The Helvetian Republic 1798–1803


Map Code: Ax01137

In 1798 the armies of the French republic overran Switzerland, seeking to promulgate their revolutionary ideas and to liberate the Swiss from a system of government that they perceived as feudal. In 1799 French troops marched into Fricktal, proclaiming it a new independent canton. The Swiss, especially in the more traditional Catholic regions, resented the new regime’s hostility to religion, as well as the levying of taxes and loss of democracy and responded to the French occupiers with armed uprisings. The new regime rejected the sovereignty of the cantons, seeking to assert centralized authority. The new republic was named after the Helvetii, the Gaulish inhabitants of the Swiss plateau. By 1799 the new Republic had become a battleground between the French, Austrians and Russians, with the Swiss inhabitants largely supporting anti-French forces, as they became increasingly resentful of the loss of their tradition of neutrality and the depredations of the French occupying armies. Instability reached a peak in 1802, leading to the collapse of the Republic. An agreement mediated by Napoleon Bonaparte, first Consul of France, acknowledged that Switzerland was innately federal, and agreed that the country should not be forced to bow to any other kind of centralized constitution. Fricktal was merged with the cantons of Baden and Aargau. Valais (also called the Rhodanic Republic) became a French client republic in 1802, securing Napoleon’s safe passage into Italy

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