The Uster Day, the new Constitution and Democracy

In the Late Middle Ages, the city of Zurich acquired vast surrounding countryside areas. The canton’s rural population was under the political and economic control of the city’s rulers.

Although the Helvetic Republic (1798-1803) proclaimed freedom and equality in 1798, the old city oligarchy enacted 1814 a new constitution that restored their power (called Die Restauration).

However, the rural population became aware of their rights and founded  associations and educational institutes. The press was also able to familiarise people with new ideas. They brought criticism out into the open. The canton Tessin introduced Europe’s first liberal and democratic Constitution already in June 1830, one month before the July-Revolution in France!.

Stefano Francisini (1796-1857), the driving force behind the new Constitution of June 1830

Around 10,000 to 12,000 inhabitants of canton Zurich marched on 22 November 1830 to Uster and demanded democratic reforms. The event proceeded peacefully and without incident. The people had spoken, and on December 6, the new members of the Grand Council (Grosse Rat) were elected; two-thirds of the members were from the countryside. The new liberal constitution came into force as early as March 1831.

In the cantons of  Thurgau, Aargau, Lucerne, St Gallen, Freiburg, Vaud, Solothurn, Bern, and Schaffhausen, the old elites were also peacefully replaced, and liberal cantonal constitutions were introduced. (called the period of die Regeneration)

However, the 1831 revolution in canton Neuchâtel failed and did not succeed until February 1848. The revolutionary movement in Basel caused the separation of the canton into canton Basel-Stadt and canton Basel-Landschaft (1833).

There followed 17 more years of polarisation and the Sonderbund War (1847) in the old Confederation after 1831. Still, on September 12 1848, there was a new Swiss constitution and a new democratic and liberal confederation.

On November 16 1848, the parliament (the Bundesversammlung) elected the first seven members of the government (Bundesrat): Jonas Furrer (Zurich), Ulrich Ochsenbein (Bern), Henri Druey (Vaud), Jozef Munzinger (Solothurn), Stefano Francini (Tessin), Friedrich Frey-Herosé (Aargau) and Wilhelm Näff (St Gallen).

The Bundesrat (member of the seven-member government) Ignazio Cassis (from Tessin) said in his speech at the Uster Day commemoration ceremony on November 19 2023 in the church of Uster:

“…….The Uster Day reminds us of the liberal revolution as a decisive step in the history of our country. Before this liberal revolution came to Uster, it ignited in Ticino! Ticino was the first canton with a constitution that enshrined liberal values such as equality before the law, separation of powers and democracy.

This liberal revolution was a turning point on the way to the foundation of the modern federal state (in 1848). However, it was still a rocky road before the first Swiss constitution could come into force. The revolution was followed by polarisation and a civil war (1847)…..” (Source:

A historian recently wrote:  “Regeneration: Rückgriff auf ältere Widerstandstraditionen. Der politische Umbruch von 1830 und die Einführung von liberalen Verfassungen in elf Kantonen sind die Folge von Volksbewegungen, die an die alteidgenössische Befreiungstradition, an die Widerstandbewegungen im Ancien Régime und an die Bewegungen von 1814/15 anknüpfen.

Ein Mittel der Massamobilisierung sind die den Landsgemeinden nachempfundenen Volkstage oder Volksversammlungen. Als wichtigste Erreignis glit der Volkstag von Uster vom 22. November 1830”.

(Rolf Graber, Demokratie und Revolten. Die Entstehung der direkten Demokratie in der Schweiz, Zürich 2017).

Landscape, Agriculture and Democracy in Entlebuch and Emmental

The landscape in the UNESCO Bioreserve Entlebuch (UNESCO Biosphäre Entlebuch) in Canton of Lucerne and the Emmental in Canton of Bern was created in a process spanning over 200 million years.

Oceans and seas, the formation of the Alps, cold and warm periods, the shape of lakes and rivers and the deposition of rocks and sediments and consequently their disappearance formed the current landscape. These areas, on the edge of the Alps and overlooking the Jura, are characterised by their hills, mountainous landscapes, and marshlands (Moore).

The Steinmösli

The Räbloch in the Emmental is one of the results of this process. In the last Ice Age (28000-10000 BC), this area was covered by the Emme glacier. The Emme River was created by melting under the ice cap and working through the rocks for thousands of years. The present-day gorge with a height of 70 metres is the outcome. The Emme still goes under the natural stone bridge (Naturbrücke).

