Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung December 1848
Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 138;
Written: by Engels on December 6, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 165, December 10, 1848.
Berne, December 6. Who in this period of European storms is concerned about Switzerland? Certainly almost no one apart from the imperial authority, which suspects there is a volunteer insurgent lying in ambush behind every bush on the left bank of the Rhine from Constance to Basle. And yet Switzerland is an important neighbour for us. Today constitutional Belgium is the official model state, but who in these stormy days will guarantee us that tomorrow a republican Switzerland will not be an official model state? Already I know more than one farouche [fierce] republican who wishes nothing more than to transfer the Swiss political system with its large and small councils — federal, national, council of states, and other councils — across the Rhine, i. e. to transform Germany into a large-scale Switzerland, and then lead a calm and peaceful life in all godliness and honour as a member of the Great Council or a Landammann of the Baden, Hesse or Nassau canton.
At any rate, therefore, we Germans should be concerned about Switzerland, and what the Swiss think, say and do may very soon be held up to us as a model. Hence it can do no harm if in advance we acquaint ourselves to some extent with the kind of customs and people the twenty-two cantons of the “Confederation” have produced in their Federative Republic.
It is reasonable for us first of all to consider the cream of Swiss society, the men whom the Swiss people themselves have appointed as their representatives; I am referring to the National Council which meets in the Town Hall in Berne.
Anyone who comes to the public gallery of the National Council is bound to be surprised at the variety of figures the Swiss people has sent to Berne to deliberate on matters common to the whole nation. One who has not already seen a good deal of Switzerland will hardly understand how a small country of a few hundred square miles and of less than two and a half million inhabitants can produce such a colourful assembly. But it is not at all surprising. Switzerland is a country in which four different languages are spoken — German, French, Italian (or rather Lombardian) and Romansh — and which combines all stages of culture, from the most advanced machine industry down to the most unadulterated pastoral life. The Swiss National Council combines the cream of all these nationalities and stages of culture and therefore looks anything but national.
There cannot be any question of definite seats, of separate parties in this semi-patriarchal assembly. The radicals have made a feeble attempt to seat themselves on the extreme left, but they do not seem to have been successful. Each member sits where he likes and often changes his place three or four times during one sitting. But most members have certain favourite seats which finally they always occupy, so that after all the assembly is divided into two rather sharply separated parts. On the three front semicircular benches one sees men with sharply defined features, many with beards, with well-kept hair and modern clothes of Parisian cut. Seated here are the representatives of French and Italian Switzerland, or the “Welch” members as they are called here; on these benches it is rare for anything but French to be spoken. But behind the Welch members sits a curiously motley society. True, no peasants in Swiss national costumes are to be seen; on the contrary, these are all people whose clothing bears the stamp of a certain degree of civilisation; here and there one even sees a more or less modern frock-coat, the owner usually possessing decorous features; then half a dozen Swiss officer types in civilian dress, looking very much alike, more solemn than military, their faces and clothing somewhat old-fashioned and to some extent reminiscent of Ajax in Troilus and Cressida; lastly the bulk of the assembly, consisting of more or less elderly, old-fashioned gentlemen with features and costumes that defy description, each one different, each one a distinct type and in the main also a type for caricature. All varieties of the petty bourgeois, the campagnard endimanché, [peasant in his Sunday best] and the oligarchy of the cantons are here represented, but all equally respectable, all terribly serious, all wearing equally heavy silver-rimmed spectacles. These are the representatives of German Switzerland, and this bulk of the assembly is sent by the smaller cantons and outlying areas of the larger ones.
The presidential chair facing this assembly is occupied by the famous Dr. Robert Steiger from Lucerne, who a few years ago was sentenced to death under the Siegwart-Müller administration, and is now the President of the Swiss Federal Assembly. Steiger is a small thickset man with clear-cut features, to which his grey hair, brown moustache, and even the inevitable silver-rimmed spectacles, provide a not unpleasant background. He carries out his duties with great calm and perhaps somewhat excessive restraint.
