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THE EVACUATION OF SWITZERLAND; THE NOMINATION OF DEPUTIES
The Peace of Amiens, betwixt France and the other belligerent powers in consequence of which the French garrisons were drawn home out of Switzerland, afforded opportunity to the party and provincial spirit to show itself with new vigour. On the 12th of July Montrichard, the French resident in Switzerland, communicated in an extra-official note to the Helvetic landammann, Dolder, that he had received commands from the minister of war to hold himself, with the troops under his orders, in readiness for instant return to France. The landammann laid this note before the then executive council, who were considerably embarrassed by its import, and addressed themselves to Montrichard and to the Swiss ambassador at Paris, to petition for a postponement of the measure. But shortly afterwards, Boizot, secretary of the Helvetic embassy, arrived from Paris with Talleyrand's note, which fixed for the approaching 20th of July the complete evacuation of Switzerland. It was now out of the question for the heads of the Helvetic government to oppose themselves to a measure invoked by the wishes of a large majority. Accordingly the executive council did its best to assume an unconstrained and easy attitude; and with all expedition voted its liveliest thanks to the first consul for his purpose of withdrawing his troops from Switzerland, which they hailed as the highest proof of his benevolence and respect for the independence of the Helvetic nation.
The reply of the French minister was couched in terms of disinterested delicacy, which almost seemed ironical. He talked of the French troops as the battalions which the first consul had consented to leave in Switzerland on the conclusion of peace. He based the proposed measure on the confidence entertained by the first consul in the virtues of the Helvetic people, who were now better agreed, as he said, on the principles of political organisation, and in whose attachment the government would find sufficient securities for the maintenance of order and tranquillity. "The Helvetic government could regard this resolution but as a pledge of the consul's confidence in its friendly intentions and policy, and of his disinclination to meddle with the internal affairs of other nations."
It is impossible to assign with any certainty the motives by which this ambiguous language and conduct were dictated. The first consul may have meant to give a popular example of moderation and respect for the faith of treaties; or he may have designed a covert chastisement for the feeble attempts at independence made by the Helvetic government and its refusal of unconditional acquiescence in the projected separation of the Valais; or he may have wished to extort an express prayer for the stay of his troops, or to revive the struggle of parties, and compel the Helvetic government to throw itself into the arms of France, and urge him, as though against his will, to assume the part of arbiter and ruler; or, finally, perhaps, the best solution of his conduct may be found by supposing the combination of all or most of these motives.
Conformably with the system thus enforced upon them, the executive council made known to the Swiss people the departure of the French troops, as a gracious boon the offer of which they had eagerly accepted. In effect, the removal of these troops was performed with such celerity that none were left behind but the sick in the hospitals and a handful of men here and there to guard whatever French property was not of a movable description.
The news of the retreat of the French troops and the ill-concealed uneasi
ness of the government flew through the country with wonderful rapidity, and everywhere roused the concealed but numerous enemies of the existing order, who had hitherto lurked inactively, as it were in scattered cantonments. The Valais declared itself independent. Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden took up arms against the Helvetic government. The town of Zurich, likewise, threw off allegiance to it - an example which was speedily followed by Schaffhausen and Bâle. A general levy took place in the Aargau against Bern: the helpless Helvetic government fled for refuge to Lausanne, while a diet was held in Schwyz for the restoration of the old league. The feeble body of troops in the pay of the government were driven from the interior of the country, and followed their employers into the Vaud: everywhere the opposite factions prepared for active hostilities; the towns planned the destruction of the general government; the peasants armed for their freedom against the pretensions of the towns; and the Pays de Vaud arrayed itself in defence of Helvetic unity. Blood had already flowed, and civil war appeared inevitable, when Napoleon turned his eyes again upon Switzerland, and commanded peace in a tone which was not apt to meet with resistance.
"Inhabitants of Switzerland" (such were the terms of a declaration addressed by him through General Rapp to the cantons of the Helvetic Republic): "you have presented, during two years, a melancholy spectacle. Sovereign power has alternately been seized by opposite factions, whose transitory and partial sway has only served to illustrate their own incapacity and weakness. If you are left to yourselves any longer, you will cut one another to pieces for years, without any prospect of coming to a rational understanding. Your intestine discord never could be terminated without the effective interposition of France. I had resolved not to mix in your affairs; but I cannot and will not view with indifference those calamities to which I now perceive you exposed. I retract my former resolution. I offer myself as your mediator, and will exert my mediation with that energy which becomes the powerful nation in whose name I speak. Five days after reception of the present declaration, the senate shall assemble at Bern to nominate three deputies to be sent to Paris, and each canton will also be admitted to send delegates thither. All citizens who have held public employments during the last three years may also appear at Paris to deliberate by what means may best be effected the restoration of concord and the reconciliation of parties. Every rational man must perceive that my purposed mediation is a blessing conferred on Switzerland by that providence which, amidst so many concurring causes of social dissolution, has always preserved your national existence and independence. It would be painful to think that destiny had singled out this epoch, which has called to life so many new republics, as the hour of destruction to one of the oldest commonwealths in Europe.'
