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[1796 A.D.] and amongst whom were a number of the most respectable members of the magistracy, merchants, and men of letters. Of eight of the prisoners first examined, a revolutionary tribunal contented itself with sentencing one to death; but the clamour and threats of the multitude worked on these unsteady judges to retract their verdict, and extend the same condemnation to all the others. The doom of four of these was commuted for banishment by the general assembly; but a band of wretches again collected, stormed the prisons, and the bloody tribunal now sentenced their victims to be shot; and afterwards endeavoured to excuse itself on the plea that this had only been done to prevent worse atrocities. More executions followed, which included several persons who had actively promoted revolution. Numbers were banished, in order to secure the ruling party a majority in the general assembly. The large sums required by a revolutionary government for the payment of public officers, and the armed force of the populace, were defrayed by imposing heavy contributions on the possessors of property; indifferentists being made to pay double, aristocrats a treble amount.
Party spirit, however, cooled by degrees; approximations and concessions took place between all classes of citizens, who felt, in common, the general ruin of public and private happiness; and the disappointment of all the hopes which had formerly found indulgence. In 1796, a return to the old constitution was agreed upon, on condition of equality of rights being conceded to the old and new burghers, and the town and country inhabitants. The exiles returned home, and all rejoiced that they could again breathe freely. For two years more, the little republic dragged on an infirm existence; till it was finally united with France in 1798, and forced to partake, for fifteen years, the destinies of that country.
Of the men who had at different times been banished for political offences from Switzerland, many had taken refuge in the French metropolis, and endeavoured to persuade the republican statesmen that their enemies were equally those of France. [Notable among them was La Harpe of Vaud, who published a treatise on the situation of the Pays de Vaud and demanded its restoration from Bern.] Their representations found the easier audience, as Switzerland was already regarded with greedy eyes by their hearers. 'At an early period of the Revolution," observes an English writer, "the views of France were directed towards Switzerland, as well from its importance as a barrier on her eastern frontier, as from its central position between the German Empire and Italy. The reduction, therefore, of Switzerland, was a favourite object of the republican rulers, and was only suspended by the dread of adding its people to the host of enemies who menaced France on all sides; they accordingly temporised under the mask of friendship, and succeeded in preserving the neutrality of the Helvetic confederacy, by fomenting the national antipathy to the house of Austria. Yet even during this specious display of friendship, their agents industriously spread disaffection, and prepared the mine which was ready to explode on the first favourable opportunity: such an opportunity presented itself at the conclusion of the treaty of Campo Formio, which left the Swiss without an ally on the Continent. At this period the French Republic had acquired a colossal strength. The king of Sardinia, deprived of half his territory, was the vassal of France; the pope, and the king of Naples, owed the possession of a precarious sceptre to the forbearance of the directory; Prussia pertinaciously maintained her close connection with the new republic; and Austria, vanquished by the genius of Bonaparte, had concluded a dishonourable peace.
"But the French rulers were not content with planting the tricoloured
flag on the summit of Mont Blanc, on the left bank of the Rhine, and at the mouth of the Scheldt, and with establishing the limits of their empire by the natural boundaries of the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Mediterranean and the ocean. With a view to secure their territories against the future aggressions of the continental powers, they purposed to form a series of dependent republics along the line of their frontiers, as a kind of outwork, to remove the point of attack. At the extremities of this line they had already established the Ligurian and Batavian republics; the Cisalpine soon followed. A connecting link of this chain was Switzerland, which covered the most vulnerable parts of the French territory; and, from its natural strength and central position, formed the citadel of Europe."
Besides these motives, acknowledged by the French themselves, their rapacity was stimulated by the treasures known to exist at Bern and elsewhere, the amount of which, as usual, was enormously exaggerated. What was required, in short, was not a motive but a pretext for intermeddling with the internal regulations of the Helvetic body. That body had with the utmost caution avoided giving offence; had recognised every successive form of government in France; and had turned out of their territories the unfortunate French émigrés who had fled thither for refuge from the rage of their own countrymen.
The triumphs of Napoleon in Italy were concluded by the construction of the Cisalpine Republic. The Swiss subjects of the Valteline, Chiavenna, and Bormio, were tempted to desire participation in the freedom thus established on their borders; and Napoleon offered the Grisons the alternative of conceding equal rights to these districts, or of seeing them included in the new Cisalpine state. Parties ran so high on this proposal, that no friendly understanding was possible; and when the term allowed for reply elapsed without any being given, Napoleon put his threat into effect, and confiscated all property belonging to the Grisons contained in the above-mentioned districts.
