Helvetic Republic

Helvetic Republic

Infobox Former Country
native_name = "Helvetische Republik" (de)
"République helvétique" (fr)
"Repubblica Elvetica" (it)
conventional_long_name = Helvetic Republic
common_name = Switzerland
continent = Europe
region = Central Europe
country = Europe
era = Napoleonic Wars
status = Client
empire = France
government_type = Republic|
year_start = 1798
year_end = 1802|
event_pre = Swiss Confederation
collapsed on French

date_pre =

March 5, 1798
event_start = Republic proclaimed
date_start = April 12, 1798
event1 = Mutual defence treaty
with France
date_event1 =
19 August 1798
event2 = Diplomatic recognition
by French allies
date_event2 =
19 September 1798
event3 = Malmaison constitution
date_event3 = 29 May 1801
event4 = Federal constitution
date_event4 = 27 February 1802
event_end = Act of Mediation
date_end = 19 February, 1803
event_post = Congress of Vienna
date_post = June 8, 1815
p1 = Old Swiss Confederacy
flag_p1 = Flag of Switzerland.svg
p2 = Zugewandte Orte
image_p2 =
p3 = Gemeine Herrschaften
image_p3 =
s1 = Swiss Confederation (Napoleonic)
flag_s1 = Flag of Switzerland.svg

flag_type = Flag of the Helvetic Republic

symbol_type = Official seal

image_map_caption = Helvetic Republic, with borders as at the Second Helvetic constitution of 25 May 1802
capital = Lucerne
footnotes = Note: See below for a full list of predecessor states

In Swiss history, the Helvetic Republic (1798–1803) represented an early attempt to impose a central authority over Switzerland, which until then consisted mainly of self-governing cantons united by a loose military alliance, and conquered territories such as Vaud. Its name came from the Helvetii people. The Republic existed as a state for only five years — as a constitutional arrangement imposed by French military might, it did not succeed in achieving widespread popular support among its citizens. However, some aspects of it have survived into present-day Switzerland.


During the French Revolutionary Wars of the 1790s, the French Republican armies expanded eastward, enveloping Switzerland on the grounds of "liberating" the Swiss people, whose own system of government the French revolutionaries deemed feudal. Some Swiss nationals, such as Frédéric-César de La Harpe, had called for French intervention on these grounds. The invasion proceeded largely peacefully, since the Swiss people failed to respond to the calls of their politicians to take up arms.

On 5 March 1798, French troops completely overran Switzerland and the Swiss Confederation collapsed. On 12 April 1798 121 cantonal deputies proclaimed the Helvetic Republic, "One and Indivisible". The new régime abolished cantonal sovereignty and feudal rights. The occupying forces established a centralised state based on the ideas of the French Revolution.

Many Swiss citizens resisted these "progressive" ideas, particularly in the central areas of the country. Some of the more controversial aspects of the new regime limited freedom of worship, which outraged many of the more devout citizens. Several uprisings took place, most notably in the canton of Nidwalden, which the authorities crushed, with towns and villages burnt down by French troops.

No general agreement existed about the future of Switzerland. Leading groups split into the Unitaires, who wanted a united republic, and the Federalists, who represented the old aristocracy and demanded a return to cantonal sovereignty. Coup-attempts became frequent, and the new régime had to rely on the French to survive. Furthermore, the occupying forces plundered many towns and villages. This made it difficult to establish a new working state.

In 1799, Switzerland became a virtual battle-zone between the French, Austrian and Imperial Russian armies, with the locals supporting mainly the latter two, rejecting calls to fight with the French armies in the name of the Helvetic Republic.

Instability in the Republic reached its peak in 1802–03 — including the "Stecklikrieg" civil war of 1802. Together with local resistance, financial problems caused the Helvetic Republic to collapse, and its government took refuge in Lausanne.

