Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung November 1848

Personalities of the Federal Council

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 83;
Written: by Engels on November 24, 1848;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 155, November 29, 1848, and in the supplement.

Berne, November 24. It will not be unwelcome to the readers of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung to learn something about the personalities who are now called upon to rule Switzerland under the control of the two Councils [the National Council and the Council of States which made up the Federal Assembly of Switzerland], and who have now just begun their work. Five members of the Federal Council accepted their election without reservation, another, Herr Furrer, has accepted provisionally until the spring, and about acceptance by the seventh (Munzinger) there can be no doubt.

The President of the Federal Council, Herr Furrer, is a typical Zuricher. He has, as the French would say, l'air éminemment bourgeois. [an eminently bourgeois appearance] Clothes, demeanour and features, including his silver-mounted spectacles, reveal at the very first glance the “citizen of the imperial free town”, who, as President of the Vorort and the Diet[98] respectively, has, it is true, become somewhat civilised, but has yet remained “every inch a provincial”. [King Lear] The chief merit of Herr Furrer, one of the most important lawyers of the “Swiss Athens” (as the Zurich philistine likes to call his little town of 10,000 inhabitants), is that by his consistent efforts and moderate liberalism the September regime in Zurich[99] was overthrown and the canton was won back to the party of progress. As President of the Diet he remained true to his principles. Moderate progress in internal affairs and the strictest neutrality in external affairs was the policy he pursued. That he has now become President of the Federal Council is more a matter of accident than of design. People would have preferred a man from Berne; but then there was only the choice between Ochsenbein, against whom there was great antipathy, and Neuhaus, who now in 1848 has been just as conservative in his activity as five or six years ago and for that reason was not elected at all to the Federal Council. Owing to this difficulty a Zuricher was chosen, and in that case Furrer was of course the most suitable. Thus Furrer by no means represents quite exactly the majority of the Federal Assembly, but at any rate he is the representative of the majority of German Switzerland.

The Vice-President, Druey, is in all respects the opposite of Furrer and the best representative that French Switzerland could send. Whereas Furrer is too moderate for the majority and particularly for the radical minority, Druey on the other hand is far too radical for most. Whereas Furrer is a moderate bourgeois liberal, Druey is a resolute supporter of the red republic. The prominent role played by Druey in the recent revolutionary events in his canton is well known; less well known but all the greater for that are the multifarious services he has rendered his canton (Waadt). Druey, a socialist democrat of the Louis Blanc shade, a first-class authority on constitutional law, and the quickest and most industrious worker in the whole of Switzerland, is an element in the Federal Council which in time is bound to win more and more influence and have the most beneficial effect.

Owing to his antecedents, Ochsenbein, leader of the volunteer bands against Lucerne, President of the Diet which decided on the war against the Sonderbund,[100] colonel of the Berne reservists in that campaign, has become well known and popular not only in Switzerland, but throughout Europe. Less well known, however, is his attitude since the February revolution. The partially socialist character of that revolution, the measures of the Provisional Government in France, and the whole movement of the French proletariat, served to no small extent to intimidate him, the démocrate pur, whom the French would count as belonging to the party of the National.[101] He gradually drew closer to the moderate trend. Especially in external policy, in which he had shown so much energy before and during the war against the Sonderbund, he became more and more inclined to the old system of so-called strict neutrality, which in reality is nothing but the policy of conservatism and connivance with reaction. Thus as President of the Vorort, he delayed in recognising the French Republic, and behaved ambiguously, to say the least, in regard to the Italian affair. In addition, the unrestrained passion which he displayed in presiding over the Diet, and which often caused him to take a biased attitude towards the radicals, made him many enemies among these, and especially among the French Swiss. If any other choice had been possible for the Berne member of the Federal Council than between him and Neuhaus, Ochsenbein would have obtained far fewer votes.

Colonel Frey-Hérosé from Aargau is considered one of the most capable of Switzerland’s military men. He was Chief of the General Staff during the campaign against the Sonderbund. Like most Swiss staff officers, he too for a fairly long time played a political role in his canton, and in consequence became familiar also with civil administration. In any case, in his new post he will perform excellent work for the Military Department. As regards his political views, he is one of the stauncher liberals of his canton.