Such was the first encroachment on the ancient limits of Switzerland: shortly afterwards the bishopric of Bâle was annexed to France. Great consternation was caused by these proceedings in the confederation; but still more serious evils were at hand. In the canton of Bâle the peasantry murmured loudly against the town: in the Aargau several towns advanced tumultuous claims against Bern, for the recovery of their old and chartered rights; and the Pays de Vaud reclaimed its freedom with more impatience than It was said besides, that a French army was already marching on Switzerland; ostensibly to support the claims of the malcontents, but really to make themselves masters of the land for their own purposes. Bern and Fribourg hastily levied forces for the coercion of their turbulent dependencies; and a diet of the confederacy was summoned at Aarau. Much was said and nothing done at this meeting, as the cantonal governments neither trusted each other nor their subjects. The members of the diet renewed the original league of the cantons, as if urged by the presentiment of its coming dissolution. The oath had hardly been taken, when a messenger from Bâle brought the intelligence that the mansions of the land-vogts were in flames; that a large body of peasantry had entered the town, and that all the subject districts had declared themselves free.
The spectacle of feebleness and fear in the authorities, combined with dogged resistance to the wishes of the people, of course diffused, instead of quelling, the spirit of revolt. As in the thirteenth and succeeding century, the prerogatives of the nobles had been forced to yield to the claims of a class
[1797-1798 A.D.] of burghers and of shepherds, so soon as the example of the Lombard towns, and the growth of public prosperity, had excited independence of feeling; so likewise, in the times of which we are treating, it had ceased to be within the power of a privileged class to contend with success against the claims of the so-called third order, encouraged as it was by the example of France. Some districts, indeed, took no part in the prevalent agitations, and pertinaciously adhered to the accustomed order of things; others, more distinguished for enlightenment and enterprise, demanded an equality of rights in town and country; others, again, required the restoration of ancient franchises: some regarded nothing as attainable but by French interference; while nobler minds retained an insurmountable abhorrence for the agency of strangers in the internal affairs of their country.
It became more and more evident that the policy of the French directory led them to foment intestine discord in Switzerland. For several years past it had been observed, that foreign emissaries set themselves to work upon the public opinion. A person of the name of Mengaud made his appearance at Bâle, under the unusual and equivocal title of commissary, and set his seal on the papers of the French embassy: this individual not only made no secret of his intelligence with the malcontents in Switzerland, but affected to display it ostentatiously. He went to Bern on the 10th of October, 1797, where he demanded, in a note addressed to the government, the dismissal of the English ambassador Wickham, who had certainly exerted himself openly against France, but had done so as the envoy of a power at war with that country. Bern referred the demand of Mengaud to the then directing canton, as a matter which concerned the whole confederacy.
Wickham relieved for the moment the embarassment of the Helvetic body, while he deprived the French directory of a present pretence for violence, by taking his departure on a tour into Germany; but he left an able diplomatist behind him in the person of his secretary Talbot. Mengaud was received at Zurich and Bern with undisguised aversion, and no diplomatic visits were paid him at either of these places. In the month of November, an embassy from the latter town had been sent to Paris; which, though admitted to an audience of the director Barras, soon received a rude dismissal homewards.
Great were the hopes infused into the disaffected party by the promises of Mengaud, and other subordinate agents of France; and proportional fears were excited amongst the friends of the old system, including the greater number of public functionaries. In order to increase their uneasiness, Mengaud threatened the diet of the confederation in January, 1798, with the entrance of French troops into Switzerland, should Austria be suffered to occupy the Grisons. He travelled to the place of meeting at Aarau, with tricoloured flags flying from his carriage; and, on his arrival there, hung out an immense banner in front of his house. The triumphant revolutionists of Bâle had already formed a tricoloured flag of their own, by the addition of green to their formal cantonal colours, black and white, and their delegate at Paris, Ochs, had hastily sketched what he called an Helvetic constitution, on the model of that of the French Republic. This document was printed in Italian, French, and German, and distributed by Mengaud, not in official quarters only, but throughout the whole population of the cantons.
FRENCH TROOPS IN SWITZERLAND
In the mean time, a division of the French army, under Menard, appeared on the western frontier; and the Pays de Vaud, protected by it, declared its
independence of Bern. The Bernese government saw the necessity of trying the force of arms on its subjects; and the command of the forces having been declined by councillor Erlach of Spiez, who had hitherto been one of the strongest assertors of aristocracy, it was conferred on Colonel Rudolf Weiss, who had, till then, sustained the character of a champion of the opposite system; and had contributed, by a published work,g to the favourable temper of the partisans of Robespierre towards the Swiss confederation. unusual delegation of full powers placed in his hands the whole military government of the Vaud. The new commander held conferences with the leaders of the malcontents; published a treatise h intended to conciliate them, but intermixed conciliation with menace. Chillon was recovered by surprise from the insurgents, and the German troops of Bern were moved on the frontiers of the Vaud.