Räbloch, Naturbrücke and Emme

Today, crossing the border between the Entlebuch and Emmental goes unnoticed.
Entlebuch appears in the 12th century as “Entilibuoch” or “Entelinbuoch”. At that time, whoever cleared an area for arable and livestock farming, Lord Von Wolhusen, in this case, obtained the land. Around 1300, Habsburg acquired the area, but in 1405, Lucerne received Entlebuch as pledge and later owner.

Until 1218, the Zähringer ruled the Emmental. From 1218 to 1273, the Counts of Kyburg were the lords, and from 1273 to 1386 (Battle of Sempach), Habsburg owned the region. Since then, the Emmental has belonged to Bern. Different coins, weights, border stones and religions distinguished the Entlebuch (Catholic) from the Emmental (Protestant) for centuries.

A highly developed and specialised agricultural sector, (international) trade relations and resistance to the oligarchic government structure of the cities of Lucerne and Bern linked the inhabitants of both regions.

Escholzmatt, Franz Josef Stadler (1757-1833), minister, politician, school reformer, and ethnologist with a large European network

Escholzmatt, Monument to Christian Schybi (1595-1653), leader of the peasant’s revolt in the Entlebuch in 1653

This discontent eventually led to the peasant war (Bauernkrieg) of 1653 and an alliance of peasants from the Emmental and Entlebuch (and Solothurn and Basel). The immediate reason for the revolt was the deteriorating economic situation. However, the insurgents also wanted democratic and different governmental structures.

Although the uprising was not a short-term success, in the long term, it was another step towards thinking about new and more democratic power structures in Switzerland. This goal distinguished the peasant uprising in Switzerland from other peasant revolts in Europe, which mainly had practical improvements in mind.

A chamois


From Marbach or Escholzmatt (Entlebuch) to Schaugnau, Schallenberg and Röthenbach (Emmental), it is only a few steps, and this history is expressed only in monuments, historical publications and stories. Yet the region and its democratic movements are significant for the birth of the 1848 Constitution and direct democracy in 1874 and 1891.

The Swiss Alpine Club

The Swiss Alpine Club (Schweizer Alpen Club, SAC/Club Alpin Suisse, CAS) regularly organises hikes in this area (and elsewhere) in the country.

(More information:

Naters, 1 212 m.

Monte Verità near Ascona

Canton Tessin has long been (and still is) a haven for political refugees, artists and the avant-garde. Locarno, Lugano and Ascona were sought-after towns. Houses, islands and even hills and mountains got new destinations after 1848.

Alfredo Pioda (1848-1909), Franz Hartmann (1838-1912), and Countess Constance Wachtmeister (1838-1910) founded a theosophical institution on Monte Verità near Ascona in 1889. Later, the complex was used as an art centre, spa and sanatorium under new owners.

This region in liberal Switzerland attracted (Russian) anarchists and political refugees from and during the years leading up to the Russian Revolution in 1917 and World War I (1914-1918). In these years, Ascona was even the centre of European emigrants and avant-garde after Zurich (and Dada).

During this period, Ascona was a city of foreign and Swiss artists, intellectuals and cosmopolitans. For example, the first founders of the complex on Monte Verità emigrated in 1920 to Brazil.

A passionate art collector, Baron Eduard von der Heydt (1882-1964) bought the complex on Monte Verità in 1926. In the baron’s wake, Bauhaus architects also came to Ascona. Consequently, the current hotel was built in 1929 in the Bauhaus style. Several other buildings date from this period; others are from a more recent date, such as the Japanese tea house and garden and the wing near the hotel (1992).

1933-1945 saw the next wave of emigration, not only to Ascona but also from Ascona to America. In 1945, the surrender of the German army in Italy was even signed in Ascona, just as 20 years earlier, Ascona was also indirectly involved in the conclusion of the Treaty of Locarno.

The Canton of Tessin took over the complex (which includes today the hotel-restaurant, Casa Marta, Casa Anatta, Casa dei Russi, the Japanese tea garden, Casa Giovanna, Casa Gioia, Villa Semiramis, Casa Selma and Casa Monescia) in 1964 and has managed it ever since as a museum, cultural, congress and seminar centre, hotel and restaurant with a beautiful view of Lake Maggiore.

(Source and further information: Fondazione Monte Verità)


The Japanse Tea Garden and the Casa del tè