1885 in Aarau, in 1894
followed the women's association of Zurich, 1888 the Swiss non-profit
women's association. 1897 met in Geneva the first Swiss congress for
the interests of women. 1900 the women's organizations united
in the federation of Swiss women's associations.
The way to the equal rights of women in politics and economy was
particularly long and stony in Switzerland. Thus women's right to vote
was discussed already early in the 20th century, but it was
introduced in Switzerland only in 1971 after several unsuccessful
More: The Long Way to Women's Right to Vote in Switzerland