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Switzerland in the Napoleonic era

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Part of a series on the
History of Switzerland
Nouvelle carte de la Suisse dans laquelle sont exactement distingues les treize cantons, leurs allies, et leurs sujets.
Early history
Old Swiss Confederacy
Transitional period
Modern history
Flag of Switzerland.svg
Switzerland portal

During the French Revolutionary Wars, the revolutionary armies marched eastward, enveloping Switzerland in their battles against Austria. In 1798, Switzerland was completely overrun by the French and was renamed the Helvetic Republic. The Helvetic Republic encountered severe economic and political problems. In 1798 the country became a battlefield of the Revolutionary Wars, culminating in the Battles of Zürich in 1799.

In 1803 Napoleon's Act of Mediation reestablished a Swiss Confederation that partially restored the sovereignty of the cantons, and the former tributary and allied territories of Aargau, Thurgau, Graubünden, St. Gallen, Vaud and Ticino became cantons with equal rights.

The Congress of Vienna of 1815 fully re-established Swiss independence and the European powers agreed to permanently recognise Swiss neutrality. At this time, the territory of Switzerland was increased for the last time, by the new cantons of Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva.

The Restoration, the time leading up to the Sonderbundskrieg, was marked with turmoil, and the rural population struggling against the yoke of the urban centres, for example in the Züriputsch of 1839.

