Mr. Winchester to Mr. Bayard.
Berne , February 17, 1888. (Received February 27.)
Sir: Swiss federalism repeats the essential traits of the federal polity as it exists in the United States, with the addition of many interesting and instructive peculiarities which give it an individual character. “Whilst in some European countries very anomalous forms of governments have assumed the republican name, it is certain that there is at least one European state in which republicanism is both properly understood and practiced.” In Switzerland, as in the United States, there is no single determinate sovereign body or assembly, or any real sovereign other than the people themselves. In the Swiss Confederation the popular will does everything, the legislative power being directly exercised by the body of the people by way of plebiscites, whilst in the Republic of France the tendency is to centralize the direction of public affairs almost entirely in the Chamber of Deputies; and in that of the United States, it is claimed with some color of truth, the initiative and legislation is being gradually taken away from Congress by a very occult but authoritative government of committees.
The most obvious difference revealed on first glance by the Swiss political system is the absence of the clear and total separation of the national from the local authorities, federal from state power, and the elaboration of checks and interlocking vetoes found in the United States. The Swiss have the three organs, a federal legislative, a federal executive, and a federal court, but they fail in the strict separation of each of these departments from, and its independence of, the others.
There are two chief forms of union between states, confederation and federation, both composite political bodies; the first retains the character [Page 1520] of a contractual combination of states, the second implies the advance to the formation of a collective state or union. The former was the case with the Greek leagues under the hegemony of Sparta and Athens, the latter under the Swiss Confederation up to 1848, and the German Confederation of 1815.
The federation form of state appears in modern times in the United States under the Constitution of 1787, and was afterwards imitated by Switzerland in the constitutions of 1848 and 1874. The preliminary stage of confederation being passed, and the higher stage of federation or union reached, the constitution no longer depends on a contract between states, but implies the existence of a common state or government, whose laws demand obedience from the minority.
The present Swiss constitution, adopted in 1874, was a mere revision of that of 1848, which had succeeded the federal pact that was framed in 1815, in place of the constitution called the act of mediation, which, having been introduced and guarantied by Napoleon in 1803, had fallen with the extinction of his power. The federal pact was the product of a time when the patrician families were in a state of triumphant reaction against the restraints imposed upon them from 1798 downwards. The text of the constitution is not so brief, nor its language so terse as that of the United States. It is not confined to general principles, but is full of details, given at length and with some confusion of repetition. It leaves little room for contention in the construction of its phraseology. Its alleged purpose follows closely that of the United States.
In the name of God Almighty! the Swiss Confederation wishing; to strengthen the alliance of the confederated; to maintain and increase the unity, strength, and honor of the Swiss nation, has adopted the following federal constitution:
The people of the twenty-two sovereign cantons of Switzerland, united by the present alliance (then follow the names of the twenty-two cantons), form in their entirety the Swiss Confederation. The Confederation has for its object, to ensure the independence of the Fatherland against the foreigner; to maintain tranquillity and order within, to protect the liberty and rights of the confederated, and to increase the common prosperity.
There are three chapters, under the headings of (1) General regulations; (2) Federal authorities; (3) Revision of the constitution; and the document closes with what are termed “transient regulations.”
