Emil Welti

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Emil Welti

Friedrich Emil Welti (born April 23, 1825 in Zurzach ; † February 24, 1899 in Bern ; resident in Zurzach; exclusively named Emil Welti ) was a Swiss politician , lawyer and judge . From 1856 to 1866 he was a member of the government of the canton of Aargau , and from 1857 also of the Council of States . In 1867 he was elected to the Federal Council as a representative of the liberal center (today's FDP ) . Welti was one of the most influential Swiss politicians of this era. He unified the army, played a key role in shaping the completely revised Federal Constitution of 1874 and helped the Gotthard Railway achieve a breakthrough on a political level. After the failed nationalization of the most important private railways, he resigned in 1891. In total, he was Federal President six times .


Family, studies and work

He was the oldest of nine children in a distinguished family of politicians. His father Jakob Welti was a councilor in Zurzach , a councilor and chief judge, his grandfather Abraham Welti was a member of the National Assembly of the Helvetic Republic and the Consulta . After attending community and secondary school in Zurzach, Welti attended Aarau Cantonal School from 1840 to 1844 . There he was always top of the class and a member of the KTV Aarau secondary school association . Together with his school friend Samuel Wildi he studied from 1844 to 1847 jurisprudence at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena and the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin . He was particularly influenced by Friedrich Schelling . In Jena he joined the Arminia fraternity in the castle cellar in 1844 .

At the request of his father, Welti renounced an academic career and instead obtained a license to practice law . In November 1847 he took part in the Sonderbund War, but his unit was not involved in acts of war. He then worked as an actuary on the commission of inquiry against the war council of the Sonderbund . He began to work as a lawyer and was president of the Zurzach District Court from 1852 to 1856. In 1853 he married Carolina Gross, the daughter of a Zurzach councilor . The couple had two children: Louise Mathilde and Friedrich Emil Welti , later husband of Alfred Escher's daughter Lydia Escher .

Cantonal and federal politics

Like his father before him, Welti was elected to the Aargau Grand Council in 1856. This elected him to the government council in the same year . In his first six years in office, he was head of the Justice Directorate. During this time, the introduction of a new penal code and the code of criminal procedure as well as the construction of the Lenzburg penal institution, which at that time was regarded as a model, fell . However, he was unable to enforce two of his demands, the introduction of civil marriage and legal equality for Jews in Aargau. From 1863 to 1866 Welti was in charge of the education department. After initially increasing the teachers' wages, he created a new school law that came into force in 1865 and lasted in its main features until 1941. In the years 1858, 1862 and 1866 he served as Landammann . As a supporter of representative democracy , he was hostile to the emerging democratic movement and its demands for direct democratic participation by the people.

In 1857, the Grand Council elected Welti to the Council of States and confirmed him every year until 1866. He immediately took on a leading role and commented on numerous important topics such as the trade treaty with France and a rail link through the Alps. In the years 1860 and 1866 he was President of the Council of States . In 1860 the Federal Council sent him to Geneva as federal commissioner to mediate during the Savoy trade . As a result, the Geneva authorities granted him honorary citizenship . In 1864 he again had to mediate in Geneva when unrest broke out there after the State Council elections. In 1867 he also received honorary citizenship of the city of Aarau .

In addition to politics, Welti also found time for legal history studies, in particular for the collection and edition of legal sources from Aargau. Together with Augustin Keller , he founded the Historical Society of the Canton of Aargau in 1859 . He wrote several extensive articles for the book series " Argovia " published by the company . In 1866 the University of Zurich awarded him an honorary doctorate for his scientific merits .

Welti was considered a promising Federal Council candidate early on. Only because he expressly renounced the election in 1860 did Federal Councilor Friedrich Frey-Herosé, also from Aargau, remain in office. Three years later, this prevailed with a few votes difference. After Frey-Herosé announced his resignation at the end of 1866, Welti was the undisputed favorite to succeed him. As a supporter of a centralized state, he received support from the left wing, the radicals. He could also count on the votes of the moderately liberal business representatives around "Railway King" Alfred Escher , as he was a staunch supporter of the Gotthard Railway . In the election of the fifth member of the government on December 8, 1866, Welti received 103 out of 159 votes in the first ballot. Wilhelm Matthias Naeff and Samuel Schwarz received 24 and 18 votes, respectively, and another 14 votes were distributed among other people.

Federal Council

Photo taken around 1870

Welti took up his new office on January 1, 1867. From the beginning he was one of the most influential personalities in the state executive. During his 24-year tenure, he headed four different departments: the Military Department (1867-68, 1870-71, 1873-75), the Political Department (1869, 1872, 1876, 1880, 1884), and the Postal and Railway Department (1877-79 , 1882–83, 1885–91) and Justice and Police Department (1881). He was Federal President in 1869, 1872, 1876, 1880, 1884 and 1891 . Because of his appearance and his pro-German attitude, he was referred to as the “Swiss Bismarck ”.

As Minister of Defense, Welti pushed for the merging of the individual cantonal armies into a uniformly equipped and trained Swiss army . The need for reform became particularly evident after the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, when it became clear that the army's ability to act was limited and that there were also disputes over competence with General Hans Herzog (→  Switzerland in the Franco-German War ). The armament of the soldiers with the cousin rifle as a uniform orderly weapon was particularly groundbreaking .