The discussion corresponds to the physiognomy. Only the Welch members, and not even all of them, speak a fully civilised, rhetorical form of language. The Bernese, who among the German Swiss have most of all adopted Romance customs, most closely resemble them. Some temperamental fire, at least, is still to be found among them. The Zurichers, these sons of the Swiss Athens, speak with the gravity and precision appropriate to someone halfway between a professor and a factory foreman, but always “educatedly”. The officers speak with solemn slowness, without much skill or content, but always decisively as though their battalion stood behind them ready for action. Finally, the main body of the assembly provides orators who are more or less well-meaning, cautious and conscientious, and who weigh up the arguments on one side and the other but nevertheless in the end always come down on the side of their cantonal interests; almost all of them speak very clumsily and in some places according to their own rules of grammar. When the discussion turns on a question of cost, it always starts from them, particularly from the representatives of the Ur-cantons. In this respect the Uri canton has already a well-deserved reputation in both Councils.
Consequently, on the whole the discussion is dull, calm, mediocre. The National Council has very few talented orators who would be successful also in larger assemblies; so far I know only of two, Luvini and Dufour, and perhaps Eytel. True, I have not yet heard several of the more influential members; but neither their successes in the assembly nor the newspaper reports of their speeches are such as to justify great expectations. Only Neuhaus is said to be a brilliant orator. How indeed could oratorical ability develop in assemblies which represent at most a few hundred thousand people and have to concern themselves with the most petty local interests? At any rate, the defunct Diet was a diplomatic rather than a legislative assembly; in it one could learn how to distort instructions and find a plausible way out of a situation, but not how to rouse an assembly and dominate it. Hence the speeches of the National Council members are mostly limited to motives for voting, with every speaker setting out the facts which induce him to vote in this way or that, and so without the slightest embarrassment he calmly repeats again what has already been repeated ad nauseam by previous speakers. Especially the speeches of the bulk of the representatives display this patriarchal sincerity. And once one of these gentlemen has the floor, as a matter of course he uses the opportunity also to voice his opinion at length on all the incidental points raised in the discussion, although they may have been disposed of long ago. Amidst this friendly chatter of the decent old fellows, a few main speeches laboriously keep the threads of the discussion together, and when the sitting ends one confesses to have seldom heard anything more boring. Philistinism, which lends a certain originality to the physique [outward appearance] of the assembly because it is rarely seen in this classical form, here too remains au moral [in essence] flat and tedious. There is little passion and no question at all of wit. Luvini is the only one who speaks with rousing, forceful passion, Dufour the only one who impresses by genuinely French clarity and precision. Frey from the Basle canton represents humour, which at times Colonel Bernold also attempts with some success. The French Swiss totally lack French wit. Throughout the existence of the Alps and the Jura not a single tolerable pun has been produced on their slopes, nor any quick, trenchant repartee heard there. The inhabitant of French Switzerland is not merely sérieux, he is grave.
The discussion which I will describe in some detail here concerns the Tessin affair and the Italian refugees in Tessin. The circumstances are well known: the so-called intrigues of the Italian refugees in Tessin gave Radetzky the pretext for taking unpleasant measures; the Vorort Berne sent to Tessin federal representatives with extended powers and also a brigade of troops; the uprising in Veltlin and in Valle Intelvi prompted a number of refugees to return to Lombardy, which they succeeded in doing in spite of the vigilance of the Swiss frontier posts; they crossed the frontier, without arms however, took part in the uprising and after the defeat of the insurgents, again unarmed, returned from Valle Intelvi to the Tessin area, and from there they were deported by the Tessin Government. Meanwhile Radetzky intensified his reprisals in the frontier area and redoubled his protests to the federal representatives.
The latter demanded the deportation of all refugees without distinction; the Tessin Government refused; the Vorort confirmed the measure of the representatives; the Tessin Government appealed to the Federal Assembly, which in the meantime had begun its session. The National Council had to decide on this appeal an on the factual assertions put forward by both sides, concerning especially the behaviour of the Tessiners towards the representatives and the Swiss troops.