Chapter I contains seventy articles, the most important of which are: First, those of a general character, declaring the cantons to be sovereign in so far that sovereignty is not limited by the constitution, and as such their exercise of all the rights not delegated to federal power; the equality of all Swiss before the law, with neither subjects nor privileges of place, birth, persons, or families; the guaranty to the cantons of their territory and constitutions (these constitutions must insure political rights after republican forms, must be accepted by the people and be subject to revision on demand of an absolute majority of the voters); military capitulations forbidden; no permanent troops (standing army) to be maintained (federal police force, gendarmes not included in this); every Swiss liable to military service and every one who, by reason of said service, loses his health, is entitled to assistance from the Confederation, if in need, and the same as to family of one killed in the service; right of the Confederation to encourage, by means of subsidies, public works that are of interest to the country, or considerable portion of it; right to create and assist establishments for higher instruction; public schools to be exclusively under civil authority, attendance obligatory and gratuitous; liberty of conscience and industry throughout the Confederation, except in the manufacture of salt and powder, federal customs, sanitary police measures, and regulations [Page 1521] touching the exercise of commercial and industrial professions which must not be contrary to the principles of liberty of commerce and industry; the Confederation having the right to grant certificates of capacity to practice the liberal profession; right to regulate labor in factories and to protect workmen against dangerous or unhealthy industries; capital punishment abolished; gaming houses prohibited; direct contributions may be levied upon cantons for support of Confederation, wealth and taxable resources to be the basis; every citizen of a canton declared to be a Swiss citizen, with the right to establish and reside any where, with the full enjoyment, at the place of his domicile, of all the rights of citizens of the canton, and with the rights of an elector after three months’ residence, paupers and those civiliter mortuus excepted; citizens subjected to the jurisdiction and legislation of their places of domicile in all the relations of civil law, but to be protected against double taxation; the Confederation to define the difference between residence and sojourn and to fix the measure of political and civil rights to the latter; Confederation to legislate as to the expenses of sickness and burial when occurring outside of canton of origin; liberty of conscience and faith to be inviolable; persons having paternal or tutelary authority shall dispose of the religious education of children up to the age of sixteen; exercise of civil and political rights not to be restrained by prescriptions of an ecclesiastical or religious nature; no one to be relieved from civic duty on account of religious opinions; no one to pay taxes for the support of religious worship to which he does not belong; Confederation may adopt measures to maintain public order and peace among members of different religious communities; bishoprics not to be setup without the consent of the Government; orders of Jesuits and societies affiliated with them forbidden, and this prohibition may be extended by federal decree to other religious orders whose action is dangerous to the Government or disturbs the peace between denominations; no new convents to be founded; Confederation may determine by statute as to the civil state (état civil), keeping of the registers, and as to marriage and divorce, but no hindrance to the former must be founded on denominational reasons, the indigence of either party, on their conduct or any police ground; the wife to acquire her husband’s right of town and community; no charge to be made for admission to marriage, nor any similar tax to be levied on either party thereto; liberty of the press, with the right of the Confederation to take steps to repress abuses directed against it or its authorities; right of petition; no one to be deprived of his natural judge, and no extraordinary tribunals to be established; ecclesiastical jurisdiction abolished; for personal claims the debtor having domicile in Switzerland must be brought before the judge of his place of domicile, his goods by virtue of personal claims not to be seized or sequestrated outside of the canton where domiciled; bodily constraint abolished; final civil judgments rendered in one canton executory in all; Confederation may legislate concerning civil capacity, obligations, and contract, literary and artistic property, prosecution for debts and bankruptcy, but the administration of justice shall rest with the cantons, under reserve of the prerogatives of the federal tribunal; Confederation may fix limits within which a citizen can be deprived of his political rights and the extradition of accused persons from one canton to another; however, extradition must not be made obligatory for political offenses or those of the press; may take measures to incorporate homeless persons, and can dismiss from its territory any strangers compromising its domestic or foreign safety.[Page 1522]
Second. Those rights exclusively conferred on the Confederation; the manufacture and sale of war powder; to maintain the post-office and telegraphs (with inviolability of the secrecy of letters and telegrams); to coin money, determine the monetary system and legislate as to the issue and redemption of bank-notes, but must not create any monopoly for the issue of bank-notes nor decree the obligatory acceptance of these notes; to establish weights and measures; to declare war and conclude peace; to make foreign alliances and treaties, with the reservation to the cantons, with federal approval, to conclude foreign treaties on matters concerning public economy, neighborhood, and police; to regulate fishing and hunting; supreme inspection over dikes and forests in the elevated regions; to grant rights for the construction and to regulate the management of railroads; to collect import and export duties, but the former must, as far as practicable, subject articles necessary to the industry and agriculture of the country and necessaries of life to the lowest possible tax, and levy the highest tax upon articles of luxury.
