Helvetic Republic

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Helvetic Republic (German)
République helvétique (French)
Repubblica elvetica (Italian)
Flag and coat of arms of Switzerland
Official language German , French , Italian ,
capital city de jure: Luzern
de facto Aarau (1798), Luzern (1798) and Bern (1802) one after the other
Head of state Landammann
Head of government Executive Board (1798–1800), Provisional Executive Committee (1800), Executive Council (1800–1803)
population 1,493,726 (1,800)
currency Francs ("franc de Suisse")
founding 1798
resolution 1803
Helvetic Republic 1798
Helvetic Republic 1798

The Helvetic Republic ( French République helvétique, Italian Repubblica elvetica ) was a subsidiary republic established on the soil of the Old Confederation through French revolutionary exports , which was proclaimed on April 12, 1798 and dissolved on March 10, 1803. This section of Swiss history is also called Helvetic . The designation of Switzerland as «Helvetia» was based on the ancient Celtic people of the Helvetii, in keeping with the zeitgeist of the time .


Situation before the revolution

Map of the Old Confederation 1789
Frédéric-César Laharpe , educator of Tsar Alexander I and patriot of the Vaudois
Portrait of General Napoleon Bonaparte 1797
Peter Ochs from Basel in the official costume of a Swiss director

Relations between the Confederation and France were extremely good and intensive in the 18th century . On the basis of international treaties, around 25,000 Swiss people served in foreign regiments in the royal French army, and the Swiss Confederation enjoyed privileged access to the French market and received discounted deliveries of salt and grain. The alliance with France also contained a defensive alliance that guaranteed the neutral Confederation French aid in the event of war. At the time of Louis XVI. this connection seemed closer than ever. In 1777 France renewed the pay alliance - for the first time with all cantons - for fifty years.

Although the relationship officially did not include Switzerland's dependence on France, France's financial and political influence on Swiss politics in the 18th century was so dominant that the Confederation can almost be described as a French client state. The Swiss aristocracy and the patriciate maintained close ties to France, and numerous Swiss were elevated to the French nobility and attained the highest positions in the French economy and administration as well as in the military. French culture and intellectual life also had a strong influence on Switzerland, so that the ideas of the Enlightenment also spread in Switzerland. Through the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi , Switzerland also aroused great interest in France.

Accordingly, the French Revolution received a lot of attention in Switzerland and aroused hopes for a reform of the existing rulership in the various states of the Old Confederation in enlightened and politically or economically disadvantaged sections of the population. The situation in the Old Confederation remained relatively calm until 1797, despite the agitation of the supporters of the revolution, who are known as patriots . The main concerns of the patriots were the abolition of the privileges of the ruling families, the relationships of subjects, feudalism , the introduction of modern constitutions, economic freedom, freedom of opinion and trade. In the individual village or common rulers, the subjects demanded autonomy or independence, especially in the areas of Vaud and Aargau that were ruled by Bern.

The Enlightenment Helvetic Society also called for steps towards national unity in political, economic and military terms. However, the reputation of the French Revolution also declined in Swiss patriots in the face of atrocities of Tuileriensturms , the September massacres and the reign of terror of the Jacobins . In the Catholic towns, the bitterness over the end of the lucrative mercenary system and the anti-clerical measures of the revolutionary government was particularly pronounced.

While the enlightened elite interpreted this escalation as a result of the mistakes of the aristocracy and the inability to reform of the ancien régime , the ruling aristocracy saw its uncompromising attitude towards reform requests confirmed, as they interpreted the revolution as a result of the weakness of the ruling system in France. Reforms therefore failed to materialize; rather, even modest demands were violently suppressed.

The subjects of the cities of Bern (unrest after the federation festival in 1791), Zurich ( Stäfner Handel 1795) and Schaffhausen (peasant uprising 1790) as well as the Lower Valais (uprising 1790) were put in their place when they called the "gracious gentlemen" Tackled reforms. An exception was the prince abbey of St. Gallen , where the subjects were granted extensive concessions in 1795 and 1797, such as the creation of a representative body. A strengthening of the common alliance of the federal places to ward off the French threat did not materialize either. Conversely, in France, the propaganda of the emigrated patriots, who had met in the “Swiss Club” since 1790, and the accommodation of French refugees gave the impression that the Confederation was a refuge for the counter-revolution.

The first areas of present-day Switzerland to be affected by the revolution were the Duchy of Basel and the city republic of Geneva . The Principality of Basel was occupied by Austrian troops on March 20, 1791 at the request of the bishop. For this reason, after the start of the war against Austria on April 29, 1792, the French army occupied the northern part of the diocese, which legally belonged to the Holy Roman Empire . In December 1792, the Raurak Republic was founded on the northern territory of the principality, modeled on France, but was annexed by France as early as 1793.

In October 1792 the Directory tried to occupy the city of Geneva as well. Thanks to the military intervention of Bern and Zurich, however, the occupation was averted and France recognized Geneva's independence, albeit only against the assurance that no more federal troops would be transferred to Geneva. As soon as the troops from Zurich and Bern had withdrawn, the revolution broke out in Geneva with French support. After a disorderly and violent first phase, the Republic of Geneva adopted a democratic constitution in 1796.

The impetus for the overthrow of the Ancien Régime in the Confederation was ultimately France's strategic interest in what is now Switzerland. On the one hand, after the Treaty of Basel in 1795 with Prussia , France was no longer interested in the neutrality of Switzerland, since it could now concentrate all its energies on the war with Austria . On the other hand, the Confederation hosted numerous French emigrants and was a source of growing counter-revolutionary propaganda and activities right on the French border. The French directorate therefore planned to transform Switzerland into a French subsidiary republic similar to the Netherlands ( Batavian Republic ) or northern Italy ( Cisalpine Republic ) in order to integrate it into the French sphere of influence.

With the Peace of Campo Formio , which ended the First Coalition War in October 1797 , all areas of the Holy Roman Empire on the left bank of the Rhine fell to France, which also sanctioned the annexation of the territories of the Principality of Basel as the Département du Mont Terrible by France. The subject areas of the Drei Bünde in Valtellina joined the Cisalpine Republic in 1797 because they were denied equal rights. In view of the predominance of France, the confederations and the Swiss Confederation had no choice but to accept the loss of territory under protest.

The fall of the Ennetbirgischen bailiwicks in Ticino also seemed to be only a matter of time. At the same time, France began to exert diplomatic pressure on the Confederation and to support the patriots through money and propaganda. This was reinforced by the numerous supporters of the revolution who had fled the Confederation to France since 1789, among whom the Vaudois patriot Frédéric-César Laharpe played a leading role.

In November, the French General Napoléon Bonaparte , who was victorious in Italy, went on a reconnaissance trip through Switzerland when he was traveling to the Rastatt Congress . His triumphant reception in Vaud and his impressions in Bern and Basel are said to have confirmed that Switzerland was ripe for the revolution. France then invited the Basel guild master Peter Ochs , who had brokered the peace of Basel, to Paris for talks about a possible cession of the Fricktal .

After various discussions between the director Jean François Reubell , Bonaparte and the foreign minister Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord with Ochs and Laharpe, the board of directors decided in December to transform the Swiss Confederation into a republic based on the French model. Ochs was commissioned to draft a constitution for a "Helvetic" republic. At the same time, Napoléon transferred a division from Italy to Versoix in December in preparation for the «revolutionization» of Switzerland and left the southern part of the former duchy of Basel, Moutier , Erguel , Montagne de Diesse and Biel between December 13 and 16, 1797 , occupy militarily. The federal allies of Biel, which is close to the town, watched it passively. France also declared itself the patron and advocate of the Vaud region.

In view of the immediate threat to federal territory, the federal envoys met at the invitation of the suburb of Zurich on December 26, 1797 in Aarau for an extraordinary meeting . In addition to the 13 cantons, only the cities and prince abbey of St. Gallen, Valais and Biel sent a representative. The city of Mulhouse was already expecting the annexation to France and decided not to participate. The Diet decided to send envoys to the Rastatt Congress and to urge the French troops to withdraw from the Jura. In order to demonstrate strength to the outside world, for the first time since the time of the Reformation, a joint evocation of the old leagues was decided at the end of the daily statute on January 25th. In the open air, in front of around 25,000 spectators, shortly before the downfall and even without the representatives of Basel, the ambassadors swore the old leagues and then parted without any concrete military decisions. This symbolic act only inadequately concealed the obvious helplessness of the Ancien Régime in relation to the impending developments and certainly did not have the dissuasive effect that had been hoped for.

Helvetic Revolution and French invasion in 1798

The Helvetic Revolution and the " French invasion" of 1797/98
Wilhelm Tell fights the chimerical revolution. Allegorical representation of the fall of the Old Confederation by Balthasar Anton Dunker , 1798

The revolution began in the ruled area of ​​the city of Basel . In Liestal , a freedom tree was erected on January 17, 1798 , and the subjects stormed the castles, the seats of the town bailiffs. The city government abdicated, and on February 5, the Basel National Assembly met as the first revolutionary parliament in Switzerland.

When the French general Philippe Romain Ménard, advancing with French troops to the Bernese border, promised support for the Vaudois patriots in a proclamation, the Lemanic Republic was proclaimed in Vaud on January 24 and the secession from Bern initiated. There were also riots in Lower Valais . In Freiburg , Bern , Solothurn , Schaffhausen and, most recently, Zurich , the governments responded to the demands of the subjects, began with constitutional revisions and accepted popular sovereignty and equal rights for the countryside as the basis of the reform.