The majority of the commission appointed on this matter proposed the deportation of all the Italian refugees from Tessin, their internment in the interior of Switzerland, a ban on the entry of new refugees into Tessin, and in general that the measures taken by the Vorort should be confirmed and adhered to. The report of the commission was given by Herr Kasimir Pfyffer from Lucerne. But long before I had made my way to the public gallery through the crowded audience, Herr Pfyffer ended his rather dry report, and Herr Pioda was given the floor.'
Herr Pioda, Secretary of State in Tessin, who was the sole representative of the minority in the commission, proposed the deportation of only those refugees who had taken part in the last uprising and against whom, therefore, there were positive grounds for action to be taken. Herr Pioda, a major and battalion commander during the war against the Sonderbund, despite his mild, blonde appearance, displayed great courage at the time at Airolo, and held his ground for a week against more numerous, better-trained and better-armed enemy troops which, in addition, had occupied a more advantageous position. Pioda’s speech is as mild and full of feeling as his outward appearance. Since he speaks French perfectly, both as regards accent and fluency, I would at first have taken him for a French Swiss and was astonished to learn that he was an Italian. However, when he came to speak of the reproaches levelled against the Tessiners, when in contrast to these reproaches he described the actions of the Swiss troops, who behaved almost as if they were in enemy country, when he began to get heated, he revealed if not passion, at any rate that lively, thoroughly Italian eloquence which resorts at times to antiquated forms and at others to a certain modern, sometimes exaggerated, magniloquence. To his credit I must say that in this last respect he knew how to keep within bounds, and these passages in his speech had a very good effect. On the whole, however, his speech was too long and too emotional. The German Swiss possess Horace’s aes triplex, and all the fine phrases, all the noble sentiments of the good Pioda made no impression on their breasts, which are as hard as they are broad.
The next to speak was Herr Doctor Alfred Escher from Zurich. A la bonne heure [excellent] — he is a man comme il en faut pour la Suisse. [such as Switzerland needs] Herr Doctor Escher, federal representative in Tessin, Vice-President of the National Council, the son — if I am not mistaken — of the well-known machine-builder and engineer Escher who canalised the Linth and founded a huge engineering works near Zurich. Herr Doctor Escher is not so much a Zuricher as a “Swiss Athenian”. His frock-coat and waistcoat have been made by the best marchand tailleur [merchant tailor] in Zurich; one sees the praiseworthy and partly successful effort to meet the demands of the Paris fashion magazine; but one sees also the influence of the town’s original sin, which compelled the cutter to go back to the age-old, customary, petty-bourgeois lines. Like the frock-coat, so the man. The fair hair is very carefully cut, but in a horribly bourgeois manner, as also the beard — for our Swiss Alcibiades wears a beard, of course, a caprice of the Zuricher from a “good family” that strongly reminds one of the first Alcibiades. When Herr Doctor Escher takes the presidential chair to replace Steiger for a short time, he carries out this manoeuvre with a mixture of dignity and elegant nonchalance of which M. Marrast could be envious. One sees clearly that he is taking advantage of those few moments in the soft upholstery of the arm-chair to rest his back, weary from sitting on a hard bench. In a word, Herr Escher is as elegant as it is only possible to be in the Swiss Athens; moreover, he is wealthy, handsome, strongly built, and not more than 33 years old. The ladies of Berne need to beware of this dangerous Alcibiades of Zurich.
Herr Escher, in addition’, speaks very fluently and in such good German as is only possible for a Swiss Athenian: an Attic idiom with a Doric accent, but without grammatical mistakes, and not every member of the National Council from German Switzerland is capable of that; like all the Swiss he speaks with the most terrifying solemnity. If Herr Escher were 70 years of age he could not have adopted a more solemn tone than he did the day before yesterday — yet he is one of the youngest members of the assembly. Moreover, he has another quality not typical of the Swiss. The point is that every German Swiss has only a single gesture for all his speeches, in all circumstances and throughout his life. Herr Doctor Kern, for instance, stretches out his right arm to the side at right angles with his body; the various officers have exactly the same gesture, the only difference being that they hold the arm straight out in front of them instead of to the side; Herr Tanner from Aarau makes a bow after every third word; Herr Furrer bows first to the front, then in a half-turn to the right and then to the left; in short, if all the German-speaking members of the National Council were assembled, a fairly complete signalling code would result. Herr Escher’s gesture consists in stretching out his arm in front of him and making a movement with it exactly like that of a pump-handle.