Third. The special restrictions upon the cantons; no canton to have more than 300 men as permanent troops without authority from the Government, and in event of differences arising between cantons, they shall abstain from all course of action or armament, submitting to decisions rendered conformably to federal prescriptions; no treaty or alliance of a political nature to be entered into between the cantons, except with the approval of the Government; agreements may be concluded between them on matters of legislation, administration, and justice, and as to these the federal power may be invoked for their execution. These are the only powers expressly prohibited to the cantons, all the others resulting from the relinquishment through the direct and discretionary assumption given the federal Government, as already stated.
Chapter II, Federal Authorities, embraces (1) federal assembly, (2) federal council, (3) federal chancellery, (4) federal tribunal, (5) national languages.
The first two, representing the legislative and executive departments, have been fully treated of in my numbers 169, November 15, and 176, December 15, ultimo.
(3) The chancellery is simply vested with the secretaryship of the federal assembly, custodianship of the records, the preparation for and publication of all official decrees of the federal council, and legislative enactments of the assembly. The chancellor is elected by the assembly for a term of three years, and at the same time that the federal council is chosen.
(4) Federal tribunal: It provides there must be a federal tribunal for the administration of justice in federal matters, the members of which must be appointed by the federal assembly, which shall see that the three national languages are represented in it. Any Swiss citizen eligible to the national council may be appointed to the tribunal, and its members must not engage in any other employment, career, or profession.
Civil jurisdiction extends to cases (1) between the Confederation and one of several cantons; (2) between the Confederation and corporations and individuals as plaintiffs, when the suit attains a degree of importance to be fixed by federal legislation; (3) between cantons; (4) between cantons and corporations or individuals, when one of the parties demands it, and when the suit attains a degree of importance to be fixed by federal legislation.
Further, it has jurisdiction in cases relating to heimathlosat (those who have no local citizenship), and differences between communes as to [Page 1523] the right of town, and of all causes placed within its competence by federal legislation.
Penal jurisdiction.—Its jurisdiction, aided by the jury, which must decide the facts, goes to cases of (1) high treason against the Confederation, revolt and violence against the federal authorities; (2) crimes and offenses against the law of nations; (3) political crimes and offenses which are the cause or consequence of troubles requiring armed federal intervention; (4) charges against functionaries named by a federal authority when committed to the tribunal by such authority, and other cases placed within its jurisdiction by the constitution or laws of a canton, ratified by the federal assembly.
Public law.—The tribunal is further given jurisdiction in cases of (1) conflicts as to competence between federal and cantonal authorities; (2) differences between cantons when within the domain of the public land; (3) claims for violations of rights guarantied by the constitution or federal legislation.
The tribunal shall in all cases before it apply the laws voted by the federal assembly and the decrees of said assembly having a general bearing. It shall also have regard in its decisions to the treaties that have been ratified by the assembly.
The assembly is authorized to place other affairs within the competence of the tribunal.
(5) The national languages: German, French, and Italian are declared to be the national languages of the Confederation.
Chapter III. Revision of the constitution. It provides that the constitution may be revised at any time, and when the two branches of the federal assembly can not agree upon any proposed revision, or when 50,000 Swiss citizens having the right to vote demand revision, the question shall be submitted to a popular vote by “yes” or “no,” and if a majority of those voting affirm, the two branches of the federal assembly shall be renewed in order to carry out the revision. It closes with the provision that the constitution as revised shall take effect when accepted by a majority of the Swiss citizens and by a majority of the cantons, the popular vote in each canton to be taken as the vote of the canton.
The transient regulations which follow are unimportant, being designed simply to give time to the cantons in some instances to harmonize existing local laws with the provisions of the constitution, the most notable one being the postponement for five years of the enforcement of article 27, requiring the cantons to furnish gratuitous instruction in the public schools.
This concludes the constitution as submitted and adopted by a popular vote on Sunday, April 19, 1874, a result reached with considerable opposition, the vote being 340,199 for and 198,013 against; cantons 14J for and 7½ against, the votes of the half cantons being counted as a half vote.
