Act of Mediation

Last updated
Acte de Mediation, 1803 Mediationsakte.jpg
Acte de Médiation, 1803
Original in the Swiss federal archives Mediationsakte-1803 - CH-BAR - 4034513.pdf
Original in the Swiss federal archives

The Act of Mediation was issued by Napoleon Bonaparte on 19 February 1803 establishing the Swiss Confederation. The act also abolished the previous Helvetic Republic, which had existed since the invasion of Switzerland by French troops in 1798. After the withdrawal of French troops in July 1802, the Republic collapsed (in the Stecklikrieg civil war). The Act of Mediation was Napoleon's attempt at a compromise between the Ancien Régime and a republic. This intermediary stage of Swiss history lasted until the Restoration of 1815.

Helvetic Republic former Swiss polity under Napoleonic domination

In Swiss history, the Helvetic Republic (1798–1803) represented an early attempt to impose a central authority over Switzerland, which until then had consisted of self-governing cantons united by a loose military alliance.

Stecklikrieg event

The Stecklikrieg of 1802 resulted in the collapse of the Helvetic Republic, the renewed French occupation of Switzerland and ultimately the Act of Mediation dictated by Napoleon on 19 February 1803. The conflict itself was between insurgents, mostly drawn from the rural population, and the official forces of the Helvetic Republic. The term Stäckli, or "wooden club," from which the conflict draws its name refers to the improvised weaponry of the insurgents.

Early Modern Switzerland

The early modern history of the Old Swiss Confederacy and its constituent Thirteen Cantons encompasses the time of the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) until the French invasion of 1798.


End of the Helvetic Republic

Following the French invasion of 1798, the decentralized and aristocratic Old Swiss Confederation was replaced with the highly centralized and republican Helvetic Republic. However the changes were too abrupt and sweeping and ignored the strong sense of identity that most Swiss had with their canton or city. [1] Throughout the following four years, French troops were often needed to support the Helvetic Republic against uprisings. The government of the Republic was also divided between the "Unitary" (supporting a single, strong central government) and the "Federalist" (supporting a Federation or self-governing cantons) parties. By 1802 a draft constitution was presented, but was quickly defeated in a popular vote in June 1802. In July Napoleon withdrew French troops from Switzerland, ostensibly to comply with the Treaty of Amiens, but really to show the Swiss that their best hopes lay in appealing to him. [1]

A republic is a form of government in which the country is considered a “public matter”, not the private concern or property of the rulers. The primary positions of power within a republic are not inherited, but are attained through democracy, oligarchy or autocracy. It is a form of government under which the head of state is not a monarch.

Federation A union of partially self-governing states or territories, united by a central (federal) government that exercizes directly on them its sovereign power

A federation is a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing provinces, states, or other regions under a central federal government (federalism). In a federation, the self-governing status of the component states, as well as the division of power between them and the central government, is typically constitutionally entrenched and may not be altered by a unilateral decision of either party, the states or the federal political body. Alternatively, federation is a form of government in which sovereign power is formally divided between a central authority and a number of constituent regions so that each region retains some degree of control over its internal affairs. It is often argued that federal states where the central government has the constitutional authority to suspend a constituent state's government by invoking gross mismanagement or civil unrest, or to adopt national legislation that overrides or infringe on the constituent states' powers by invoking the central government's constitutional authority to ensure "peace and good government" or to implement obligations contracted under an international treaty, are not truly federal states.

Treaty of Amiens peace treaty

The Treaty of Amiens temporarily ended hostilities between France and the United Kingdom during the French Revolutionary Wars. It was signed in the city of Amiens on 25 March 1802 by Joseph Bonaparte and Marquess Cornwallis as a "Definitive Treaty of Peace." The consequent peace lasted only one year and was the only period of general peace in Europe between 1793 and 1814.