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The tiny mountainous country of Switzerland has been in a state of “perpetual neutrality” since the major European powers of the time declared it as such during the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815. Why did they do this? The French conquered Switzerland in 1798, establishing the Helvetic Republic in attempt to make Switzerland something of a strategically positioned French satellite state. Not long after, Austrian and Russian forces invaded the country in their war against France. The Swiss, rather than fighting alongside their French overlords, largely refused. This ultimately led to the Act of Mediation, giving the Swiss back much of their former independence. Twelve years later, they got the rest thanks to the aforementioned Congress of Vienna in which their neutrality in the wars of their neighbors was officially recognised. Beyond the Swiss themselves having long tried to stay out of the conflicts of Europe (since the early 16th century after a devastating loss at the Battle of Marignano), part of the reason Switzerland was granted neutrality in perpetuity in 1815 is because the European powers of the time deemed that the country was ideally located to function as a “a valuable buffer zone between France and Austria”. Thus, granting their neutrality in wars, so long as they continued to stay out of them, would “contribute to stability in the region”. Since that time, with a few minor exceptions, Switzerland has steadfastly refused to compromise its neutrality for any reason, though on the war-front they did suffer an exceptionally brief civil war in the mid-19th century resulting in only a handful of casualties. While minor in its scale, this civil war drastically changed the political landscape of the Swiss government, including the establishment of a constitution partially borrowing from the then less than a century old United States constitution. In any event, as for those aforementioned “minor exceptions”, Switzerland has occasionally taken part in some global peacekeeping missions and prior to 1860 Swiss troops did sometimes take part in various skirmishes, despite their neutrality. In more modern times, Switzerland needed to defend its borders from both Allied and Axis (see: How Did the Axis and Allies Get Their Names) air incursions during WW2. For instance, they shot down nearly a dozen German planes in the spring of 1940 alone, as well as shot down some American bombers and forced down countless others on both sides. This included grounding and detaining the crews of over a hundred Allied bombers that tried to fly over the country. When Hitler tried to counter Swiss measures at keeping the Luftwaffe from their skies by sending a sabotage team to destroy Swiss airfields, the Swiss successfully captured the saboteurs before they could carry out any bombings. You might think it a bit silly for the Swiss to risk war with both sides by shooting or forcing down foreign aircraft from their skies, but on several occasions Allied bombers accidentally attacked Swiss cities, mistaking them for German ones. For instance, on April 1, 1944, American bombers, thinking they were bombing Ludwigshafen am Rhein, bombed Schaffhausen, killing 40 Swiss citizens and destroying over fifty buildings. This was not an isolated incident. So how exactly did Switzerland, surrounded on all sides by Axis (or Central in WW1) and Allied powers during the wars to end all wars, manage to keep enemy troops at bay without much in the way of any fighting? Officially Switzerland maintains a policy of “Aggressive Neutrality” meaning that although it actively avoids taking part in conflicts, as evidenced by their air-force activities during WW2, it will defend its own interests with vigour. How vigorous? To ensure other countries respect its neutral stance, Switzerland has long put itself into a terrifyingly over prepared position to fight, and made sure every country around them was, and is, well aware of this fact. As for specifics, to begin with, a common misconception about Switzerland is that because it doesn’t actively take part in global military conflicts, that it doesn’t have a strong or well prepared military. In reality the Swiss military is a highly trained and competent fighting force, and due to the country’s policy of compulsory conscription of males (today women may volunteer for any position in the military, but are not required to serve) is surprisingly large for a country of only around eight million people. In fact, approximately two-thirds of all males are ultimately deemed mentally and physically fit enough to serve in the Swiss military, meaning a huge percentage of their population is ultimately military trained. (Those who are not, and aren’t exempt because of a disability, are required to pay additional taxes until they are 30 to make up for not serving.) As for what fighting force is actively maintained, the Swiss military today is only around 140,000 men strong and just this year it has been voted to reduce that to 100,000. This is a major downsize from just two decades ago when it was estimated the Swiss military had some 750,000 soldiers. For reference, this latter total is about half the size of the United States military today, despite Switzerland having only about eight million people vs. the United States’ three hundred million. In addition to this, Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world and many Swiss people are highly competent in handling said firearms due to both compulsory military service and a strong culture of recreational shooting (half a million Swiss children are said to be part of a gun club of some kind). This said, in recent years the rate of gun ownership has declined somewhat after a series of gun related incidents, such as one where a man shot his estranged wife with his old military issued rifle. Prior to the shooting, military conscripts would take their rifle home with them after their service ended and were expected to keep it ready for use in defending the country should the need arise. After these incidents, the military curbed this and implemented a new policy stating that any conscript wishing to keep their gun after service must buy it and apply for a permit. As part of this new policy, the Swiss military also no longer provides ammunition with the guns, instead keeping it in secure locations that citizens must get to in the event of an emergency. Speaking of emergencies, generally speaking, Switzerland is prepared for near any global catastrophe from nuclear fallout to a surprise invasion from an enemy force thanks to a defensive plan it has been implementing since 1880, but which was doubled-down upon during WW2 and later during the Cold War. Dubbed the Swiss National Redoubt, in a nutshell Switzerland has taken advantage of it unique natural geography, which includes mountains that surround it on nearly all sides, to build countless bunkers, fortifications and warehouses across the country that can be accessed at a moment’s notice. The full scale of the fortifications is a closely guarded secret, but some of them are kept in plain view as part of a comprehensive campaign of deterrence. Initially the National Redoubt consisted of tunnels bored into the many mountains of Switzerland in key strategic positions for retreating troops and citizens to take shelter in, but over the years these have evolved to encompass a host of ingenious defensive and offensive structures. Along with tunnels and bunkers (which are fully stocked and contain everything from bakeries and hospitals to dormitories), the mountains of Switzerland also hide countless tanks, aircraft, and hidden artillery guns (some of which are pointed directly at Switzerland’s own roads to destroy them in the event of invasion). Oddly for a landlocked country, Switzerland does maintain an active navy of sorts, though they don’t store any boats in its mountains as far as we could find. The naval branch of the Swiss forces’ primary role is in patrolling the country’s lakes on the border and providing aid in search and rescue operations. As for more specifically how they kept themselves out of the world wars, during WW1, the Swiss military, under