French Revolution, Helvetic Republic
The French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars changed the face of Europe. Napoleon's invasion of Switzerland was a turning point in the country's history.
France and the Swiss Confederation had had a close relationship since the 16th century. Throughout this time many of the Swiss cantons provided mercenaries to serve the French king. At the storming of the Tuileries in August 1792 many Swiss Guards died trying to prevent the angry crowd from entering the palace. The massacre provoked great dismay in Switzerland. In honour of the fallen Swiss Guards a memorial was erected in Lucerne (Lion Monument). It was not only Swiss troops who were active in France. Paris as a cultural centre had long attracted some Swiss, many of whom were influenced by revolutionary ideas. The most famous Swiss revolutionary in France was Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793) of Neuchâtel, who had lived in Paris since 1777. He founded the revolutionary newspaper "L'Ami du peuple" (Friend of the People) and was a member of the Paris National Convention, which in 1793 decided to execute the king. Marat was murdered in July 1793.
" People came and said a crowd had gathered in the square outside the Tuileries. (…) Then news came that the Swiss guard had opened fire on the mob and that the fight had started. (...). The women in the house were our messengers. They brought us the news.(…) One woman reported that the king's palace was on fire.(…) Then my wife came from the market and said people were dragging the mutilated bodies of the Swiss round the streets. Whenever someone passed with part of the body of a murdered Swiss guard, I heard people shouting: „Hoho, bravo, bravo!“." From a letter written by the Swiss Officer J.B. Good on 3 September 1792 and sent to his brothers and sisters.
The French occupationThe French Revolution preached new ideas of liberty, fraternity and equality which were enthusiastically welcomed in many parts of Switzerland, particularly in the subject territories, and there was sporadic unrest against the authorities in the early part of the 1790s.
However, prior to 1797 the French Revolution had no serious impact on Switzerland. Initially the French annexed some parts of Switzerland cautiously – in 1793 they occupied some of the border areas that belonged to the bishopric of Basel. In 1797 Napoleon incorporated Graubünden's subject territory of Valtellina into the new Cisalpine Republic (in what is now part of northern Italy).
In January 1798 Vaud, led by Frédéric César de la Harpe, appealed for French help to drive out the Bernese who ruled it. This was the pretext for the French to enter Confederate territory. Bern was the only canton to put up armed resistance to the French invasion, but after initial success its troops were finally defeated at the Battle of Grauholz in March 1798. The fall of Bern marked the end of the old Confederation.
The Helvetic RepublicThe French abolished all existing governments and constitutions, and completely restructured the territory.
Swiss revolutionaries with French backing drew up a constitution for a centralised Helvetic Republic, which was adopted in April 1798. The cantons (previously independent states) were relegated to administrative units and re-divided along the lines of the French departments. During the "Helvetic", the cantons of Léman, Oberland, Aargau, Waldstätte, Säntis, Linth, Thurgau, Bellinzona, Lugano, Rhaetia, Baden and Fricktal were created. Geneva, Mulhouse and the Jura with Biel went to France; Neuchâtel remained Prussian, and no longer had any connection with Switzerland. The capital of the unified state was initially Aarau.
The difference between cantons, subject territories and common lordships was abolished. The confederate Diet was replaced by a bicameral parliament of indirectly elected members and a five-man directory, which functioned as the government.
Although the government was in Swiss hands, the country was obliged to accept a number of unpopular measures imposed by the French. These included accommodating and feeding French troops and allowing them to use Switzerland as a transit route.
Switzerland was also obliged to accept a treaty of alliance with France, breaking the tradition of neutrality.
The Helvetic Republic followed the model proposed by the 18th-century philosophers of the Enlightenment as a reaction to the old autocratic system where all power was concentrated in a few hands. The new republic was based on the separation of powers:
· legislative (parliament)
· executive (administration)
· judicial (interprets the laws).
More about Swiss history