Three amendments of the constitution have taken place since its ratification or within fourteen years of its history.
The first amendment in 1879 repealed the provision abolishing capital punishment and adopted as a substitute that “no condemnation to death shall be pronounced for reason of political offense. Corporal penalties are prohibited.”
The second amendment in 1885 modified article 31 and interpolated article 32 bis, so as to authorize the “spirit monopoly” by the Confederation.
The third amendment in 1887 modified article 64, placing legislation [Page 1524] as to the protection of inventions (patent law) within the jurisdiction of the Confederation.
There have been many important measures rendered necessary by the revision of 1874, and also the assumption of the greater part of the discretionary powers given the general Government. Among these may be mentioned laws in reference to military service and the tax for exemption, pensions, labor in factories, regulating professions of medicine and dentistry, railroad construction and management, civil capacity and obligations, protection of literary and artistic property, regulating fishing and hunting; forestry, dikes, and water-courses in the mountain sections, uniform law in election of Federal Assembly, citizenship and expatriation, method of taking the referendum, banking law, telephone made part of telegraph monopoly, spirit monopoly, general bankrupt and patent law (pending); a very full law concerning the social state (état civil); making civil marriages obligatory, regulating divorce, and withdrawing from the clergy the keeping of the register of births and deaths and conferring it upon the civil authorities of the Confederation, and a carefully considered reorganization of the federal judiciary in harmony with the provisions of the constitution. The leading features of the last measure are: Fixing the number of the federal tribunal at nine; term, six years; the three national languages to be represented; salary, 10,000 francs, per annum; kinsmen in direct line indefinitely and in line collateral to the degree of cousin-german not to be members or officers of the tribunal at the same time; a president and vice-president of the tribunal, to be chosen every two years by the Federal Assembly; vacations not to exceed the aggregate of four weeks during the year; mode of impaneling the jury; formation of the assizes; defining more particularly the jurisdiction within the constitution and federal legislation, and fixing 3,000 francs as the minimum amount for jurisdiction, in so far as necessary to carry out the constitutional demand on limitation; the division of the tribunal for penal cases into three sections, the chamber of accusation, the jury department, and the council of appeal; locating the seat of the tribunal at Lausanne. In this connection it may be said that the constitution does not establish any accurate division between the executive and the judicial departments, the former exercising, under the name of administrative law,” many functions of a judicial character, especially in reference to religious bodies. The Federal Assembly (Congress) is the final arbiter as to disputed jurisdiction between the executive and the federal court. The court is greatly occupied with questions of public law, and some of the ablest Swiss statesmen do not hesitate to doubt the propriety of the court possessing any jurisdiction in matters of private law. The court can not even execute its own judgments and must depend for their execution on the Federal Council and the executive councils of the cantons. The acts of the Federal Assembly must be treated by the court as constitutional. It is thought that the constitution itself almost precludes the possibility of any encroachment upon it by the legislative department. Then when the sovereign, as in Switzerland, can so easily enforce its will, it may trust to its own action for maintaining its rights; when, as in the United States, the same sovereign acts so rarely and with such difficulty, the courts naturally become the guardians of the sovereign will as expressed in the constitution. Following the minute detail method of the constitution, a striking instance; may be cited in the federal law as to “civil capacity and obligations.” It consists of upwards of nine hundred articles, an$ deals with every imaginable kind of contracts except those relating to the acquisition [Page 1525] and transfer of the ownership of land, which forms part of the independent legislation of the several cantons. Twenty-five articles, however, relate to the lease of farms. There was much opposition to it at the time of its passage as contravening the article of the constitution prohibiting federal interference in the ownership of soil, but it was successfully contended on the other hand that it merely had to do with the rights of persons. To an impartial observer it must appear as a very doubtful exercise of the power granted.
