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Switzerland in the Century of Nationalism (1848-1918)

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Seo, Bong Sun
Term Paper, AP European History Class, October 2007

Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. The Constitution of 1848
III. Foreign Policy
IV. Domestic Policy
V. The Economy
V.1 Food Processing Industry
V.2 The Chemical Industry
V.3 Labour Legislation
V.4 Trade and Services
VI. Insurrection in Neuchatel 1856-1857
VII. The Constitution of 1874
VIII. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            Switzerland's geographical position with its transit routes over the Alps made it a desirable possession for European great powers through the ages. (1) Switzerland developed slowly over many centuries, as more regions formed a loose confederation. The different interests of these regions sometimes disturbed Switzerland's development. In 1848, things started to become organized for the Swiss, when a Federal Constitution was made to centralize the government. Switzerland's democracy developed as its economy developed through industrialization. It also stayed neutral during World War I. As a result, Switzerland became a strong country that could not be divided any more.

II. The Constitution of 1848
            The constitution of 1848 was adopted with the majority of 15 and a half out of 22 cantons, which are states of the Swiss confederation. The constitution centralized Switzerland's government, which lessened the rivalry between the cantons. The constitution declared fundamental rights to citizens, which included freedom of religion, freedom of press, and the right to choose their place of residence.
            An elected two-chamber parliament consists of "Nationalrat," a house of representatives, and "Ständerat," a senate. "Nationalrat" was a national council, which initially held one member per 20,000 inhabitants. "Ständerat" was a council of states, which had two members per canton. The big cantons dominated the national council, while the smaller cantons could block legislation in the senate. The Federal Assembly¡¯s first meeting on November 6th 1848 elected the first government. It was called "Bundesrat," and contained seven members with equal rights, elected by the parliament. Presidency was to be rotated yearly. Jonas Furrer was to be the first president and Bern was designated the capital, or Federal City, as was more frequently called. The Federal Assembly passed laws that would promote the centralization of the Swiss government. The federation removed internal barriers which hindered the trade between cantons. It also unified the currency and the system of weight and measurement. Alliances with foreign powers, decisions on war and peace, customs, postal services and coinage became federal responsibilities.

III. Foreign Policy
            Switzerland's representatives got involved in the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and participated in developing and promoting international humanitarian law. The ICRC drew up four Geneva Conventions until today. Swiss Henri Dunant, responsible for organizing the ICRC and the Geneva Conventions, was granted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.
            During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), a private Swiss organization convinced the Prussians to allow the Swiss to take three convoys of old people, women, and children out of the besieged city of Strassburg.
            In the late 1870s, many Catholic and social democratic leaders fled to Switzerland when Germany passed the Anti-Social Democracy-Laws. The German government put pressure on Switzerland, accusing the social democrats of anarchist assassination plots.
            Switzerland mostly took part in international agreements promoting peaceful regulation between countries. Switzerland participated in the Peace Conferences in Den Haag in 1899/1900 and 1907. Swiss Elie Ducommun and Charles Albert Gobat, honorary secretaries of the International Peace Bureau, won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1902.
            The headquarters of the International Olympic Committee was moved to Lausanne, Switzerland in 1915 after first having been established in Paris, France. The International Railway Bureau was also established in Bern in 1893.
            Then, the World War I broke out in August 1914 and lasted through out 1914-1918. Switzerland remained neutral, but nevertheless was greatly impacted by the war. Because of its neutral status, all parties involved in the war looked at Switzerland as a place for diplomacy, espionage, commerce, and as a safe refuge. (2)
            Swiss men who were put on duty to defend the frontiers were poorly paid for their military service. Many found themselves jobless when they came home after the service. However, they had no compensation for their lost wages. During the war, Switzerland experienced many fierce battles fought in its own territory.

IV. Domestic Policy
            The progressives of Switzerland split into three groups. The Liberals represented the industrial entrepreneurs, who believed in the rights of businessmen and a free enterprise with no state interference. The radicals believed that the state should play a role in the economy. The democrats, who appeared in the 1860s, believed in pure democracy in which the electorate as a whole, not their elected representatives, takes part in making political decisions. The three partitions split officially in the 1890s, when the Radicals formed their own party named Freisinnig Demokratische Partei (FDP) in 1894.
            However, the workers were poorly organized and their concerns were ignored. The Social Democratic Party was founded in 1888 to represent workers' interests. Ever since 1890, Mayday was celebrated by Switzerland¡¯s organized workers.
            The Liberals and Catholics were the dominant political groups. Despite their defeat in the Sonderbund war, in which the federal troops led by Henri Dufour won, Catholic conservatives did not disappear from political life. They had considerable support in the Catholic cantons. The Liberals was also organized on cantonal level. Until 1912, the Catholics were known as the Catholic Conservative Party. Conservatism in Swiss meant defending local structures and culture against the might of the liberal-radical centre. (3)
            Civil marriage in Switzerland was introduced in 1874. Civil marriage is one where the marriage ceremony has a government or civil official perform the ceremony. (4) Switzerland also abolished the death penalty in 1874; however, it was reintroduced to several cantons in 1879. Working conditions were modified with new laws. Employers became responsible for accidents in their workplaces and employment of children under 14 became illegal. The federation established a monopoly on the production and sale of gunpowder in 1874 and on the sales of alcohol in 1886. (5)

V The Economy
            The Industrial Revolution had a great impact on Switzerland's economy in many aspects.