In February most of the common lordships and other subject areas declared themselves free and were released from the former ruling places into independence: Lower Valais and Toggenburg on February 1st; Sax on February 5th; the old landscape of St. Gallen on February 4th; Lugano , Mendrisio , Locarno and the Maggia Valley on February 15th; of Thurgau on March 3; the Rhine Valley and Sargans on March 5th; Werdenberg on March 11; the Unteraargau , the Freiamt and Baden on 19./28. March; the Leventina , Bellinzona , Blenio and the Riviera on April 4th.

Within a few weeks, the old Swiss Confederation changed radically. The various former subject areas declared themselves sovereign cantons and wished to be incorporated into the Confederation by the Thirteen Old Places . The French Directory, however, did not want an expansion of the Old Confederation , but a unified republic based on the French model. This wish was met by the Helvetic Unified Constitution presented by Ochs in mid-January, which was printed in France and circulated throughout the Confederation at the beginning of February.

The constitution was vehemently rejected by conservative and federalist circles, however, and referred to as the “little ox box”. Because they took no account of Swiss peculiarities and was perceived as a French dictation, they even rejected many patriots. The unitary state and the centralized bureaucracy, which stood in opposition to traditional Swiss communal autonomy and regional independence, were particularly strongly criticized.

Proposal for the reorganization of Switzerland as the Helvetic Republic of January 15, 1798 with the planned cantons of Sargans , Bellinzona and Lugano
Celebration of the unification of the city and countryside of Basel around the tree of freedom on the Basel Münsterplatz on January 20, 1798. The erection of the tree of freedom became a symbolic act of liberation in all former subject areas of Switzerland.

In the meantime, Vaud had been occupied by French troops on January 28th under the pretext of protecting the Lemanic Republic against Bern. The Bernese troops under General Franz Rudolf von Weiss , which were mobilized too late , withdrew without a fight. On March 1st, Generals Brune and Schauenburg advanced on the orders of the Directory with their troops from the Jura and Vaud towards Bern, which the Directory saw as the core of the opposition to the unified constitution.

In Paris , the government apparently made the definitive decision in February to advance the revolution in Switzerland with military intervention. Major General Karl Ludwig von Erlach , who received the supreme command of Bern's Defense Army, was severely hindered in his efforts by intrigues and interventions in the Bern War Council, as the government and opposition circles within the patriciate were simultaneously negotiating a change of government with Brune over his head. When French troops advanced against Solothurn and Freiburg on March 2, both cities surrendered without a fight, leaving Bern alone in a decisively deteriorated strategic position.

The French army, with around 35,000 men, faced the significantly weaker Bernese contingent of around 25,000 men, of which 4,100 were auxiliary troops. Small immigrants from Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Lucerne, Glarus, Zug, Zurich, St. Gallen and Appenzell Ausserrhoden arrived late - a total of around 1,440 men. Even a change of government in Bern in favor of a provisional government under Karl Albrecht von Frisching could not avert a confrontation in view of Brune's demand to subject the city of Bern to French occupation. Bern's resistance was violently broken at Fraubrunnen and in Grauholz ; the Bernese victory at Neuenegg had no effect. On March 5th, French troops occupied the city of Bern.

In Swiss historiography, Bern's resistance was mostly recognized as "saving Switzerland's honor". The downfall of Bern was also seen as the ultimate proof that the Ancien Régime in Switzerland was rotten and no longer viable. While conservative authors like Richard Feller emphasize that the military intervention in Switzerland took place mainly because France wanted to get hold of the rich Bernese treasury - around 10.5 million pounds in cash and 18 million livres in bonds were received into the hands of General Brune, from the rest of Switzerland another 16 million francs in contributions were collected by April - other authors see the military-strategic necessity and the French need for security as decisive.

Struggle for the new state order 1798

Proposal for the division of Switzerland into three republics from 16./19. March 1798 ( Guillaume Brune )

A complicated dispute broke out between January and March 1798 over the new constitution of Switzerland. In addition to the uniform constitution approved in Paris, other draft constitution circulated in the cantons, which provided for more or less autonomy for the cantons as well as different demarcations. The Directory therefore ordered General Brune on January 27th to split up the Confederation, primarily to secure the connection between France and Northern Italy via the Simplon and Great St. Bernard passes .

With a proclamation on March 16, Brune founded the Rhodan Republic, consisting of Vaud, Friborg, the Bernese Seeland , the Bernese Oberland , the Valais and Ticino ; The capital should be Lausanne . According to a further proclamation of March 19, the rest of the Confederation was to form two states: The Helvetic Republic of twelve cantons with the capital Aarau and the "Tellgau", consisting of central Switzerland and Graubünden. The area of ​​the Rhodan Republic was probably intended for later annexation to France.

On the intervention of Laharpe in Paris, the board of directors finally decided against the partition plan, which is why Brune revoked the partition on March 22nd. At the end of March Brune handed over the supreme command in Switzerland to General Schauenburg. The French directorate sent the government commissioner Marie Jean François Philibert Lecarlier as governor in Switzerland . On taking office on March 28, he announced to Switzerland that the Paris draft of the Helvetic Constitution was binding and ordered the immediate constitution of the Helvetic Republic.

On April 12, under pressure from the French occupation, 121 deputies from the cantons of Aargau, Basel, Bern, Freiburg, Léman, Lucerne, Oberland, Schaffhausen, Solothurn and Zurich met in the provisional capital of Aarau and constituted the Helvetic Republic. The cantons of Inner and Eastern Switzerland refused to join. The national colors were set to green, red and yellow. The first Helvetic Directory , the government, consisted of Johann Lukas Legrand , Pierre-Maurice Glayre , Urs Viktor Oberlin , David Ludwig Bay and Alphons Pfyffer . Through clever tactics in the elections, the moderate Republicans were able to win all the seats for themselves; the patriots Ochs and Laharpe were not elected. The position of the Directory was weakened from the start, as the Patriots did not support the Directory and used their good contacts with the French to undermine Republican policies.

" L'or de la Suisse achètera l'Egypte ". French caricature from 1798 on the financing of the Egypt campaign through the pillage of the Confederation
The people of the city of Zurich swear their citizens' oath on the Helvetic Constitution

When the Helvetic Republic was constituted, the lack of unity between the cantons had already become evident. The rural parish cantons did not want to sacrifice their sovereignty, the numerous small eastern Swiss cantons and republics that were only released during the Helvetic Revolution held on to the freedom they had just gained, and the old republics of Valais and the Three Leagues no longer saw themselves as part of the Confederation .

In the Catholic areas in particular, the population rejected the Helvetic Constitution as a “little book of hell” because of anti-church measures. The patrician families feared losing their political influence, but also their income, which was mainly fed from the pensions of the mercenaries and the income from the subject areas.

Alois von Reding , Governor of Schwyz, leading representative of the federalists

In response to the initially peaceful efforts of the French envoys and the representatives of the Helvetic Republic, only Obwalden and, after a twelve-day ultimatum on April 11, 1798, also the eastern Swiss states (except the Free State of the Three Leagues) joined the republic. Uri , Schwyz , Zug and Nidwalden then went on to attack under the command of the Schwyz Governor Alois von Reding and were able to advance into Freiamt , Rapperswil , Lucerne and over the Brünig Pass.

When General Schauenburg launched a counterattack, the resistance was broken after three days. Despite military successes at Rothenthurm, Reding had to consent to an honorable surrender on May 4, 1798. The resistance of the Valais was also broken by French troops on May 17th. The Swiss cantons of Bellinzona and Lugano were then constituted in the former Ennetbirgische Vogteien in Ticino in July and August.

Historical map of the Helvetic Republic from 1798. The new borders of the cantons are printed on an older map

The original division of the cantons of the Helvetic Republic was revised again after the resistance of central Switzerland. On May 2, 1798, on the proposal of Konrad Escher, the Grand Council decided to create the cantons of Waldstätte, Säntis and Linth. According to the proclamation of the new French government commissioner Jean-Jacques Rapinat to General Schauenburg on May 4, 1798, after their violent conquest, Uri, Schwyz, Zug and Unterwalden became the canton Waldstätte , Glarus with the Sarganserland , the March and parts of the Rhine valley became the canton Linth and both Appenzell combined with St. Gallen to form the canton of Säntis .

The political weight of the rural cantons regarded as anti-constitutional was reduced from 48 to 12 in the Senate and from 40 to 15 in the Grand Council. The further weakening of Bern through the establishment of a canton of Oberland was the only innovation that was written into the Helvetic Constitution by Lecarlier compared to the Paris draft .

Relationship with France and problems of the Helvetic Republic

Caricature of the Helvetic Revolution: While the population of Zurich is dancing around the tree of freedom, the French are removing the state treasure (1848)

The biggest problem for the Helvetic Republic from the beginning to the end was its dependence on France. Depending on their foreign policy interests, the French rulers promoted either the centralized or federal interest groups in the country. As long as France was in the struggle for hegemony in Europe, the Unitarians were supported, who were dependent on the support of the French occupation army for their radical policy in favor of the unified state. After Napoleon secured Central Europe, he promoted the federalists in order to calm Switzerland politically, thereby inflicting the death blow on the Helvetic Republic.

