Karl Schenk

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Karl Schenk

Johann Karl (also: Carl ) Emmanuel Schenk (born December 1, 1823 in Bern ; † July 18, 1895 there ; entitled to live in Signau ) was a Swiss politician . After studying theology, he worked as a reformed pastor. Although he belonged to the traditional clergy, he turned to liberalism and took part in the second free march as well as in the Sonderbund War. In 1855 he was elected to the government council of the canton of Bern , in 1856 to theCouncil of States . From 1864 until his death, Schenk was a member of the Federal Council as a representative of the radical parliamentary group (today's FDP ) , and he served as Federal President six times . His term of office of more than 31 years is the longest of all federal councilors.


Adolescent years

Karl Schenk was one of fourteen children of the inventor Christian Schenk , who came from Signau in the Emmental and who built the first Swiss steam engine. Mother Verena (née Lüthy) died when he was seven years old. On the mediation of godfather Carl Emanuel Brunner , his father sent him to Korntal in the Kingdom of Württemberg in 1832 to a boarding school run by Pietists . Two years later Schenk was an orphan. In Korntal he received a humanistic education with foreign languages. Schenk discovered his passion for hiking during a school trip over the Alps to Venice . At the age of 14 he went to Couvet on foot and visited his brother Rudolf, who owned a mechanical workshop there. In the following year he went on another hike with school friends to Venice, where his brother Fritz worked as a caster.

After confirmation , Schenk returned to Bern in 1839 and attended grammar school , where he graduated from high school in 1842 . In the summer of that year he undertook another long hike that took him over the Simplon Pass to Genoa and Florence . He returned home via Venice, South Tyrol and Chur . He studied theology and philosophy at the University of Bern . During his studies Schenk became interested in politics and came into contact with radical liberal ideas. In 1845 he took part in the second free march as the standard bearer of the student corps .

Profession and canton politics

Also in 1845 Schenk passed the state examination and took up his first position as vicar in Schüpfen . In 1846 he publicly professed radicalism. He founded non-profit associations and created opportunities for further training, which made him known and loved far beyond Schüpfen. After taking part in the Sonderbund War as a field preacher , he married Elise Kehr, the village doctor's daughter, in 1848. The marriage had ten children, seven of whom survived. In the same year Schenk took over the parish in Laupen , in 1850 that in Schüpfen. To supplement his modest wages, he worked for the Berner-Zeitung, headed by Jakob Stämpfli . At the beginning of 1855, a group of liberal members of the Grand Council approached him about a possible candidacy for the government council of the canton of Bern . Since Schenk advocated a balance between radicals and conservatives, he was considered an acceptable candidate in both political camps and was elected to the government council on March 23, 1855. In April he gave his last sermon in Schüpfen and moved to Bern.

As a government councilor, Schenk took on responsibility for the poor, which was one of the most pressing political problems at the time. The potato rot had led to numerous bad harvests , increasing industrialization resulted in a lack of work in agriculture, the hand-weaving industry had collapsed, and traveling for a long time had been banned. The bulk of the poor were increasingly being deported from the cities to their home communities , which almost drove many financially weak rural communities to ruin. Schenk completely reorganized the poor. The costs were reimbursed by the local communities , and the canton took over the poor institutions. After the bankruptcy of the Ostwestbahn , Schenk temporarily took over the railway management in 1861, and the education management in the following year.

Federal politics

In 1857 the Great Council also elected Schenk to the Council of States . In 1859 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bern for his services in poverty research . In 1862 he fell seriously ill and had to go to the cure for six months, first in Territet near Montreux , then in Weissenburg in the Simmental . In 1863, Schenk wanted to apply for the well-paid director's post of the teachers' seminar at Hindelbank Castle , as he was struggling to support his large family. But it didn't get that far, because after Stämpfli's surprising resignation a seat in the Federal Council had become vacant. Supported by the Bernese radicals and the liberal center around the powerful Alfred Escher , Schenk was considered the most promising candidate from the start. His fellow councilors elected him President of the Council of States on December 7, 1863 , thereby giving another clear sign of support. In the Federal Council election on December 12th, Schenk received 84 out of 164 votes in the first ballot. 31 votes were given to Constant Fornerod , 10 to the conservative Eduard Blösch and 39 to other people. On January 1, 1864, Schenk succeeded Stämpflis.

