Mediation (history)

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Original of the mediation file in the Federal Archives (scan to browse)
Title page of the mediation act 1803

The period in the history of Switzerland between 1803 and 1813 in which Switzerland was in fact a French vassal state is referred to as mediation or mediation time . The term is derived from the French médiation (mediation), as the transformation of the centralized Helvetic Republic into the federal Swiss Confederation came about through the mediation of Napoleon Bonaparte . As an act of mediation ( French Acte de médiation ) describes the document that formed the constitutional basis of the Swiss Confederation and its cantons between 1803 and 1813.


Transition from the Helvetic Republic to the Swiss Confederation 1802/03

«The Political Swing». Contemporary caricature on mediation: While the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, as a mediator, employs the aristocratic federal and revolutionary Unitarian buffoons on the "political swing", he tears the strategically important Valais under the nail.
Map of the Helvetic Republic in 1799 after the annexation of Graubünden as the 19th canton

In July / August 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of the French Republic, withdrew the last French troops from the Helvetic Republic that had been stationed there since 1798. In doing so, he decisively weakened the position of the Unitarians, the advocates of the unitary state , in the unstable Helvetic Republic. In the four years of its existence, the republic had experienced four coups, the last in April 1802. While the Unitarians wanted to maintain the centralized unitary state established in 1798 based on the French model, the federalists sought to transform the republic into a federation that would, if possible, restore the Should correspond to the old Confederation.

Napoleon tried to clarify the situation as early as 1801 by handing the contending parties in the ultimate form of their own draft constitution, the " Malmaison Constitution ", which provided for the establishment of a federal state as a compromise between centralism and federalism . To the displeasure of Napoleon, however, his draft did not calm the situation in Switzerland, as the federalists and Unitarians fought for almost a year over an amendment to the Malmaison constitution. After the fourth coup d'état of April 17, 1802, a version of the Napoleonic draft, modified in a Unitarian sense, was worked out and put into effect by a referendum. Since Napoleon was not satisfied with the situation in the Helvetic Republic, he withdrew the French troops in the summer of 1802, which had previously been requested by various Helvetic representatives. With this he seemed ostensibly to be doing the republic a service, but he was probably hoping for an imminent federal overthrow in his mind.

In fact, the federalists in central Switzerland, Graubünden, Glarus and Appenzell rose in late summer. The uprising known as the “ Stecklikkrieg ” soon spread to the cities of Zurich and Bern. The Helvetic government had to flee to Lausanne, while the federalists in Schwyz revived the Swiss Federal Diet . Napoleon did not hear the calls for help from the Helvetic government until September 30, 1802, when the victory of the federalists was practically certain. In the so-called « Proclamation of St-Cloud », which was brought by General Jean Rapp , he announced his mediation. At the same time, he had French troops mobilized on the borders of the Helvetic Republic to emphasize his demands. On his orders, all parties involved should lay down their arms immediately, the Helvetic constitution should be reintroduced and MPs from all cantons and parties should meet in Paris for negotiations. The passive resistance of the Tagsatzung in Schwyz was finally broken by a renewed occupation of Switzerland by French troops.

On December 10, 1802, the assembly of Swiss MPs, the so-called " Helvetische Consulta ", was opened in Paris . 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. In the opening speech, Napoleon had the deputy read out the guidelines of his "Médiation": a federal constitution was to be introduced, but legal equality was to be maintained. This was a clear rejection of the aristocratic attempts at restoration. The continued existence of the Helvetic Republic was no longer an issue at the beginning of the meeting, the deputies did not have to negotiate, but only to receive Napoleon's resolutions. The detailed negotiations and drafting of the constitutions of the cantons and the federal constitution for the new state nevertheless lasted until the end of January 1803. On the French side, Commissioners François Barthélemy , Jean-Nicolas Desmeunier , Joseph Fouché and Pierre-Louis Roederer played a key role in bringing about the mediation act .

On February 19, 1803, Napoleon handed over the so-called "Mediation Act" (French Acte de médiation ), which contained all the cantonal constitutions and the federal constitution, to the federalist Louis d'Affry, who he himself had appointed Mayor of Switzerland . The last official act of the old authorities of the Helvetic Republic was the consent 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. There was no referendum to introduce the new order.

Switzerland during the mediation period 1803–1813

Portrait of Louis d'Affry , mayor of Freiburg and first Landammann of Switzerland in 1803

Switzerland's connection as a quasi-protectorate to France was confirmed on September 27, 1803 by the conclusion of a military surrender and a defensive alliance between the two states. The neutrality sought by many contemporary Swiss politicians was thus pushed into the distance. Switzerland was now clearly part of the French alliance in Europe.

