In Swiss history, the Helvetic Republic (1798–1803) represented an early attempt to impose a central authority over
Switzerland ,german: Schweizer(in),french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_type = Federalism, Federal semi-direct democracy under a multi-party assembly-independent Directorial system, directorial republic , leader_t ...
, which until then had consisted of self-governing cantons united by a loose military alliance (and ruling over subject territories such as Vaud). The French invaded Switzerland and turned it into an ally known as the "Helvetic Republic". The interference with localism and traditional liberties was deeply resented, although some modernizing reforms took place. Resistance was strongest in the more traditional Catholic bastions, with armed uprisings breaking out in spring 1798 in the central part of Switzerland. The French Army suppressed the uprisings, but support for revolutionary ideals steadily increased, as the Swiss resented their loss of local democracy, the new taxes, the centralization, and the hostility to religion. Nonetheless, there were long-term impacts. The Republic being named ''Helvetic'' after the , the Gaulish inhabitants of the Swiss Plateau in antiquity, was not an innovation; rather, the Swiss Confederacy had occasionally been dubbed ' in humanist Latin since the 17th century, and ', the Swiss national personification, made her first appearance in 1672.


During the
French Revolutionary Wars The French Revolutionary Wars (french: Guerres de la Révolution française) were a series of sweeping military conflicts lasting from 1792 until 1802 and resulting from the French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) refers to the peri ...
of the 1790s, the French Republican armies expanded eastward. In 1793, the
National Convention The National Convention (french: link=no, Convention nationale) was a parliament In modern politics and history, a parliament is a legislature, legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: Rep ...
had imposed friendship with the
United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., federal di ...
and the Swiss Confederation as the sole limit delegating its powers in foreign policy to the Committee of Public Safety, but the situation changed when more conservative Directoire took power in 1795 and
Napoleon Napoléon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a French military and political leader. He rose to prominence during the French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) refers to the period that began with the Estates General o ...
conquered Northern Italy in 1796. The French Republican armies enveloped
Switzerland ,german: Schweizer(in),french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_type = Federalism, Federal semi-direct democracy under a multi-party assembly-independent Directorial system, directorial republic , leader_t ...
on the grounds of "liberating" the Swiss people, whose own system of government was deemed as feudal, especially for annexed territories such as Vaud. Some Swiss nationals, including Frédéric-César de La Harpe, had called for French intervention on these grounds. The invasion proceeded largely peacefully since the Swiss people failed to respond to the calls of their politicians to take up arms. On 5 March 1798, French troops completely overran Switzerland and the Early Modern Switzerland, Old Swiss Confederation collapsed. On 12 April 1798, 121 cantonal deputies proclaimed the Helvetic Republic, "One and Indivisible". On 14 April 1798, a cantonal assembly was called in the canton of Zürich, but most of the politicians from the previous assembly were re-elected. The new régime abolished canton (subnational entity), cantonal sovereignty and feudal rights. The occupying forces established a centralised state based on the ideas of the French Revolution. Many Swiss citizens resisted these "progressivism, progressive" ideas, particularly in the central areas of the country. Some of the more controversial aspects of the new regime limited freedom of worship, which outraged many of the more devout citizens. In response, the Cantons of Canton of Uri, Uri, Canton of Schwyz, Schwyz and Canton of Nidwalden, Nidwalden raised an army of about 10,000 men led by Alois von Reding to fight the French. This army was deployed along the defensive line from Napf to Rapperswil. Reding besieged French-controlled Lucerne and marched across the Brünig pass into the Berner Oberland to support the armies of Bern. At the same time, the French General Balthasar Alexis Henri Antoine of Schauenburg marched out of occupied Zürich to attack Zug, Lucerne and the Sattel pass. Even though Reding's army won victories at Rothenthurm and Morgarten, Schauenburg's victory near Sattel, Switzerland, Sattel allowed him to threaten the town of Schwyz. On 4 May 1798, the town council of Schwyz surrendered. On 13 May, Reding and Schauenburg agreed to a cease-fire, the terms of which included the rebel cantons merging into a single one, thus limiting their effectiveness in the central government. However, the French failed to keep their promises in respecting religious matters and before the year was out there was another uprising in Nidwalden which the authorities crushed, with towns and villages burnt down by French troops. No general agreement existed about the future of Switzerland. Leading groups split into the ', who wanted a united republic, and the ''Federalists'', who represented the old aristocracy and demanded a return to cantonal sovereignty. Coup d'état, Coup-attempts became frequent, and the new régime had to rely on the French to survive. Furthermore, the occupying forces insisted that the accommodation and feeding of the soldiers be paid for by the local populace, which drained the economy. The treaty of alliance of 19 August with France, which also reaffirmed the French annexation of the Prince-Bishopric of Basel and imposed French rights over the Upper Rhine and the Simplon Pass for evident strategic reasons towards Germany and Italy, also broke the tradition of neutrality established by the Confederation. All this made it difficult to establish a new working state. In 1799, Switzerland became a virtual battle-zone between the French, Austrian, and Imperial Russian armies, with the locals supporting mainly the latter two, rejecting calls to fight with the French armies in the name of the Helvetic Republic. Instability in the Republic reached its peak in 1802–1803, which included the ' uprising and the ' civil war of 1802. By then, it was 12 million francs in debt having started with a treasury of 6 million francs.Hughes, Christopher, '' Switzerland '' (London, 1975) p.98 This, together with local resistance, caused the Helvetic Republic to failed states, collapse, and its government took refuge in Lausanne. At that time, Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul of France, summoned representatives of both sides to Paris in order to negotiate a solution. Although the Federalist representatives formed a minority at the conciliation conference, known as the "Helvetic Consulta", Bonaparte characterised Switzerland as federal "by nature" and considered it unwise to force the country into any other constitutional framework. On 19 February 1803, the Act of Mediation restored the cantons. With the abolition of the centralized state, Switzerland became a confederation once again.