State Councillor Franscini from Tessin is certainly one of the most respected public figures in the whole of Switzerland. For many years he has worked tirelessly in his canton. It was mainly he who in 1830, already before the July revolution, succeeded in bringing the despised Tessin, which was considered politically backward, to be the first in all Switzerland, and without a revolution, to replace the old oligarchic Constitution by a democratic one. It was he again who headed the 1840 revolution, which for the second time overthrew the surreptitiously restored domination of the priests and oligarchs. [102] Furthermore, it was Franscini who, after that revolution, organised afresh the administration, which had fallen into complete disorder in the hands of the reactionaries, put a stop to the innumerable occurrences of theft, fraud, bribery and squandering and, finally, as far as the means of a poor mountain region allowed, once more organised education in the schools, which had completely gone to ruin under the direction of the monks. He thereby deprived the priests of one of their chief means of influencing the people, and the results become more evident each year by the increasing confidence of the Tessiners in their Government. In addition, Franscini is regarded as the most expert economist in Switzerland and is the author of the best books on Swiss statistics (Statistica della Svizzera, Lugano, 1827, Nuova Statistica della Svizzera, 1848). He is a staunch radical and in the Federal Council will side with Druey rather than with Ochsenbein and Furrer. The people of Tessin especially value him, the leader of their Government for many years, for his “honourable poverty”.

Government Councillor Munzinger from Solothurn is the most influential man in his canton, which he has represented in the Diet almost continuously since 1830, and which he has actually ruled for several years. As a semi-radical newspaper of French Switzerland, the Gazette de Lausanne, puts it, he is said to cacher sous les apparences de la bonhomie un esprit fin et pénétrant, [conceal a shrewd, penetrating mind under a kind-hearted appearance] which means that concealed beneath the outward appearance of a good-natured fellow he possesses that petty cunning which in the imperial free towns is regarded as diplomatic ability. As for the rest, he is a moderate man of progress à la Furrer and he demands that Switzerland should concern itself with its own affairs and leave the high politics of Europe to God and Lord Palmerston. Hence he speaks extremely unfavourably of the foreign refugees, who so far have always been a source of unpleasantness for Switzerland. Together with the Swiss Athenian, Dr. Escher, he has recently in Tessin again given proofs of his attitude in this respect.[103] In general, Furrer and Munzinger in the Federal Council perfectly represent the prejudices and narrowmindedness of the “enlightened” German Swiss.

Finally, Herr Näff from St. Gallen, about whom I can say very little. He is said to have done much to improve the administration in his canton, and has also distinguished himself in other respects. The canton of St. Gallen, one can read in Swiss newspapers, is in general one containing the richest and most excellent men; but these excellent men suffer from the misfortune that not much is heard about them, and in any case they seem to lack initiative. Nevertheless, in his special capacity as administrator, Herr Näff is apparently not without merit. As regards his political views, he stands midway between Furrer and Ochsenbein; he is more resolute than the former, but does not o as far as could perhaps be expected of the latter judging by his antecedents.

In view of this composition of the Federal Council, there is no doubt about the policy Switzerland will pursue in the immediate future. It is the same policy as the old Diet and the Vorort Berne pursued under the leadership of Ochsenbein, and later of Funk (who without Ochsenbein is a nonentity). In internal affairs — strict implementation of the new Federal Constitution which still leaves too much scope to the sovereignty of the cantons; in external affairs — strict neutrality, of course stricter or milder according to circumstances, in particular stricter in relation to Austria. The moderate party definitely has the upper hand, and it is probable that Herr Ochsenbein will vote with it on most questions.

But in order to understand how in such circumstances a minority, like Druey and Franscini, could agree to be elected and expose themselves to the prospect of being continually outvoted, how such a collegium can rule jointly — to understand this one must either be a Swiss or have seen how Switzerland is governed. Here, where all the executive authorities deliberate jointly, the principle followed is: just accept the position; true, you are in the minority today, but perhaps you may still be of some use; and who knows whether in a year or two, owing to deaths, resignations etc., you will not find yourself in the majority. That is the natural consequence of the fact that governing collegiums are formed by means of elections. Then, just as in the legislative assemblies, each party tries at least to consolidate its position by securing the entry of one or several candidates to the collegium, and to ensure a minority for itself, as long as it cannot achieve a majority. If its candidates wished to refuse election, as would certainly happen in larger countries, the party would not take it amiss. But the Federal Council is no commission du pouvoir exécutif, [104] and Druey’s position is infinitely remote from that of Ledru-Rollin.

The Swiss press as a whole asserts that the Federal Council consists of men of first-class talents. I doubt, however, whether a single one of its members apart from Druey and Franscini would ever play an outstanding role in a larger country, and whether any of the three other members, with the exception of Frey-Hérosé and Ochsenbein, would manage to achieve even an important secondary role.