The new order meant a step backwards compared to the Helvetic, especially for the landscapes of the city cantons. The townspeople now had greater political weight again. Since at the same time the wealthy were preferred by the census suffrage , the wealthy city citizens had almost achieved a restoration of the old aristocratic order. In March / April 1804 there was therefore an uprising of the communities on Lake Zurich in the canton of Zurich, the buck war . The main reason were the tithe and interest-free purchase laws that were perceived as unjust. The uprising was put down with the help of the Diet, the leaders executed. The exemplary severe punishment of the insurgents prevented further revolts.

Between 1804 and 1813 Switzerland experienced a time of external and internal peace. In contrast to the turbulent time between 1798 and 1803, the mediation time was therefore perceived as positive. The economy and the state of the country recovered. Domestically, an extensive restoration was carried out, especially in the old towns. The aristocratic class returned to their country estates and offices and largely took over political power again, supplemented only by the new elite of the rural aristocracy and the Swiss notables. The goods of the monasteries were returned, and abolished monasteries were restored. The Prince Abbey of St. Gallen was an exception , as a restoration of the abbey would have endangered the substance of the newly founded canton of St. Gallen. Although legal equality, freedom of establishment, trade and trade were theoretically guaranteed, in practice they were again restricted by various measures taken by the cantons.

The Linth correction was Switzerland's first major joint federal project. Engraving with the unregulated and the regulated Linth from 1811.

The reforms of the Helvetic Republic continued in many areas. The school system was greatly expanded in all cantons. Teachers' seminars and canton schools were established. Swiss pedagogy gained a worldwide reputation through the personalities of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi , Philipp Emanuel von Fellenberg , Johann Jacob Wehrli and Jean Baptiste Girard . The Goldau landslide in 1806 aroused solidarity among the Swiss Confederation. The following year, which was Linthkorrektion as a nonprofit Swiss Federal factory started around the Linthebene rid of malaria and flooding.

In 1806 the Principality of Neuchâtel came from Prussia to Napoleon. Integration into Switzerland failed because the latter made his chief of staff, Marshal Louis-Alexandre Berthier, Prince of Neuchâtel. In July 1806, under French pressure, the Diet had to ban the importation of all British manufactured goods and thus join the continental barrier.

The first Unspunnen Festival , 1805

Politically, the relationship between Switzerland and France was under heavy strain from the annexation of Valais and the military occupation of Ticino by France in 1810. Switzerland was also under constant pressure to raise soldiers for service in France. Swiss mercenaries (→  Reisläufer ) fought in the armed forces of all participating countries during the Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. Since the military surrender in March 1812, official Swiss troops were only allowed to fight in French service. 12,000 mercenaries should always be made available for service in France. The difficult recruitment of troops was left to Switzerland. The Swiss troops in French service suffered particularly high losses in the Spanish War of Independence and the Russian campaign . The battle of the Beresina , in which the Swiss contingent particularly distinguished itself , remained in the collective Swiss memory . The Beresina song sings about the sacrifice of the Swiss in foreign services. From the Swiss contingent of the Grand Army of around 9,000 men, only around 700 returned.

During the mediation, at least among the intellectual elite, a Swiss national consciousness developed. The old aristocratic-patrician elite of the cantons merged with the new social elite from politics and business. The national feeling served as the force of integration. The highlights of national life were the Unspunnen festivals in 1805 and 1808, where the Swiss self-image of a people of shepherds, simple mountain life and freedom was presented.

Mediation ended in 1813

Hans von Reinhard , Mayor of Zurich and Mayor of Switzerland , during the dissolution of the mediation order

After Napoleon's defeat in the Wars of Liberation in 1812/13 and the retreat of the French troops across the Rhine , the Diet unilaterally proclaimed the armed neutrality of Switzerland. The Landammann Hans von Reinhard pursued a very hesitant policy and maneuvered between Napoleon and the sixth coalition. The federal contingent to occupy the borders of 12,500 men was felt to be very poor, a clear separation from France did not take place, the Swiss regiments remained in the French army.

The Austrian Foreign Minister Klemens Wenzel Lothar von Metternich tried in vain to win Switzerland over to the coalition through agents and bribes. The agitation of conservative Swiss aristocrats in exile, who lobbied the so-called Waldshut Committee for an occupation of Switzerland by the Allies and a complete restoration of the pre-revolutionary situation, proved to be a hindrance in this regard . This particularly aroused resistance in the new cantons, which would have been the main victims of such a restoration.

