Helvetic Consulta

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The Helvetische Consulta ( Italian consulta , Council Assembly '), also Helvetische Konsulta , was an assembly of notables and deputies from the Helvetic Republic , which was held in Paris under the guidance and mediation of the French government under the first consul Napoléon Bonaparte between December 10, 1802 and on February 19, 1803 drafted the Mediation Act , a new constitution for Switzerland and its cantons . The model for the Helvetic Consulta was the Cisalpinische Consulta from October 1801 to January 1802 in Lyon. This drew up the constitution for the Italian Republic and made Napoléon Bonaparte President of Italy.


Party dispute in the Helvetic Republic

Limits of the cantons according to the Malmaison constitution of May 29, 1801
Limits of the cantons according to the federal counter-draft to the Malmaison constitution of February 27, 1802
Borders of the cantons according to the second Helvetic Constitution of May 25, 1802

Since the overthrow of the Ancien Régime in Switzerland, forced by French arms, in 1798, various parties and interest groups fought over the establishment of a new state system for the French vassal state now known as the "Helvetic Republic". The "patriots", mostly peasants and petty bourgeoisie, were in favor of full popular sovereignty , against urban and class privileges and based themselves on the model of the centralized French republic. The "republicans", mostly upper middle class and enlightened patriciate, wanted an indirectly elected elite as the ruling force, a self-complementing assembly of notables as a parliament and a more federal organization based on the old cantonal borders. After the first and second coups in 1800, the Republicans gained the upper hand. The party dispute, however, continued between "Unitarians" and "Federalists". The Unitarians as a majority wanted a preservation of the unitary state with all the achievements of the revolution, especially personal freedom (abolition of serfdom) and equality (abolition of class differences), while the federalists as a restorative minority from central Switzerland and the old ruling cities and the Patriciate sought a return to the confederation and the old subject relationships.

Napoléon Bonaparte as first consul in 1803

On May 9, 1801, Napoléon Bonaparte , First Consul of the French Republic, intervened in the turmoil and dictated the so-called Constitution of Malmaison to the Helvetic parties . The Helvetic Republic would have been transformed into a federal state with 17 cantons. It was only after a third coup by the federalists that this constitution came into force in 1801. After a renewed overthrow by the Unitarians on April 17, 1802, the Malmaison constitution was revised again against the will of Napoléon and, after a referendum, put into effect as the "Second Helvetic Constitution" in May 1802.

When Napoleon withdrew the French troops from Switzerland, the Unitarian government lost its most important base. Restorative and federal circles went over to the open armed uprising and in August 1802 formed a counter-government under Alois Reding in Schwyz. In the Stecklikkrieg , the federalist troops conquered most of Switzerland despite poor armament, the Swiss government had to flee to Lausanne . After the last Helvetic troops were defeated by federalist forces at Faoug on October 3, 1802, the Helvetic government was already preparing to flee to France when the French envoy Verninac answered a request for assistance that had been sent long before. In the proclamation of Saint-Cloud of September 30, 1802, Napoléon Bonaparte ultimately decreed that all Swiss parties should cease hostilities. The non-Helvetic troops were to be disarmed and disbanded, the Helvetic government had to return to Bern and the opposing government and all rebellious cantonal authorities had to be disbanded. The government and the cantons then send deputies to Paris to attend a consulta in order to solve the problems at hand.

The Swiss Senator Karl Müller-Friedberg , Unitarian

The proclamation of Saint-Cloud originally provided for a period of five days, but the Schwyzer Tagsatzung refused to comply and negotiated with Great Britain. That is why Napoléon had 40,000 men marched into Switzerland under General Ney and the parties disarmed. Under the influence of French weapons, the cantons finally appointed their deputies for the Consulta. The Swiss Senate sent a three-person delegation, while the cantons were able to send any number of delegations through the combined cantonal assembly statutes of 1801 and 1802.