The Helvetic senate instantly replied to this announcement by declaring that it received, with lively gratitude, this new proof of the friendly dispositions of the first consul, and would conduct itself in all points in conformity with his wishes. In a proclamation addressed to the Helvetic people, after some allusion to the mighty and uplifted arm of the mediator, it recommended union, tranquillity, and calm expectation. The cantonal diets met to elect deputies to Paris. The several communes also were permitted to despatch delegates thither at their own expense. The mandate of Napoleon and the presence of his soldiers induced conflicting parties to suspend their hostilities, and tacitly, at least, to acquiesce in his mediation, as they could come to no agreement with each other.
On the 10th of December, 1803, Swiss delegates were received in the office of foreign affairs at Paris, to hear a note of Bonaparte read, in which he addressed them as president of the French and Cisalpine republics, and laid down the basis of his intended mediation. "A federal constitution," he said, "is a point of prime necessity for you. Nature herself has adapted Switzerland for it. What you want is an equality of rights among the cantons, a renunciation of all family privileges, and the independent federative organisation of each canton. The central constitution may be easily arranged afterwards. The main points for your people are neutrality, promotion of trade, and frugal administration: this is what I have always said to your delegates when they asked my advice; but the very men who seemed to be the best aware of its truth turned out to be the most obstinately wedded to their privileges. They attached themselves, and looked for support, to the enemies of France. The first acts of your insurgents were to appeal to the privileged orders, annihilate equality, and insult the French people. No party shall triumph; no counter-revolution take place. In case of violation of neutrality, your government must decide upon making common cause with France."
On the 12th, Bonaparte received a select number of the Swiss deputation to whom he further addressed himself as follows: "The only constitution fit for Switzerland, considering its small extent and its poverty, is such a one as shall not involve an oppressive load of taxation. Federalism weakens larger states by splitting their forces, while it strengthens small ones by leaving a free range to individual energies." He added, with an openness peculiar to great characters, and unequivocally indicative of good-will, "When I make any demand of an individual, he does not often dare to refuse it; but if I am forced to apply myself to a crowd of cantonal governments, each of them may declare itself incompetent to answer. A diet is called: a few months'
time is gained; and the storm blows over."
Almost every word of the first consul during these negotiations has historical value. Most of his expressions wear a character of greatness; all of them afford a clue to the system on which he acted. One or two passages, taken at random here and there, will suffice for a specimen: "It is the democratic cantons which distinguish you, and draw on you the eyes of the world. It is they which do not allow the thought of melting you up with other states to gain any coherence or consistency. The permission to settle wherever they please, in pursuit of their vocation, must be extended to all natives of Switzerland. The small cantons are said to be averse to this principle; but who on earth would ever think of troubling them by settling amongst them? France will re-open a source of profit in favour of these poorer cantons, by taking additional regiments into her pay. France will do this, not because she needs additional troops but because she feels an interest in attaching these democracies."
THE ACT OF MEDIATION (1813 A.D.); CABALS FOLLOW NAPOLEON'S FALL
The Act of Mediation, which resulted from these conferences, restored the old federative system; but not without introducing very considerable improvements. The amnesty announced by it precluded all persecutions, and the new agitations necessarily arising from them. All servitude and alĺ privilege were abolished; while equality of rights and freedom of industry were established. The mischievous freedom formerly enjoyed by the several cantons of entering into hostilities or alliances against each other was quite put an end to. In future, they could only use their arms against the common
enemy; and the objects of the whole league could no longer be frustrated by the humours of its individual members.
The dissolution of the Helvetic general government followed naturally on the completion of the above-mentioned arrangements; and soon afterwards Napoleon recalled his troops from Switzerland. The people, in almost every part of the country, returned quietly to their usual occupations, and tendered their allegiance to the new order of things. In the canton of Zurich alone several communes refused the oaths; complaining of the difficulties newly thrown in the way of the redemption of tithes, ground-rent, and other burdens. They would listen to no friendly representations; but committed acts of violence on unoffending funtionaries, set fire to the castle of Wadenschwyl, and finally took to arms. The prolonged disorders of former years had accustomed them to lawless self-defence; but the insurrection was soon suppressed by the aid of the neighbouring cantons, combined with the well-affected part of the Zurichers.