freshly appointed General Ulrich Wille, mobilised well over 200,000 Swiss soldiers and deployed them across its major entry points to deter any outside forces from considering waging war on the country. After it became apparent that Switzerland’s neutrality would be recognised by all powers in the first Great War, the vast majority of the Swiss troops were sent home. (In fact, in the final year of the war, the Swiss military had shrunk its numbers to just 12,000.) Nothing further was required to keep the Swiss out of WW1. WW2 was a different beast altogether with Switzerland not banking on Hitler respecting their long-held neutral stance in European conflicts. Thus, newly appointed Swiss General Henri Guisan was given the unenviable task of trying to figure out a way to defend the small country from their neighbors, Hitler and his allies, despite that said powers drastically outmatched the Swiss army in a variety of ways. Towards this end, leading up to the war, the Swiss withdrew from the League of Nations to help ensure their neutrality, began to re-build their military (bringing the number up to 430,000 combat troops within three days of the start of the war), and strongly encouraged its citizens to keep at minimum two months’ worth of supplies on hand at any given time. On top of that, they also began secret negotiations with France to join forces against Germany, should Germany attack Switzerland (a risky move that was discovered by the Germans after France fell to them). But even with all that, knowing the Swiss couldn’t win if Hitler really wanted to invade, Guisan and co. made the decision to drastically ramp up their WW1 era strategy of making invading Switzerland as unsavory an option as possible. Guisan noted that by utilizing Switzerland’s harsh terrain, a comparatively small amount of Swiss soldiers in a secure defensive position could fight off a massive fighting force if the need ever arose. So the plan was essentially to perpetually defend and retreat to some fortified position over and over again, ultimately conceding the less defensible populated areas of the country once the government and citizens had managed a retreat into secret fortified positions in the Alps. They’d then use the Alps as a base from which to both launch guerrilla attacks to make life miserable for any successful invasion force and to use highly defensible positions there to keep crucial supply lines from the invaders. More controversially, Switzerland continued to trade with Nazi Germany during the war in order to further de-incentivise Hitler from invading. (There is some speculation that some of the Allies’ “accidental” attacks on Switzerland were really not accidents at all, given that some of the buildings that were blown up were factories supplying the Axis powers.) The multi-pronged plan worked and, while Hitler did have a detailed plan in place to invade Switzerland eventually, the cost of doing so was always too high given the Axis power’s troubles both on the Eastern and Western fronts. Thus, Switzerland was largely ignored by both Allies and the Axis throughout WW2, despite its amazingly well placed location right next to Germany, Italy, France, and Austria. Switzerland stepped up their level of defence during the Cold War, again mostly out of a desire to deter any potential invaders. This time, however, the focus was on “aggressively” defending Switzerland’s borders instead of defending them only long enough to cover a retreat into the well fortified mountains. Towards this end, Switzerland’s roads, bridges and train lines were rigged with explosives that could be detonated at any time. In many cases, the engineers who designed the bridges were required to come up with the most efficient way, using explosives, to ensure the complete destruction of those same bridges. Once the destruction plan was developed, hidden explosives were installed at the appropriate locations in the bridges. On top of that, the military also lined hundreds of mountains flanking major roads with explosives to create artificial rockslides. All total, over three thousand points of demolition are publicly known to have been implemented throughout the small country. With ground attacks covered, the Swiss looked to the skies. Unfortunately for them, attack by air is much harder to defend against for a country so small that enemy air forces could penetrate anywhere within its borders before an adequate defence could be mustered to defend its cities. To protect against this, the Swiss government constructed thousands of bomb shelters in homes, towns and cities to such a degree that it’s estimated that anywhere between 80 to 120 percent of the country’s population could hide in them for extended periods. Many of these shelters also included small hospitals and the necessary equipment to set up independent command centers. In fact, homes built after WW2 were often made with over 40 cm (16 in.) thick concrete ceilings to help them survive aerial bombings. If your home didn’t accommodate such a shelter, you had to pay a tax to support places that did. It’s also rumoured that much of Switzerland’s gold supply as well as vast supplies of food stores have been similarly squirreled away somewhere in the Alps, which comprise just over half of the country’s total land area. As a further example of how ridiculously well prepared the Swiss are for any and all threats, there are things like hidden hydroelectric dams built inside of unmarked mountains so that in the event of mass bombings, they’ll still have electricity from these secret facilities. And, remember, these are the things the Swiss government has let us know about. It is thought that there are probably more fortifications and hidden goodies scattered about the country’s landscape. Since the end of the Cold War (see How Did the Cold War Start and End), similar to how the Swiss government has been slowly disarming its population and reducing its standing army, decommissioning some of these fortifications has begun in order to reduce government spending. The Swiss government is somewhat coy about the extent of this disarming, but it has been reported that many of the more extreme defences, such as the explosives that used to be hidden inside the country’s bridges and along its road and railways, have been removed. As for the bunkers, unfortunately, simply abandoning many of these facilities is not an option, and it’s fairly expensive to decommission them. As such, as the head of security policy for the federal Department of Defense, Christian Catrina, said “…in most cases we’d be glad if someone would take them off our hands for no price”. In some cases, this has resulted in companies using the ridiculously well protected and secure mountain facilities as data repositories and server farms. In one such converted bunker, the servers inside are even completely protected from outside electromagnetic impulses that result from nuclear explosions. In another, detailed instructions on how to build devices for reading all known data storage formats, even older formats like floppy disks, are kept, so that if that knowledge is otherwise lost, future generations can still decode our data storage devices to access the data within correctly. Essentially, the researchers involved in this particular project have attempted to create a “Rosetta Stone” of data formats and are using a ridiculously secure Swiss bunker as the storage point for that knowledge. As a result of military downsizing, the fate of the rest of the fortifications is unclear and there are calls to decommission all of them, despite the estimated billion dollar price tag to do so. There is even a growing minority of the Swiss population who would like to see the entire military disbanded, including ceasing mandatory conscription. But for now, at least, any country that wishes to ignore Switzerland’s long-held neutrality in military conflicts will find the tiny country an exceptionally difficult one to conquer and occupy. And presumably if war ever again threatens Swiss’ borders, regardless of how small they make their military today, they’ll likely keep themselves in a position to rapidly ramp back up their defences as they did for WW1 and WW2.