One of the greatest challenges for the republic from the start was the financing of the state apparatus, which was unusually large for Switzerland at the time, and the French occupation costs. France had not only confiscated the entire state assets of the republics of Bern, Friborg, Solothurn, Lucerne and Zurich, as well as their entire arsenal In addition, a further 16 million francs had to be paid as formal war tax, which the patriciate was supposed to raise.

With the campaign in Switzerland - according to French calculations - the French state is said to have collected the sum of 20 million francs, which was enormous for the time. This does not include the costs of billeting, looting, embezzlement and bribes. Most of the money flowed directly into the financing of the Egypt campaign . Because of the burdens of the occupation, there was constant tension between the Helvetian directorate and the French commissioner Jean-Jacques Rapinat . In June, therefore, at his pressure, the directors Bay and Pfyffer were dismissed and replaced by Laharpe and Ochs, who were devoted to France.

The relationship between the Helvetic Republic and France was finally regulated by a formal alliance agreement on August 19, 1798. Both states committed themselves to mutual defensive and offensive support - the de facto neutrality of Switzerland under French protection of the 17th and 18th centuries. The century definitely ended there. France was assured of free use of the military roads through the Valais over the Simplon Pass and along the Rhine and Lake Constance in times of war and peace.

France undertook to supply the Helvetic Republic with salt , to guarantee its national territory and its constitution and - in secret additional articles - to unite the Fricktal , Raetia and Vorarlberg with it. The occupation forces were to be withdrawn three months after the ratification of the treaty. After the exchange of the ratification documents on September 19, 1798, the Helvetic Republic was diplomatically recognized by all states allied with France as well as by Spain .

Submission of Nidwalden and Second Coalition War 1799

The Roman Emperor Franz II , shown here as Emperor Franz I of Austria (1832)

The Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire , the Habsburg Franz II , did not recognize the Helvetic Republic, which had become a French vassal state through the Alliance Treaty. For this reason, all enemies of the Helvetic Republic, both the conservative aristocrats and patricians, as well as disgusted liberal federalists, fled into the Habsburg sphere of influence and tried to organize the resistance from exile. Habsburg money was used primarily for agitation in eastern Switzerland. The plan of the exiles was aimed at getting the Three Leagues not yet affiliated to the Helvetic Republic to appeal to the emperor for protection from France. Then the Swiss should rise and with the help of Habsburg troops liberate the country and restore the old order.

In August 1798 the agitation began to bear fruit. Since July 12th, the legal obligation was that every citizen of the republic had to swear an oath on the constitution, in which he vowed to serve the fatherland and the cause of freedom and equality faithfully. In almost all cantons the oath was taken publicly without resistance, only in Schwyz and Nidwalden some of the people refused because of the agitation of the church and the exiles and began the uprising against the republic on August 18th - relying on help from Habsburg.

After failed attempts at mediation, French troops marched into central Switzerland for the second time on September 9 and broke the resistance with extreme severity (→ Dread Days of Nidwalden ). Subsequently, all remaining special rights of central Switzerland were abolished, and the Helvetian councilors moved to the constitutional capital of Lucerne in October 1798 .

The situation in the Three Leagues also escalated in August. Due to the influence of the Habsburgs, the Catholic Church and the patrician families, a vote among the high courts of the Three Leagues on July 29th showed that only 11 high courts had voted in favor of joining the Helvetic Republic, but 34 clearly against. 16 wanted the connection to be postponed until the situation in the Helvetic Republic was clarified. The patriots now began to erect trees of freedom in the revolutionary-minded courts. The courts of Maienfeld and Malans , a common subject area of ​​the Bünde, requested admission to the Helvetic Republic. The government of the Three Leagues then called the emperor for help, and Austrian troops occupied the country on October 18, 1798. The patriots had to flee to the Helvetic Republic.

The French general André Masséna

In the meantime a war began in Italy between France and the allies Sardinia-Piedmont and Naples . At the end of October 1798, France asked the Helvetic Republic to provide 18,000 auxiliary troops. However, the new commander of the French army in Helvetia, André Masséna , had great difficulties recruiting this force because the Helvetian authorities were trying to set up their own army at the same time - therefore never more than 4,000 men came together. In March 1799 France opened the Second Coalition War against the Habsburg lands. The French generals Masséna and Demont occupied the Three Leagues, and on March 29th the provisional government of the returned Grisons patriots asked the Helvetic Republic to annex it, which took place on April 21st.

The «poet general» of the Helvetic Republic, Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis

After the defeats of France in Germany and Italy in March / April 1799, the strategic situation suddenly changed to the disadvantage of the Helvetic Republic. The coalition troops advanced simultaneously from the south, east and north against the Alpine passes. On April 13, the Habsburg-Austrian troops occupied Schaffhausen , but did not cross the Rhine for the time being. The Helvetic authorities began feverishly to build up the Helvetic Army and to raise the necessary financial resources. Augustin Keller was appointed general of the Helvetic troops and Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis was appointed chief of staff.

By April 20, around 22,000 Swiss troops had gathered, but they were poorly equipped and untrained. For the time being, however, the Directory did not receive permission from the councils to declare war on Habsburg Austria, as a relatively large faction still hoped to avoid the conflict.

The proximity of the enemy troops, to which the Old Helvetian Legion , a corps of Swiss emigrants under Alexandre de Rovéréa , was affiliated, motivated the forces hostile to the republic to counter-revolutionary uprisings in the summer of 1799, for example in the cantons of Säntis, Linth, Lucerne, Friborg, Solothurn, Oberland and Aargau. In Uri and Schwyz the people rose again as in Ticino and Graubünden, most recently in Valais. The Directory had to call again for French troops, who, under Lieutenant Colonel Nicolas-Jean de Dieu Soult, quickly put down all uprisings. Fierce fighting in Upper Valais, Urseren and Disentis once again devastated entire regions.

General Masséna had a total of 60,000 French troops in Helvetia who were distributed along the Rhine - apart from Soults around 10,000 men, with whom the internal order was maintained. On the other side of the Rhine were three armies with around 100,000 men under the commanders Karl von Österreich-Teschen , Friedrich von Hotze and Heinrich von Bellegarde . The Austrians opened the battle for Switzerland on April 30th. First they conquered Graubünden, then Eastern Switzerland and threw the French back on Zurich.

After the First Battle of Zurich on June 4, 1799, Masséna had to withdraw, the Austrians also occupied Central Switzerland, Ticino and Upper Valais. In the wake of the imperial troops, the emigrants returned to the "liberated" areas and tried to restore their lost rule, for example Prince Abbot Pankraz Forster in St. Gallen. The spiritual leader of the restorative forces was the Bern constitutional lawyer Karl Ludwig von Haller . A revised constitution for the Confederation published by him provided for a restoration of the sovereignty of the Thirteen Places and the Subject Areas. However, the confederation of states was to receive stronger central power than before 1798. Naturally, these plans met with little approval in the former subject areas liberated from the revolution, and the uprising of the free Swiss against the French occupation hoped for by Austria did not materialize.

The army of the Russian general Suvorov crosses the Alps. Heroic representation from Russia (1899)

The Helvetic Republic found itself in distress due to the threatened French defeat. The Helvetic Army dissolved in the chaos of the retreat after the First Battle of Zurich. Only the troops from the Austrian-occupied cantons of Thurgau, Säntis and Zurich stayed with the flag. On June 25, the Helvetian directorate forced Peter Ochs to resign because he was considered a partisan of France. It was hoped that this step would allow France and the coalition to grant neutrality at the last minute.

However, the tide turned again in France's favor on August 13th. General Masséna started a counterstrike, drove the Austrian troops out of eastern Switzerland within four days and occupied the Gotthard region and the Glarus region. The coalition planned to destroy Masséna by means of a concentric attack: the Russian generals Korsakov and Suworow marched against Switzerland from the north and south , while in the east Hotze was waiting for the Russians to arrive in the Linth region in order to also strike at the crucial moment. Masséna beat the coalition with a counterattack. On 25/26 August Hotze were defeated at Schänis and Korsakow in the Second Battle of Zurich . Suworow managed to cross the Gotthard Pass with heavy losses, but he had to rescue his army from Altdorf over the Pragel Pass and the Panixer Pass into the Austrian-occupied Graubünden and finally evacuate this too.

The Second Coalition War had brought the Helvetic Republic to the limits of its capabilities. Although the trees of freedom were erected everywhere after the French reconquest, enthusiasm was limited in view of the enormous war damage and renewed contributions. General Masséna spent the winter in eastern Switzerland with his entire army. The well-documented war burdens of the Urserental have become famous: in the summer / autumn of 1799, 1,034 inhabitants of the valley experienced a total of 48,044 overnight stays by officers and 913,731 overnight stays by soldiers from all warring parties and lost practically all of their cattle, property and supplies. In addition, there was also a bad harvest in 1799, which is why dearth, misery and despair spread. Due to a lack of tax revenue and therefore chronically empty coffers, the Helvetic government was hardly able to provide aid to the devastated cantons.