The constitution is conspicuous for the entire absence of any provisions touching those personal rights and ancient muniments of liberty, embracing what is known as the bill of rights contained in the first ten amendments of our Constitution. They may have been omitted for the same reason that they were omitted from the original Constitution of the United States, as being sufficiently implied and understood in any system of free government. These cardinal rights are said to be expressly provided for in the cantonal constitutions, with the exception of trial by jury, which even for felonies does not universally exist, but instead of the unitary system of judge, they have a tribunal, a judicial body almost tantamount to a jury. Again it is held that all natural and inherent rights are guarantied by the article of the constitution requiring that the organic laws of the cantons must “assure the exercise of rights after republican forms.” It is astonishing the repeated references in the Swiss constitution to matters of religion and church it is evident the framers were determined to be secure from any recurrence of the religious intolerance that marked a period in the early history of the country. Whilst the Constitution of the United States makes only two allusions to religion, one in Article VI.
No religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States;
and the other in the first amendment,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof—
that of Switzerland contains no less than a dozen, viz: Primary instruction in the cantons must be exclusively under the civil authority, must be open to attendance by adherents of all religious confessions, without suffering in liberty of conscience or belief—liberty of conscience and faith must be inviolable. No one can be constrained to form a part of a religious association, or to perform a religious act, or to incur penalties of whatever nature they may be for the sake of religious opinion; persons exercising paternal or tutelary authority have the right to dispose of the religious education of children up to the age of sixteen years; the exercise of civil and political rights can not be restrained by prescriptions or conditions of an ecclesiastical or religious nature, whatever they may be; no one can for the sake of religious opinion exempt himself from the performance of a civic duty; no one shall be obliged to pay taxes for the support of the worship of a religious community to which he does not belong; the free exercise of worship is guarantied within the limits compatible with public order and good morals; Confederation may take necessary measures for the maintenance of public order and peace among the members of different religious communities; it may provide against encroachments of ecclesiastical authorities on the rights of citizens and of the state; disputes of public or private right to which the creation of religious communities give rise may be carried by way of appeal before the competent federal authorities; bishoprics can not be set up without the approval of the Confederation; the order [Page 1526] of Jesuits is forbidden, and all action in the church and in the school prohibited to their members—this prohibition may be extended to other religious orders the action of which is dangerous to the state or disturbs the peace between the denominations; it is forbidden to found new convents or religious orders or to re-establish those which have been suppressed; civil state and the keeping of the registers relating thereto is of the jurisdiction of the civil authorities (taking them away from the clergy); the right to dispose of places of sepulture belongs to the civil authorities, and they shall provide that every deceased person be decently interred (aimed at denial of burial by church); no hindrance to marriage can be founded on denominational reasons; no one to be deprived of his natural judge (against church courts, etc.); ecclesiastical jurisdiction is abolished; and every lay citizen having the right to vote is eligible to the National Council. These provisions, as fully stated in the constitution, are almost equal to the complete text of that of the United States, and produce no small part of the subject-matter brought before the Federal Assembly and the federal tribunal.
The Swiss constitution provides no executive power in the sense of that of the President of the United States; there is practically no such functionary; but the executive authority is deputed to a council of seven, as explained in my No. 176, and the authority of the Swiss legislative department (see my No. 169), whilst it nominally exceeds that of Congress, in reality is weaker, for every ordinary law duly passed by the Swiss Federal Assembly may be legally annulled by a popular vote (referendum). While it is true in each case there lies in the background a legislative sovereign capable of controlling the action of the ordinary, the sovereign power is far more easily brought into play in Switzerland than in the United States. There is no qualification for any federal office higher than that for any member of the lower branch of the Assembly; this is simply to be a Swiss citizen twenty years old and having the right to vote. So one twenty years of age may be eligible to the Presidency or seat on the supreme bench. The referendum is one of the most characteristic of Swiss institutions, having existed for many years previous to its incorporation in the constitution of 1874 in several of the cantonal constitutions, and its adoption by the Government was feared by some of the most experienced members of the convention to invite interference with a prudent and independent direction of public affairs on the part of the populace. They now concede that it has proven neither ineffective nor unduly obstructive. The article relating to the referendum brief; it reads:
Federal laws are submitted to the adoption or regulation of the people when the demand therefor is made by 30,000 active citizens or by eight cantons. The same is the case with federal decrees which are of general scope and which are not urgent in character.