Fall of the Ancien Régime

The people of Zürich celebrate dancing around an Arbre de la liberté on the Münsterhof while the French carry off the treasury (1848 woodcut).
The people of Zürich celebrate dancing around an Arbre de la liberté on the Münsterhof while the French carry off the treasury (1848 woodcut).
Flag of the Helvetic Republic

During the last years of the Ancien Régime, the growing conflicts throughout the Confederation (aristocratic cities against peasant farmers, Protestant against Catholic, and canton against canton) had weakened and distracted the Diet. In Paris, the Helvetian Club, founded in 1790 by several exiled Vaudois and Fribourgers, was the centre from which the ideas of the French Revolution were spread in the western part of the Confederation.[1] During the next eight years, revolts sprang up across the Confederation and, unlike earlier ones, many were successful. In 1790 the Lower Valais rose against the upper districts.[1] In 1791, Porrentruy rebelled against the Bishop of Basel and became the Rauracian republic in November 1792 and in 1793, there was a rebellion in the French department of the Mont Terrible. In 1795, St Gallen successfully revolted against the prince-abbot. These revolts were supported or encouraged by France, but the French army did not directly attack the Confederation.

However, following the French success in the War of the First Coalition (1792–1797) against the aristocratic armies of Prussia and Austria, the time had come for direct action against the aristocratic Ancien Régime in Switzerland. In 1797, the districts of Chiavenna, Valtellina, and Bormio, dependencies of the Three Leagues (an associate of the Confederation), revolted under the encouragement of France. They were quickly invaded and annexed to the Cisalpine Republic on 10 October 1797. In December of the same year, the Bishopric of Basel was occupied and annexed.[2] On 9 December 1797, Frédéric-César de La Harpe, a member of the Helvetian Club from Vaud, asked France to invade Bern to protect Vaud. Seeing a chance to remove a feudal neighbor and gain Bern's wealth, France agreed.[1] By February 1798, French troops occupied Mulhouse and Biel/Bienne. Meanwhile, another army entered Vaud, and the Lemanic Republic was proclaimed. The Diet broke up in dismay without taking any steps to avert the coming storm. On 5 March, troops entered Bern, deserted by her allies and distracted by quarrels within. With Bern, the stronghold of the aristocratic party, in revolutionary hands, the old Confederation collapsed.[1] Within a month, the Confederation was under French control, and all the associate members of the Confederation were gone.

Helvetic Republic

Helvetic Republic, with borders as at the Second Helvetic constitution of 25 May 1802
Helvetic Republic, with borders as at the Second Helvetic constitution of 25 May 1802

On 12 April 1798 121 cantonal deputies proclaimed the Helvetic Republic, "One and Indivisible". The new régime abolished cantonal sovereignty and feudal rights. The occupying forces established a centralised state based on the ideas of the French Revolution.

Before the Helvetic Republic, each individual canton had exercised complete sovereignty over its own territory or territories. Little central authority had existed, with matters concerning the country as a whole confined mainly to the Diet, a meeting of leading representatives from the cantons.[3]

The constitution of the Helvetic Republic came mainly from the design of Peter Ochs, a magistrate from Basel. It established a central two-chamber legislature which included the Grand Council (with 8 members per canton) and the Senate (4 members per canton). The executive, known as the Directory, comprised 5 members. The Constitution also established actual Swiss citizenship, as opposed to just citizenship of one's canton of birth.[3] With Swiss citizenship came the absolute freedom to settle in any canton, the political communes were now composed of all residents, and not merely of the burghers.[1] However, the community land and property remained with the former local burghers who were gathered together into the Bürgergemeinde.[4]

No general agreement existed about the future of Switzerland. Leading groups split into the Unitaires, who wanted a united republic, and the Federalists, who represented the old aristocracy and demanded a return to cantonal sovereignty. Coup-attempts became frequent, and the new régime had to rely on the French to survive. Furthermore, the occupying forces plundered many towns and villages. This made it difficult to establish a new working state.

