The Helvetic and Modern Switzerland
The Netherlands knew the Batavian Republic (1795-1801), created by Napoleon after the occupation of the Republic of the United Provinces in 1795. The new Republic was based on the French revolutionary ideals, French centralism and above all the desire to find a reliable and rich ally at her side. This Republic unified the seven independent provinces and made a new division into departments. However, it turned out to be a little too ambitious. The Republic was replaced in 1801 by a Batavian Commonwealth. The old names, the old men and autonomy, albeit severely restricted and in far fewer areas, were restored.
A similar process took place in Switzerland. The Swiss confederation of thirteen independent cantons was recognised by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, as was the Republic of the Seven Provinces. Switzerland also had its ‘Batavians’, politicians who wanted to put an end to the ancien régime in the cantons. The French Revolution had many supporters in Switzerland.
After the French occupation and the takeover of power by Swiss sympathisers in 1798, the Helvetic Republic, a clone of the Batavian Republic, was proclaimed on 12 April 1798. The most important principles were: splitting up the cantons, centralisation, standardisation, religious equality and a (relatively) more democratic government. The most powerful canton, Berne, was split up. The new unitarian Republic took the decisions with new, French-style organs. The three main languages, French, Italian and German, were also officially recognised. Six new cantons were created. Valais, Geneva and Neuchâtel were annexed and incorporated in French departments.
As in the Netherlands, the Swiss Republic did not have a long life. Centuries of sovereignty and the old struggle between liberals and conservatives, religious and linguistic contradictions did not disappear. Revolts broke out against the new regime and their French bosses. In 1803 the unitary Helvetian Republic was replaced by the (old) confederation of cantons by the Act of Mediation of 19 February 1803. The Act came into force on 15 April 1803. The Act was set aside by the 19 cantons on 29 December 1813. The cantons of Geneva, Valais and Neuchâtel joined the confederation of cantons in 1814.
The road to the Constitution of 1848 would not be wrinkle-free. The foundations were laid by the new Constitution of 1815 and the federal and unifying provisions of the Helvetic Republic of 1798 and the Act of 1803. Switzerland became a Confederation with exclusive powers in a few areas and of 22 autonomous cantons with far-reaching competences. The point of no return was set into motion by the Republic of 1798 and the Confederation of 1803. The same applies to the Netherlands, but the new unitarian country became a monarchy.