First coup on January 8, 1800

Hans Konrad Escher from Zurich, one of the leading figures of the Republicans

The shaking of the Helvetic Republic by the Second Coalition War split the supporters of the revolution into two groups. The Republicans stood next to the patriots, who saw themselves as a people's party and had their strongest support in the former subject areas of the city cantons or the common lordships. Although they advocated legal equality and the unified state, they represented the liberal, educated urban bourgeoisie. That is why they fought against universal suffrage, which they wanted to replace with census suffrage .

They also vehemently opposed all attempts by the board of directors to obtain additional funds from the cities and the bourgeoisie through special taxes in order to cope with the crisis situation. Since education had been the monopoly of the rich and powerful families in the ruling cities up to now, the republicans can be described as moderate aristocrats, because their most important exponents all came from the circle of noble and wealthy families, such as Hans Konrad Escher , Paul Usteri , Albrecht Rengger , Bernhard Friedrich Kuhn .

Paul Usteri , editor of
The Republicans magazine

After Napoleon's elevation to 1st consul in December 1799, France withdrew support from the radical patriots and turned to the moderate republicans. On January 7, 1800, the Republicans succeeded in getting through a resolution in both chambers of the Helvetic Parliament, with which the directors Laharpe, Oberlin and Secrétan were removed and the board of directors was abolished as an institution altogether. In its place came after the coup a provisional executive committee consisting of the former directors Glayre, Dolder and Savary, the former Minister Finsler and three representatives of the Republicans, Karl Albrecht von Frisching , Karl von Müller-Friedberg and Carl Heinrich Gschwend .

The overthrow of the patriots temporarily calmed the political situation. A political amnesty made it possible for the emigrants to return, which strengthened the reactionary forces. With regard to France, the Executive Committee insisted strongly on the recognition of neutrality and the payment of the costs caused by the French army. In the further course of the war, the Helvetic Republic was at least spared combat operations and received back Schaffhausen, Ticino and Graubünden from the regions that were recaptured by France until the summer.

Second coup on August 7, 1800

Since the coup d'état, the government and parliament of the republic have dealt almost exclusively with the question of how the Helvetic constitution should be revised. Various drafts of the constitution made the rounds, either through a complicated electoral process over several stages, de facto disempowering the citizens or providing for a more representative system.

Since patriots and republicans could not agree in parliament, on August 7, 1800, with the support of France, the Executive Committee decreed the dissolution of parliament and the entry into force of a new constitution, which provided for a legislative council of 43 members and an executive council of 7 members. The Executive Committee appointed 35 councilors from the ranks of the dissolved parliament, which in turn appointed a further 8 members. The newly constituted council finally elected the new executive branch, which, in addition to some members of the executive committee, now included Karl Friedrich Zimmermann , Johann Jakob Schmid and Vinzenz Rüttimann .

Napoléon Bonaparte as First Consul of the French Republic. Lithograph from 1798/99

Since the coup d'état of 1800, all parties in Switzerland have tried to influence political developments in the Helvetic Republic via Paris. A distinction was now made between the parties only according to Unitarians and Federalists. While the former advocated maintaining the unified state and were more or less radical supporters of the revolution, the latter wanted to restore cantonal sovereignty and again restrict popular sovereignty in favor of the patricians.

The greatest advocate of the federalists in Paris was the French ambassador to Helvetia, Karl Friedrich Reinhard , while Pierre-Maurice Glayre represented the Unitarians and the Helvetian government. In January 1801 Albrecht Rengger brought a secret draft constitution to Glayre, which was to be presented to Napoléon. The draft continued the unified state, but with a far more complicated institutional structure. The most important innovations were a president of the executive branch and the restriction of the right to vote through a census. Napoléon did not go into this for the time being, however, as he was busy with the warfare and had every interest in not strengthening the Helvetian government too much.

On February 9, 1801, the Second Coalition War ended with the Peace of Lunéville . The peace conditions forced Austria to recognize the Helvetic Republic. In addition, France was granted the right to dispose of its constitution in secret additional articles. The territorial wishes of the Helvetic government were not taken into account, but Napoléon let Austria cede the Fricktal , which he wanted to exchange for the Valais. With the construction of a new military road over the Simplon Pass, Napoléon intended to secure French interests in northern Italy. As a further incentive for the exchange, the Helvetic Republic was given the prospect of recognition of its neutrality by France.

Malmaison Constitution 1801

The Malmaison Castle , private residence of Napoleon and temporarily headquarters of the French Government 1799-1802

On April 29, 1801, Napoléon received Pierre-Maurice Glayre and Philipp Albert Stapfer at Malmaison Castle for a discussion about the future constitution of the Helvetic Republic. Napoléon rejected the Swiss government's draft constitution and, after brief negotiations, handed the two envoys a self-drafted constitution on May 9, which they had to deliver to their government as an ultimatum. This so-called "Constitution of Malmaison" confirmed the unity of the Helvetic Republic, but at the same time gave it the structure of a federal state .

In addition to the central power, 17 cantons were planned to shape their internal constitutions themselves. The central power consisted of a Diet and a Senate. The assembly consisted of 77 representatives from the cantons, who were represented according to their population. The Senate of 25 members was to be elected by the Diet and constituted the executive as well as the legislative power. Two Landammans presided over the Senate; a four-member small council, chaired by the alternate governors, formed the executive branch. The Diet actually only came into action when a Senate bill had not been accepted by more than 12 cantons.

The federal level was entitled to greater police power , military sovereignty , foreign policy, education, civil and criminal law, the salt, post, mountain, customs and coin shelves. The constitutions of the cantons were not regulated in more detail, except that a governor to be elected by the ruling mayor should be at their head. Compared to the First Helvetic Constitution, the Malmaison Constitution was a victory for the federalists. As a special concession, the canton of Waldstätte was also divided back into the four original cantons. As a “bitter pill”, the Valais was no longer listed among the cantons, but intended for annexation to France. The Fricktal , which Austria had ceded to France, was supposed to serve as compensation . Finally, the general right to vote was restricted to the extent that minimum assets were set for eligibility for the institutions.

Limits of the cantons according to the provisional constitution of Malmaison
Pierre-Maurice Glayre , leading Unitarian from Vaud

The Legislative Council of the Helvetic Republic was de facto forced to approve Napoleon's draft on May 29th after a few days of secret deliberations. However, the federalists and the conservative forces were disappointed with the new constitution. They had hoped for an extensive restoration of the conditions before 1798, in particular a complete restoration of the sovereignty of the cantons, the Bernese even the recovery of Vaud and Aargau.

In July, elections were held in all cantons for the planned cantonal meetings. The election was indirect, with one voter for every 100 active citizens. A restriction of the right to vote through a census of 4,000 francs failed due to the resistance of the patriots. As a result, constitutions were discussed and introduced in almost all cantons with more or less problems. The main point of contention in the urban cantons was the weighting of the influence of the cities in relation to the rural population. The elections for the Diet of the Republic resulted in a victory for the Unitarians, who received almost two-thirds of the 77 seats. The rest went to the patriots and a few conservatives.

Third coup on 27./28. October 1801

Standard bearer with the Swiss tricolor

The Diet met for the first time in Bern on September 7, 1801 and immediately began to revise the Malmaison constitution in the interests of the Unitarians and Patriots. This annoyed Napoléon, especially since the Valais was reinserted into the ranks of the cantons. The federalists entered the opposition with the support of Paris, so that the members of nine cantons withdrew from the parliament by September 17.

Finally, with the support of the new French envoy in Switzerland, Raymond Verninac , and the commanding general of the French army in Helvetia, Monchoisy, the federalists succeeded in taking power in Bern on October 27-28, 1801 with a coup d'état. The Diet, the Executive Council and the Legislative Council were dissolved, and government power was provisionally transferred to the federalists Dolder and Savary. All constitutional amendments were declared invalid, and the 25-member Senate provided for in the Napoleonic constitution was almost entirely made up of federalists.

The federalists were not able to destroy the unitary state for the time being, but they cleared the administration at all levels of the Unitarians and Republicans. Alois Reding , aristocrat and hero of the resistance against France in central Switzerland, was appointed First Landammann. The second Landammann was the Bernese aristocrat Johann Rudolf von Frisching - the two symbolized the coming together of the conservative-minded rural and urban elites against the revolution.

Napoléon refused to recognize the new government of the Helvetic Republic. Reding and Frisching represented aristocratic Switzerland in principle and had been hostile to France in the past. Reding therefore traveled personally to Paris and submitted the demands and concerns of the federalists to the First Consul of France. Napoléon received Reding and even promised him that he would respond to his concerns on some points (cession of the Fricktal, reunification of the southern Jura valleys with Helvetia, creation of 23 new cantons, granting of neutrality), but he asked for six to be accepted in exchange Unitarians in the Small Council.

Map of the Helvetic Republic with the cantons according to the federal constitution of February 27, 1802

Although six Unitarians were finally admitted to the Small Council, the Federalists and Conservatives remained clearly in the majority. In the spring, the Minor Council and the Senate discussed a draft constitution by David von Wyss , which was based on the Malmaison constitution, but changed it in several points in the interests of the federalists. Freedom of establishment was restricted again, Swiss citizenship was replaced by cantonal and communal citizenship, the census was increased significantly and uniform national legislation was delegated to the cantons.

Against the strong resistance of the Unitarians, this draft was approved by the Senate on February 27, 1802. Because the federalists were moving too far away from the revolutionary ideal and because of the ongoing dispute over the membership of the Valais, Napoléon was more and more angry with the federal government and especially Alois Reding, not least because Reding was apparently trying to get support for his in Austria To find resistance in relation to the cession of the Valais.