Following the withdrawal of French troops in the summer of 1802, the rural population (which was strongly Federalist) revolted against the Helvetic Republic. In the Canton of Léman, the Bourla-papey revolt broke out against the restoration of feudal land holdings and taxes. [2] While this rebellion was quieted through concessions, the following Stecklikrieg, so called because of the Stäckli or "wooden club" carried by the insurgents, led to the collapse of the Republic. After several hostile clashes with the official forces of the Helvetic Republic, which were lacking both in equipment and motivation (Renggpass at Pilatus on 28 August, artillery attacks on Bern and Zürich during September, and a skirmish at Faoug on 3 October), the central government at first capitulated militarily (on 18 September, retreating from Bern to Lausanne) and then collapsed entirely. [3]

Canton of Léman canton of the Helvetic Republic

Léman was the name of a canton of the Helvetic Republic from 1798 to 1803, corresponding to the territory of modern Vaud. As a former subject territory of Bern, Vaud had been independent for only four months in 1798 as the Lemanic Republic before it was incorporated in the centralist Helvetic Republic. Léman comprised all of the Vaud detached from Bernese occupation, apart from the Avenches and the Payerne which, after 16 October 1802, were annexed by the canton of Fribourg until the Napoleonic Act of Mediation the following year, when they were restored to the newly established and newly sovereign canton of Vaud.

Bourla-Papey was the name given to a popular revolt that took place between February and May 1802 in the Canton of Léman, in Switzerland, during the days of the Helvetic Republic. The uprising was in response to the restoration of feudal rights and taxes that had been abolished following the French invasion of 1798. The Bourla-papey seized archives from castles in the area now known as the Canton de Vaud, which they burned in an attempt to destroy records of what was owned by whom, making it impossible to collect taxes.

Pilatus (mountain) mountain in Switzerland

Pilatus, also often referred to Mount Pilatus, is a mountain massif overlooking Lucerne in Central Switzerland. It is composed of several peaks, of which the highest is named Tomlishorn.

Act of Mediation

With Napoleon acting as a mediator, representatives of the Swiss cantons met in Paris to end the conflict and officially dissolve the Helvetic Republic. When the Act of Mediation was produced on 19 February 1803 it attempted to address the issues that had torn the Republic apart and provide a framework for a new confederation under French influence. Much of the language of the Act was vague and unclear, which allowed the cantons considerable room for interpretation. [4]

In the preamble of the Act of Mediation Napoleon declared that the natural political state of the Swiss was as a Federation [4] and explained his role as a mediator.

Preamble introductory statement in a document that explains its purpose and underlying philosophy

A preamble is an introductory and expressionary statement in a document that explains the document's purpose and underlying philosophy. When applied to the opening paragraphs of a statute, it may recite historical facts pertinent to the subject of the statute. It is distinct from the long title or enacting formula of a law.

Federalism political concept

Federalism is the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government with regional governments in a single political system. Its distinctive feature, exemplified in the founding example of modern federalism by the United States of America under the Constitution of 1787, is a relationship of parity between the two levels of government established. It can thus be defined as a form of government in which there is a division of powers between two levels of government of equal status.

The next 19 sections covered the 19 cantons that existed in Switzerland at the time. The original 13 members of the old Confederation were restored and 6 new cantons were added. Two of the new cantons (St Gallen and Graubünden or Grisons) were formerly "associates", while the four others were made up of subject lands (i.e. controlled by other cantons) that had been conquered at different times Aargau (1415), Thurgau (1460), Ticino (1440, 1500, 1512), and Vaud (1536). Five of the six new cantons – Graubünden was the exception – were given modern representative governments. However, in the 13 original cantons many of the pre-revolutionary institutions remained in place. The landsgemeinden, or popular assemblies, were restored in the democratic cantons, the cantonal governments in other cases being in the hands of a great council (legislative) and the small council (executive). Overall, the powers granted to the state were extremely broad. [4]

Canton of St. Gallen Canton of Switzerland

The canton of St. Gallen, also canton of St Gall, is a canton of Switzerland. The capital is St. Gallen.

