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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

Which constituted the Confederation in nineteen cantons


in matters great as well as small his genius pierced to the heart of a problem: he saw that the democratic unionists had failed from the rigidity of their centralization, while the federals had given offence by insufficiently recognizing the new passion for social equality.[228] He now prepared to federalize Switzerland on a moderately democratic basis; for a policy of balance, he himself being at the middle of the see-saw, was obviously required by good sense as well as by self-interest. Witness his words to Roederer on this subject:

"While satisfying the generality, I cause the patricians to tremble. In giving to these last the appearance of power, I oblige them to take refuge at my side in order to find protection. I let the people threaten the aristocrats, so that these may have need of me. I will give them places and distinctions, but they will hold them from me. This system of mine has succeeded in France. See the clergy. Every day they will become, in spite of themselves, more devoted to my government than they had foreseen."

How simple and yet how subtle is this statecraft; simplicity of aim, with subtlety in the choice of means: this is the secret of his success.

After much preliminary work done by French commissioners and the Swiss deputies in committee, the First Consul summed up the results of their labours in the Act of Mediation of February 19th, 1803, which constituted

the Confederation in nineteen cantons, the formerly subject districts now attaining cantonal dignity and privileges. The forest cantons kept their ancient folk-moots, while the town cantons such as Berne, Zuerich, and Basel were suffered to blend their old institutions with democratic customs, greatly to the chagrin of the unionists, at whose invitation Bonaparte had taken up the work of mediation.

The federal compact was also a compromise between the old and the new. The nineteen cantons were to enjoy sovereign powers under the shelter of the old federal pact. Bonaparte saw that the fussy imposition of French governmental forms in 1798 had wrought infinite harm, and he now granted to the federal authorities merely the powers necessary for self-defence: the federal forces were to consist of 15,200 men--a number less than that which by old treaty Switzerland had to furnish to France. The central power was vested in a Landamman and other officers appointed yearly by one of the six chief cantons taken in rotation; and a Federal Diet, consisting of twenty-five deputies--one from each of the small cantons, and two from each of the six larger cantons--met to discuss matters of general import, but the balance of power rested with the cantons: further articles regulated the Helvetic debt and declared the independence of Switzerland--as if a land could be independent which furnished more troops to the foreigner than it was allowed to maintain for its own defence. Furthermore, the Act breathed not a word about religious liberty, freedom of the Press, or the right of petition: and, viewing it as a whole, the friends of freedom had cause to echo the complaint of Stapfer that "the First Consul's aim was to annul Switzerland politically, but to assure to the Swiss the greatest possible domestic happiness."

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