Meanwhile, General Menard was already on the lake of Geneva, with ten thousand men of the conquering army of Italy; and to him the insurgent leaders, alarmed for their own safety, addressed themselves. Menard replied, that he was instructed to give them aid and protection; and threatened Colonel Weiss that he would repel force with force, if the former should persist in drawing troops around a territory already declared independent, and in arming the communes against each other. Without taking any measures of defence without even attempting to maintain himself on the high grounds-Weiss withdrew to the neighbourhood of Yverdun. It happened, accidentally, that two French hussars were shot on the outposts of the Bernese army, because they had not immediately answered the challenge of the sentinels. This incident was taken up by Menard, and afterwards by the directory, as an infringement of the law of nations, and the commencement of hostilities.
The revolution of Bâle, and the entrance of French troops into the Pays de Vaud, rendered it impossible for reflecting men any longer to doubt that sweeping social changes were inevitable. Yet the Swiss democracies would not be persuaded that anyone could shake their constitutions, or force on them a new species of freedom. The numerous friends of things as they were still hoped to steer themselves through the crisis without any great sacrifices, by mere dint of tenacity and delay. Many, moreover, flattered themselves with the notion that the plans of France were levelled at no wider mark than the Vaud; and were prompted by a petty feeling of jealousy towards Bern [the stronghold of the aristocracy], to see nothing in the affair but a mortification to that envied canton.
It could hardly be conceived at Bern, that the French should have advanced without meeting any resistance up to Yverdun, while the headquarters of Colonel Weiss were withdrawn behind Avenche. He was instantly dismissed from his command, which was transferred to General Erlach of Hindelbank; but the evil effects of exorbitant discretionary powers had been so sensibly felt, that the opposite extreme was now adopted. Meanwhile, the leading statesmen of Bern, had, at length, became convinced that concessions must be made to the people. Fifty-two members were added to the great council from amongst the burghers, citizens of the minor towns, and rural inhabitants. It was resolved to introduce, within a year's time, a new constitution; in which admission to every public function should be open to all, and due proportion should be observed in the emoluments of all public services. These resolutions were laid before the directory, together with a demand for the withdrawal of the French troops. The government also. stooped to make a like communication to Mengaud, to acquaint him with
[1798 A.D.] the actual political system of Bern, and inform him of the wish of that canton to preserve peace with France. Mengaud made just such an answer as ought to have been expected from him. He demanded a prompt and complete change of the old political system, declared that further delays could not be suffered by the majesty of the French Republic; and designated the persevering defenders of the existing order as a handful of inveterate tyrants.
Disregarding their own positive engagements, the French, on the 8th of February, took possession of the town of Bienne. Yet the confederates still hoped to conciliate France, and were encouraged in this illusion by General Brune, who now commanded the French troops, reinforced by several thousand men, and fixed his headquarters at Payerne. This subtle leader, who, without having performed a lengthened public career, was, to borrow a diplomatic expression, rompu dans les affaires, proposed, with artful blandishments, and with hinted hopes of peaceful adjustment, an armistice of fourteen days; during which the discipline and enthusiasm of the Bernese army had time to abate, indecision and distrust to increase, and recruits to join the French army.
Meanwhile, General Schauenburg had collected a division of troops on the frontiers of Solothurn and Bern, equal in strength to that of Brune. The latter announced, on the 26th of February, that he had received full powers to treat from the executive directory. He proposed his ultimatum to the Swiss delegates, that without farther delay they should introduce a provisional government, take measures for the establishment of a new constitution, with securities for freedom and equality, liberate all prisoners for political offences, and withdraw their own troops, as well as those of the other canOn the due fulfilment of these conditions, the French troops should be drawn off likewise; and should not again enter the Swiss territory, unless the government called for their assistance.
On the very day when Brune had given his insolent ultimatum, Erlach entered the great council at Bern, accompanied by eighty of his officers, who were members, like himself, of that body. In a moment of unusual resolution, he was invested with full powers to commence hostilities on the close of the armistice. However, two days afterwards, the delegates returned from Brune's encampment at Payerne. Erlach and his brothers in arms were no longer present in council; the rest of that body were paralysed by the imminent and gigantic danger; and the full powers which had just been given the general were taken away. The same evening, Erlach received instructions not to attack the French, which fired his troops with anger and suspicion, and tended to confirm the belief in the treachery of their leaders, already widely prevalent in the army. Brune's ultimatum, in all its principal features, was accepted. The delegates of Zurich, Wyss, and Tscharner sought a conference with him, when he renewed his former offers in cold and peremptory language; but now added a novel stipulation to them, namely, that, even after the confederate troops were disbanded, his should remain till the new constitution should be established. It was affirmed, truly or otherwise, that he granted, without difficulty, an extension of the truce for twenty-four hours; notwithstanding which, the delegates, on their return, saw his troops already in motion for the attack. Orders for the commencement of hostilities had also been forwarded from the council of war at Bern to the army, and two hours afterwards, retracted.
In obedience to the first of these contradictory instructions, the Bernese colonel Gross had given notice to the French outposts that the truce would come to an end at ten in the evening of the 1st of March; but when he with