No. 626.
Mr. Rublee to Mr. Fish.

No. 223.]

Sir: The question that has arisen between the government of the canton of Berne and the Federal Council, in regard to the constitutionality of the decree by the former, expelling certain Roman Catholic ecclesiastics from the districts of the Jura, has largely occupied public attention in Switzerland during the past week.

The regular summer session of the Federal Assembly opened on Monday, the 7th instant. On the following day a call was published by the central committee of the Volksverein, for a mass-meeting to be held in the city of Berne, on Sunday, June 13, to protest against the decision of the Federal Council pronouncing the continued expulsion of the ecclesiastics incompatible with the existing constitution. The Volksverein is an organization which includes a large and influential section of the liberal party of Switzerland. Last year it rendered effective service in securing the adoption of the new constitution. The appearance of a call issued by the central committee of a society of so much political importance, for a popular demonstration against the administrative authorities of the national government, naturally gave rise to considerable solicitude. Regarded as an attempt to influence, by outside pressure, the action of the Federal Assembly upon the appeal from the Federal Council, which the Bernese government was preparing to make, the call [Page 1291] immediately encountered the severe condemnation of several liberal journals in other cantons, and met with so much hostile criticism, that its authors were led to modify its terms, and to disavow any purpose of seeking to intimidate the Assembly. They announced that the demonstration would confine itself to a simple manifestation of the approval with which the people looked upon the course of the government of Berne, in its conflict with the ultramontane clergy.

The meeting was held at the appointed time, and was sufficiently large to indicate the existence of a strong popular sympathy with the cause of the cantonal government. A procession numbering about 3,000 persons, consisting of delegations from various parts of the canton of Berne—the attendance from the Jura district being especially large—from Geneva, Neuehatel, and Solothurn, passed through the principal streets, with numerous banners and bands of music, and proceeded to an open space outside of the city, where arrangements had been made for speakers to address the people. The size of the meeting was variously estimated at from 6,000 to 10,000. The speeches were short and moderate in tone. The speakers asserted the right of the people to meet and discuss public questions, declared their adhesion to the policy adopted by the government of Bern in its conflict with the church of Rome; their dissent from the construction given to article 50 of the constitution by the Federal Council, their desire for an authoritative decision on the subject by the Federal Assembly, and their hope that the Assembly would give it such an interpretation as would not be incompatible with effective measures to thwart the plottings and repress the disturbances incited by the ultramontanes. At the same time they called attention to the fidelity which had always marked the conduct of Berne in its relations with the confederation, and declared that the canton would yield a prompt and cheerful submission to the decision of the Assembly, whatever it might be.

After the speeches, resolutions were adopted, approving the action of the cantonal government, and declaring that the expulsion of the disobedient ecclesiastics was fully justified by the circumstances and is warranted by the federal constitution of 1874 and the cantonal constition of 1846.

No person of any considerable political prominence took part in the demonstration.

While this popular manifestation was in preparation, the government of Berne was taking steps to bring its appeal before the assembly. The grand council convened in extraordinary session, met on the 11th, and considered the bill presented by the government for a law in regard to the preservation of peace between the different religious communities. This was adopted upon the first discussion, and final action upon it postponed until the regular session in September next. The following day the appeal from the Federal Council to the Federal Assembly, as prepared by the government, was approved by a vote of 177 ayes to 24 noes. This appeal, which was presented to the Assembly on the 14th instant, declares that the construction given by the Federal Council to article 50 of the constitution leaves the cantons without the necessary power to deal with the disturbing influences of the clergy, and details, at some length, the unsettled condition of the Jura districts, the violence of a part of the Roman Catholic population, and the dangerous power over them exercised by the prietthood.

It is not yet certain whether the Federal Assembly will take action on the appeal at its present session. An early decision, is however, strongly urged by those opposed to Berne, since the appeal suspends [Page 1292] the order of the Federal Council of the 31st May, until it is determined, and the result of non-action upon it during the present session, would be to leave Berne at liberty to maintain the expulsion of the ecclesiastics until next winter, and until after the election of a new Federal Assembly and Federal Council.

I am, &c.