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THE NEUTRALITY OF SWITZERLAND
NEUTRALITY AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
THE recognition and guarantee of Swiss neutrality once definitely accomplished at the Congress of Paris in November, 1815, its subsequent progress was destined to be deeply affected by constitutional struggles in both federal and cantonal organizations.
It will be recollected that the initial change in the ancient Swiss alliance to a more modern form of government was introduced as the result of invasion by the French revolutionary forces, and that from April 12, 1798, to February 19, 1803, Switzerland was governed under the Helvetic Constitution imposed by the French, which created a military state with the cantons as administrative divisions only in accordance with Title II, section 15 of the instrument:
L'Helvétie est divisée en cantons, en districts, en communes et en sections ou quartiers des grandes communes. Ces divisions sont des divisions électives, judiciaires et administratives, mais elles ne forment point de frontières.
This constitutional arrangement yielded to the Mediation Constitution of Napoleon, which continued to be the country's basis of government from February 19, 1803, until it was formally repudiated December 29, 1813, at Zurich, as a consequence of the entry into Basel of the Allies eight days previously.
Although both of these constitutions were dictated by a foreign Power, they nevertheless introduced great and lasting reforms and laid a tangible foundation to which the country's subsequent development owes much. Perhaps the most important of these reforms was the abolition of subject territory in the constitutional plan, and the recognition of equal and independent cantonal states only within Swiss borders.
Napoleon's Mediation Constitution in fact completely reorganized the country. It is entitled Acte Fédéral de l'An 1803 and it formed the twentieth chapter of a lengthy document, each of whose nineteen chapters contains the constitution of a canton, these cantons being the original thirteen together with six new ones, namely, St. Gallen, Graubünd, Aargau, Thurgau, Ticino, and Valais.
The Mediation Constitution also effected a distinct centralization of power as contrasted with the loose and impracticable tie which formally characterized the alliance of thirteen, but this abandoned, a total lack of co-operation was at once perceived by the Allies, who accordingly determined to assume and perhaps increase the earlier system of Napoleonic pressure, though animated by far higher ideals. The Swiss, consequently, found that now, far from being emancipated, they were rather to experience a more direct control on the part of new masters. Thus it was on New Year Day, 1814, the Russian envoy proposed to the Diet at Zurich that it proceed without delay to the formation of a federal constitution, for since not all of the cantons were actually represented, the timid delegates had hesitated on the plea that only united action could be valid; hence nothing was likely to be accomplished. But even under the spur of the envoys, little progress was made, and Count Capo d'Istria, therefore, on April 21st presented an elaborate memorial, demanding that the cantons at once attend to the securing of harmony within their borders, and that in place of reactionary attempts to establish the ancient system of dependent districts, and to surround local cantonal sovereignty with safeguards which would paralyze federal action, they should draft a constitution aiming at unity and assuring defence against danger from without by developing regulated harmony within and strength in the conduct of foreign affairs, a strength to be found only in constitutional federal government. “In our time," said he, “a territory without unity and a constitutional system, if surrounded by powerful kingdoms, does not deserve the name of a state. While it may exist, it owes this at best to the good will or prudence of its neighbors. In this melancholy case Switzerland now finds itself, and it should at once notify Europe, through the formation of a confederation with adequate powers, that it possesses a government whose armed forces will cause its neutrality to be respected; such an aim demands a military organization sustained by federal funds. Thus alone may Switzerland say, 'I am neutral and shall so remain,' and the Diet should be clothed with powers sufficient to these ends. There should, too, be a federal council of five members chosen by the Diet, with executive authority to control in some measure the cantonal constitutions not yet formed in order that a federal guarantee of cantonal organization may be called into being." Still little was accomplished, and another and sharper note was addressed to the Diet on August 13, 1814, by Russia, Austria, and Great Britain, as follows:
De tous les points du pacte fédéral qui encore aujourd'hui divisent la Diète, il n'en est pas un qui n'eût été décidé il y a longtemps par la grande majorité des voix, si de tous les côtés l'on s'en était occupé avec un égal dévouement. Au lieu de conserver à ces questions leur pureté et leur simplicité, une malheureuse complication avec les prétentions territoriales formées par quelques Cantons, est venue distraire les esprits et confondre les objets. Aucun Canton, quel qu'il soit, ne saurait par lui-même fixer l'attention des grands Etats de l'Europe; ce n'est et ce ne peut être que sous la figure d'un corps fédératif que la Suisse entière les intéresse. C'est pour affranchir ce corps du joug qui l'opprimait; c'est pour lui rendre son libre arbitre et la parole que les puissances alliées portèrent leurs armes sur les frontières de la Suisse, combattirent, stipulèrent pour elle. Et le premier, le seul usage qu'elle ferait de son indépendance reconquise et à elle restituée par ces magnanimes souverains, n'aboutirait qu'à faire scission et à réduire ainsi tout le corps fédéral à l'inaction, à la nullité la plus absolue ? Non, la Suisse ne peut pas être déchue à ce point. La Diète, à laquelle est confiée la direction de ses premiers pas vers l'Europe assemblée, ne voudra pas que les Ministres ici soussignés n'aient à offrir à leurs très augustes Maîtres, pour tout résultant, qu'un tel retour. Ils ne doutent plus que, faisant trêve à toute question qui n'est pas essentiellement commune à tous, les membres jusqu'ici les plus dissidents retourneront au sentiment de leur devoir envers leurs Co-Etats et d'une juste gratitude envers généreux libérateurs, rachêtant par un redoublement de zèle et de loyauté dans l'achèvement du pacte fédéral tout le temps perdu.