Fourth coup on April 17, 1802

Caricature from 1803

On April 2, 1802, a referendum took place on the federal draft constitution. However, it was not the entire citizenry that voted, but only the cantonal diets, which were determined in each canton by a twelve-member electoral commission from a list of eligible citizens of the canton. Half of the commission was appointed by the cantonal authorities and half by the Swiss Senate. This voting procedure was intended to bring about a vote in the interests of the government, since in this way only representatives of the federalists should have been elected to the parliamentary statutes.

Nevertheless, only Appenzell, Baden, Solothurn and Zurich accepted the constitution unconditionally. Most of the cantons agreed in principle, but demanded major changes (Basel, Bern, Freiburg, Glarus, Schaffhausen, Schwyz and Waadt), rejected them completely (Aargau, Lucerne, St. Gallen, Ticino, Thurgau, Zug) or did not introduce any timely coordination achieved (Graubünden, Uri, Unterwalden). This unclear result meant the end of the federal government.

The Unitarians took advantage of the absence of many Catholic federalists over Easter 1802 for another coup. On April 17, 1802, on the initiative of Bernhard Friedrich Kuhn , six members of the Small Council decided to postpone the Senate and set up an assembly of notables to resolve the constitutional question in the interests of the Unitarians. Hirzel , Escher and Frisching therefore resigned from their offices. After his return to Bern, Reding was relieved of his office and replaced by Vinzenz Rüttimann .

Second Helvetic Constitution 1802

Vinzenz Rüttimann , the new strong man of the Helvetic Republic in 1802
«The political swing». Contemporary caricature: While the First Consul, as a mediator, occupied the aristocratic-federal and revolutionary-Unitarian buffoons on the “political swing”, he tore the strategically important Valais under the nail

On April 30, 1802, the assembly of notaries met to deliberate on the new constitution as planned. Since Albrecht Rengger and the French ambassador Raymond de Verninac had already agreed on a draft, the assembly had no choice but to approve it. This second constitution of the Helvetic Republic, also known as the “Constitution of the Notables”, was based, as required, on the Napoleonic draft constitution by Malmaison. In the original, it bears the title “Staatsgrundgesetz Helvetiens” in German.

The number of cantons was set at 18, the Senate and the Diet were retained. There should be one member of the Assembly for every 25,000 citizens, but at least one per canton. The division of the cantons was adopted from Malmaison's draft, but Thurgau and Schaffhausen were separated and Zug was expanded to include the upper Freiamt. The cantons of Linth and Säntis were to be renamed Appenzell and Glarus.

The electoral process was very complicated and therefore rather undemocratic. Each canton received two electoral corps, one proposing and one nominating. The members of the appointing corps were determined for life, the first time by the Senate, later this corps was supposed to complement itself. Only citizens with a certain amount of real estate were eligible for the proposing corps.

The actual election then proceeded in such a way that the active citizens put together a list of eligible candidates, from which the proposing corps proposed some for election, of which the appointing corps in turn nominated the suitable candidates for five years in the Diet. Long terms in office should ensure continuity. An executive council was provided as the executive, consisting of a governor, two governors and five state secretaries. The executive's term of office was nine years. The cantons were given some competencies without, however, weakening the central state too much: They were allowed to determine their own constitution, supervise the elementary school and pay the clergy and maintain the infrastructure. Furthermore, in the legal area, some competences should be transferred to the cantons.

The Minor Council submitted the Second Helvetic Constitution, including a list of the names of 27 senators, to the people for a vote on May 25. This is considered to be the first real referendum on what is now Switzerland. All citizens had to answer “yes” or “no” to the submission within four days. Those who did not vote were rated as adopters according to the legal principle “ qui tacet consentire videtur ” - “whoever remains silent seems to agree”. Sixteen cantons finally approved the constitution, but only 72,453 had explicitly voted “Yes”.

167,172 citizens had not voted at all - but were rated as accepting and 92,423 had rejected it. On July 2, 1802, the Minor Council declared the new constitution to be adopted. The Senate met the following day and appointed the executive branch. The federalist Johann Rudolf Dolder was appointed Landammann through the influence of the French envoy, and the two Unitarians Rüttimann and Füssli were used as a counterbalance as governors.

The newly constituted republic had to start resolving the urgent problems with France immediately. In contrast to the Reding government, the new Executive Committee was recognized immediately. A compromise was found on the question of Valais, which consisted in the fact that Napoléon no longer insisted on a cession to France, but was also satisfied with the establishment of an independent Republic of Valais under French and Swiss protection. In return, the Helvetic Republic only received the Fricktal in exchange and not, as originally planned, the southern Jura with Biel.

Finally, the financial rehabilitation of the republic had to be taken by hand. In addition, since the repeal of the feudal burden law on September 15, 1800, the old land rate had actually been reintroduced. The receipt of the income only created further problems. In parts of Switzerland, the farmers, the main victims, went into open rioting in the spring of 1802 and stormed the castles like in 1798, now to destroy the old documents in which the medieval and early modern land interest rates were recorded (→ Bourla-Papey ). In any case, in the spring of 1802 it was still unclear at what price the old basic loads should be replaced.

Disintegration of the Helvetic Republic in the "Stecklikkrieg"

The second bombardment of the city of Zurich by Swiss troops under General Andermatt on the night of September 12th to 13th, 1802
The second bombardment of the city of Zurich, view from Lake Zurich of the city center and the right bank of the lake, on the right the Zurichberg

In this critical situation Napoléon announced the withdrawal of the French troops from Helvetia. Historians have repeatedly insinuated that Napoleon deliberately brought about the downfall of the Helvetic Republic. In fact, it may have played a certain role that he was very well informed about the situation in Helvetia through his secret service and that he knew exactly that the Helvetic Republic would soon get into trouble and that France could then return as a benevolent savior on request. The withdrawal, however, was related to the Peace of Lunéville , in which the independence of the Helvetic Republic was clearly agreed between the great powers. The withdrawal of the French troops was announced to the Swiss public on July 20, 1802.

In the meantime, the cantons began drafting their constitutions, which were also adopted for the cantons of Aargau, Basel, Bern, Friborg, Solothurn, Vaud, Zug and Zurich. In the other cantons, the drafting of a constitution failed due to the agitation of the reactionary elements, which felt the impetus from the withdrawal of the French. Landsgemeinden took place in central Switzerland in August, and Swiss-minded citizens were driven out of the country by terror.

The rebellious cantons simultaneously appealed to the protection of Napoleon and the Roman-German emperor. As in 1799, their leader was Alois Reding. An attempt at mediation by the French envoy Verninac came to nothing, and at the beginning of August the executive committee set troops under General Joseph Leonz Andermatt on the march against central Switzerland. Glarus and Appenzell followed the example of Central Switzerland at the end of August and reintroduced the old rural community. In Graubünden, too, the high courts met again in some districts.

The suppression of the uprising by military means initially failed when General Andermatt's small troop of 1,850 men was forced to retreat from the Rengg on the Pilatus on August 28, 1802 . He had to limit himself to protecting the city of Lucerne from the insurgents. In this situation, the Executive Council sought support from Napoleon, who it was hoped would put pressure on the opponents of the republic. In order to facilitate mediation, the Executive Council concluded a provisional armistice with the rebellious cantons on September 7th.

The apparent powerlessness of the government against the Central Swiss now called the losers of the new order on the scene across the country: the oligarchs and patricians who had forfeited their old privileges and offices, the townspeople who missed their monopolies and guilds. In August there was resistance against the Helvetic government in Zurich and tensions between the city and the countryside. When the Executive Committee appointed Friedrich May von Schadau as government commissioner and sent troops to the city of Zurich, the situation escalated: Zurich closed its gates to May, whereupon he twice, on September 10 and 13, 1802, through General Andermatt, the city with cannons shot at.

After negotiations, May finally agreed to the compromise that although he was allowed to move into his residence in the city, no troops from the countryside or other Swiss troops were allowed to enter the city. This lazy compromise and the example of Zurich's resolute resistance acted like a signal for the uprising that led to the end of the Helvetic Republic in the so-called " Stecklik War", a brief civil war in September / October 1802. In the course of September, the cantons of Säntis and Linth dissolved into a large number of republics with direct democratic rural communities, and the cantons of Thurgau, Lugano, Zug, Baden, Aargau, Basel and Schaffhausen also fell out of government. An army of insurgents gathered in Aargau and marched towards the capital Bern.

In 1803, the most prominent political leaders of the Stecklikkrieg await the result of Napoléon's mediation as prisoners at the fortress of Aarburg

In the meantime, the Swiss government dissolved in Bern. On September 14, some aristocratic and federalist senators forced the government members Dolder, Rüttimann and Füssli to resign and appointed the federalist and former Bernese general Emanuel von Wattenwyl as the new Landammann - but he immediately rejected the office and went over to the rebels. So the old government had to be brought back into office on September 16. The situation in the republic worsened even further as central Switzerland terminated the armistice on September 18 and, under the leadership of Alois Reding, the federalists now called on the whole country to overthrow Helveticia and to reestablish the old Confederation.