At that time Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul of France, summoned representatives of both sides to Paris in order to negotiate a solution. Although the Federalist representatives formed a minority at the conciliation conference — known as the "Helvetic Consulta" — Bonaparte characterised Switzerland as federal "by nature" and considered it unwise to force the area into any other constitutional framework.

On February 19, 1803, the Act of Mediation restored the cantons. With the abolition of the centralized state, Switzerland became a confederation once again.


Before the advent of the Helvetic Republic, each individual canton had exercised complete sovereignty over its own territory or territories. Little central authority had existed, with matters concerning the country as a whole confined mainly to meetings of leading representatives from the cantons: the Diets."Histoire de la Suisse", Éditions Fragnière, Fribourg, Switzerland]

The constitution of the Helvetic Republic came mainly from the design of Peter Ochs, a magistrate from Basel. It established a central two-chamber legislature which included the Grand Council (with 8 members per canton) and the Senate (4 members per canton). The executive, known as the Directory, comprised 5 members. The Constitution also established actual Swiss citizenship, as opposed to just citizenship of one's canton of birth.

After an uprising led by Alois von Reding in 1798, some cantons were merged, thus reducing their anti-centralist effectiveness in the legislature. Uri, Schwyz, Zug and Unterwalden together became the canton of Waldstätten; Glarus and the Sarganserland became the canton of Linth, and Appenzell and St. Gallen combined as the canton of Säntis.

Due to the instability of the situation, the Helvetic Republic had over 6 constitutions in a period of 4 years.


The Helvetic Republic did highlight the desirability of a central authority to handle matters for the country as a whole (as opposed to the individual cantons which handled matters at the local level). In the post-Napoleonic era the differences between the cantons (varying currencies and systems of weights and measurements) and the perceived need for better co-ordination between them came to a head and culminated in the Swiss Federal Constitution of 1848.

The Republic's 5-member Directory resembles the 7-member Swiss Federal Council, Switzerland's present-day executive.

The period of the Helvetic Republic is still very controversial within SwitzerlandHDS|9797-1-1|Helvetic Republic, Historiography and Remembrance] . It represents the first time that Switzerland as a unified country country existed and a step toward the modern federal state. For the first time the population was defined as Swiss, not as members of a specific canton. For cantons like Vaud, Thurgau and Ticino the Republic was a time of political freedom from other cantons. However the Republic also marked a time of foreign domination and revolution. For the cantons of Berne, Schwyz and Nidwalden it was a time of military defeat followed by occupation. In 1995 the Federal Parliament chose to not celebrate the 200 year anniversary of the Helvetic Republic, but to allow individual cantons to celebrate if they wished.

Administrative divisions

The Helvetic Republic reduced the formerly sovereign cantons to mere administrative districts, and in order to weaken the old power-structures, it defined new boundaries for some cantons. The act of 1798 and subsequent developments resulted in the following cantons:

* Aargau (without Baden and Fricktal)
* Baden
* Basel
* Bellinzona
* Bern (without Oberland)
* Fribourg
* Fricktal, added in 1802
* Léman (corresponding to Vaud)
* Linth
* Lugano
* Lucerne
* Oberland
* Raetia (corresponding to Graubünden/Grisons)
* Säntis
* Schaffhausen
* Solothurn
* Thurgau
* Waldstätten
* Valais
* Zürich

Predecessor states

As well as the Old Swiss Confederacy, the following territories became part of the Helvetic Republic:

Associate states

* Free state of the Three Leagues





Unassociated territories

The Helvetic Republic also annexed two territories not previously part of Switzerland:



See also

* Switzerland in the Napoleonic era

External links

* [http://www.hls-dhs-dss.ch/textes/d/D9797.php Helvetic Republic] de icon in the Historical Dictionary of Switzerland
* [http://www.histoire-empire.org/departements/suisse.htm Divisions of Switzerland under Napoleon] fr icon

This article incorporates material translated from the [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hauptseite German-language Wikipedia]

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