Election and composition of the Consulta

The federalists at first refused and did not want to send any deputies to Paris, so that at first only Unitarian MPs were appointed. The federalists probably wanted to keep the opportunity open to protest against any Paris resolutions. It was only after Napoleon's emphatic order that representatives of both parties had to come to Paris that the federalists' attitude changed. Nevertheless, of the total of 56 deputies from the Senate, the cities and the cantons, as they are named in the mediation act, only 15 remained federalists compared to 32 Unitarians. According to other sources, there were a total of 63 people, including private individuals, of whom 45 were Unitarians and 18 were federalists.

While the cantonal representatives almost exclusively represented the Unitarian position, the cities of Zurich, Winterthur, Bern and Solothurn almost exclusively appointed federal representatives. In any case, before the negotiations began, the outcome of the mediation in the interests of the Unitarians seemed almost certain, especially since at least the Senators Roederer and Fouché from the commission appointed by Napoleon were considered to be favored by the Unitarians. Démeunier was also friends with the leading Unitarian Müller-Friedberg. So it seemed certain that the future state order would strengthen the cantons somewhat in the sense of the Malmaison constitution, but that a strong central power would remain.

The Consulta

The various delegations arrived in Paris from November 1802 and were introduced by the Helvetic envoy in Paris, Philipp Albert Stapfer , to the Foreign Ministry in the Hôtel de Galliffet (Rue de Varenne 50) and introduced to Minister Talleyrand . It was not until December 4 that Napoléon appointed four French senators, François de Barthélemy , Jean Nicolas Démeunier , Joseph Fouché and Pierre-Louis Roederer to chair the conference.

On December 10, 1802, the first Consulta meeting took place in the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Hôtel de Maurepas (75 rue de Grenelle). Senator Barthélemy read to the deputies a message from Napoléon, which clearly stated that Napoleon wanted a loose federal system with equal rights for the cantons but without privileges for the patricians. With this, the Unitarians were offended from the start, because it was a solution in their mind, i.e. H. the retention of the unitary state was already ruled out.

The Unitarians Bernhard Friedrich Kuhn, Vinzenz Rüttimann, Karl Müller-Friedberg and the federalists Louis d'Affry and Hans von Reinhard were received as a delegation by Napoléon personally on December 12th in his residence in Saint-Cloud Castle. In a meeting with the delegates, Napoléon once again clearly expressed his wishes for a federal reorganization of the Helvetic Republic and also demonstrated his expertise about the situation in Switzerland.

The following day the congregation began its work. Pierre-Louis Roederer informed the assembly that a constitution would first be drafted for each canton within five days, but that there would be no question of a federal constitution. However, the members of the Consulta were completely unprepared for this task and tried to extend the deadline in order to get instructions from their cantons. Apparently, before the Consulta, they had been so convinced that the Unitarians would have the upper hand in the assembly anyway that only preparations had been made for the drafting of a federal constitution. Napoléon refused any extension of the deadline, so that the deputies inevitably went to work without authorization.

The Swiss Senators Rüttimann, Pidou and Müller-Friedberg were supposed to draft a federal constitution, while the rest of the deputies negotiated the cantonal constitutions. However, since the Unitarians split up by canton, Rüttimann and Pidou left this business to Müller-Friedberg alone, as they wanted to deal with their cantonal constitutions. By December 23, Müller-Friedberg had drafted a constitution based on the US model, from which, however, only freedom of trade and industry flowed into the mediation act.

In addition to advisory activities, the deputies moved in Paris society and tried to promote their divergent interests and find allies. The aristocrats among the deputies, who were mostly federalists, were particularly successful. They were familiar with society and the customs of diplomacy. They were often guests at invitations from the three consuls or at Talleyrand's.

One of the biggest problems of the Consulta was the territorial reorganization of the cantons. The cantons of Aargau , Linth , Säntis, newly created in 1798 , and the Fricktal were particularly up for discussion. In Eastern Switzerland, the restoration of the cantons of Appenzell and Glarus created a problem, as the remaining areas had no historical similarities. Finally, the French side took up a project proposed by Alois Reding for a canton of St. Gallen as early as 1802 , which was implemented despite opposition through Napoléon's direct influence. Similar problems arose in Aargau. On the one hand, Bern demanded the return of its former subject area, on the other hand, the Fricktal wanted to form its own canton. For the former canton of Baden, a union with Zug was up for debate. Here, too, Napoléon's word of power had to decide, through which the canton of Aargau was created within its current borders.