In this threatening situation, the Helvetic government approached Napoléon on September 17th as guarantor of the Helvetic Constitution for help. However, on September 19, under humiliating circumstances, the government had to evacuate the capital after the arrival of the insurgent army in front of Bern and to withdraw with the remaining troops from the Vaud and the Bernese countryside to Lausanne. In Bern, Basel, Lucerne, Solothurn and Zurich the old aristocratic councils met again and declared the restoration of the Ancien Régime; Bern also invited the Aargau to submit again. In a final rebellion, the Helvetic troops from Vaud and Freiburg went on the offensive, but were defeated at Faoug by the federal general Niklaus Franz von Bachmann on October 3, 1802 .

On September 18, the five cantons of Central Switzerland invited the other cantons and their former subjects to a federal meeting in Schwyz. On September 30th, the delegates from the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Glarus, Zug, Zurich, Bern, Schaffhausen, Freiburg, Solothurn, Graubünden, the city and the countryside of St. Gallen, Thurgau, Baden and the Rhine Valley declared the reconstitution of the Swiss Confederation and turned to the great powers for recognition. The Helvetic Republic finally seemed to have come to an end.

Napoleon's intervention in the autumn of 1802

Title page of the mediation act 1803

The Helvetic government asked Napoleon several times for help, and in the end even for military intervention. The former minister Stapfer served the Swiss government as a mouthpiece in Paris. Napoléon initially waited for the development and refused to mediate between a legitimate government and insurgents. Only when Graubünden threatened to come under Austrian influence again and the defeat of the Helvetic government was clear did he order General Michel Ney to Geneva on September 28 to prepare for the invasion of Helvetia.

In Valais, Savoy , Pontarlier , Hüningen and Como , 25 to 30 battalions got ready to march. On September 30, Napoleon published a proclamation to the Swiss people, in which he announced his mediation in the civil war. On his orders, the Helvetic Senate had to meet again in Bern within five days, and all provisionally restored old governments and authorities as well as all armies had to be dissolved again. Most recently, the First Consul of the French Republic called on the Senate and all cantons to send delegates to Paris to the so-called " Helvetic Konsulta ".

The rebellious cantons and their parliamentary statutes initially refused to obey the instructions from Paris, and on September 25 even passed a new constitution through which the full sovereignty of the cantons was restored. It was only when the French troops actually marched into Switzerland and occupied Bern, Basel, Zurich and central Switzerland that the Diet broke up in protest. Reding, Hirzel and other leaders of the uprising were arrested and temporarily detained in the fortress of Aarburg . The aristocratic-federalist counter-revolution had thus failed.

Karl von Müller-Friedberg , Deputy of the Helvetian Senate at the Konsulta

The Helvetic Konsulta was opened in Paris on December 10, 1802. 45 Unitarian MPs faced 18 federalists. The Helvetian Senate had sent Karl von Müller-Friedberg , Auguste Pidou and Vinzenz Rüttimann . Otherwise everything was represented that had rank and name in the Helvetic Republic, with the exception of Laharpe, who had rejected his election. In his opening speech, Napoléon had the astonished deputy read aloud the guidelines of his "Médiation": a federal constitution was to be introduced, but legal equality was to be maintained.

The continued existence of the Helvetic Republic was no longer an issue at the beginning of the Konsulta. Negotiations and drafting of the constitutions of the cantons and the federal constitution for the new state lasted until the end of January 1803. On February 19, 1803, Napoléon handed over the so-called mediation act , which contained all cantonal constitutions and the federal constitution , to whom he himself had appointed Mayor of Switzerland Federalist Louis d'Affry .

Dissolution of the Helvetic Republic

After Napoléon's intervention, the Executive Council had theoretically again taken control of the entire country, but remained practically paralyzed until the republic was dissolved, as the administration in most of the cantons remained with supporters of the federalists. One last big hit, the government could in the field of foreign policy post: In the last session of the Perpetual Imperial Diet in Regensburg was in the Peace of Luneville agreed compensation to the princes, the territories had had on the fallen to France the left bank, by the secularization of spiritual territories of the empire are regulated.

This also affected the Helvetic Republic, since at that time both ecclesiastical and secular imperial princes, monasteries and monasteries of the empire owned territories, sovereign rights and income in the Helvetic Republic, and conversely, Swiss rights existed in the empire. Negotiations began in autumn 1802, and at the end of October it became apparent that the Helvetic Republic would receive the rule of Tarasp and the possessions of the diocese of Chur as compensation for the loss of the possessions of its monasteries in the empire .

The Helvetic Republic should have redeemed the remaining rights and income of the imperial estates at 40 times the annual income. Thanks to the diplomatic intervention of the Helvetian government and thanks to the support of France and Russia , a somewhat better formula could be implemented in the final version of the compensation agreement, the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss of February 25, 1803, but in particular the free abolition of all jurisdictions and feudal rights of the old imperial estates in the territory of the Helvetic Republic.

The last official act of the old authorities of the Helvetic Republic was the approval of the Senate to the mediation act on March 5, 1803. On March 10, the new Landammann d'Affry took office, with which the Helvetic Republic officially ceased to exist.

In the traditional division of Swiss history, the Helvetic Republic was followed by the phase of so-called " mediation " 1803–1813. The official name of Switzerland, which was newly constituted as a confederation of states, has since been Confoederatio Helvetica , German for "Swiss Confederation".

Authorities and Constitution

Title page of the publicly circulating draft of the Helvetic Constitution of 1798
Scheme of the constitutional structure of the Helvetic Republic
Official uniforms of some Helvetian officials

Models and introduction of the First Helvetic Constitution

Wilhelm Tell, legendary freedom hero from central Switzerland on the seal of the Small Council of the Helvetic Republic

The First Helvetic Constitution was drafted by the Basel guild master Peter Ochs on behalf of the French board of directors. He was advised by the directors Louis-Marie de La Révellière-Lépeaux , Jean François Reubell and the architect of the French directorate, Jean-Claude-François Daunou . It was submitted to the French Directory on January 15, 1798 and printed in February 1798 and published in the Confederation. It is considered to be the first modern constitution in what is now Switzerland.

Ochs originally wanted the constitution to be understood only as a draft for the attention of a Helvetic constituent , but upon intervention by the directorate, the Helvetic constitution finally envisaged a revision after six years at the earliest. Because of this lack of the possibility of revision, the impression of a French dictation arose in Switzerland, which severely damaged the reputation of the constitution. On April 12, 1798, the constitution in Aarau was adopted by the representatives of the majority of the cantons.

Several parts of the constitution were later repealed or suspended, for example by the decrees of November 5, 1798, February 15 and May 18, 1799. The first Helvetic constitution was repealed by the coup d'état of January 7, 1800. Although the principles of the constitution indicate that no constitution can apply without it having been accepted by the people, there was no referendum on the First Helvetic Constitution. However, the introduction of the Second Helvetic Constitution was accompanied by the first national referendum in Switzerland in June 1802. With the Helvetic Constitution, the principle of the written constitution found its way into Switzerland, which was previously unknown.

Principles and State Order

In principle, the First Helvetic Constitution was closely modeled on the French directorate constitution of year III (1795). The whole Confederation, like other French subsidiary republics, was combined into a centralized and governed unitary state . The foundations of the new state order were the principles of popular sovereignty , the separation of powers and general equality of rights .

In terms of the form of government, the Helvetic Republic was conceived as a representative democracy. All differences between the cantons or between ruling places and subject areas were abolished. This principle of equality of territories continued beyond the existence of the Helvetic Republic and is therefore of long-term importance.

The national territory of the republic, conceived as a unified state, was still divided into cantons, but these no longer had any sovereign rights, but were electoral, administrative and judicial districts. Each canton was administered by a governor or national prefect appointed directly by the executive board.

In the spirit of the French Revolution, the inhabitants of the Helvetic Republic were granted a whole range of personal basic rights and freedoms: general free suffrage, freedom of expression and freedom of the press, freedom of religion and culture, freedom of trade and industry, and the right to private property. Any form of hereditary title or other innate privilege was forbidden. All tithe , benefice , legal inequalities, privileges and other elements of feudality as well as the guild system were declared abolished.

In this area, the Helvetic Constitution marks the break with the traditional conceptions of the state in the area of ​​the old Confederation, although these concepts were already being considered by reformers in the Confederation during the Enlightenment and were also discussed, for example, in the Helvetic Society . The draft state was also strongly inspired by centralism, as the city-states had striven for in the “modern” state of enlightened absolutism, at least at the cantonal level.


The executive formed as in France, a five-member execution Board that has been selected for a five-year term in an indirect method by the legislature. The Directory watched over the internal and external security of the republic and commanded the army. He alone was entitled to negotiate contracts with foreign countries. It appointed the ministers of the state administration, appointed the governors ( préfet national ) of the cantons and the president as well as the public prosecutor of the Supreme Court. Through the cantonal governors, the directorate controlled the entire administrative apparatus of the cantons. The board of directors also had the right to dissolve the cantonal courts and administrative chambers at any time and to temporarily fill them up until the next elections.

