Helvetic Republic, 1798-1803

Swiss Rebellion 1802

A.) The Pre-History of the Rebellion

In 1798, with French troops occupying Switzerland, the state was reorganized as the Helvetic Republic, with a new constitution, which introduced many reforms modelled after those France recently had introduced. The Helvetic Republic and constitution (offered to the approval of the Swiss in a plebiscite in spring 1802, foreseeing a unitary state as opposed to the previous federation) was widely welcomed in those regions of Switzerland, which hitherto had had the status of subject territories, as their inhabitants gained rights they had not had before. The old cantons, the cities of Bern, Basel, Zürich, Zug, Luzern, Solothurn however - the former masters over subjects and beneficiaries of the federal constitution - regarded the Helvetic Republic with suspicion if not outright rejection, as they had their old rights been reduced.

B.) The Rebellion

In the summer of 1802, the French withdrew their forces from Switzerland. Rebellions arose in Nidwalden, Schwyz, Uri, Glarus, Zürich, Baden, Aargau and in parts of Bern. The Helvetic Republic dispatched her regular forces against the ppprly armed rebels (many fought with simple sticks, hence the Swiss-German name Stecklikrieg - War of the Sticks. On August 28th the Nidwalden rebels defeated the Helvetic forces in a skirmish at Pass an der Rengg; on September 10th and 13th, Helvetic artillery fired at the rebel-held city of Zürich. A rebel force then took Bern under siege; the government of the Helvetic Republic surrendered September 18th 1802. The remaining Helvetic forces were finally defeated Oct. 3rd 1802 by federal forces commanded by Niklaus Franz von Bachmann.

C.) The Legacy

Thus the unitary state was abolished and a federal constitution reintroduced. French troops entered Switzerland unopposed and Napoleon Bonaparte, after temporarily reestablishing the Helvetic Republic Oct. 18th 1802, in the Act of Mediation Feb.19th 1803, imposed a new constitution on Switzerland, which was based on the federal principle, and thus more acceptable to the Swiss. Since 1803 Napoleon Bonaparte added the title "Mediator of the Swiss Federation" to his titles. The United Kingdom, however, regarded the intereference in Swiss affairs as a violation of the Treaty of Luneville, and declared war on France (3rd War of the Coalition).

Article Stecklikrieg, from Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz, in German
Der Stecklikrieg, from Geschichte des Kantons Bern seit 1798 (History of the Kanton of Bern since 1798), in German
Historical events in Switzerland between 1291 and 2002, timeline compiled by Max Rüegg

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on February 28th 2004, last revised on November 12th 2004

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