Many Swiss citizens resisted these "progressive" ideas, particularly in the central areas of the country. Some of the more controversial aspects of the new regime limited freedom of worship, which outraged many of the more devout citizens. Several uprisings took place, with the three Forest Cantons (Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden) rebelling in early 1798. The Schwyzers, under Alois von Reding, were crushed by the French on the heights of Morgarten in April and May, as were the Unterwaldners in August and September. Due to the destruction and plundering, the Swiss soon turned against the French.[1]

After the Forest Cantons uprising, some cantons were merged, thus reducing their anti-centralist effectiveness in the legislature. Uri, Schwyz, Zug and Unterwalden together became the canton of Waldstätten; Glarus and the Sarganserland became the canton of Linth, and Appenzell and St. Gallen combined as the canton of Säntis.

French Revolutionary Wars in Switzerland

In 1799, Switzerland became a battle-zone between the French, Austrian and Imperial Russian armies, with the locals supporting mainly the latter two, rejecting calls to fight with the French armies in the name of the Helvetic Republic.

Battle of Winterthur

The Battle of Winterthur (27 May 1799) was an important action between elements of the Army of the Danube, Massena's Army of Switzerland, and elements of the Habsburg army, commanded by the Swiss-born Friedrich Freiherr von Hotze. Winterthur lies 18 kilometers (11 mi) northeast of Zürich. Because of its position at the junction of seven cross-roads, the army that held the town controlled access to most of Switzerland and points crossing the Rhine into southern Germany.

Topographical map of modern Switzerland shows the geographic details of the Swiss plateau, and general locations of the Austrian and French positions.
Hotze's troops arrived in the morning at the outskirts of Winterthur and immediately attacked Ney's position. By afternoon, his troops had joined those of Nauendorf and Archduke Charles, marked in yellow.

Masséna sent the newly promoted General of Division Michel Ney and part of the Army of the Danube to Winterthur on 27 May to stop the Austrian advance from eastern Switzerland. If the Austrians succeeded in uniting Hotze's army from the east with Nauendorf's directly north of Zurich, and Archduke Charles' which lay to the north and west, the French would be dangerously encircled at Zurich.[5]

On the morning of 27 May, Hotze assembled his force into three columns and marched toward Winterthur. Opposite him, Michel Ney deployed his force around the heights, the so-called Ober-Winterthur, a ring of low-lying hills some 6 kilometers (4 mi) north of the city. The overall commander of the forward line, Jean Victor Tharreau, had informed Ney that he would send Jean-de-Dieu Soult's division to support him; Ney understood this to mean he was to make a stand along the entire outpost line, and that he would not be isolated. He expected his small force would receive reinforcements from Soult's division. Consequently, Ney directed the weakest brigade, under the command of Théodore Maxime Gazan, to move up a long valley toward Frauenfeld, and another brigade, under the command of Dominique Mansuy Roget, to take the right, preventing any Austrian flanking maneuver.[6]

By mid-morning, Hotze's advanced guard had encountered moderate French resistance first from the two brigades Ney had at his disposal.[7] The Austrian advance troops quickly overran the weaker brigade and took possession of the woods surrounding the village of Islikon. After securing the villages of Gundeschwil, Schottikon, Wiesendangen, and Stogen, further west of Islikon, Hotze deployed two of his columns facing the French front, while a third angled to the French right,[6] as Ney had expected he would.[7] Soult never appeared (he was later court-martialed for insubordination) and Ney withdrew his forces through Winterthur, regrouping with Tharreau's main force in the outskirts of Zurich.[8] A day later, Hotze's force united with the main Austrian force of Archduke Charles.[9]

Battles for Zürich

In the First Battle of Zürich, on 4–7 June 1799, approximately 45,000 French and 53,000 Austrians clashed on the plains around the city. On the left wing, Hotze had 20 battalions of infantry, plus support artillery, and 27 squadrons of cavalry, in total, 19,000 men. On the right wing, General Friedrich Joseph, Count of Nauendorf commanded another 18,000.[10] The battle cost both sides dearly; General of Brigade Cherin was killed, on the French side, and on the Austrian side, Feldzeugmeister (General of Infantry) Olivier, Count of Wallis, was killed. On the French side, 500 died, 800 were wounded and 300 captured; on the Austrian side, 730 killed, 1,470 wounded, and 2,200 captured. When the Austrians took the French positions in the city, they also captured over 150 guns.[11] Ultimately, French general André Masséna yielded the city to the Austrians, under Archduke Charles. Massena retreated beyond the river Limmat, where he managed to fortify his positions.[12] Hotze's force harassed their retreat, and secured the river shoreline.[13] Despite Hotze's aggressive harassment of the French retreat, Charles did not follow up on the withdrawal; Masséna established himself on the opposite bank of the Limmat without threat of pursuit from the main body of the Austrian Army, much to the annoyance of the Russian liaison officer, Alexander Ivanovich, Count Ostermann-Tolstoy.[14]

