The Helvetic Republic and Modern Switzerland
3 July 2019
Napoleon created the Batavian Republic (1795-1801) 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 the plunder of the rich Dutch funds.
This Republic unified the seven sovereign provinces and created a new administrative division. However, it was too ambitious. The Republic was replaced in 1801 by the Batavian Commonwealth.
A similar process took place in Switzerland. The Swiss confederation of thirteen independent cantons was recognised by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.
Swiss ‘Batavian’ politicians also wanted to put an end to the ancien régime in the cantons. The French Revolution had many supporters in Switzerland.
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) democratic government.
The new unitarian Republic was governed by French-style institutions.
The three main languages, French, Italian and German, were recognised.
Revolts broke out against the new regime and their French bosses. The unitarian 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 cancelled by the 19 cantons on 29 December 1813. The cantons of Geneva, Valais and Neuchâtel joined the new confederation of cantons in 1815.
The road to the Constitution of 1848 was not wrinkle-free. The foundations were laid by the federal and unifying provisions of the Helvetic Republic of 1798, the Act of 1803 and the new Constitution of 1815.
Switzerland became a Confederation with a few federal powers in 1848 and twenty-two sovereign cantons.
The point of no return was set into motion by the Helvetic Republic of 1798 and the Confederation of 1803.
The same applies to the Netherlands, but the country became a monarchy and a unitary state in 1813.