On December 21, 1813, allied troops crossed the Swiss border between Basel and Schaffhausen on the march through to France, after Basel had surrendered without a fight to the Austrian general Karl Philipp zu Schwarzenberg . The Swiss border troops withdrew without a fight. Like the French troops before, the Allies also kept themselves harmless by requisitions and billeting on Swiss territory. The presence of the Allied troops and the agitation of the Austrian agent resulted in Bern on 23/24. December for the abdication of the mediation government and the reinstatement of the pre-revolutionary government. Bern then called on Vaud and Aargau to submit to immediate submission and threatened the use of armed force. The counter-revolution threatened to escalate into civil war.

The Federal Treaty of 1815, the constitutional basis of the Swiss Confederation during the restoration period

On December 29, ten old cantons passed a meeting in Zurich to repeal the mediation constitution. They renewed the old federal relationship and formed the so-called federal association . Since they affirmed the abolition of subject relationships, the new cantons, with the exception of Graubünden, joined the federal association. As a result, in January there were patrician-aristocratic counter-revolutions in Freiburg, Solothurn and Lucerne. Switzerland was divided into two camps: Friborg, Solothurn, Lucerne, Zug, the three Waldstätte and Bern undertook the complete restoration of the old Confederation and gathered in Lucerne for the counter-day statute. Graubünden tried to establish itself as an independent Free State and to get back the subject areas in the Valtellina . In Zurich, the federal association under the leadership of Hans von Reinhard tried to save the limits and conditions of the mediation time into the new era.

In March the conflict threatened to degenerate into civil war; Berne, Vaud and Aargau mobilized troops. The foreign powers took part in the conflict indirectly on the side of one party or the other. The decisive factor was the influence of the Vaudois patriot Frédéric-César de la Harpe on the Russian Tsar Alexander in favor of the new cantons. It was only when the Allies threatened military intervention that the counter-day statute joined the federal association on April 6, 1814 and formed the so-called "long day statute". With the acceptance of a new federal treaty on September 9, 1814 or its invocation on August 7, 1815, the mediation period ended definitively and Switzerland entered the era of restoration .

Structure of the Swiss Confederation during the mediation period

The Swiss Confederation during the mediation period 1803–1814

The mediation act restored the 13 old cantons, albeit not all within their old borders, and created six new cantons. All 19 cantons were given individual constitutions, which, like the federal constitution, were part of the mediation act. The Valais became a French protectorate and separated from Switzerland. Hardly any traces remained of the central state of the Helvetic Republic; Switzerland became a confederation again.

The cantons can be divided into three groups according to their constitutions:

  • Landsgemeindekantons: The old democratic constitutions have been restored in the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Zug, Glarus and Appenzell. The right of initiative and the jurisdiction of the rural communities remained suspended.
  • City cantons: The old cities of Zurich, Bern, Lucerne, Solothurn, Freiburg, Basel and Schaffhausen received representative constitutions in which the executive (Small Council) had a preponderance over the legislature (Grand Council). Through a high census , i. H. Linking the active and passive right to vote with a certain fortune, indirect elections as well as the longevity of the council offices, the cities received a moderate class-aristocratic system. The citizens of the landscapes lost their political influence again compared to the Helvetic system. This enabled the enlightened urban aristocracy, the republicans, to be won over to the new state order.
  • New cantons: The cantons of St. Gallen, Aargau, Thurgau, Ticino and Vaud, formed from the former subject areas of the 13 old places, also received representative constitutions, but with a clearer separation of powers and a lower census. Graubünden had a special position here, as the three leagues with their high courts were restored here. The extended community autonomy, combined with direct democratic elements of the higher court communities, favored aristocratic tendencies as before 1798.

At the federal level, three authorities were set up: the Diet , the Landammann of Switzerland or the suburb as well as a Chancellor and a State Clerk as the Federal Chancellery .

As before 1798, the members of the cantons voted in the assembly according to instructions from their governments. However, the voting rights of the six largest cantons, the so-called suburbs or directorate cantons, have been doubled. The Diet had only limited powers. It decided on war and peace, treaties with foreign countries, monitored internal and external security, had a 15,000-strong federal army from cantonal contingents, elected a general in the event of war and mediated disputes between the cantons.

Each year, the six suburbs of Freiburg, Bern, Solothurn, Basel, Zurich and Lucerne alternately provided the Landammann of Switzerland in this order. With this office, the mayor or mayor of the respective canton took over the chairmanship of the agenda, directed diplomatic relations with foreign countries and supervised the cantons. The Federal Chancellery, the only permanent organization, moved to the new suburb every year.