As for the content of Herr Doctor Escher’s speech, there is no need for me to repeat his list of the complaints of the federal representatives, since almost all these complaints have reached most of the German newspapers through the Neue Zürcher-Zeitung. There was absolutely nothing new in the speech.
Zurich solemnity was succeeded by Italian passion: after Herr Dr. Escher came, Colonel Luvini. Luvini is an excellent soldier, to whom the Tessin canton owes its whole military organisation; as the military leader he led the 1840 revolution. In August 1841, when the overthrown oligarchs and priests launched an attack from Piedmont and tried to make a counter-revolution, Luvini by his swift and energetic action suppressed the attempt in a single day. During the war against the Sonderbund he was the only one to be taken prisoner solely because the Bündeners left him in the lurch. Luvini very quickly leapt from his seat to defend his fellow countrymen against Escher. The fact that Herr Escher’s reproaches were couched in the stilted but outwardly calm language of a schoolteacher did not make them any the less bitter; on the contrary, everyone knows that doctrinaire wisdom is in itself sufficiently intolerable and wounding.
Luvini replied with all the passion of an old soldier and Tessiner, who is Swiss by accident but Italian by nature.
“Are not the people of Tessin here being strongly reproached because of their ,sympathy with Italian freedom'? Yes, it is true that the Tessiners sympathise with Italy, and I am proud of the fact, and I shall not cease to pray to God every morning and evening for the liberation of this country from its oppressors. Yes, despite Herr Escher, the Tessiners are a calm and peaceful people, but if daily and hourly they have to watch the Swiss soldiers fraternise with the Austrians, with the police detachments of a man whose name I can never pronounce without a bitterness that comes from the depths of my soul, with Radetzky’s hirelings — how can they fail to be embittered, they before whose very eyes, as it were, the Croats commit the most shocking atrocities? Yes, the Tessiners are a calm and peaceful people, but when they are sent Swiss soldiers who take sides with the Austrians, and in some places behave like the Croats, then, of course, they cannot be calm and peaceful!” (There follows an enumeration of facts about the behaviour of the Swiss troops in Tessin.) “It is already hard and sad enough to be oppressed and enslaved by foreigners, yet this is tolerated in the hope that the day will come when the foreigners will be driven out; but when my own brothers and members of the Confederation enslave me, when they, as it were, put a rope round my neck, then truly......
The President’s bell interrupted the speaker. Luvini was called to order. He said a few more words and ended his speech rather abruptly and irritably.
The fiery Luvini was followed by Colonel Michel from Graubünden. The Bündeners, with the exception of the Italian-speaking inhabitants of Misox, have always been bad neighbours to the Tessiners, and Herr Michel remained true to the traditions of his homeland. Speaking in the highly solemn tone of a man of worth, he tried to cast suspicion on the statements of the Tessiners, launched into a series of uncalled-for denunciations and slanders against the Tessin people, and was even tactless and ignoble enough to reproach the Tessiners because they (rightly) laid the blame for their defeat at Airolo on Michel’s fellow countrymen, on the Bündeners. He concluded his speech by kindly proposing that part of the frontier occupation costs should be imposed on the Tessin Government.
On a motion by Steiger, the debate was then adjourned.
The following morning the first to speak was Herr Colonel Berg from Zurich. I shall not describe his appearance for, as I have pointed out, the German-Swiss officers all look alike. Herr Berg is the commander of the Zurich battalion stationed in Tessin, the insolent behaviour of which was described by Luvini with numerous examples. Herr Berg, of course, had to defend his battalion, but as he soon came to the end of the ‘ factual assertions put forward for this purpose, he launched into a series of the most unrestrained personal attacks on Luvini.
