Little Council (Basel)

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The Small Council of the City of Basel was first mentioned in 1118 as the “Council of the City of Basel”. In order to distinguish the council from the large council mentioned for the first time in a document in 1373 , the council was also called the small council from the 14th century, a name that was later adopted. Until 1691, the Small Council was the highest body in the city, but then had to hand over extensive powers to the Grand Council. Today the former Small Council calls itself the " Government Council " and represents the executive branch of the Canton of Basel-Stadt .

City Council of Basel - 12th to 14th centuries

The City Council of Basel came into being in the 12th century. It was first mentioned in a document in 1118 and has appeared as an independently acting committee since around 1180. Emperor Friedrich II granted the council of the Free Imperial City council privilege in 1212 - and revoked it again in 1218. After that, the council was largely dependent on the city ​​lord of Basel , the Bishop of Basel . From 1248 the composition of the council changed annually. The election of the council members was regulated in detail at the latest since the bishop issued the “Handfeste”, which regulated the city constitution and city law, around 1263.

The old council that left each time elected two servants of the bishop and four respected citizens. This group elected two canons as additional council members. These eight councilors formed the gravel college. It is an object of Kieserkollegiums now, on June 24 of the year twelve other councilors, four knights and eight Burger ( Eight Burger ) in the Council, and another knight for mayor to choose. The new councilors took an oath of loyalty in front of the bishop during an annual ceremony on Münsterplatz . This formal submission to the power of the bishop lasted until 1521.

From 1272 to 1424 there was another political body, the guild masters' college, presided over by a guild-independent chief guild master (first mentioned in 1305) , who was appointed by the bishop . In accordance with the increasing influence of the guilds , from 1337 the Kieserkollegium consisted of two guild representatives and two citizens instead of the “four honorable citizens”. The Kieserkollegium elected an additional 15 guild representatives to the council. From 1382 the guild masters' college also became part of the council, and the chief guild master became the second mayor alongside the mayor. In 1385–1390 and 1410–1417 the council was also headed by the ammeister, who was elected exclusively by the guild masters and only represented their interests.

Despite the emancipation of the guilds, Basel remained under the rule of the bishop. In 1386, however, the bishop pledged the sovereignty over the city to the council, which actually, albeit not formally, held power in the city.

Little council - 15th century

The Great Council is first mentioned in a document in 1373 . The Grand Council could be called upon for particularly important decisions. In addition to the council, the board of directors of all guilds (six), the representatives of the three honorary societies in Kleinbasels , the mayors and the judges of the city courts belonged to the new Grand Council. In the following years, the original council was renamed the “Small Council” to differentiate it from the Grand Council. The political system of large and small councils was organized collegially and without fixed responsibilities. Only full citizens of the guild have access to the system of council rule, which as a self-contained system chooses, organizes and controls itself.

With the Council of Basel 1431–1448, the foundation of the University of Basel in 1460 and the granting of the trade fair privilege by Emperor Friedrich III. In 1471 not only the importance of the city within the Holy Roman Empire grew, but also the self-confidence of the city and its citizens. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Basel took part in numerous armed conflicts under the leadership of the council and finally joined the Swiss Confederation in 1501 , also because protection by the Reich no longer seemed guaranteed . This decision was manifested externally in 1504 with the construction of the new Basel town hall . The efforts of the council to break away from the rule of the bishop increased after joining the Confederation and with the demarcation from the Holy Roman Empire, to which the city legally belonged until 1648. In 1516, the Kieserkollegium elected Jakob Meyer zum Hasen, the first mayor, who did not come from the knighthood but belonged to the guild of housemates .

