to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Berne, December 5, 1882. (Received December 21.)
Sir: About a century ago Henry Pestalozzi, the great Swiss pedagogue, spoke the significant words: “Patron spirit of this country, announce it in thunder tones through hills and valleys, that true popular freedom can only be made possible through the education of man.”
At that time popular education in Switzerland was at a low ebb. If a child was able to barely read and to recite the catechism its education was considered as finished. A harmonious development of the intellectual faculties, and to store the mind with varied and useful knowledge, was not thought of; in some places such a course was even held to be dangerous. Hence gross ignorance and intellectual apathy were everywhere prevalent.
It was then that Henry Pestalozzi appeared with his reformatory method of education. But, like all reformers, he was misjudged, and his programme of reform met with opposition. However, the good seed he had sown was destined to grow and bear fruit. The effects of the revolution of 1830 reached Switzerland. Throughout the Protestant cantons the watchwords were, “Constitutional reform! Popular education!” On the 22d of November, 1830, 10,000 liberal-minded men, on the fields of Uster, declared, “We demand a thorough reform of our public schools, and our system of public instruction!” A month later, Joseph Munzinger, of Olten, canton of Soleure, at a large public meeting pronounced the important words: “Popular sovereignty and popular education must be demanded without reservation!” At various places in Switzerland public meetings were held and similar sentiments expressed and adopted.
Thus the way was gradually prepared for a reorganization of the public schools, and a reform of the system of public instruction. In 1848 a new constitution was adopted in a revised form. In this constitution public instruction was relegated to the several cantons, with the proviso that the confederation should take the necessary steps against those cantons which failed to execute this part of the federal constitution. The following is a translation of article 27 of the present federal constitution:
The several cantons will provide for sufficient primary instruction, which shall stand under the exclusive supervision of the state. It is to be obligatory, and, in the public schools, gratis.
The public schools shall be so conducted that they may be attended by the children of all confessions [denominations] without their liberty of faith and conscience being encroached upon.
Against cantons which neglect to follow these provisions the Confederacy is to take he necessary steps.
Whether any of the cantons have in recent years failed to execute the provisions of this article of the federal constitution it is not for me to determine. It is sufficient to state that the Federal Assembly on the 14th of June last adopted the following resolution relating to the execution of the provisions of the article in question:
The Federal Council is instructed to cause the department of the interior without delay to collect such information concerning the public schools in the several cantons as is necessary for a thorough execution of article 27 of the federal constitution, as well as for the adoption of laws in relation to it.
In order to enable the department of the interior to carry out the provisions of this resolution, that department may appoint a secretary (of education), with a salary of 6,000 francs, whose duties shall be prescribed by the federal council.
Many citizens in the several cantons saw in the foregoing resolution an abridgment of the sovereign rights Of their respective cantons to regulate and manage their own public schools. Hence, there being a provision in the federal constitution to the effect that, if a law enacted by the Federal Assembly gives dissatisfaction, a petition signed by 5,000 citizens eligible to vote, duly certified, may be sent to the Federal Council, requesting that said law be referred and submitted to the direct vote of the people. Such a petition, or petitions, signed by about 180,000 citizens, were, during the course of the past summer, sent to that council, and the council fixed upon November 26 last as the date at which the people were to decide by direct vote whether the resolution adopted by the federal assembly on June 14 last should be enforced or whether it should be rejected.
The result of the popular vote is, in favor of the resolution, 171,970; against it, 316,852. This result astonished both parties, for it is so entirely different from what they had expected, the more so, since the agitation on both sides of the question was fierce and bitter. If one looked beyond the mere wording of the resolution, it became evident that the liberal party, which voted in favor of it, meant to gradually eliminate religious instruction from the public schools, or at least to reduce it to a mere unmeaning form, while the conservatives, who voted for the rejection of the resolution, were determined, if possible, to maintain the sovereignty of the several cantons in the matter of the public schools as well as the religious instruction in them.
The people of Switzerland have spoken, but whether, in this case vox populi or vox Dei is not for me to determine. The great lesson to be drawn therefrom, however, is that popular education, if it is sound, comprehensive, and universal, is the best conservator of civil and religious liberty, the best promoter of the happiness and prosperity of the people, and the best cultivator of true patriotism.
I am, &c.,