“Luvini,” he said, “ought to be ashamed to talk about the discipline of the troops and moreover to cast suspicion on the discipline of one of the finest and most orderly battalions. For if what happened to Herr Luvini had happened to me I would long ago have resigned. What happened to Herr Luvini was that in the war against the Sonderbund he was defeated in spite of his army being numerically superior, and on being given the order to advance, replied that it was impossible, as his troops were demoralised etc. Incidentally, I should like to have a word with Herr Luvini on this matter, not here but somewhere else; I like to look my opponent in the eye.”
All these and numerous other provocative statements and insults were uttered by Herr Berg in a tone that was in part dignified, in part blustering. He obviously wanted to imitate Luvini’s fougueuse [fiery] rhetoric, but his effort was a complete fiasco.
As the story of Airolo has already cropped up twice in my report and has now come up again, I shall briefly recall the main circumstances. Dufour’s plan in the war against the Sonderbund was as follows: while the main army attacked Freiburg and Lucerne, the Tessiners were to advance over the St. Gotthard, and the Bündeners over the Oberalp into the Urserental, liberate and arm the liberal-minded population there, and by this diversion cut off Wallis from the Ur-cantons and compel the main Lucerne army of the Sonderbund to divide into two. The plan failed, firstly because the men of Uri and Wallis had already occupied the St. Gotthard before hostilities began and secondly because of the half-heartedness of the Bündeners. The latter totally failed to mobilise the Catholic militia, and even the troops that were mobilised let themselves be dissuaded from further advance by the Catholic population at a meeting in the Disentis High Court. Hence Tessin was quite alone, and bearing in mind that the military organisation of this canton was still very immature and that the entire Tessin army numbered only about 3,000, the weakness of Tessin compared with the Sonderbund is easily grasped. Meanwhile the men of Uri, Wallis and Unterwalden had been reinforced by more than 2,000 men with artillery and on November 17, 1847, they descended the St. Gotthard with their entire force and broke into Tessin. The Tessin troops were deployed in echelons up the Leventinatal from Bellinzona to Airolo; their reserves were in Lugano. The Sonderbund troops, concealed by a dense mist, occupied all the heights around Airolo, and when the mist dispersed Luvini saw that his position was lost before a shot had been fired. Nevertheless he assumed the defensive and after a battle lasting many hours, in which the Tessiners fought with the greatest courage, his troops were thrown back by the numerically stronger enemy. At first the retreat was covered by some army units, but the Tessin recruits, attacked on the flanks from the heights and fired on by artillery, were soon in total disorder and could only be brought to a halt at eight hours’ distance from Airolo, behind the Moesa. Anyone who knows the St. Gotthard road will understand the huge advantages of an army coming down from above, especially if it has artillery, and the impossibility for an army retreating down the mountain to make a stand anywhere and deploy its forces in the narrow valley. Moreover the Tessiners who were actually involved in the battle by no means outnumbered the Sonderbund troops, on the contrary. For this defeat, therefore, which incidentally had no further consequences, it was not Luvini who was to blame but, firstly, his numerically weak and untrained troops, secondly, the unfavourable terrain, thirdly and mainly, the absence of the Bündeners, who allowed themselves to quaff Veltlin wine in Disentis instead of being on the Oberalp, and who at last came to the help of the Tessiners over the St. Bernard, post festum, with two battalions. And this victory of the Sonderbund, at the only place where it was superior in numbers, is used to reproach the Tessiners by those who shamefully left them in the lurch or who won cheap laurels at Freiburg and Lucerne, fighting three against one!
As you know, these attacks by Berg against Luvini resulted in a duel in which the Welch man severely disabled the Zuricher.
But let us return to the debate. Herr Dr. Kern from Thurgau rose to support the proposals of the majority. Herr Kern is a typical Swiss, tall, broad-shouldered, with not unpleasant clear-cut features and somewhat theatrical hair, such as perhaps an honest Swiss would imagine Olympian Jupiter; he is dressed somewhat like a man of learning, his look, tone of voice and bearing indicate unshakeable determination. Herr Kern is considered one of the most accomplished and shrewdest lawyers in Switzerland. “With his characteristic logic” and highly declamatory manner of speaking, the President of the Federal Court began to expound on the Tessin question, but soon I was so bored that I preferred to go to the Café italien and drink a glass of Wallis wine.