Under further authority given for the forms and delays to be observed in this popular voting or plebiscite to be regulated by federal legislation, the time within which the referendum must be taken has been fixed at ninety days from the date of the publication of the law. The official publication of the law expressly calls attention to its date and the date of opposition,” as it is termed, or when the period for referendum expires.
The vote is “Yes” or “No,” and a simple majority of those voting is decisive. Since 1874 among the laws passed by the Federal Assembly and vetoed by the popular vote under the referendum has been a law creating a department (federal) of education; creating a department of justice; an electoral law; a law on currency; a law increasing the [Page 1527] salary of the minister at Washington; and a law permitting a change of venue to the federal court when there is reason to suspect the fairness of a cantonal tribunal. It seems remarkable that under a referendum upon a cantonal law a progressive income tax was negatived with respect to the subsidies the Government has the power to grant to works of public interest, it has never been exercised, only in some very insignificant sums, except in the case of the St. Gothard Railroad, which pierced the Alps with a tunnel of 9 miles in length, and of incalculable value to the whole of Switzerland. Even in the smaller subsidies the Government never gives beyond 50 per cent, of the cost of the work, and only to be paid when the work is completed and approved, the canton obliging itself to keep it in good order and repair. The right to subsidize other institutions for higher instruction besides the Polytechnic, specifically given in another article, has not been exercised, the appropriation for the Polytechnic Institute at Zurich having been made before the adoption of the present constitution.
Citizenship in Switzerland, as defined by the constitution and the laws made in pursuance thereof, is a very complex and involved affair. Under the Constitution of the United States “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” It may be said there are no citizens of the United States except the citizens of the States and Territories.
The Swiss constitution reverses the order named in that of the United States, and says:
Every citizen of a canton is a Swiss citizen.
Thus making the local or cantonal citizenship the basis of Swiss citizenship. It further contains a similar provision to that of the United States, insuring that the citizens of each canton shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of the several cantons. It is thus expressed:
All cantons are obliged to treat citizens of the other cantons as those of their own in the matter of legislation and in all that concerns judicial methods.
Then follows, however, a qualification of this right in another article, which says:
Every Swiss citizen has the right to establish his residence at any point in Swiss territory in consideration of the production of a certificate of origin or other similar document.
This refers to his communal citizenship, for every Swiss must have a communal citizenship, and this “right of township or origin,” obtained by inheritance, gift, or purchase and by marriage to the wife, is a sacred and imprescriptable right, which the constitution places above the power of a canton to take away or impair. It is this principle so deeply imbedded in the Swiss system and idea of citizenship that has stubbornly blocked the way to all the efforts to negotiate a naturalization treaty between the United States and Switzerland. In fact no special right of Swiss citizenship exists. With natives communal citizenship takes the precedence; but with a foreigner seeking citizenship a difficult and tedious process is encountered. He first obtains from the federal council authorization to do so, and this body with a due regard to the serious task undertaken allows two years within which this permission may be used. The applicant then sets out to find communal citizenship; this is a matter of purchase; when acquired he must get cantonal citizenship, otherwise the other two steps taken are of no effect and void. The cantonal citizenship is the capstone and the most difficult [Page 1528] to secure. The permit from the federal council is pro forma as a rule’ the communal citizenship purely a matter of bargain with some slight inquiry as to character, but the cantonal citizenship is only granted after a full investigation of the party’s antecedents and all the conditions going to make up a desirable citizen. Communal and cantonal citizenship must be in the same canton.
The grant of a cantonal or communal naturalization without the previous approval of the federal council as indicated is also void. The right of Swiss citizenship ceases only with death, or by the voluntary renunciation, by the person who possesses it, of his cantonal and communal right of citizenship and by the release which the competent authority of the canton gives him; and this firm tie which binds him to his country is riot even then loosed until he submits satisfactory proof that he has acquired citizenship in a foreign country and is in full enjoyment of all its civil rights.
