1815-1830 History of Italy 1848-1874

Switzerland 1830-1848

The constitutions of 1798, 1803 and 1815 had ended the status of subject territories. Yet within the old cantons, the dominant cities (Zürich, Bern, Luzern, Fribourg etc.) still dominated the surrounding countryside, as the latter was underrepresented in the cantonal council. This underrepresentation, in combination with a policy of restauration caused dissatisfaction.
Since 1829 criticism of the political constitution and situation was expressed and popular dissatisfaction manifest. Conservative canton governments, most of all Bern, wanted to use force to suppress it; in the canton of Zürich the countryside community, in the Memorial of Küssnacht, demanded a change in the constitution which would give the countryside 2/3 of the seats in the council, which would be elected by universal manhood suffrage. The reform was implemented, and popular demand for liberal reform - democratization of the franchise, freedom of the press etc. - manifested itself elsewhere. A Bernese proposal to suppress the reform movement by force was rejected and the Swiss diet decided to leave canton constitutions to the individual cantons to decide. In Basel the demand for liberal reform, rejected by the city, after an attempt of a military solution, lead to the partition of the canton into Basel Stadt (city) and Basel Land (countryside, 1832). The result of the reforms of the early 1830es was that Switzerland was composed of some liberal, some semi-liberal and some traditional cantons.
One of the problems was religious discrimination, on a canton level and only in certain cantons, such as Luzern; freedom of religion and the strengthening of central authority remained aims of liberal Swiss patriots. In 1831 Swiss patriots organized themselves nationwide in the Swiss Rifle Association. In 1832 the seven liberal cantons (Zürich, Luzern, Bern, Solothurn, St. Gallen, Aargau and Thurgau) formed an alliance for the mutual protection of their constitutions, the Siebnerkonkordat. With the support of Prussia and Austria, the konservative cantons of Basel, Uri, Schwyz, Nidwalden, Valais/Wallis and Neuchatel in 1833 founded an alliance of their own, the Sonderbund (among others demanding the reunification of the canton of Basel).
Switzerland, because of its particular federal structure, was both a testing ground for liberal reforms, as well as a refuge for political exiles, such as liberal patriots Giuseppe Mazzini, Ludwig Snell (of Nassau), and not to forget Louis Napoleon, son of Napoleon's brother Louis (briefly King of Holland), the future Emperor Napoleon III.
In the 1830es liberal reforms continued, and the opposing views of Catholic liberals and 'Ultramontanists' became evident, the former demanding the erection of a Swiss Archbishopric. There was a deep rift between liberals demanding reforms and conservatives insisting in holding on to old privileges or sticking to traditional interpretations of the Catholic church, which occasionaly resulted in tumults. Late in the 1830s conservatives gained the upper hand in a number of cantons, most notably in Zürich and Luzern. Individual cantons, such as Aargau, dissolving monasteries and confiscating their property caused protests by a number of other cantons; the Jesuits were active. The rift was so deep that in 1844 in Valais conservative forces (German Upper Valais) and liberal forces (French Lower Valais) met in battle, won by the former. Ultramontanism seemed to prevail; the Jesuits were even asked to manage higher education in Zürich (the origin of Swiss reformation).

The Sonderbund was the political organization of Swiss Ultramontanism, the Jesuits their major instrument. In Luzern, in particular, they established a reign of terror. Many fled; liberal exiles tried to topple the conservative government with the force of arms. In 1847 the Swiss Diet demanded the dissolution of the Sonderbund; it refused to comply. The other cantons them assembled a force, and in a brief campaign, defeated the Sonderbund army (November 1847); the Sonderbund was dissolved. Only about a hundred persons died and about 500 were wounded in the brief war. The Jesuit Order was expelled from Switzerland. Because of the quick military decision, the interference contemplated by Austria and France did not materialize; Austrian, French and Prussian diplomats, in January 1848, nevertheless acted as advocates of the cantons' political sovereignty. A new constitution was passed in 1848 which guaranteed cantonal sovereignty, while at the same time establishing a strong federal authority, the latter being responsible for foreign affairs and the preservation of peace. The constitution guaranteed equality of all Swiss men, freedom of domicile, freedom of religion, freedom of the press. The federation assumed control of the coinage, of the postal system, of weights and measures. The federation established a bicameral parliament, consisting of the Nationalrat (National Council) whose representatives had been elected by the voters, and the Ständerat (Council of the States) which was composed of representatives of the cantons. In addition there is the Federal Council of 7 members, which were to be elected by the Federal Assembly (the combination of Nationalrat and Ständerat). Bern was to be permanent capital.

In 1841 Leonhard Widmer wrote the Schweizerpsalm; Albert Zwyssig set it to music; it took until 1961 to declare it the Swiss national anthem (with text versions in four languages).

The Story of the Swiss National Anthem, from Confoederatio Helvetica
Der Sonderbundskrieg, from Biwidus (the Sonderbund War)
Plünderungen und Verwüstungen im Sonderbundskrieg, by Pascal Unternährer (Plundering and destruction in the Sonderbund War)
1848: Ein Wendepunkt in der Schweizer Geschichte, from Schweiz in Sicht, in German (1848, a turning point in Swiss history)
Sonderbundskrieg in Zug, from Stadt Zug, in German
Industrialization, from History of Switzerland
DOCUMENTS Suisse au XIXe siecle (de 1815 a 1848), from cliotexte, 3 documents 1832, 1833, 1848, in French
W. Gracie, General Gazetteer 1823 : Switzerland
Commissum Divinitus, Encyclical Of Pope Gregory promulgated on 17 May 1835. addressed to community in Switzerland, referring to legislation concerning the separation of church and state in Baden, posted by EWTN
Documents on Swiss Constitutional History : Regeneration, from 1830 to 1848, from Univ. of Bern, Institute for Public Law, 23 documents, mostly in German (1 in French)
9 letters from Swiss emigrants to the US, 1844-1849, German Text, English Translation, posted by St. Louis Genealogical Society
REFERENCE Charles Dandliker, History of Switzerland, The History of Nations Volume XIII. NY : Colliers (1907) 1916, pp.327-594, revised by Elbert J. Benton

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on March 1st 2002, last revied on February 14th 2006

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