The cantons were divided into districts, the heads of which, the deputy governors, were appointed by the governors. They in turn determined the agents who were in charge of the administration in the communities. The entire bureaucracy was organized from top to bottom and did not involve any citizen participation. In practice, however, the newly created state could hardly make use of its centralized powers and, like the authorities of the Ancien Régime, was dependent on the cooperation of the communities and citizens. Despite the centralized constitution, the municipalities had a relatively large amount of leeway for citizens to participate and take responsibility for themselves.

legislative branch

The legislature , the «Legislative Corps», was formed by the 152-member Grand Council and the 76-member Senate. The cantons were initially represented in the Grand Council by eight members. Later, according to the constitution, representation in relation to the size of the population should have been established, but this did not happen until the end of the republic. Each canton sent four members to the Senate.

The complicated electoral process stipulated that the mandate of the senators should last eight years and that of the grand councilors six years, with the senate being renewed by a quarter every even year and the grand council by a third every odd year. The Grand Council only had the right to propose laws and resolutions, on which the Senate, in turn, was only allowed to pass resolutions without the right to amend. However, the initiative for the constitutional revision lay with the Senate, with the Grand Council again only being able to discuss the proposals.


The judiciary was organized on four levels: Justice of the peace was installed in the communities as the basis of the court system. Some of them still exist in some cantons today. District courts rule on civil and police matters. This institution also still exists today. T. in some cantons as a district court. The cantonal courts at the next higher level were the last instance for civil matters and the first for criminal matters, and finally a national supreme court acted as the cassation instance for civil matters and the last instance for criminal matters. The Supreme Court also formed the Administrative Court.

The members of the Supreme Court, like those of the Cantonal Court, were elected indirectly by the people, the President of the Supreme Court and the Public Prosecutor by the Board of Directors. In the courts of the cantons and districts, the governors appointed the presidents and public prosecutors. The board of directors was able to dissolve and provisionally reassign all unpleasant cantonal and district courts at any time. The creation of a national civil and criminal code based on the model of the French Code civil and Code pénal was planned, but was only rudimentary.

Citizenship, voting and election rights

The citizens - and the active suffrage was granted to all citizens of the municipality of Confederation over 20 years. For the first time, a citizenship that encompasses the whole of Switzerland was created. All class differences were abolished. The settled people, day laborers, inmates and foreigners were also granted citizenship if they had lived in one place for twenty years. In principle, popular sovereignty applied ; Since the Helvetic Republic was conceived as a representative democracy, votes should only take place on constitutional revisions.

In place of the corporate forms of organization of the ancien régime, the civil parishes , valleys , corporations and comrades communities , etc., the municipalities ( communes municipales ) emerged at the community level . They were the first communities in the modern understanding in the area of ​​Switzerland, i. This means that all Swiss citizens residing in the municipality were politically, socially and economically equal.

The electoral representatives were appointed in a complicated indirect electoral process. Every 100 citizens elected an elector in the general assemblies of each canton. Half of the electors were then eliminated by lot. The other half then elected as the cantonal electoral corps the members of the legislative councils of the republic to which the canton was entitled: one member per canton to the Supreme Court, four to the Senate, and eight to the Grand Council. At the cantonal level, the electoral body determined the cantonal court and the cantonal administrative chamber.


Unimplemented project for a departmentalization of the Helvetic Republic from December 1798
The structure of the Helvetic Republic until the annexation of Graubünden in April 1799
The structure of the Helvetic Republic according to the Second Helvetic Constitution 1802

In the Helvetic Republic, the cantons that were previously practically sovereign were downgraded to purely administrative structures. In order to smash the old structures, the cantonal borders were also redrawn. The former relatives of Geneva , Mulhouse , the Principality of Neuchâtel , Biel , La Neuveville and Moutier-Grandval as well as the rule of Rhäzün no longer belonged to the Helvetic Republic. First 22, then 19 cantons were created by the Helvetic Constitution:

  • Aargau ( Bernese Aargau , until 1801 without the district of Zofingen ; on July 20, 1802, merged with Baden and Fricktal to form the canton of Aargau)
  • Baden (common lordship of the county of Baden and free offices ; merged with Aargau and Fricktal to form the canton of Aargau on July 20, 1802)
  • Basel
  • Bellinzona (common lordships of Blenio, Riviera, Bellinzona and Uri subject area Leventina ; merged with the canton of Lugano to form the canton of Ticino on July 20, 1802)
  • Bern (excluding the subject areas of Vaud and Aargau, until July 20, 1802 excluding the Bernese Oberland)
  • Freiburg (with Bernese bailiffs Payerne and Avenches and common rule Murten)
  • Fricktal (area of Upper Austria south of the Rhine; founded February 20, 1802)
  • Léman (Bernese Vaud and common lords of Echallens , Orbe , Grandson)
  • Linth (Glarus, common lordships Uznach , Gaster , Sargans , Gams , the patronage of Rapperswil , Obertoggenburg and the Zurich subject area Sax and the Glarus subject area Werdenberg as well as the Swiss subject areas March, Höfe and Einsiedeln; renamed Canton Glarus from 1802)
  • Lugano (common lordships of Lugano, Mendrisio and Locarno; merged with the canton of Bellinzona to form the canton of Ticino on July 20, 1802)
  • Lucerne
  • Oberland (Bernese Oberland; merged with the Canton of Bern on July 20, 1802)
  • Raetia (facing place Drei Bünde without subject areas Chiavenna, Valtellina and Bormio; accession on April 21, 1799)
  • Säntis (Republic of the landscape of St. Gallen, Untertoggenburg, both Appenzell and rule of the Rhine Valley ; later with Obertoggenburg, renamed Canton Appenzell in May 1801)
  • Schaffhausen (with the Zurich city of Stein am Rhein and until 1800 the Diessenhofen district)
  • Solothurn
  • Thurgau (until 1800 without the Diessenhofen district)
  • Waldstätte (Uri, Schwyz, Obwalden, Nidwalden, Zug, umbrella locations Engelberg and Gersau; existed until November 5, 1801, then disintegrated into the cantons of Unterwalden, Schwyz, Zug and Uri)
  • Wallis (place facing the Republic of the Seven Zends of Valais)
  • Zurich (without subject areas Stein am Rhein and Sax)

When the Helvetic Republic received Fricktal as a canton in 1802, Valais was incorporated by the French.

Helvetic reform projects

16-franc gold coin of the Helvetic Republic ( doubloon ), minted in Bern in 1800
A 40 chunk silver coin from the Helvetic Republic (Neuthaler) from 1798
A chunk of the Helvetic Republic
A black horse from the Helvetic Republic

In the spring of 1798, the authorities of the Helvetic Republic began busily with a series of reforms aimed at enforcing the principles of the revolution. Ministers Philipp Albert Stapfer and Albrecht Rengger were particularly active. Due to a lack of finances and constant political upheavals, many projects got stuck in their early stages or only existed as a law on paper.

  • Establishing the personal freedom of citizens: As of May 28, 1798, the salutation “Herr” was replaced by “Citizen”. The feudal charges were abolished, the special taxation of the Jews abolished and torture abolished.
  • Secularization : All monastery properties were nationalized in the spring of 1798 and the abolition of the monasteries was initiated by prohibiting the admission of novices. Through the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss 1803, the republic also achieved the abolition of all feudal rights and jurisdictions that were exercised by princes, monasteries, foundations, etc. from outside the country.
  • Establishment of economic, industrial and trade freedom: In autumn 1798 the guild and guild compulsory was lifted and the freedom of trade was introduced. The industry should now also be able to develop freely.
  • Development of state services: At the beginning of 1799, the Helvetic State Post began its service, and uniform postage rates were in force throughout the country. The coinage system was nationalized on March 19, 1799: the Swiss franc at 10 Batzen or 100 cents was introduced as the single currency. However, the new currency only increased the existing jumble of coins. Since the government could not bring itself to issue paper money despite the chronic financial shortage, the Swiss franc did not prevail.
  • Replacement of the tithe : By a law of November 10, 1798, the peasant tithe was reorganized. The small tithe on fruit, vegetables, etc. was canceled without replacement. The big tithe on wine, hay, grain etc. had to be redeemed by the state in return for compensation. The republic, for its part, should then compensate all creditors, i.e. all holders of tithe subscription rights, with 15 times the average amount over the decades. The land and land interest, which had been paid in kind before the revolution, could be redeemed by the peasants with 15 times the amount, the cash benefits with 20 times the amount. Due to a lack of money, these reforms were not implemented and were repealed on September 15, 1800 - much to the annoyance of the affected rural population, who stormed the old bailiff's castles again in many places in order to destroy the archives and thus the basis for the collection of tithes.
  • Establishment of a state school system: In the summer of 1798, an eight-member education council was created in each canton, which was to lead the canton's school system independently of the church and appointed a school inspector for each district. It was also planned to introduce a multi-tier school system, to establish industrial schools and a national university, and to enforce compulsory schooling. For this purpose, the Minister of Arts and Sciences, Philipp Albert Stapfer , carried out an all-Swiss school enquête in January 1799 .
  • The reform of the legal system was already part of the Helvetic Constitution. Centuries of legal inequality were abolished, serfdom was abolished and a uniform citizenship law was created. The discrimination against Jews ended insofar as the Jewish tax was abolished - the Jews were not granted citizenship. Women were also still not treated on an equal footing with men. The biggest project in the reform of the legal system, however, was the codification and standardization of civil and criminal law. While the compilation of a civil code failed with only a few individual successes, a new penal code was created on May 4, 1799 with the «Helvetic Embarrassing Code» put into effect.


Executive Board Members (April 1798– January 7, 1800)

  • Johann Lukas Legrand (Republican); 1798-25. January 1799; President April 22–31 May 1798
  • Pierre-Maurice Glayre (Unitarian); April 18–9. May 1799; President July 2 to December 31 July 1798, January 13th – 5th March 1799
  • Urs Viktor Oberlin (Unitarian); April 18, 1798-7. January 1800; President June 1–1. July 1798 and November 22, 1798-12. January 1799
  • David Ludwig Bay (Republican); April 18-29 June 1798, January 3–22. June 1799; President March 6th – March 26th April 1799
  • Alphons Pfyffer (Republican); April 18-29 June 1798
  • Frédéric-César de La Harpe (Patriot / Unitarian); June 29, 1798-7. January 1800; President August 1st – December 31st August 1798, October 1st – 21st November 1798 and January 24–4. September 1799
  • Peter Ochs (Patriot / Unitarian); June 29, 1798-25. June 1799; President September 1–30. September 1798, April 27–23. June 1799
  • Philippe Abraham Louis Secretan (Unitarian); 1799-7. January 1800
  • Johann Rudolf Dolder (federalist); 1799-7. January 1800; President November 18, 1799–7. January 1800
  • François-Pierre Savary (federalist); June 22, 1799-7. January 1800; President September 5–17 November 1799

Members of the Provisional Executive Committee (January 7 - August 8, 1800)

Members of the 1st Executive Council (August 8, 1800– October 28, 1801)

Members of the 2nd Executive Council (July 5, 1802– March 5, 1803)

Landammann of the Helvetic Republic, from November 21, 1801

Minor Council Members (November 21, 1801– March 5, 1803)

Minister of the 1st Helvetic Republic

State Secretaries of the 2nd Helvetic Republic

Judicial system


Photo of the historical flag (back side)
Flag of the Helvetic Republic (reverse side in French)
Variant of the flag (with faded colors)

The Helvetic Republic also chose a tricolor as the new national flag . This was officially introduced on February 13, 1799 and consisted of the colors green / red / yellow with horizontal stripes. The colors red and yellow stood for the original cantons of Schwyz and Uri and green for the revolution. In the red field was the name "République Helvétique". Variants with additional inscriptions or images were also in use.

During the election campaign on the occasion of the Swiss parliamentary elections in 2011 , the reintroduction of the flag became an issue for a few days, as it was proposed by an immigrant association . However, this idea met with rejection almost everywhere, especially by the bourgeois parties it was vehemently rejected.

capital city

In the Helvetic Constitution, Lucerne was designated as the capital. Since the constitution of the republic took place in Aarau in April 1798 and the councils only met in Lucerne on October 9, 1798, Aarau became the capital. After the coup d'état of January 1800 and the introduction of the Malmaison constitution on May 29, 1802, Bern was the seat of the Diet and the government until the end of the Helvetic Republic.

See also


  • Official collection of the acts from the time of the Helvetic Republic (1798–1803): following the collection of the older federal Farewells. Ed. By order of the federal authorities; edit by Johannes Strickler . Stämpfli, Bern 1886–1966.
  • Holger Böning : The Dream of Freedom and Equality: Helvetic Revolution and Republic (1798–1803). Orell Füssli, Zurich 2001, ISBN 3-280-02808-6 .
  • Pascal Delvaux, La République en paper. Circonstances d'impression et pratiques de dissémination des lois sous la République helvétique (1798–1803). 2 vols. Presses d'Histoire Suisse, Geneva 2004, ISBN 2-9700461-1-3 .
  • Andreas Fankhauser: Helvetic Republic. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  • Markus Fuchs: Teacher Perspectives in the Helvetic Republic. Julius Klinkhardt, Bad Heilbrunn 2015, ISBN 978-3-7815-2032-5 .
  • Thomas Hildebrand, Albert Tanner (ed.): In the sign of the revolution. The road to the Swiss federal state 1798–1848. Chronos, Zurich 1997, ISBN 3-905312-43-3 .
  • Hans-Peter Höhener: Centralist or Federalist Switzerland? The territorial division in the Helvetic Republic from 1798 to 1803 and their representation in maps. In: Cartographica Helvetica. Issue 18 (1998), pp. 21-31. Full text
  • Tobias Kästli: Switzerland. A republic in Europe. History of the nation-state since 1798. NZZ, Zurich 1998, ISBN 3-85823-706-X .
  • Alfred Kölz : Modern Swiss Constitutional History. Its basic lines from the end of the Old Confederation to 1848. Stämpfli, Bern 1992, ISBN 3-7272-9380-2
  • Alfred Kölz (Ed.): Source book on recent Swiss constitutional history. Volume 1: From the end of the Old Confederation to 1848. Stämpfli, Bern 1992.
  • Alfred Kölz: The state ideas of the Helvetic Republic and their effects on the development of modern Switzerland. In: Hans Werner Tobler (Ed.): 1798/1998. Helvetic and its consequences. Zurich 1998, pp. 73-89.
  • Michele Luminati: The Helvetic Republic in the judgment of Swiss historiography. In: Journal for Modern Legal History . Volume 5, Issue 3/4 (1983), pp. 163–175.
  • Wilhelm Oechsli : History of Switzerland in the Nineteenth Century. Vol. 1: Switzerland under the French protectorate 1798–1813 (=  State history of the most recent times, Volume 29). S. Hirzel, Leipzig 1903
  • A. Rufer: Helvetic Republic. In: Historical-Biographical Lexicon of Switzerland . Volume 4. Neuchâtel 1927, pp. 142-178.
  • Silvia Arlettaz: Citoyens et étrangers sous la République helvétique 1798–1803: Foreword: Gérard Noiriel. Georg, Geneva 2005, ISBN 2-8257-0906-9 .
  • Pascal Sidler: Black coats, Jacobins, patriots. Revolution, continuity and resistance in the mixed denomination of Toggenburg, 1795–1803 (=  St. Gallen culture and history. Volume 38). Chronos, Zurich 2013, ISBN 978-3-0340-1160-0 (dissertation University of Zurich 2013).
  • Christian Simon : The Helvetic as a revolution in the state, economy and society. In: Hans Werner Tobler (Ed.): 1798/1998. Helvetic and its consequences. Zurich 1998, pp. 49-72.
  • Andreas Staehelin : Helvetic. In: Handbook of Swiss History. Volume 2. Report House, Zurich 1977, pp. 785–839.
  • Weeks chronicle of the Zürcher Zeitung from the 27th winter month 1797 to April 16, 1798. In memory of the downfall of the old Swiss Confederation. Edited by Paul Rütsche with the participation of historians and friends of history. Zurich 1898.
  • Beat von Warburg (editor): Basel 1798: vive la République Helvétique. Edited by Museum der Kulturen Basel . Christoph Merian Verlag, Basel 1998, ISBN 3-85616-096-5 .
  • Thomas Baumann: The Helvetic Parliament, parliamentarism in the light of the contrast between the enlightened educated elite and revolutionary patriots. Slatkine, Geneva 2013, ISBN 978-2-05-102510-2 .
  • Werner Adams: You want to become people - Bern and Jena, a spiritual and cultural exchange 1796–1803. Eyewitness account of the Helvetic Revolution by Friedrich August Eschen . Self-published, Wichtrach 2020, ISBN 978-3-9524378-9-6 , p. 103-117 .

Web links

Commons : Helvetic Republic  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Oechsli, Geschichte der Schweiz vol. 1, p. 84 f.
  2. Kästli, Die Schweiz, pp. 50–53.
  3. Oechsli, Geschichte der Schweiz Vol. 1, pp. 89–91.
  4. Oechsli, Geschichte der Schweiz vol. 1, p. 107 f.
  5. Oechsli, Geschichte der Schweiz Vol. 1, pp. 91, 95–98.
  6. Kästli, Die Schweiz, p. 56.
  7. ^ Fabienne Abetel-Béguelin: Ménard, Philippe Romain. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  8. Kästli, Die Schweiz , p. 57.
  9. Stählin, Helvetik , p. 787.
  10. Kästli, Die Schweiz , pp. 59 f .; Stählin, Helvetik , p. 788 f.
  11. Raoul Richner / Swiss National Museum: When Aarau became the capital, In: Watson dated May 6, 2018
  12. Oechsli, Geschichte der Schweiz, Vol. 1, p. 175.
  13. Simon, Helvetik als Revolution, p. 57.
  14. For the full text of the Malmaison constitution see Kölz, Quellenbuch zur Neueren Schweizerische Verfassungsgeschichte, p. 152 f., Or the digitized version here .
  15. Kölz, Modern Swiss Constitutional History, p. 138 f.
  16. Oechsli, Geschichte der Schweiz, p. 369. and the constitutional law of Helvetia
  17. a b Staehlin, Helvetik, p. 790.
  18. Kölz, Staatsideen der Helvetik, pp. 78, 80.
  19. Kölz, Staatsideen der Helvetik, p. 80.
  20. Simon, Helvetik als Revolution, p. 54.
  21. Simon, Helvetik als Revolution, p. 53.
  22. Kölz, Staatsideen der Helvetik, p. 78.
  23. a b Kölz: State ideas of the Helvetic Republic. P. 77.
  24. We do not want to abolish the Swiss cross. Day indicator.
  25. see HLS.