On 14 August 1799, a Russian force of 6,000 cavalry, 20,000 infantry, and 1,600 Cossacks, under Alexander Korsakov, joined Archduke Charles' force in Schaffhausen.[15] In a vice-like operation, together with the Russians, they would surround André Masséna's smaller army on the banks of the Limmat, where it had taken refuge the previous spring. To divert this attack, General Claude Lecourbe, attacked the pontoon bridges over which the Austrians crossed the Rhine, destroying most of them, and making the rest unusable.[16]

Before Charles could regroup, orders arrived from the Aulic Council, the imperial body in Vienna charged with conduct of war, to countermand his plan;[17] Charles' troops were to leave Zurich in the supposedly capable hands of Korsokov, re-cross the Rhine and march north to Mainz. Charles stalled this operation as long as he could, but eventually he had to concede to Vienna's orders. Consequently, the Russian troops under a novice general replaced the Austrian troops and their seasoned commander. Charles withdrew his force to the north of the Rhine. Although the order to Charles to recross the Rhine and march north was eventually countermanded, by the time such instructions reached him, they were too late to reverse.[18]

In the Second Battle of Zürich, the French regained control of the city, along with the rest of Switzerland. Notably, Massena out-generaled Korsakov; surrounded him, tricked him, and then took more than half his army prisoner, plus captured the baggage train and most of his cannons, and inflicted over 8,000 casualties.[19] Most of the fighting took place on both banks of the Limmat up to the gates of Zürich, and part within the city itself. Zürich had declared itself neutral, and was spared general destruction. General Nicolas Oudinot commanded the French forces on the right bank and General Édouard Mortier, those on the left.[20]

On the same day, Jean-de-Dieu Soult and about 10,000 troops faced Hotze and 8,000 Allies[21] in the Battle of Linth River. Soult sent 150 volunteers to swim the river in the middle of the night. Most carried a saber in their teeth and a pistol and cartridges tied to their heads; others carried drums or bugles. These soldiers killed the Austrian sentries, overran an outpost, made lots of confusing noise, and signaled Soult's main force to cross in boats.[22] Hotze was killed during this maneuver when Soult's men surprised him on an early morning reconnaissance.[23] Franz Petrasch assumed command but his troops were badly beaten and forced to retreat, losing 3,500 prisoners, 25 field guns, and four colors.[22]

While Masséna and Soult were drubbing the Allies, Alexander Suvorov's 21,285 Russians arrived in Switzerland from Italy.[24] In the Battle of Gotthard Pass from 24–26 September, Suvorov's army pushed aside Lecourbe's 8,000 troops and reached Altdorf near Lake Lucerne.[25] From there, Suvorov led his army across the Kinzig Pass hoping to make a junction with the other Allied forces. At Muotathal, Suvorov finally learned that disaster had overtaken the Allied forces and that his army was marooned.[26] The Russians broke out of the trap and were at St. Gallen in early October. Suvorov was forced to lead his men over the Alps to the Vorarlberg, resulting in additional losses.[27]

Civil war and the end of the Republic

16 Frank coin issued by the Helvetic Republic, this represents the first national coinage of Switzerland.
16 Frank coin issued by the Helvetic Republic, this represents the first national coinage of Switzerland.

Instability in the Republic reached its peak in 1802–03—including the Stecklikrieg civil war of 1802. Together with local resistance, financial problems caused the Helvetic Republic to collapse, and its government took refuge in Lausanne. Due to the instability of the situation, the Helvetic Republic had over 6 constitutions in a period of 4 years.[3]

At that time Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul of France, summoned representatives of both sides to Paris in order to negotiate a solution. Although the Federalist representatives formed a minority at the conciliation conference, known as the "Helvetic Consulta"; Bonaparte characterised Switzerland as federal "by nature" and considered it unwise to force the area into any other constitutional framework.