All powers that were not expressly assigned to the federal government were reserved for the cantons. Their sovereignty was restored in almost all areas. Customs (external tariffs, bridging and road tariffs), coinage, postal and tax sovereignty as well as jurisdiction, the school system and religious affairs were again the responsibility of each individual canton. This was a clear step backwards, especially in the economic field, since Switzerland no longer formed a single currency and economic area. Each canton had its own troops, which it could train and equip at its own discretion, but whose number was limited by the act of mediation. In contrast to before 1798, however, all special societies among the cantons were forbidden - this was intended to prevent the old parties of urban versus rural, Reformed versus Catholic and new versus old cantons from drifting apart.

“Swiss Confederation” (lat. Confoederatio Helvetica ) was chosen as the name for the new state . This designation is still the official name of Switzerland today. The new constitution transformed Switzerland from a unitary state into a confederation of states with weak central power. Some of the central achievements of the Helvetic Revolution of 1798 remained: the abolition of subject relationships, personal liberties, general Swiss citizenship, legal equality, freedom of establishment, freedom of movement, trade and industry.

In contrast to the introduction of the last Helvetic Constitution of 1802, a referendum was dispensed with for the introduction of the mediation constitution. Since the constitution did not contain a revision article and Napoleon Bonaparte personally guaranteed it, the existence of the new state was more secure than that of the Helvetic Republic. However, this went hand in hand with Switzerland's continued dependence on France. An independent foreign policy for Switzerland became practically impossible due to the defensive alliance and the military surrender of 1803.

The present-day cantons of Geneva ( Département du Léman 1798–1814), Wallis ( Département Simplon 1810–1814, former Republic of Wallis 1802–1810) and Jura ( Département du Mont-Terrible 1793 / 97–1800, Département Haut-Rhin 1800) remained with France –1813; former Raurak Republic 1792–1793). Today's canton Neuchâtel also did not belong to Switzerland at that time .

Swiss military during the mediation period

Niklaus Rudolf von Wattenwyl , Schultheiss von Bern, Landammann of Switzerland 1804 and 1810 as well as General of the Diet 1805 and 1813

During the mediation, the Swiss army built on the cantonal contingents. The army was limited to 15,203 men, and expenditure on defense should not exceed 490,507 Swiss francs. Article 2 of the Federal Constitution regulated exactly which canton had to provide how many troops and how much money had to be paid into the war chest. The largest contingents and funds came from Bern, Zurich, Vaud, St. Gallen, Aargau and Graubünden (over 1000 men).

During the almost ten-year mediation period, a federal military elite emerged for the first time, although the federal general staff was not definitively established until after 1815. When Colonel Jakob Christoph Ziegler proposed the creation of a central military authority in his «General Military Regulations for the Federal Association» in 1804, Napoleon forbade this establishment, probably to keep the Swiss military system weak. During the mediation period, the federal army was mobilized three times under General Niklaus Rudolf von Wattenwyl , in 1805, 1809 and 1813. (→  List of Swiss Generals ) During the buck war, Colonel Jakob Christoph Ziegler commanded the Swiss and Zurich troops.

In contrast to the Helvetic Republic, Switzerland is spared wars during mediation. When the Third Coalition War broke out in 1805, Switzerland declared armed neutrality. The recognition of neutrality by France and Austria could not be achieved, but the federal borders, which were only occupied by a weak contingent, were not violated. During the Austro-French War of 1809, the border near Basel was violated by French troops on March 11th. In mid-April, the daily charter had 1,500 men mobilized to secure the eastern border. A meeting between Hans von Reinhard and Napoleon on April 25, 1809 in Regensburg brought the assurance that he would respect the neutrality of Switzerland. Napoleon declared at the same time that for him neutrality was a word without meaning; she only serves the Swiss as long as he wants to. On November 24th, as if to show Switzerland's weakness, the Lagrange division violated the border at Schaffhausen, Rheinfelden and Basel, although the war had ended on October 14th.

The occupation of Ticino by Italian troops on October 31, 1810, was a severe oppression for Switzerland. Napoleon ordered this step in order to allegedly take action against smuggling and surreptitious trade. Despite protests by the Swiss Confederation, Ticino remained occupied until November 7, 1813, with the exception of Misox. The strained relations between Switzerland and France because of the Ticino question and the continental blockade lead Napoleon to repeatedly threaten Switzerland with annexation.

The largest contingent of the Confederation during the mediation period was ordered in view of the Allied approach. After the proclamation of armed neutrality on November 18, 1813, 15,000–20,000 men under General von Wattenwyl were sent to the border eight days later. Despite multiple border violations by the Allied troops, there was no fighting. On December 21st, around 130,000 Allied troops marched across the Rhine towards France near Basel and Rheinfelden, without von Wattenwyl's opposition.

