Switzerland in The Napoleonic Era - Act of Mediation

Act of Mediation

Further information: Act of Mediation and Confederation of the Rhine
Swiss Confederation
Client of the First French Empire

1803–1815
Capital Lucerne
Languages Swiss French, Swiss German, Swiss Italian, Rhaeto-Romance languages
Government Republic
Legislature Tagsatzung
Historical era Napoleonic Wars
- Act of Mediation 19 February 1803
- Congress of Vienna 8 June 1815

The Swiss Confederation was re-established as a result of the Act of Mediation issued by Napoleon Bonaparte on 19 February 1803 in the aftermath of the Stecklikrieg. The period of Swiss history from 1803 to 1815 is itself known as Mediation. The act abolished the previous Helvetic Republic, which had existed since the invasion of Switzerland by French troops in March 1798. After the withdrawal of French troops in July 1802, the Republic collapsed (Stecklikrieg). The Act of Mediation was Napoleon's attempt at a compromise between the Ancien Regime and a Republic. This intermediary stage of Swiss history lasted until the Restoration of 1815.

In 1803 Napoleon's Act of Mediation partially restored the sovereignty of the cantons, and the former subject territories of Aargau, Thurgau, Vaud and Ticino became cantons with equal rights. Likewise, the Three Leagues, formerly an associate (Zogewandter Ort) but not a full member of the confederacy, became a full member as the canton of Graubünden. The city of St. Gallen, also historically an associate of the confederacy, along with its own former subject territories (and with those formerly belonging to the Abbey of Saint Gall) became a full member as the canton of St. Gallen. By contrast, the territories of Biel, Valais, the former Principality of Neuchatel (the later canton of Neuchatel), of the Bishopric of Basel (the later Bernese Jura) and of Geneva did not become part of the Swiss confederacy until the end of the Napoleonic era.

With Napoleon acting as a mediator and declaring that the natural political state of the Swiss is a Federation, the Act of Mediation dissolved the Helvetic Republic and addressed many of the issues that had torn the Republic apart. It restored the original 13 members of the old Confederation and added 6 new cantons, two (St Gallen and Graubünden or Grisons) having been formerly "associates", and the four others being made up of the subject lands conquered at different times — Aargau (1415), Thurgau (1460), Ticino (1440, 1500, 1512), and Vaud (1536). In the Diet, six cantons which had a population of more than 100,000 (Bern, Zurich, Vaud, St Gallen, Graubünden and Aargau) were given two votes, the others having but one apiece. Meetings of the Diet were to be held alternately at Fribourg, Bern, Solothurn, Basel, Zurich and Lucerne.

The landsgemeinden, or popular assemblies, were restored in the democratic cantons, the cantonal governments in other cases being in the hands of a great council (legislative) and the small council (executive). There were to be no privileged classes, burghers or subject lands. Every Swiss citizen was to be free to move and settle anywhere in the new Confederation.

However the rights promised in the Act of Mediation soon began to vanish. In 1806 the principality of Neuchâtel was given to Marshal Berthier. Tessin was occupied by French troops from 1810 to 1813. Also, in 1810 the Valais was occupied and converted into the French department of the Simplon to secure the Simplon Pass. At home the liberty of moving from one canton to another (though given by the constitution) was, by the Diet in 1805, restricted by requiting ten years' residence, and then not granting political rights in the canton or a right of profiting by the communal property.

As soon as Napoleon's power began to wane (1812–1813), the position of Switzerland became endangered. The Austrians, supported by the reactionary party in Switzerland, and without any real resistance on the part of the Diet, crossed the border on 21 December 1813. On 29 December under pressure from Austria, the Diet abolished the 1803 constitution which had been created by Napoleon in the Act of Mediation.

On 6 April 1814 the so-called Long Diet met to replace the constitution. The Diet remained dead-locked until 12 September when Valais, Neuchatel and Geneva were raised to full members of the Confederation. This increased the number of cantons to 22. The Diet, however, made little progress until the Congress of Vienna.

Read more about this topic:  Switzerland In The Napoleonic Era

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