In the common view, political representation is assumed to refer only to the political activities undertaken, in representative democracies, by citizens elected to political office on behalf of their fellow citizens who do not hold political office. However, the lack of consensus in the political literature on political representation belies this common view. Theorists of representation differ not only in their definition of representation but also, among other things, on what the duties of a representative are, who can be called representative and how one becomes a representative. In her seminal work on political representation, Hanna Pitkin defined political representation as, "a way to make [the represented] present again" and identified four views of political representation which, since her book's publication, have shaped contemporary debates on political representation. Recently, Jane Mansbridge has identified four other views of specifically democratic political representation which, although they are distinct, share some similarities with Pitkin's. On the other hand, Andrew Rehfeld has critiqued the failure of theorists like Pitkin and Mansbridge to articulate a purely descriptive view of political representation and has proposed a general theory of representation that recognizes that political representation can be and often is undemocratic.

Cantons as set by the Act of Mediation Karte Mediation.png
Cantons as set by the Act of Mediation

The following 40 articles, which were known as the Acte fédéral or Acts of Confederation, defined the duties and powers of the federal government. The responsibilities of the Confederation included: providing equality for all citizens, creation of a Federal Army, the removal of internal trade barriers and international diplomacy. There were to be no privileged classes, burghers or subject lands. Switzerland was mentioned throughout the Act. Every Swiss citizen was now free to move and settle anywhere in the new Confederation. [1] The cantons guaranteed to respect each other's constitutions, borders and independence. The highest body of government was the Tagsatzung or Diet which was held in one of the six vororten (or leading cities, which were: Fribourg, Bern, Solothurn, Basel, Zürich and Lucerne) each year. The Diet was presided over by the Landammann der Schweiz who was the chief magistrate of the vorort in which the Diet met during that year. In the Diet, six cantons which had a population of more than 100,000 (Bern, Zürich, Vaud, St Gallen, Graubünden and Aargau) were given two votes, the others having but one apiece.

Two amendments to the Act, containing 13 and 9 articles, addressed the transition from the failed Republic to the new Confederation. Louis d'Affry, the appointed Landammann der Schweiz during the transition, was given extensive powers until the Diet could meet. Within the cantons, the local governments were run by a seven-member commission until new elections could be held.

The closing statement of the Act declared that Switzerland was an independent land and directed the new government to protect and defend the country.

End of the Act of Mediation

The Act of Mediation was an important political victory for Napoleon. He was able to stop the instability of the Swiss from spreading into his emerging empire or weakening his army. The Act of Mediation created a pro-French buffer state with Austria and the German states. He even added the title Médiateur de la Confédération suisse (Mediator of the Swiss Confederation) to his official titles in 1809. [4]

While the Act of Mediation remained in force until the end of Napoleon's power in 1813 and was an important step in the development of the Swiss Confederation, the rights promised in the Act of Mediation soon began to vanish. In 1806 the principality of Neuchâtel was given to Marshal Berthier. Ticino was occupied by French troops from 1810 to 1813. Also, in 1810 the Valais was occupied and converted into the French department of the Simplon to secure the Simplon Pass. Swiss troops still served in foreign campaigns such as the French invasion of Russia which undermined their long-held neutrality. At home the liberty of moving from one canton to another (though given by the constitution) was, by the Diet in 1805, restricted by requiring ten years' residence, and then not granting political rights in the canton or a right of profiting by the communal property.

As soon as Napoleon's power began to wane (1812-1813), the position of Switzerland became endangered. The Austrians, supported by the reactionary party in Switzerland, and without any real resistance on the part of the Diet, crossed the border on 21 December 1813. On 29 December under pressure from Austria, the Diet abolished the 1803 constitution which had been created by Napoleon in the Act of Mediation.

On 6 April 1814 the so-called Long Diet met to replace the constitution. The Diet remained deadlocked until 12 September when Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva were raised to full members of the Confederation. This increased the number of cantons to 22. The Diet, however, made little progress until the Congress of Vienna. [1]

See also

Related Research Articles

Since 1848, the Swiss Confederation has been a federal state of relatively autonomous cantons, some of which have a history of confederacy that goes back more than 700 years, putting them among the world's oldest surviving republics.

The 26 cantons of Switzerland are the member states of the Swiss Confederation. The nucleus of the Swiss Confederacy in the form of the first three confederate allies used to be referred to as the Waldstätte. Two further major steps in the development of the Swiss cantonal system are referred to by the terms Acht Orte and Dreizehn Orte ; they were important intermediate periods of the Ancient Swiss Confederacy.