After the cantonal constitutions had been drawn up in four sessions until December 28, there were no official Consulta sessions for almost a month. During this time the four French commissioners worked on the projects and the deputies lobbied for their personal interests. Obviously, some of these personal interventions seem to have had a major impact on the design of the individual constitutions as well as on the definitive territorial design of the cantons. The four commissioners worked closely with Napoléon on the constitutional projects, who made various changes personally. The model for all the constitutions of the cantons was that of the canton of Aargau, which was first drawn up by Démeunier. This is how the collection of the Swiss cantonal constitutions and federal acts, known as the "Mediation Act", was created.

Handover of the mediation act to the Swiss deputies on February 19, 1803. At the handover and signing ceremony in the Tuileries Palace, besides Bonaparte, Talleyrand and the four commissioners on the French side were also present.

On January 24th the Consulta was convened for its fifth meeting. The deputies were told that the mediation act was now ready and that they each had to delegate five Unitarians and five federalists for the final examination, with whom Napoleon wanted to go through the federal act. On 25/26 January this delegation examined the files and discussed the critical points, the debts of the Helvetic Republic and the distribution of cantonal goods were the most contentious. It was not until January 29 that Napoleon invited the delegation to the Tuileries Palace and personally discussed the constitutions and the federal acts with them in a seven-hour session. According to Usteri's report, Bonaparte patiently listened to all the concerns of the delegates and impressed with his expertise, openness and attention. At this meeting, the federalists achieved further concessions in their favor: There should be no federal capital, the sovereignty of coins went back to the cantons and the cantonal land possessions were restored. For some cantons it was also of great importance that the goods of the abolished monasteries should pass to the cantons, especially for St. Gallen. The disputes over the financial questions lasted another two weeks, with only the commissioners negotiating with the deputies. Only on February 14, 1803 did the negotiations come to an end at the direction of the commissioners.

Simultaneously with the completion of the work on the mediation act, the commission instructed the two committees of the deputies to appoint four members for each canton for a provisional government commission. A fifth member to serve as President of the Commission was personally appointed by Napoleon. The provisional government commissions in the newly founded cantons of Aargau, Thurgau, Ticino, Waadt and St. Gallen were also entrusted with setting up the administration and state structures.

The mediation act , which contained all the constitutions of the cantons as well as the federal constitution, was handed over to the designated governor Louis d'Affry on February 19, 1803 in the presence of ten representatives of the Consulta. Two days later, Napoleon received all the deputies again for a solemn farewell audience. In the historiography of Switzerland, the following period in which Switzerland existed as a confederation under French influence is named after Napoléon's mediation period .

List of key participants

Between 60 and 70 deputies from the Helvetic Republic traveled to Paris. Private interested parties and lobbyists who were not accredited as official representatives also moved in their environment. The exact number of participants is controversial, as it is not always possible to differentiate precisely between private individuals and deputies.

Helvetic Commission of the French government

Representative of the Swiss government

Deputy of the Swiss Senate

Deputies of the cantons and municipalities



  1. Oechsli, Geschichte der Schweiz, Vol. 1, p. 423.
  2. Let it be St. Gallen, p. 66.
  3. Gottfried Guggenbühl : Mayor Paul Usteri 1768–1831 , vol. 2. Aarau 1931, p. 346.
  4. For the list of deputies see Historisch-Biographisches Lexikon der Schweiz , p. 169 and Oechsli, pp. 420–422 and Es Werde St. Gallen! , P. 80.

See also


  • Historisch-Biographisches Lexikon der Schweiz , Vol. 4, Neuchâtel 1927, p. 169.
  • Wilhelm Oechsli : History of Switzerland in the Nineteenth Century. Vol. 1: Switzerland under French protectorate 1798–1813 . (State history of the latest time, vol. 29). S. Hirzel, Leipzig 1903.
  • Let it be St. Gallen! Revolution, Helvetic, mediation and founding of the cantons 1793–1803 . Office for Culture of the Canton of St. Gallen, St. Gallen 2003, ISBN 3-908048-42-7 .

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