When I returned, Kern had already been followed by Almeras from Geneva, Homberger, Blanchenay from Waadt and Castoldi from Geneva — more or less important local figures whose fame ill the Confederation is only just beginning. Eytel from Waadt was speaking.
In Switzerland, where people are proportionately as large as ordinary cattle, Herr Eytel may be considered delicately built, although in France he would pass for a jeune homme fort robuste. He has a handsome, delicate face, fair moustache and fair curly hair, and like the Waadt people in general he reminds one of a Frenchman more than do the other inhabitants of Welch Switzerland. It goes without saying that he is one of the main supporters of the ultra-radical, red-republican trend among the Waadt people.
Moreover, he is still young and certainly not older than Escher. Herr Eytel spoke with great vehemence against the federal representatives.
“They behaved in Tessin as though Tessin were not a sovereign state, but a Province which they had to administer as pro-Consuls; truly, if these gentlemen had acted in that way in a French canton, they would not have been allowed to remain there long! Yet these gentlemen, instead of thanking God that the Tessiners put up so calmly with their lust for domination and their fantastic ideas, even complain of being badly received!”
Herr Eytel speaks very well but is somewhat too long-winded. Like all the French Swiss, he fails to come to the point.
Old Steiger also said a few words from his presidential chair in favour of the majority proposals and then our Alcibiades Escher took the floor for the second time in order to repeat once more the account he had already given. But this time he attempted a rhetorical conclusion in which his schoolboy’s exercise was evident three miles away.
“Either we are neutral or we are not neutral, but whatever we are, that we must wholly be, and old Swiss loyalty demands that we should keep our word, even if given to a despot.”
From this new and striking idea, Herr Escher’s tireless arm pumped out the broad stream of a solemn peroration, and when he had completed it Alcibiades, obviously pleased with himself, sat down again.
Herr Tanner from Aarau, President of the Supreme Court, was the next speaker. He is a lean, puny man of medium height who speaks very loudly about very uninteresting matters. Basically his speech was nothing but the hundredfold repetition of one and the same grammatical mistake.
He was followed by Herr Maurice Barman from French Wallis. To look at him no one would believe that he fought so bravely at Pont de Trient in 1844, when the men of Upper Wallis led by the Kalbermattens, Riedmattens and other Mattens attempted a counter-revolution in the canton. Herr Barman’s outward appearance is that of a tranquil bourgeois but is by no means unpleasant; he speaks thoughtfully and rather disjointedly. He repulsed Berg’s personal attacks on Luvini and supported Pioda.
Herr Battaglini from Tessin, who looks rather bourgeois and could remind a malicious observer of Dr. Bartholo in Figaro, read out a rather long discourse in French about neutrality in favour of his canton, a statement which contained perfectly correct principles but was listened to with only very superficial attention.
Suddenly the conversations and moving about in the assembly ceased. There was complete silence and all eyes turned to a beardless, bald old man with a big aquiline nose, who began to speak in French. This little old man, who in his simple black suit and with his completely civilian appearance was more like a professor than anything else, and who struck one only by his expressive face and any lively, penetrating glance, was General Dufour, that same Dufour whose far-sighted strategy crushed the Sonderbund almost without bloodshed. What a distance separated him from the German-Swiss officers of that assembly! Those Michels, Zieglers, Bergs etc., those narrow-minded fire-eaters, those pedantic martinets, cut a very characteristic figure in comparison with the small unpretentious Dufour. One could see at a glance that it was Dufour who was the brain behind the whole war against the Sonderbund, whereas these Ajaxes full of a sense of their own worth were only the fists he needed for carrying out his decisions. The Diet had truly chosen correctly and found the necessary man.
But when one hears Dufour speak one becomes really astounded. This old officer in the Engineers, who has spent his whole life only organising artillery schools, drawing up regulations and inspecting batteries, who has never taken part in parliamentary proceedings, never spoken in public, spoke with an assurance and with a fluency, elegance, precision and clarity that is admirable and unique in the Swiss National Council. This maiden speech of Dufour’s on the Tessin question, as far as its form and content are concerned, would have created the greatest sensation in the French Chamber; in every respect it far surpasses Cavaignac’s three-hour speech which made him the leading lawyer in Paris — if one can judge from the text published in the Moniteur. As for beauty of language, it is doubly deserving of recognition in someone from Geneva. The national language of Geneva is a Calvinistically reformed French, broad, flat, poor, monotonous and colourless. Dufour, however, did not speak in the language of Geneva, but in real, genuine French. Moreover, the sentiments which he expressed were so noble, so soldierly in the good sense of the word, that they made the petty professional jealousies and petty cantonal narrowness of the German-Swiss officers stand out in glaring contrast.
“I am glad that everyone is talking about neutrality,” said Dufour. “But what is neutrality? It consists in our not undertaking or allowing to be undertaken anything by which the state of peace between Switzerland and neighbouring states would be endangered. Nothing less, but also nothing more. We have the right, therefore, to grant asylum to refugees from abroad, it is a right of which we are proud. We regard it as a duty which we owe to misfortune. But on one condition: that the refugee submits to our laws, that he does not undertake anything that could endanger our security at home or abroad. That a patriot driven from his country by tyranny endeavours, from our territory also, to win back the freedom of his homeland, I can understand. I do not reproach him in any way on that account, but then we also have to see what we must do. If, therefore, a refugee takes up his pen or his musket to oppose the neighbouring Government — all right, we shall not deport him for it, that would be unjust, but we shall remove him from the frontier, intern him. That is demanded by our own security and by our regard for neighbouring states; nothing less but also nothing more. If, on the other hand, we take steps not only against the insurgent volunteer who has penetrated into foreign territory, but also against the brother or the father of that volunteer, against one who has remained in peace, then we are doing more than we are obliged to do, then we are no longer neutral, we take the side of a foreign government, the side of despotism against its victims.” (General applause.) “And precisely now when Radetzky, a man for whom certainly no one in this assembly has any sympathy, is already demanding from us this unjust removal of all refugees from the frontier zone, when he is backing up his demand by threats, indeed, by hostile measures, precisely now it is least of all fitting for us to accede to the unjust demand of a more powerful opponent, because it would look as if we were bowing to superior force, as if we had taken this decision because a stronger opponent demanded it.” (Bravo!)
I regret that I cannot give more of this speech and more word-for-word extracts from it. But there are no stenographers here, and I have to write from memory. Suffice it to say that Dufour astonished the entire assembly both by his oratorical skill and by the unpretentiousness of his speech as well as by the weighty arguments he put forward, and that after declaring he would vote for Pioda’s proposal, he returned to his seat amid general applause. I have never on any other occasion heard applause during debates in the National Council. Dufour’s speech decided the matter; after it there was nothing more to be said, and Pioda’s proposal was carried.
However, this did not suit the knights of the small cantons whose consciences had been shaken, and to the call for an end to the debate they replied by casting 48 votes for its continuance. Only 42 voted for ending the debate, which therefore continued. Herr Veillon from Waadt proposed that the whole matter be referred to the Federal Council. Herr Pittet from Waadt, a handsome man with French features, spoke in favour of Pioda, fluently but verbosely and in a doctrinaire tone, and it seemed that the discussion was petering out when, finally, Herr Furrer, President of the Confederation, rose to speak.
Herr Furrer is a man in the prime of life, a counterpart of Alcibiades Escher. If the latter represents the Swiss Athens, Herr Furrer represents Zurich. If Escher tends to look like a professor, Furrer tends to look like a factory foreman. Together they are a complete representation of Zurich.