Canton of Baden canton of the Helvetic Republic

The Canton of Baden was a canton of the Helvetic Republic. Its capital was the town of Baden.

During the French Revolutionary Wars, the revolutionary armies marched eastward, enveloping Switzerland in their battles against Austria. In 1798, Switzerland was completely overrun by the French and was renamed the Helvetic Republic. The Helvetic Republic encountered severe economic and political problems. In 1798 the country became a battlefield of the Revolutionary Wars, culminating in the Battles of Zürich in 1799.

Alois von Reding Swiss noble

Josef Fridolin Vinzenz Aloys Reding von Biberegg was a Swiss patriot, military officer and politician. He is best known for leading an early revolt against the Helvetic Republic.

Landammann, is the German title used by the chief magistrate in certain Cantons of Switzerland and at times featured in the Head of state's style at the confederal level.

Restoration and Regeneration in Switzerland

The periods of Restoration and Regeneration in Swiss history last from 1814 to 1847. "Restoration" refers to the period of 1814 to 1830, the restoration of the Ancien Régime (federalism), reverting the changes imposed by Napoleon Bonaparte on the centralist Helvetic Republic from 1798 and the partial reversion to the old system with the Act of Mediation of 1803. "Regeneration" refers to the period of 1830 to 1848, when in the wake of the July Revolution the "restored" Ancien Régime was countered by the liberal movement. In the Protestant cantons, the rural population enforced liberal cantonal constitutions, partly in armed marches on the cities. This resulted in a conservative backlash in the Catholic cantons in the 1830s, raising the conflict to the point of civil war by 1847.

Tagsatzung legislative and executive council of the Swiss Confederacy which existed in various forms since the beginnings of Swiss independence until the formation of the Swiss federal state in 1848

The Federal Diet of Switzerland was the legislative and executive council of the Swiss Confederacy which existed in various forms since the beginnings of Swiss independence until the formation of the Swiss federal state in 1848.

Federal Treaty constitution

The Federal Treaty was the legal foundation for the new Swiss Confederacy of 1815. It came about after interventions by the great powers of the Sixth Coalition that defeated Napoleon.

Old Swiss Confederacy (1291-1798)

The Old Swiss Confederacy was a loose confederation of independent small states within the Holy Roman Empire. It is the precursor of the modern state of Switzerland.

Rhodanic Republic historical region

The Rhodanic Republic, also known as the Republic of Valais or Vallais, was a French client republic that existed in the French-speaking part of Switzerland during the Napoleonic wars. It was called after the Latin name for the River Rhône, Rhodanus.

Canton of Fricktal canton of the Helvetic Republic

Fricktal was a canton of the Helvetic Republic from February 1802 to February 1803, consisting of that part of the Breisgau south of the Rhine. Now, the territories of Fricktal form the districts of Rheinfelden and Laufenburg in the canton of Aargau.


The Ustertag occurred on 22 November 1830, when 10,000 men of the Canton of Zürich gathered on Zimiker hill and demanded a new constitution. Their primary concern was parity between the urban and rural areas. The Ustertag is described as a "revolution" due to its impact, its focus, and its speed of events, which caused great change in the Canton of Zurich.

Vogtei Rheintal

Vogtei Rheintal was a condominium of the Old Swiss Confederacy from the 15th century until 1798. Its territory corresponded to the left banks of the Alpine Rhine between Hoher Kasten and Lake Constance, including the towns of Altstätten and Rheineck.

Jean-Marc Samuel Isaac Mousson was a Swiss politician and civil servant. He was the first Chancellor of Switzerland from 1803 to 1830.

History of Uri aspect of history

Uri is a Swiss Talschaft and canton in the upper Reuss valley.


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Switzerland". Encyclopædia Britannic. 26. 1911. p. 258. Retrieved 2008-10-05.
  2. Bourla-Papey in German , French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland .
  3. Stecklikrieg in German , French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland .
  4. 1 2 3 4 Act of Mediation in German , French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland .