No. 410.
Mr. Cramer to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

No. 139.]

Sir: The new constitution of the Swiss Confederation of 1848, was revised in 1874, and came into force on the 29th of May of that year. According to this instrument, the legislative power is lodged in the Federal Assembly, which consists of two houses, the “National Council” (House of Representatives) and the “States’ Council” (Senate). Among the articles of this constitution defining and limiting the powers of the Federal Assembly is article 89, which contains a unique provision. Translated this article reads as follows:

For federal laws and federal resolutions the consent of both houses is necessary.

Besides, federal laws, as well as universally binding federal resolutions which are not of an urgent character, shall be submitted to the people for adoption or rejection in case 30,000 Swiss citizens who are entitled to vote, or eight cantons, shall demand it.

Article 90 states that the Federal Assembly shall have the power by appropriate legislation to make provision for carrying into effect the intentions of the preceding article.

Now, since the adoption of the revised constitution, May 29, 1874, the referendum, as it is called, that is, the submitting to the people’s direct vote of laws passed by both houses of the Federal Assembly has been adopted in ten distinct cases; that is, ten separate and distinct laws passed by said assembly have thus been submitted to the people upon the demand of the prescribed number of citizens.

The smallest number of citizens making such a demand was 35,886, and the largest 180,995.

Out of these ten different laws only three were endorsed, adopted by the people, and seven were rejected. The result of the popular vote in each case was as follows:

  • The first law was adopted with 213,199 against 205,069 votes.
  • The second law was rejected with 207,263 against 205,583 votes.
  • The third law was rejected with 193,253 against 120,068 votes.
  • The fourth law was rejected with 184,894 against 156,157 votes.
  • The fifth law was adopted with 181,204 against 170,857 votes.
  • The sixth law was rejected with 181,383 against 170,223 votes.
  • The seventh law was rejected with 213,230 against 131,557 votes.
  • The eighth law was adopted with 278,731 against 115,571 votes.
  • The ninth law was rejected with 318,139 against 172,010 votes.
  • The tenth law was rejected with 254,340 against 68,027 votes.

Here we have democracy, pure and simple. In this manner the rights and wishes of the minority are respected and maintained.

Besides, if the Federal Assembly should at any time during its term of service lose its hold upon the people, or no longer represent their wishes and convictions, said assembly will be taught by this method what the will of the people is in any important matter.

But, on the other hand, such an operation may be convenient only for a comparatively small country; for a large country like the United States a political machinery of this character would doubtless be too cumbersome and expensive.

One inference that may be drawn from the results of the use of the “referendum” in Switzerland is, that in the majority of cases the people appear to be more conservative than their chosen representatives, and the lesson taught thereby is: The people may always be trusted.

I have, &c.,