The mercenaries also flourished during the mediation period. On September 27, 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte, as consul of the French Republic, concluded a military alliance with Switzerland for 25 years. There was also a defensive alliance for 50 years. The military alliance authorized France to recruit 16,000 men in peacetime and 25,000 men in wartime. Switzerland was only allowed to conclude military capitulations with states from the French alliance system. The conditions of the alliance were significantly worse than the military alliances that had been concluded with the French kings. In particular, Switzerland was no longer allowed to import cheap French salt, but had to buy 200,000 quintals of overpriced salt.

The surrender of the French to Theodor von Reding in Bailén

Napoleon activated the military alliance several times. In the summer of 1806 he demanded for the first time the position of four Swiss regiments with 16,000 men in order to use them in the war against Prussia. However, the advertisements fell far short of expectations. On January 13, Napoleon therefore gave Switzerland an ultimatum to provide 16,000 mercenaries with a deadline of May 1 to deploy the troops in the 4th coalition war. Despite great efforts by the cantons, only 12,000 men came together. The Swiss contingents were then used primarily in the war against Portugal on the Pyrenees Peninsula. At the beginning of the Spanish War of Independence, the Swiss mercenaries in Spanish service suddenly found themselves at war with France. Spain had also concluded a military surrender with Switzerland on August 2, 1804. After the outbreak of the popular uprising, the Swiss regiments in the Spanish service decided in favor of the legitimate King Ferdinand VII . In connection with the Spanish War of Independence, the victory of the Swiss General Theodor von Reding over the French in the Battle of Bailén caused a sensation .

The unsatisfactory advertising constantly strained the relationship between Napoleon and Switzerland. From December 1811 the military alliance was renegotiated, which resulted in the signing of a new agreement on March 28, 1812, according to which Switzerland only had to provide 12,000 men. Around 9,000 Swiss eventually fought in the Grand Army, which invaded Russia on June 24th. When retreating across the Beresina, the Swiss regiments lost 80% of their population. Only 700 Swiss returned from Russia, most of them unable to work and severely disabled. Despite the signs of Napoleon's decline, the Swiss regiments remained in his service to the end.

Economic history of Switzerland during the mediation period

During the mediation period, Switzerland was heavily dependent on French economic policy. On the one hand, Napoleon's protectionist measures made it very difficult to export Swiss textiles to the French market. On the other hand, the continental blockade against Great Britain had a stimulating effect. The import of British raw and colonial goods was made much more difficult, but the elimination of cheap British competition made the development of the Swiss textile and machine industry possible in a protected environment. Strong competition and pressure to increase efficiency led to a concentration process and the establishment of the first larger factories. The introduction of the spinning machine paved the way for the end of the traditional publishing system in the first half of the 19th century. As a result of the restructuring, unemployment rose sharply in certain regions. The beginning of Swiss industrialization falls during the mediation period .

The economic-political disputes between Switzerland and France during the mediation period always concerned the same issues: customs policy, smuggling and compliance with the continental blockade. (→  Neuchâtel Affair ) Switzerland was constantly under French pressure to take action against the lucrative smuggling of British trade goods. In 1810, by order of France, the Diet had to confiscate all British goods and impose a high duty on all colonial goods.

List of governors in Switzerland


  • François de Capitani: Persistence and subversion (1648-1815). In: Beatrix Mesmer (Ed.): History of Switzerland and the Swiss. Study edition in 1 volume. Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel [a. a.] 1986, ISBN 3-7190-0943-2 , pp. 447-525.
  • Andreas Fankhauser: Mediation. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  • Daniel Frei: Mediation. In: Handbook of Swiss History. Volume 2. Report House, Zurich 1977, ISBN 3-85572-021-5 , pp. 843–869.
  • Ulrich Häfelin , Walter Haller : Swiss Federal Law. The new federal constitution. 5th completely revised edition. Schulthess, Zurich 2001, ISBN 3-7255-4210-4 .
  • Wilhelm Oechsli : History of Switzerland in the Nineteenth Century. Volume 1: Switzerland under French protectorate 1798–1813. S. Hirzel, Leipzig 1903 ( State history of the latest time. Volume 29).

Web links

Commons : Mediation time  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Documentation by the French Senate on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the publication of the mediation act , February 19, 2003
  2. Ulrich Häfelin , Swiss Federal State Law, N 39; Frei, Mediation, pp. 844f.