From 1873 to 1882, Schenk was Jakob Dubs' successor as president of the "Aid Association for Swiss Army Men and Their Families", the forerunner of the Swiss Red Cross (SRK).

Federal Council

With the exception of a few years, Schenk headed the Department of the Interior for almost all of his 31-year tenure , whose area of ​​responsibility expanded with the increasing centralization of the country. Among other things, he was responsible for promoting art and culture, supervising the Polytechnic (today's ETH Zurich ), statistics, railways and other infrastructure buildings, archives and libraries, forestry, agriculture and federal real estate. In the years 1865, 1871, 1874, 1878, 1885 and 1893 he served as Federal President . As such, he automatically headed the Political Department , as was customary at the time, and was thus foreign minister. In 1872 he temporarily took over the chairmanship of the finance department , from 1875 to 1877 that of the railway and trade department .

Schenk endorsed the Gotthard Railway in the most important construction project of the time, a railway transversal through the Alps . But it was initially outvoted by his Federal Council colleagues, who preferred two lines via the Simplon and the Lukmanier . However, under Escher's influence, the Gotthard Railway finally prevailed. During the partial revision of the Federal Constitution in 1866, Schenk enforced equality for Jews , but failed in the standardization of weights and weights. Shortly before his second term as Federal President, his wife Elise died in December 1870. As a Federal Councilor, Schenk always found time for his favorite pastime, hiking. In the summer of 1872 he and his sons moved from Lake Geneva to Marseille . On the way he was arrested by a police officer for "vagrancy", but was released when he showed his diplomatic ID to the ashamed prefect. The way back was via Genoa and Milan to Interlaken . There he met the widow Rosina Engel, whom he married the following year.

The completely revised Federal Constitution of 1874 prescribed compulsory and free primary school lessons without restricting freedom of belief and conscience. Schenk was of the opinion that this could not be implemented without a uniform Swiss school law. In order to be able to prepare such a project, he commissioned the Federal Statistical Office to quietly conduct surveys on the school system. On this basis, a federal school secretariat should be created to enforce binding requirements in the education system. The Catholic-Conservative opposition found out about it through indiscretion, whereupon National Councilor Johann Joseph Keel launched a passionate referendum campaign against the “school governor”. The people and the cantons rejected the bill with a clear majority on November 26, 1882, as did an epidemic law initiated by Schenk including mandatory vaccination. Thereupon calls for resignation were loud.

After the radical electoral victory in 1884, Schenk was able to consolidate his position again. He brought the Gotthard railway project to a successful conclusion, implemented a new factory law and played a key role in the development of the Swiss National Museum and the Swiss National Library . In 1895 he intended to resign and spend his retirement years in Twann on Lake Biel . When Schenk tried to give alms to a beggar on the morning of July 8 on his way to work at the bear pit , he was hit by an approaching carriage and suffered such serious injuries that he died ten days later. He was buried in the Bremgarten cemetery with great sympathy from the population .


In the City of Bern Quartier Holligen is Schenkstrasse named after him in the city , the Karl Schenk house with Karl Schenk passage at the Spitalgasse  4. The local museum Chüechlihus in Langnau im Emmental family appreciates Schenk with the Federal Council.


Web links

Commons : Karl Schenk  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Böschenstein: The Federal Council Lexicon. P. 105.
  2. ^ Böschenstein: The Federal Council Lexicon. Pp. 105-106.
  3. ^ Böschenstein: The Federal Council Lexicon. P. 106.
  4. ^ Böschenstein: The Federal Council Lexicon. Pp. 106-107.
  5. ^ Böschenstein: The Federal Council Lexicon. Pp. 107-108.
  6. ^ Böschenstein: The Federal Council Lexicon. P. 108.
  7. ^ Böschenstein: The Federal Council Lexicon. Pp. 108-109.
  8. ^ Berchtold Weber, Paul Hofer: Karl-Schenk-Haus. In: Historical-Topographical Lexicon of the City of Bern. Preservation of monuments of the city of Bern, 2016, p. 1 , accessed on July 24, 2017 .
  9. Interesting people. In: regionalmuseum-langnau.ch. P. 1 , accessed July 24, 2017 .
predecessor Office successor
Jakob Stämpfli Member of the Swiss Federal Council
Eduard Müller