On 19 February 1803, the Act of Mediation restored the cantons. With the abolition of the centralized state, Switzerland became a confederation once again.

The period of the Helvetic Republic is still very controversial within Switzerland.[28] It represents the first time that Switzerland as a unified country existed and a step toward the modern federal state. For the first time the population was defined as Swiss, not as members of a specific canton. For cantons like Vaud, Thurgau and Ticino the Republic was a time of political freedom from other cantons. However the Republic also marked a time of foreign domination and revolution. For the cantons of Bern, Schwyz and Nidwalden it was a time of military defeat followed by occupation. In 1995 the Federal Parliament chose to not celebrate the 200 year anniversary of the Helvetic Republic, but to allow individual cantons to celebrate if they wished.[28]

Act of Mediation

Swiss Confederation

Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft
Confédération suisse
Confederazione Svizzera
coat of arms[29]
Karte Mediation.png
StatusClient state of the French Empire
Common languagesSwiss French, Swiss German, Swiss Italian, Rhaeto-Romance languages
Historical eraNapoleonic Wars
• Act of Mediation
19 February 1803
7 August 1815
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Helvetic Republic
Restored Swiss Confederacy

The Swiss Confederation was re-established as a result of the Act of Mediation issued by Napoleon Bonaparte on 19 February 1803 in the aftermath of the Stecklikrieg. The period of Swiss history from 1803 to 1815 is itself known as Mediation. The act abolished the previous Helvetic Republic, which had existed since the invasion of Switzerland by French troops in March 1798. After the withdrawal of French troops in July 1802, the Republic collapsed (Stecklikrieg). The Act of Mediation was Napoleon's attempt at a compromise between the Ancien Régime and a Republic. This intermediary stage of Swiss history lasted until the Restoration of 1815.

In 1803 Napoleon's Act of Mediation partially restored the sovereignty of the cantons, and the former subject territories of Aargau, Thurgau, Vaud, and Ticino became cantons with equal rights.

Likewise, the Three Leagues, formerly an associate (Zogewandter Ort) but not a full member of the confederacy, became a full member as the canton of Graubünden. The city of St. Gallen, also historically an associate of the confederacy, along with its own former subject territories (and with those formerly belonging to the Abbey of Saint Gall) became a full member as the canton of St. Gallen, for a total of nineteen cantons.

In contrast, the territories of Biel, Valais, the former Principality of Neuchâtel (the later canton of Neuchâtel), of the Bishopric of Basel (the later Bernese Jura), and of Geneva did not become part of the Swiss confederacy until the end of the Napoleonic era.

Act of Mediation, 1803
Act of Mediation, 1803

With Napoleon acting as a mediator and declaring that the natural political state of the Swiss is a Federation,[30] the Act of Mediation dissolved the Helvetic Republic and addressed many of the issues that had torn the Republic apart. It restored the original Thirteen Cantons of the old Confederation and added six new cantons, two (St Gallen and Graubünden or Grisons) having been formerly associates, and the four others being made up of the subject lands conquered at different times — Aargau (1415), Thurgau (1460), Ticino (1440, 1500, 1512), and Vaud (1536).[1]

The Act of Mediation consists of nineteen separate constitutions for the nineteen sovereign cantons, ordered alphabetically, followed by a "Federal Act" (Acte Fédéral, pp. 101–109) detailing mutual obligations between the cantons and provisions for the Federal Diet. In the Diet, six cantons which had a population of more than 100,000 (Bern, Zurich, Vaud, St Gallen, Graubünden and Aargau) were given two votes, the others having but one apiece. Meetings of the Diet were to be held alternately at Fribourg, Bern, Solothurn, Basel, Zürich and Lucerne.[1] The Landsgemeinden, or popular assemblies, were restored in the democratic cantons, the cantonal governments in other cases being in the hands of a great council (legislative) and the small council (executive). There were to be no privileged classes, burghers or subject lands. Every Swiss citizen was to be free to move and settle anywhere in the new Confederation.[1]

However the rights promised in the Act of Mediation soon began to erode. In 1806 the principality of Neuchâtel was given to Marshal Berthier. Ticino was occupied by French troops from 1810 to 1813. Also, in 1810 the Valais was occupied and converted into the French department of the Simplon to secure the Simplon Pass. At home the liberty of moving from one canton to another (though given by the constitution) was, by the Diet in 1805, restricted by requiting ten years' residence, and then not granting political rights in the canton or a right of profiting by the communal property.[1]

As soon as Napoleon's power began to wane (1812–1813), the position of Switzerland became endangered. The Austrians, supported by the reactionary party in Switzerland, and without any real resistance on the part of the Diet, crossed the border on 21 December 1813. On 29 December under pressure from Austria, the Diet abolished the 1803 constitution which had been created by Napoleon in the Act of Mediation.