Welti took a centralized position in the debate about the total revision of the Federal Constitution . He also advocated an even further separation of church and state . For this reason, he supported the mainly against the Roman Catholic Church directed confessional Ausnahmearitkel . The constitutional draft of 1872, which he significantly influenced, failed in the referendum with just under 50.5% no votes. He then had to accept some federal compromises, but he was able to enforce his most important concern, the unification of law, with the constitution of 1874, which was ultimately adopted. He largely stayed out of the Kulturkampf and took on a mediating role.

Railway policy was another focus of Welti's activity. As a representative of the federal government, he could not intervene directly in the question of whether the planned Alpine transversal should lead through the Gotthard or the Splügen , since the railway system was a matter for the cantons and private companies. In negotiations, however, he was able to convince Italy and the German states (above all Prussia ) to support the Gotthard railway project and to provide subsidies for it. In addition, he ensured the federal government a supervisory and co-determination right, since he did not want to leave this project of national importance to the private sector alone. When the Gotthard Railway Company got into financial difficulties in 1878 and the project threatened to fail because of the ever increasing costs, he was able to push through subsidies in parliament despite fierce opposition.

The repurchase of the private railways by the federal government was up for debate for the first time at the end of the 1850s, but at that time it failed because of resistance from the circles around Alfred Escher. In 1869 Welti still considered this undertaking to be impossible. The situation changed fundamentally with the railway crisis as a result of the founder crash of 1873 and the subsequent Great Depression . In Switzerland, the bankruptcy of the national railway caused a stir. According to the concession provisions, the federal government could have asserted its repurchase right for the first time in 1883. Welti found that the assets of the railway companies were overestimated and therefore initially placed their financial management under federal supervision. He pursued the strategy of bringing individual companies into state ownership through private acquisition. While negotiations with the Nordostbahn failed, the federal government was able to take over a large stake in the Jura-Simplon-Bahn in 1890 .

Resignation and other activities

In 1891 Welti was able to conclude a repurchase agreement with Centralbahn , which parliament approved. However, a referendum was held against the bill and on December 6, 1891, the buyback was clearly rejected in a referendum with a two-thirds majority. On the same day Welti announced his resignation at the end of the year. Parliament tried in vain to dissuade him and finally accepted his resignation on December 17th. A family tragedy overshadowed Welti's last few weeks in office: his daughter-in-law Lydia Welti-Escher took her own life on December 12th after he had locked her up in a madhouse in Rome the year before because of her affair with the artist Karl Stauffer-Bern .

In 1903 the monument to Emil Welti (1825–1899) in the park of the Aargau government building
Monument to Emil Welti

Welti no longer took on any tasks in politics, but on behalf of the Federal Council he was involved in negotiations on various trade and railway matters. He devoted himself to scientific studies and occasionally taught at the municipal high school in Bern . In 1898 he saw how his successor Josef Zemp managed to nationalize the most important private railways. At the age of 73, Welti died of complications from a concussion and pneumonia.

In 1903 a monument for Welti was inaugurated in the park of the Aargau government building and a monument bust of Welti stands at Bad Zurzach train station .

Documentary film


  • Urs Altermatt , Heinrich Staehelin: Emil Welti . In: Urs Altermatt (Ed.): Das Bundesratslexikon . NZZ Libro , Zurich 2019, ISBN 978-3-03810-218-2 , p. 118-124 .
  • Claudia Aufdermauer, Heinrich Staehelin: Federal Councilor Emil Welti. 1825-1899. here and now, Baden 2020, ISBN 978-3-03919-506-0 .
  • Helge Dvorak: Biographical Lexicon of the German Burschenschaft. Volume I: Politicians. Volume 6: T-Z. Winter, Heidelberg 2005, ISBN 3-8253-5063-0 , pp. 256-258.
  • Adolf Frei: Emil Welti . (Pictures of life from Aargau 1803–1953). In: Historical Society of the Canton of Aargau (Ed.): Argovia . tape 65 . Verlag Sauerländer, Aarau 1958, p. 269-284 ( online ).
  • Jakob Hunziker : Emil Welti in Aargau. In: Argovia 28 (1900), pp. 1-79.
  • Peter Kaupp : Welti, Emil. In: From Aldenhoven to Zittler. Members of the Arminia fraternity on the Burgkeller-Jena who have emerged in public life over the past 100 years. Dieburg 2000.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Frei: Lebensbilder from Aargau 1803–1953. P. 269.
  2. ^ A b Altermatt, Staehelin: Das Bundesratslexikon. P. 118.
  3. Frei: Lebensbilder from Aargau 1803–1953. Pp. 272-273.
  4. ^ A b c Altermatt, Staehelin: Das Bundesratslexikon. P. 119.
  5. Frei: Lebensbilder from Aargau 1803–1953. P. 275.
  6. Hans-Peter Widmer: The «Swiss Bismarck» and his biographer. Aargauer Zeitung , August 9, 2013, accessed on April 8, 2019 .
  7. Robin Schwarzenbach: Federal Councilor against General: In the middle of the Franco-German War, a dangerous power struggle breaks out in Switzerland In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of January 27, 2020
  8. ^ Altermatt, Staehelin: Das Bundesratlexikon. Pp. 120-121.
  9. ^ A b Altermatt, Staehelin: Das Bundesratslexikon. P. 121.
  10. ^ Altermatt, Staehelin: Das Bundesratlexikon. Pp. 121-122.
  11. ^ Altermatt, Staehelin: Das Bundesratlexikon. Pp. 122-123.
  12. ^ Altermatt, Staehelin: Das Bundesratlexikon. P. 123.
predecessor Office successor
Friedrich Frey-Herosé Member of the Swiss Federal Council
Josef Zemp