The ringleader John James Willi, shoemaker in the village of Horgen, and others of his more conspicuous comrades, were punished with death. The less distinguished rioters suffered imprisonment, and forty-two offending communes were visited with a war-tax of above 200,000 florins. It was well that the first flame of revolt was speedily extinguished, before it had time to spread itself through the country. Parties remained everywhere unreconciled; and each imagined nothing to be required for their predominance but the fall of the new order of things. The friends of Helvetic unity still murmured at the cantonal partition of the country. The monasteries murmured as they felt their existence threatened; and Pancrace, the ci-devant abbot of St. Gall, openly stigmatised the inhabitants of that district as contumacious vassals of the empire. Many of the country people murmured, who wished for Landsgemeinde, on the model of the original cantons. Many patrician and city families murmured that their privileges were swept away, and the peasantry no longer their subjects. The majority of the people, however, wished for nothing but peace and quiet, and decidedly adhered to the existing order of things, and the rights which they had acquired under that order.
Thus the peace of the country remained for the most part undisturbed; and a series of comparatively prosperous years followed. The energies of the Swiss had been awakened by the years of revolution and of civil war, and displayed themselves in a hitherto unprecedented degree. They no longer stood apart from each other as formerly, like strangers; but had been made better acquainted by the storms of social collision. The concerns of each canton were now interesting to all. Journals and newspapers, which had formerly been suppressed by timid governments, instructed the people in useful knowledge, and drew its attention to public affairs. The Swiss of all cantons formed societies for the furtherance of objects of common utility, for the encouragement of various arts and sciences, and for the maintenance of concord and patriotism. The canal of the Linth formed a lasting monument of this newly reawakened public spirit.
Since the people had ceased to be viewed as in a state of perpetual infancy a new impulse was given to trade and industry, which were now no longer cramped and confined, as formerly, by corporate restrictions and monopolies. The participation in public affairs allowed to all free citizens enforced a mild and equitable conduct on the governments. Schools were increased and improved throughout the country; the military force was newly organised; and, on the whole, a greater number of laudable objects were provided for in the space of ten years than had been thought of in the previous century.
When the throne of Napoleon sank under the power of the allies, the public-spirited part of the Swiss nation fondly imagined that the hour was come in which their country's honour and independence might be established on a firmer footing than ever. To preserve the benefits gained to the land by his act of mediation was the wish of a large majority of the people. If the Swiss had sometimes felt, along with others, the iron arm of that formidable despot (who had, however, spared them more than any neighbouring population), yet his gift of a constitution had become deservedly dear to them. It had dried up innumerable sources of discord. Under it a fellow-feeling, never before experienced, had been diffused in the same degree as individual pride had been humbled. The cessation of a state of subjection, wherever it had before existed, had decupled the number of confederates, and all restraints on free communication betwixt one canton and another had been removed. The cantons sent their contingents for the protection of the frontiers, voted extraordinary imposts for their maintenance, and a diet was assembled at Zurich with unanimous instructions from its constituents. This body declared with one voice its resolution "to observe a conscientious and impartial neutrality with regard to all the high belligerent powers," expressing, at the same time, its full anticipation that "the same would be acknowledged upon their part.' It addressed itself as follows to the confederates: "The great and only end of all our endeavours is to maintain this neutrality by every means in our power; to protect our country's freedom and independence; to preserve its soil inviolate, and to defend its constitution." The senate of Bern expressed itself as follows: "Our object is to guard the pacific borders of our country inviolate from the march of foreign armies; we are unanimously resolved, however, at all events, to maintain tranquillity, order, and security in our canton by all the means which stand in our power.'
Such was the general sense of the Swiss people. Not such, however, was the sense of the great families in the once dominant towns of the confederation. Many of these wished to see their country invaded by foreign armies, by aid of which they hoped to restore the old league of the thirteen cantons, with all its hated appendages of sovereignty and servitude, which had vanished from the face of the land in 1798.
The Swiss delegates were received in a friendly manner by the emperor of Austria and the king of Prussia; but no direct recognition of their neutrality was vouchsafed to them. The satellites of these monarchs gave them distinctly to understand that Switzerland was regarded and would be treated as nothing else than as a limb of the French system. A large Austrian force was collected on the frontiers, particularly in the neighbourhood of Bâle; yet many still believed that a determined vindication of neutrality would not be put down by violence. In the meantime, the Swiss delegates were stopped at Fribourg in Brisgau on their return homewards from Frankfort, and their letters were intercepted. A general enervation seemed to have spread itself over the conduct of the affairs of the confederation at this crisis. There is no ground for supposing that the men who led their forces and presided in their governments acted the part of secret conspirators against the order of things which they professed to defend. But when the overwhelming powers of the allies came pouring in upon them; when these were joined by kings who owed their crowns to Napoleon; when even the French ambassador dissuaded reinforcement of the frontier cordon — when, in short, the ancient state of things renewed its sway on every side, while a decided popular will showed itself nowhere, opposition was in a manner overwhelmed by the force of cir