40 Batzen coin of Vaud (1812)
40 Batzen coin of Vaud (1812)

On 6 April 1814 the so-called Long Diet met to replace the constitution. The Diet remained dead-locked until 12 September when Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva were raised to full members of the Confederation. This increased the number of cantons to 22. The Diet, however, made little progress until the Congress of Vienna.[1]


On 20 March 1815 Bern was given the town of Biel/Bienne and much of the land that had been owned by the Bishop of Basel as compensation for territory lost during the Long Diet. The Valtellina, formerly owned by Graubunden, was granted to Austria. Muhlhausen (Mulhouse in French) was left as part of France.

On 7 August 1815, the Federal Treaty went into force and the new constitution was sworn to by all the cantons except Nidwalden.[31] Nidwalden only agreed under military force on 30 August and as punishment lost Engelberg to Obwalden. By the new constitution the sovereign rights of each canton were fully recognized, and a return made to the lines of the old constitution, though there were to be no subject lands, and political rights were not to be the exclusive privilege of any class of citizens. Each canton had one vote in the Diet, where an absolute majority was to decide all matters save foreign affairs, when a majority of three-fourths was required.[1]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Switzerland § History". Encyclopædia Britannica. 26. 1911. pp. 257–258. Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  2. ^ Helvetic Republic in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
  3. ^ a b c Histoire de la Suisse, Éditions Fragnière, Fribourg, Switzerland
  4. ^ Bürgergemeinde in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
  5. ^ Shadwell, p. 108; Smith, Clash at Winterthur. pp. 156–157.
  6. ^ a b Shadwell, p. 108.
  7. ^ a b Atteridge, p. 46.
  8. ^ Blanning, p. 233; Shadwell, p. 108.
  9. ^ Smith, Clash at Winterthur. pp. 156–157.
  10. ^ Smith, p. 158.
  11. ^ Smith reports that the casualty figures are controversial. Smith, p. 158.
  12. ^ (in German) Katja Hürlimann, (Johann Konrad) Friedrich von Hotze in Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz. 15/01/2008 edition, accessed 18 October 2009'; Blanning, pp. 233–234.
  13. ^ (in German) Jens-Florian Ebert. Freiherr von Hotze. Die Österreichischen Generäle 1792–1815. Accessed 15 October 2009; (in German) Katja Hürlimann, (Johann Konrad) Friedrich von Hotze; Blanning, pp. 233–34.
  14. ^ Smith, 158.
  15. ^ Rothenberg, p. 74.
  16. ^ (in German) Hürlimann, "(Johann Konrad) Friedrich von Hotze.
  17. ^ Blanning, p. 252.
  18. ^ Blanning, p. 253.
  19. ^ Thiers, p. 400–401.
  20. ^ Blanning, p. 253; (in German) Hürlimann, "(Johann Konrad) Friedrich von Hotze"; Longworth, p. 270.
  21. ^ Duffy 1999, p. 215.
  22. ^ a b Phipps 2010, pp. 136–138.
  23. ^ Lina Hug and Richard Stead. Switzerland. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1902, p. 361; Thiers, p. 401–402.
  24. ^ Duffy 1999, p. 166.
  25. ^ Phipps 2011, pp. 141–147.
  26. ^ Phipps 2011, pp. 148–149.
  27. ^ Longworth, pp. 270–271.
  28. ^ a b Helvetic Republic, Historiography and Remembrance in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
  29. ^ The Confederacy had no official coat of arms during this period, as the cantons were fully sovereign and each used their own coats of arms. But some cantons would mint coins where on the reverse side the Confederation was represented with a coat of arms inscribed "XIX CANT" or "XIX CANTONE", e.g. 20 Batzen coin minted by Aargau, 1809 (, the 1 Franken coin minted by Berne in 1811 (, or the 4 Franken coin minted by Solothurn in 1813 ( Use of the Swiss cross to represent the Confederacy only recurred in 1815, under the restored Swiss Confederacy.
  30. ^ Act of Mediation in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
  31. ^ Wilhelm Oechsli, History of Switzerland 1499-1914, Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 368.


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