It will be seen that entrance and exit to Swiss citizenship is a very formidable undertaking, and the law recognizes the very common dual citizenship resulting from its peculiar provisions, and declares that—
Persons who in addition to Swiss citizenship are citizens of a foreign country are not entitled to the privileges and the protection accorded to Swiss citizens during their residence in such foreign state.
The constitution secures to every citizen above twenty years of age the right to vote in federal affairs wherever he may be domiciled at the time of the voting, without regard to the time he has been domiciled, by simply establishing his qualifications as an elector, and in cantonal affairs after a residence of three months, and communal affairs after a residence of six months; the latter does not extend to affairs relating to communal and corporation private rights and property. Nearly all of the cantons have adopted the age fixed for federal electors, and their citizens are politically of age when twenty years old; there are a few exceptions, notably in the canton of Graubünden, where the age is seventeen.
Then in some cantons a difference is made between political and civil majority; for instance, in the canton of Zurich the former is 20 and the latter 24. The various cantonal restrictions present a wide field, there being a general concurrence in excluding from suffrage bankrupts, persons committed for felonies or under trial for the same, those legally declared paupers, and, in many cantons, confirmed inebriates.
The constitution, as heretofore stated, presents no well-defined division of the powers of the general government and the cantons, and with the exception of the customs post and telegraph, which are under federal law and executed by federal officers, the federal laws are executed by the cantons and communes, producing many shades of difference in construction and enforcement. Whilst each canton is independent and sovereign, except in so far as it is bound by the limitations of the federal constitution, or by resolutions of the federal assembly in fulfillment of and in conformity with the constitution, there is presented the same great political problem upon which all republican forms of government have been and are still working, how to insure peaceful and healthy concerted action throughout the whole without infringing upon proper local and individual freedom in the parts. Previous to 1798 the cantons of Switzerland were all practically founded upon privilege, many in the condition of a great feudal lord, with an aggregate of many separate seignioral properties, acquired partly by conquest, partly by purchase. The masses of the people were largely excluded from political power, and it was not until the successful movement of 1830 that a recognition of the sovereignty [Page 1529] of the people was fairly obtained, with an elective franchise exercised alike in town and country. Bloody encounters between cantons took place, such as that between upper and lower Valais, when the latter was vanquished by the former with more bloodshed and cruelty than ever illustrated the record of civil dissensions in a century. During this period each canton had a separate coinage, and the raps and bats” of one were not a legal tender in the next; each had an agent at Vienna, Rome, and Paris; each one claiming to treat with kings and recognize all sovereign acts; each kept a custom-house on every road and manned a tower at every bridge, at which to levy rates; each load of grass and butt of wine, each sack of corn and pound of cheese that passed the boundary was taxed; the last remnant of these powers levying certain rates on wines at the cantonal frontiers, called ohmgeld, only disappeared in 1886, when the Government assumed a monopoly-of spirits, both as to manufacture and tax. The perilous disposition to the employment of force between the cantons, or the Government and the cantons, culminated in 1847. The two extreme and opposite parties, one for the complete fusion of the cantonal government into one common and unitary confederation, the other for a complete disruption of the pact and formation of several governments out of it, distinct from each other, resulted in the formation by the latter of the sonderbund, a league of seven cantons—Lucerne, Freibourg, Schwytz, Unterwalden, Uri, Zug, and Valais. This league was pronounced to be illegal and an infringement of the pact. Refusing to disband, war was declared by the Diet, and 100,000 troops on the part of the Government, in eighteen days after entering, suppressed the rebellion; and from that day the peace of Switzerland has not been disturbed, every one of the cantonal governments manifesting an unshaken determination to maintain and strengthen the Confederation. The national Government has steadily extended its influence; every change has taken something from the canton and commune and bestowed it on the league or the citizen; each revision of the constitution has increased the authority of the nation at the expense of cantonal independence. This is no doubt in part due to the desire to strengthen the nation against foreign attack. Yet it is impossible to study attentively the march of Swiss affairs without seeing that what really lies next to the hearts of the people is their cantonal and communal system, and although a well-assured nationality is kept up in event of foreign danger, nevertheless the citizens look for protection, as well as for command, to their own cantonal authority. A familiar comparison is often used in speech which illustrates the relation of the cantonal to the federal feelings, “My shirt is nearer to me than my coat.”