Herr Furrer, of course, is a man who favours the most absolute neutrality and since he saw his system seriously threatened as a result of Dufour’s speech, he had to employ the most extreme measures to ensure himself a majority. It is true that Herr Furrer has only been Federal President for three days, but in spite of that he proved that he understands the politics of no-confidence questions despite Duchâtel and Hansemann. He declared that the Federal Council was extremely eager for the decision of the National Council, because this decision would be a decisive turning-point in the entire policy of Switzerland etc. After a little embellishment of this captatio benevolentiae, [attempt to win goodwill] he gradually proceeded to expound his own opinion and that of the majority of the Federal Council, namely, that the policy of neutrality must remain and that the view of the majority of the commission was also the view of the majority of the Federal Council. He said all this with such solemn dignity and in such an insistent tone that there was a hint of the no-confidence question in every word of his speech. One must bear in mind that in Switzerland the executive power is not an independent power alongside the legislative, as in a constitutional monarchy or in the new French Constitution, but only the derivative and instrument of the legislative power. One must bear in mind that it is not at all the custom for the executive power to resign if its wishes are disregarded by a decision of the legislative assembly; on the contrary, it is accustomed to carry out this decision most obediently and wait for better times. And since the executive power likewise consists of an elected council in which there are also various shades of opinion, it is of no great importance if the minority in the executive council has a majority on some questions in the legislative council. And here at least two members of the Federal Council, Druey and Franscini, were for Pioda and against Furrer. Consequently, from the point of view of Swiss customs and views, Furrer’s appeal to the assembly was quite unparliamentary. But what does that matter? The weighty voice of the Federal President gave new courage to the knights of the small cantons, and when he returned to his seat, they even attempted a “bravo” which faded away without any response, and demanded an end to the debate.
But old Steiger was fair enough to give the floor first to Herr Pioda as the reporter for the minority. Pioda spoke with the same calm and decorum as before. He again refuted all the accusations while briefly summing up the debate. He warmly defended his friend Luvini, whose fougueuse eloquence had perhaps somewhat carried him away but who, and this should never be forgotten, on a previous occasion had saved his canton for Switzerland. Finally, he touched upon Airolo and expressed his regret that this word had been mentioned here and, moreover, mentioned by the side from which he least of all expected it.
“It is true that we suffered a defeat at Airolo,” he said. “But how did it come about? We stood there alone, our little, sparsely populated canton against the whole weight of the Ur-cantons and Wallis, which hurled themselves upon us and crushed us, although we defended ourselves bravely. It is true, we were defeated. But is it seemly for you” (turning to Michel) “to reproach us for it? You, gentlemen, you are to blame for the fact that we were defeated; you should have been on the Oberalp and have struck the Sonderbund forces in the flank, and it was you who were not there and who left us in the lurch, and that was why we were defeated. Yes, you did arrive, gentlemen, but when it was too late, when it was all over — then at last you arrived!”
Colonel Michel leapt up in a fury and with a face red as a lobster and declared that it was a lie and a slander. Called to order by loud murmurs and the President’s bell, he continued somewhat more calmly. He said he knew nothing about having been supposed to be on the Oberalp. All he knew was that after getting the order he came to the aid of the Tessiners and in fact was the first to arrive.
Pioda replied as calmly as before: it had not entered his mind to attack Herr Michel personally, he had merely spoken of the Graubündeners in general, and it was a fact at any rate that they should have supported the Tessiners by descending from the Oberalp. If Herr Michel did not know that, it was easily explained by the fact that at the time he commanded only a battalion, and therefore the general plans of the campaign could very well have remained unknown to him.
With this intermezzo, which further led to private discussions of various kinds between these gentlemen outside the assembly hall and was finally settled by mutually satisfactory statements, the debate came to an end. The voting was by roll-call. The Frenchmen and four or five Germans voted with the Tessiners, the mass of the German Swiss voted against them. Tessin was deprived of the right to afford asylum, Radetzky’s demands were agreed to, neutrality at any price was proclaimed, and Herr Furrer could feel satisfied with himself and the National Council.
Such is the Swiss National Council, where the flower of the statesmen of Switzerland meet. I find that they are distinguished from other legislators by only one virtue, greater patience.