V.1 Food Processing Industry
            Nutritious fast-foods were invented as a reaction to the industrialization. The women workers had no time to cook and not enough money to afford food products. Diseases were spreading and infant mortality rate was high. As a response, nutritious instant food products emerged. In 1875, Daniel Peter from Vevey invented milk chocolate. Chocolate used to have a sandy taste, but Rodolphe Lindt made a new method to make chocolate melt on the tongue in 1879. Nutritious instant soups were manufactured in cubes or in bags and brought great success to Maggi and Knorr. Henri Nestle invented nutrition for babies based on milk, sweeteners, and flour in 1866.

V.2 The Chemical Industry
            In 1859, Alexandre Clavel, Louis Durand, and Etienne Marnas came to Basel from France to produce synthetic colors. Their company was known as "Chemische Industrie in Basel (CIBA)." In 1866, chemist Alfred Kern and manager Edouard Sandoz, two members of the CIBA, founded the Kern and Sandoz company. Synthetic medicines were produced as early as 1885.

V.3 Labour Legislation
            As capitalism without regulation produced huge problems for the society, laws of work were enacted. In Glarus in 1864, the standard working hours for adults reduced to 12 hours from 15 hours. Night work (8 p.m. to 5 a.m.) was banned and hiring children under 12 years of age was prohibited. In 1877, the federal legislation on work declared a maximum of 11 working hours a day. Night work and work on Sundays were restricted and measures to prevent occupational diseases and accidents were taken. Children under 14 years were prohibited to work. (6)

V.4 Trade and Services
            The first Swiss railway line was built in 1847. Between 1854 and 1864, the length of the network went from 38 to 1300 km, built and run by private enterprise. (7) However, many of the private railway companies started to have financial problems. Then the state bought the main railway companies, and the Swiss Federal Railways started to operate in 1902.

VI. Insurrection of Neuchatel 1856-1857
            At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) accorded Neuchatel an unstable dual status as a canton in the reorganized Swiss Confederation and as the personal property of the King of Prussia. (8) The displeased Neuchatellois revolted and made the canton of Neuchatel a republic in 1848, which did not please the bigger countries. The London Protocol (1852) acknowledged the rights of King Frederick William IV. of Prussia, while advising him not to take power unless they concurred. (9) Nonetheless, he threatened to intervene when the canton¡¯s militia retook the castle.
            Prussia prepared for war, and the Swiss were armed too. However, French emperor Napoleon III managed to avert a war between Switzerland and Prussia. (10) When France started to support Neuchatel and Britain backed France, Frederick William suggested keeping the title of prince of Neuchatel but renouncing his sovereignty over it. Neuchatel was integrated into the Swiss Confederation as a republic and a canton, and King Frederick William IV relinquished his rights in return for a money payment.

VII. The Constitution of 1874
            Switzerland's government gradually took on a form of direct democracy. This led to demands for changes in the federal constitution to reflect the democratic policies. Liberal businesses also wanted a revision of the constitution so that the legislation governing economic activities would be more centralized. The constitution of 1848 had not fully satisfied the liberals because many liberal principles had not been reflected. As a result, the Federal Constitution was completely revised in 1874. It declared that all new legislation can be put to a nationwide vote, if enough citizens demand it. The revised constitution was accepted with a 63% majority of votes.
            Representative democracy was introduced in most cantons, and Jews were given citizenship. Civil marriages were introduced and mixed marriages were permitted. The army and the law were centralized. Popular initiative and referendum were introduced, which became strong elements of Switzerland's direct democracy. (11)
            Amendments against the Catholic Church were also made in the constitution. The Jesuit Order was banned and the foundation of new or reopening of closed monasteries was forbidden. (12)

VIII. Conclusion
            Switzerland is a nation in which no common religion or language was ever established. The Swiss include many adherents to both the Roman Catholic and Protestant religion. The Swiss do not have linguistic unity; German, French, and Italian are used in different regions of the country. Swiss nationalism was implemented primarily by its rivalry among imperial powers. (13) The insurrection of the canton Neuchatel in 1856-57 shows that the threatening power of Prussia held the Swiss together, binding them with a feeling of nationalism. Other factors that fostered nationalism in Switzerland include isolation in a mountain region and the Swiss determination to maintain their political independence.
            Switzerland has undergone much progress in order to establish a direct democracy. "It is astonishing how little the rest of the world knows about the way Switzerland runs its politics. Even its next-door neighbors in Europe, though vaguely aware that it is a deeply decentralized country, do not really understand the other, more important part of the Swiss system -- the part that could turn out to be a model for everybody's 21st century democracy." (14)


(1) : History
(2)      Wikipedia : Switzerland during the World Wars
(3) : History
(4) : Marriage
(5)      World History at KMLA : Switzerland 1874-1891
(6)      History of Switzerland : Industrialisation
(7) : The economy: trade and services
(8) : Armed Conflict Events Data: Timeline of Events 1800-1999: Switzerland Insurrection 1856-1857
(9)      ibid.
(10) : The Encyclopedia of World History. 2001.
(11)      World History at KMLA : Switzerland 1848-1874
(12)      History of Switzerland : Constitution 1848
(13)      MSN Encyclopedia Article Center : Nationalism
(14)      Brian Beedham, United Press International, in a book review on Gregory Fossedal's The road to full democracy.


Note : websites quoted below were visited in October 2007.
1.      Article Switzerland, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia, Vol.11
2.      Article Switzerland, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Macropaedia, Vol.28
4.      World History at KMLA : History of Switzerland, by Alexander Ganse
5.      History of Switzerland
6.      On
8.      MSN Encyclopedia Article Center
9. : Marriage
10.      Wikipedia : Switzerland during the World Wars,

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