The federal council, the executive power of the Government, still retain a very affectionate and reverential tone in their communications to the cantons, addressing them as “Faithful and dear confederates,” and closing, “We embrace this occasion, faithful and cherished confederates, to commend you with ourselves to divine protection.” From the foregoing summary given of the Swiss constitution and the laws enacted in furtherance of its aims, a paternal feature is very pronounced; it takes cognizance of the citizen at his birth by registration and guarding him through life by a multitude of guaranties; it insures him a decent burial;” and this searching, far-reaching central authority has been administered in a beneficent and patriotic spirit, with the zealous preservation of all the highest natural rights of man.
The position of Switzerland has always been, and continues to be one of extreme difficulty, but she has maintained herself with dignity [Page 1530] and success. She has with every step taken made a steady advance in the direction of liberty, and has achieved, as shown, a form of government in its essential traits closely assimilated to ours. One of the greatest contributions she has made to the general progress of civilization has been to show how under a federal system even the obstacles and prejudices that are attendant upon differences in race, language, and creed can be surmounted. Her population is formed by four ethnical elements, distinct by their language as German, French, Italian, and Roumansch; the last is found in the Grisons, and is less removed from the Latin than either the French or Italian. Thus in the central mountain region between Germany, France, and Italy portions of these three great peoples have formed small republican communities. Individual cantons have a national character, either because all their inhabitants belong to one people, as in the German cantons of northern and eastern Switzerland, or in the French cantons of western Switzerland, or in Italian Ticino; or because one nationality decidedly prevails, as the German in Berne and Graubünden, and the French in Freibourg and Valais. And in point of religion the cantons are sharply divided as Protestant and Catholic. The result of holding different peoples together without transforming them in favor of one nationality has been attained only by being impartial, and allowing each people free course in its inner life and civilization, and regarding them all as possessing equal rights, and in having a policy governed by general and not by special and national considerations. In spite of what would seem the most discordant and unmanageable elements, an enduring bond of unity has been found in a federation of peace and neutrality under one federal commonwealth, and to-day Switzerland is as thoroughly united in feeling as any nation in Europe. Deeper down than these deep-seated differences of speech and creed lies the feeling that comes from the common possession of a freedom, political and civil, greater than that possessed by surrounding peoples. Such has been the happy outcome of this “attempt at federal union.
Complete independence in local affairs, when combined with adequate representation in the federal council, has effected such an intense cohesion of interests throughout the nation as no centralized government, however cunningly devised, could ever have secured. Although the league of cantons has survived a hundred monarchies and never ceased to be a union of republics, it has lived through many forms in the nearly six hundred years of public life; it has been feudal, clerical, imperial, radical, by turns; constitutions have been everthrown in 1798, 1803, 1814, 1846, 1848, 1866, and 1874; but all these changes were but the signs of life and growth; in every stage of her historical growth additional security and extension has been gained for those general rights and interests of the citizen which should lie beyond the proper sphere of local laws and customs. To-day it is a confederation formed by a federation of twenty-two cantons, the cantons a union of autonomous communes; a rural democracy administering its business safely, wisely, economically, patriotically, seeking neither alliances nor conquests nor colonies.
To be a citizen of a great and growing state or to belong to one of the dominant races of the world is a legitimate source of patriotic pride, though there is an equal justification for such a feeling in being a citizen of a state which, in spite of its small dimensions, has nevertheless achieved so much, fighting as it were alone for centuries the battle of freedom.
I am, etc.,