Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung November 1848

Elections. — Sydow

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 57;
Written: by Engels on November 21, 1848;
First published: in the supplement to Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 153, November 26, 1848.

Berne, November 21. At yesterday’s sitting the Federal Assembly (the two Councils in joint session) dealt with the Freiburg elections.’ Earlier, the Vorort had announced that it intended to come to an agreement with Tessin and therefore desired the withdrawal of the troops that had been ordered there.[66] Further (because of the complications with the Imperial Government), the Vorort wants the Federal Diet to constitute itself as soon as possible.

Herr Escher wishes to resign as representative of the Confederation in Tessin.

Herr Furrer declares that for the time being, until the next session, he accepts the position of Federal Councillors and Federal President. This means that four members (Furrer, Ochsenbein, Frei-Herose and Näff) are present; Herr Ochsenbein declares the Federal Council to be constituted, and leaves the chair of the Assembly, which Herr Escher takes over, and the four Federal Councillors are sworn in.[67]

Proceeding to the agenda, Herr Brugisser proposes a motion in the name of the majority of the commission concerned calling for the revocation of the decision by which the National Council annulled the Freiburg elections.[68] The minority demands that the decision of the National Council be confirmed. Messrs. Kopp, Anton Schnyder, Pottier, Eytel, Pittet, Castella (Freiburg), Weder (St. Gallen), Ochsenbein and Fazy spoke in support of the majority motions and Messrs. Tanner, Trog, Escher, Frei, Streng and Imobersteg in support of the minority. The arguments were mostly of a legal nature, but the defenders of the Freiburg elections laid tremendous emphasis on the political necessity to retain the Freiburg Government and to avoid exposing the canton once again to the intrigues of the clergy. The majority motion of the commission was finally adopted by 68 votes to 53, which meant that the decision of the National Council annulling the Freiburg elections was revoked.

The Suisse and the Verfassungsfreund are jubilant, for this decision ensures them five votes for Berne as the federal capital. The Nouvelliste Vaudois will also rejoice, for the radical Freiburg Government and the five radical votes on the National Council are for the time being guaranteed. The Berner Zeitung, although much closer in its principles to the Nouvelliste than to the two abovementioned Ochsenbein newspapers, nevertheless declares that the decision of the Federal Assembly is the first victory for cantonal sovereignty in the new Confederation. In our opinion, the Berner Zeitung is wrong. Most speakers for the majority were certainly not serious about the issues of principle which were advanced during this debate, least of all Herr Eytel, who even went so far as to speak against the supporters of unity. With them it was purely a matter of practical interests; this is clear from the newspapers mentioned above, which pay homage to diametrically opposed parties and whose followers nevertheless used the same arguments in support of the same side. Most members of the minority, on the other hand, and especially the Berne radicals, were serious about the principles involved. But it is open to question whether these gentlemen did not allow themselves to be carried rather too far by their legal conscience.

To everyone’s surprise, His Excellency Herr von Sydow, the Prussian envoy, returned here the day before yesterday after a year’s absence. It is known that after the Sonderbund war[69] he took up residence in worthy Basle — birds of a feather etc. The significance of his sudden return is not yet known. Probably it has none at all. At least he has made no communication to the Vorort[70] or to the Federal Council. Besides, his whole staff has for the time being remained in Basle.

So my report yesterday about disagreements with the Imperial Government did have some truth in it. — To be sure, there is no question of a declaration of war, nor has any new Note arrived from the Empire. But news of the 50,000 imperial troops said to be concentrating on the Swiss frontier and forming a cordon between Constance and Basle was certainly received the day before yesterday in the evening by the Vorort which, as I wrote to you, thereupon went into session the very same evening. We shall soon learn what sort of counter-measures it and the now constituted Federal Council have decided on.

The day before yesterday elections took place in the Mittelland district (Berne and vicinity) for two National Councillors to take the places of Dufour, who was elected in three constituencies and opted for Seeland, and of Ochsenbein, who on account of his election to the Federal Council loses his title of National Councillor. The conservative (i.e. reactionary) candidates Fischer and Blösch obtained 1,059 and 893 of the city’s votes respectively, the two radicals Weingart and Matthys, 559 and 540. Fischer’s election is certain, while that of Blösch, who is the object of greater antipathy, is less so. The considerable conservative majority in the city of Berne is mainly due to the influence exercised on the elections by the rich and long established patrician families here. By far the greater part of the electorate is dependent on them and only breaks away from their tutelage in moments of crisis or when a candidate presents himself who, like Ochsenbein, has popular antecedents and has managed to achieve a respected position in Switzerland. Here, as in most places in Switzerland, the actual revolutionary forces of the people are among the Swiss and German workers, but since they have no permanent residence in the city, they only very rarely have the right to vote, even if they are citizens of the canton.[71] This circumstance, together with the fact that as soon as things become quieter the influence of the patricians once more begins to spread, explains the conservative elections which never fail to come about a few years after each liberal or radical revolution.

At today’s sitting of the National Council, Dr. Steiger of Lucerne was elected President in place of Ochsenbein. The Assembly is debating the Tessin affair. In the course of a long and, for an Italian, very lifeless speech, Pioda (of Tessin) made numerous accusations against the representatives and troops of the Confederation in Tessin. Escher of Zurich, however, strove to refute these charges. If possible I shall send an additional report on the outcome of the sitting. It looks as though this will be unqualified approval for the Vorort and the representatives, and at best simply an agenda based on the Vorort’s announcement yesterday (see above) that everything has been settled.

There were several more speeches, including a final one from Colonel Ziegler. In this he supplemented the majority motions approving the steps taken by the Vorort with a motion ordering the Government of Tessin to pay at least a part of the costs and to express its appreciation of the representatives. The discussion was then adjourned until tomorrow on a motion from the President.