Reformation - 16th century

In Basel, criticism of the papacy in the run-up to the Reformation was accompanied by calls for political and economic reforms. In the course of the reform, the council finally emancipated itself from the influence of the patricians and the bishop. In 1515 the privileges of the patricians were abolished, in 1521 a corruption scandal led to a complete upheaval within the council, which renounced episcopal rule in the same year. The council understood this not only as a new independence of the citizens from the church, but also intervened directly in church affairs, for example by subordinating the monasteries to the council, managing their property itself and using the monastic income for charitable purposes. In 1525, the council abolished the privileges of the clergy and granted them citizenship. The council now also filled church administrative posts and professorships at the university itself. At the same time, an industrial reform that was implemented between 1521 and 1526 secured the guilds a sales monopoly aimed at privileging the economic interests of the guilds over the patrician long-distance trade merchants.

Luther's ideas fell on fertile soil in the city, which was shaped by humanistic scholars and in which numerous printing works were also located. As early as 1525, however, radicalization had progressed so far that considerable tensions arose between various Reformation and humanist groups and the Old Believers. The Council itself was split on the question of religion and therefore shifted to promoting personal freedom of belief. The moderation policy of the council could neither reconcile nor calm down the contending supporters of the different religious views: the powerful guilds pressed for the old believers to be expelled from the city. In the iconoclasm of 1528/29 the tensions erupted in a revolutionary destruction of church works of art. The council finally gave in to this pressure: the Reformation order of 1529 declared Basel a Reformed city. Everywhere, the council installed Reformed preachers in the churches, the Reformed city church replaced the old universal church. The council could now determine in detail about the practice of religion for each individual. In principle, this Reformation order continued to apply as the order of the Reformed Church in Basel until 1911, Catholics were only allowed to celebrate mass publicly again from 1798 and only received political rights in the city again with the Federal Constitution of 1848.

The bishop and his cathedral chapter as well as the Old Believers who did not want to join the new church, including most of the patricians and some professors, left the city after the Reformation. The Basel bishop, who had moved the residence to Pruntrut before the iconoclasm, remained the formal owner of the rule. The Basel cathedral chapter first fled to Neuchâtel am Rhein and then found accommodation in Freiburg im Breisgau . In the course of the Counter Reformation, the bishop therefore tried around 1580 to redeem the pledged sovereign rights. The city of Basel finally bought itself out of the episcopal claim to rule in 1585.

Loss of power of the Small Council - 17th century

During the Thirty Years' War the council tried to secure the city against looting and raids. However , this did not succeed, especially in the country , although a soldiers' tax was levied there too. The devastation in the surrounding area also had an impact on Basel, but the city itself benefited from the trade it conducted from its neutral border location. In the meantime, political power in the Council was concentrated in the hands of a few families ( Daig ). In the guilds, merchants, manufacturers, officers and lawyers had secured influential positions. The Ballotierordnung of 1688 tried to prevent corruption and nepotism through a sophisticated new electoral system, but this did not succeed. The strong influence of the Burckhardt , Socin and Faesch families became increasingly a nuisance for members of the guilds and the Grand Council.

At the end of 1690, the Grand Council succeeded in changing the constitution to secure the highest city authority and the right to vote for the highest offices in the city. The Small Council was thus de facto disempowered. Nevertheless, in 1691, the demands of the guild members emerged in a revolutionary situation (the so-called 1691 essence): Basel was briefly under the rule of guild committees that staged show trials against members of the influential families. Shortly afterwards, however, the Grand Council regained power and quickly abolished a number of political concessions. See also Gluckhennentaler # Note on the end of the Koehler revolt. The Minor Council continued to be part of the Grand Council and assumed the role of executive.

In the Helvetic Republic , the cantonal small councils were abolished, but were reintroduced as cantonal governments at the beginning of the mediation period in 1803 .

Councilor since the cantonal constitution of 1875

Since the cantonal constitution of 1875, the Basel city government has been democratically organized in a modern way. The Small Council became a government council, which from then on consisted of full-time government councilors in a system of departments. The guilds finally lost the administrative tasks that they had carried out up to this point in time and have since been politically insignificant. Government councils have been elected by the people since 1889.


  • Alioth, Barth, Huber: Basler Stadtgeschichte . Vol. 2. Basel 1981.