Before the advent of the Helvetic Republic, each individual canton had exercised complete sovereignty over its own territory or territories. Little central authority had existed, with matters concerning the country as a whole confined mainly to meetings of leading representatives from the cantons: the Tagsatzung, Diets. ''Histoire de la Suisse'', Éditions Fragnière, Fribourg, Switzerland The constitution of the Helvetic Republic came mainly from the design of Peter Ochs (politician), Peter Ochs, a magistrate from Basel. It established a central two-chamber legislature which included the Grand Council (with 8 members per canton) and the Senate (4 members per canton). The Executive (government), executive, known as the Directory of the Helvetic Republic, Directory, comprised 5 members. The Constitution also established actual Swiss citizenship, as opposed to just citizenship of one's canton of birth. Under the Old Swiss Confederacy, citizenship was granted by each town and village only to residents. These citizens enjoyed access to community property and in some cases additional protection under the law. Additionally, the urban towns and the rural villages had differing rights and laws. The creation of a uniform Swiss citizenship, which applied equally for citizens of the old towns and their tenants and servants, led to conflict. The wealthier villagers and urban citizens held rights to forests, commons, common land and other municipal property which they did not want to share with the "new citizens", who were generally poor. The compromise solution, which was written into the municipal laws of the Helvetic Republic, is still valid today. Two politically separate but often geographically similar organizations were created. The first, the so-called municipality, was a political community formed by-election and its voting body consists of all resident citizens. However, the community land and property remained with the former local citizens who were gathered together into the '. After an uprising led by Alois von Reding in 1798, some cantons were merged, thus reducing their anti-centralist effectiveness in the legislature. Canton of Uri, Uri, Schwyz, Zug and Unterwalden together became the canton of Waldstätten; Glarus and the Sarganserland became the canton of Linth, and Appenzell and Canton of St. Gallen, St. Gallen combined as the canton of Säntis. Due to the instability of the situation, the Helvetic Republic had over 6 constitutions in a period of 4 years.


The Helvetic Republic did highlight the desirability of a central authority to handle matters for the country as a whole (as opposed to the individual cantons which handled matters at the local level). In the post-Napoleonic era, the differences between the cantons (varying currencies and systems of weights and measurements) and the perceived need for better co-ordination between them came to a head and culminated in the Switzerland as a federal state, Swiss Federal Constitution of 1848. The Republic's 5-member Directory resembles the 7-member Swiss Federal Council, Switzerland's executive. The period of the Helvetic Republic is still very controversial within Switzerland. It represents a key step toward the Switzerland as a federal state, modern federal state. For the first time, the population was defined as Swiss, not as members of a specific canton. For cantons like Vaud, Thurgau and Ticino the Republic was a time of political freedom from other cantons. However, the Republic also marked a time of foreign domination and revolution. For the cantons of Bern, Schwyz and Nidwalden it was a time of military defeat followed by occupation and military suppression. In 1995, the Federal Parliament chose not to celebrate the 200 year anniversary of the Helvetic Republic, but to allow individual cantons to celebrate if they wished.

Administrative divisions

The Helvetic Republic reduced the formerly sovereign cantons to mere administrative districts, and in order to weaken the old power (sociology), power-structures, it defined new boundaries for some cantons. The Act of 1798 and subsequent developments resulted in the following cantons: * Aargau (without Canton of Baden, Baden and Canton of Fricktal, Fricktal) * Canton of Baden, Baden * Canton of Basel, Basel * Canton of Bellinzona, Bellinzona * Canton of Bern, Bern (without Canton of Oberland, Oberland) * Canton of Fribourg, Fribourg * Canton of Fricktal, Fricktal, added in 1802 * Canton of Léman, Léman (corresponding to Vaud) * Canton of Linth, Linth * Canton of Lugano, Lugano * Canton of Lucerne, Lucerne * Canton of Oberland, Oberland * Canton of Raetia, Raetia (corresponding to Graubünden/Grisons) * Canton of Säntis, Säntis * Canton of Schaffhausen, Schaffhausen * Canton of Solothurn, Solothurn * Thurgau * Canton of Waldstätten, Waldstätten * Valais * Canton of Zürich, Zürich

Predecessor states

As well as the Old Swiss Confederacy, the following territories became part of the Helvetic Republic:

Associate states

There were four associated states: * République des Sept-Dizains, Republic of the Seven Tithings * Imperial Abbey of St Gall * Imperial City of St Gall * Three Leagues, Free state of the Three Leagues ** League of God's House ** Grey League ** League of the Ten Jurisdictions


There were 21 condominium (international law), condominiums: * County of Baden * Vogtei of Bellinzona * Vogtei of Blenio * Freie Ämter * Vogtei of Gams / Hohensax * Grandson (district), Lordship of Grandson * Vogtei of Leventina * Landvogtei of Locarno * Landvogtei of Lugano * Landvogtei of Mendrisio * Murten, Vogtei of Murten * Vogtei of Orbe-Échallens * Imperial Abbey of Pfäfers * Vogtei of Rheintal * Vogtei of Rivera * County of Sargans * Schwarzenburg / Grasburg * Landgraviate of Thurgau * County of Uznach * Landvogtei of Valmaggia * Vogtei of Windegg


There were five protectorates: * Engelberg Abbey * Gersau, Republic of Gersau * Rapperswil, City of Rapperswil * Barony of Sax-Forstegg * County of Werdenberg

Unassociated territories

The Helvetic Republic also annexed two territories not previously part of Switzerland: * Fricktal, a part of the Breisgau, within the Habsburg Further Austria, retained by Aargau * Konstanz, a part of the Bishopric of Constance, later restored to the Grand Duchy of Baden

See also

* Switzerland in the Napoleonic era * List of officials of the Helvetic Republic


External links

Divisions of Switzerland under Napoleon
{{DEFAULTSORT:Helvetic Republic Helvetic Republic, Client states of the Napoleonic Wars Former republics 1790s in Europe 1800s in Switzerland States and territories established in 1798 States and territories disestablished in 1803 1798 establishments in France 1803 disestablishments in France 18th-century establishments in Switzerland 1803 disestablishments in Switzerland