C'est à cette condition que les soussignés prennent ici l'engagement, non seulement de faire tout ce qui dépend d'eux pour trouver et faire agréer des modes de compensation équitables et suffisant aux demandes du second et troisième ordre, mais encore de solliciter sur celles du Canton de Berne, qui sont au premier rang, des pouvoirs et instructions telles qu'il en faudra pour rétablir la concorde en Suisse et concilier les intérêts de tous les Cantons. Si cette proposition ne conduit pas à un résultat satisfaisant, les soussignés se trouveraient hors d'état de continuer leurs relations avec la Diète, en attendant les ordres ultérieurs de Leurs Majestés.
These admonitions resulted in a formal agreement, adopted September 8, 1814, on the part of fourteen cantons and two half-cantons, which furnished a foundation for action at Vienna in the following spring by the committee on Swiss affairs and produced a definite alliance-constitution (Bundes-Vertrag), which became effective August 7, 1815, although Lower Unterwalden (Nidwald) did not ratify it until August 30th. Under this constitution the country subsisted until the adoption of a new and thoroughly modern instrument in 1848; and this instrument, revised and amended, forms the present constitution of Switzerland.
During the long period, then, which intervened between the entry of the Allies in December, 1813, and the ratification of the Alliance in August, 1815, the country was nominally guided by the delegates originally commissioned to the now abrogated Mediation Diet, though in reality administrative power lay in the hands of the Allies, and for all practical purposes government was under the direction of the Russian and Austrian envoys. On May 20, 1815, two months subsequent to the celebrated declaration touching Swiss affairs adopted by the Vienna Congress, there was concluded a military convention between Switzerland and the Allies, definitely committing Switzerland to their cause against Napoleon, a course accompanied by no little anxiety until the final decision at Waterloo a month later.
Switzerland's constitution of 1815, while possessing the merit of at least giving the country a practicable form of general government, was nevertheless reactionary in its essential features. The former six directorial cantons, together with the federal chairman (Landammann), were now replaced by three chief meeting towns (Vororte), Zurich, Berne, and Lucerne, the federal government moving every second year to one of these three points. The sole federal officials were a chancellor and secretary; the available military forces consisted of cantonal contingents only, nor were these based on any system of compulsory individual military service, but were to be furnished by the cantons in a proportion of two per cent to the population of each. The federal Diet consisted of instructed delegates from the cantons; it was to exercise the privilege of sending diplomatic envoys to Vienna, Paris, and Berlin, and its deliberations were to be carried on under the chairmanship of the chief magistrate in office at the place of meeting. It was to possess the powers of war and peace and the making of treaties, but the control nevertheless of military, economic, and police affairs was retained by the cantons. There was neither a federal postal service nor a distinctly federal monetary system nor one touching weights and measures, these latter matters being intended to be subjects of inter-cantonal agreement. One vicious result of the new alliance was soon seen in the conclusion by individual cantons, or groups of cantons, of various military conventions (capitulations) with the leading states of Europe for the supply of necessary troops, a practice plainly inconsistent with true neutrality and destined to be abolished in 1848. The agreement with Napoleon some years previously to furnish contingents when required had reduced Switzerland to practical vassalage, and its declared neutrality became in practice little more than the avowal of a purpose not to engage directly in warfare on its own account. The overt retention of a possibility of such action under the new Confederation stamped that alliance as prepared to sustain, when occasion might serve, the cause of any Power, pledged to principles subversive of that constitutional freedom soon to be demanded by the coming era.
At the very outset, indeed, of its troubled existence, the Confederation was confronted with the prospect of a virtual protectorate, the earliest suggestion of which appeared in a request made in July, 1816, that the Diet adhere to the Holy Alliance, formed September 26, 1815; it was not without many misgivings that the delegates on January 27, 1817, replied in a note which, while welcoming an assertion of the lofty conceptions avowed in the Alliance's foundation, studiously avoided a definite diplomatic adherence to the union. Russia, Austria, and Prussia, nevertheless, professed to see in the Swiss note a virtual acceptance and a pledge of countenance should need arise, for the Alliance's projects, such countenance not conflicting, in the Russian view at least, with Swiss neutrality: