Direct Legislation by the Citizenship through the Initiative and Referendum
by James W. Sullivan
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[Copyright, 1892, by J.W. Sullivan.]

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This is the second in a series of sociological works, each a small volume, I have in course of publication. The first, "A Concept of Political Justice," gave in outline the major positions which seem to me logically to accord in practical life with the political principle of equal freedom. In the present work, certain of the positions taken in the first are amplified. In each of the volumes to come, which will be issued as I find time to complete them, similar amplification in the case of other positions will be made. Naturally, the order of publication of the proposed works may be influenced by the general trend in the discussion of public questions.

The small-book plan I have adopted for several reasons. One is, that the writer who embodies his thought on any large subject in a single weighty volume commonly finds difficulty in selling the work or having it read; the price alone restricts its market, and the volume, by its very size, usually repels the ordinary reader. Another, that the radical world, which I especially address, is nowadays assailed with so much printed matter that in it big books have slight show of favor. Another, that the reader of any volume in the series subsequent to the first may on reference to the first ascertain the train of connection and entire scope of the thought I would present. And, finally, that such persons as have been won to the support of the principles taught may interest themselves, and perhaps others, in spreading knowledge of these principles, as developed in the successive works.

On the last-mentioned point, a word. Having during the past decade closely observed, and in some measure shared in, the discussion of advanced sociological thought, I maintain with confidence the principles of equal freedom, not only in their essential truth, but in the leading applications I have made of them. At least, I may trust that, thus far in either work, in coming to my more important conclusions, I have not fallen into error through blind devotion to an "ism" nor halted at faulty judgment because of limited investigation. I therefore hope to have others join with me, some to work quite in the lines I follow, and some to move at least in the direction of those lines.

The present volume I have prepared with care. My attention being attracted about eight years ago to the direct legislation of Switzerland, I then set about collecting what notes in regard to that institution I could glean from periodicals and other publications. But at that time very little of value had been printed in English. Later, as exchange editor of a social reform weekly journal, I gathered such facts bearing on the subject as were passing about in the American newspaper world, and through the magazine indexes for the past twenty years I gained access to whatever pertaining to Switzerland had gone on record in the monthlies and quarterlies; while at the three larger libraries of New York—the Astor, the Mercantile, and the Columbia College—I found the principal descriptive and historical works on Switzerland. But from all these sources only a slender stock of information with regard to the influence of the Initiative and Referendum on the later political and economic development of Switzerland was to be obtained. So, when, three years ago, with inquiry on this point in mind, I spent some months in Switzerland, about all I had at first on which to base investigations was a collection of commonplace or beclouded fact from the newspapers, a few statistics and opinions from an English magazine or two, and some excerpts from volumes by De Laveleye and Freeman which contained chapters treating of Swiss institutions. Soon after, as a result of my observations in the country, I contributed, under the caption "Republican Switzerland," a series of articles to the New York "Times" on the Swiss government of today, and, last April, an essay to the "Chautauquan" magazine on "The Referendum in Switzerland." On the form outlined in these articles I have constructed the first three chapters of the present work. The data, however, excepting in a few cases, are corrected to 1892, and in many respects besides I have profited by the labors of other men in the same field.

The past two years and a half has seen much writing on Swiss institutions. Political investigators are awakening to the fact that in politics and economics the Swiss are doing what has never before been done in the world. In neighborhood, region, and nation, the entire citizenship in each case concerned is in details operating the government. In certain cantons it is done in every detail. Doing this, the Swiss are moving rapidly in practically grappling with social problems that elsewhere are hardly more than speculative topics with scholars and theorists. In other countries, consequently, interested lookers-on, having from different points of view taken notes of democratic Switzerland, are, through newspaper, magazine, and book, describing its unprecedented progress and suggesting to their own countrymen what in Swiss governmental experience may be found of value at home. Of the more solid writing of this character, four books may especially be recommended. I mention them in the order of their publication.

"The Swiss Confederation." By Sir Francis Ottiwell Adams and C.D. Cunningham. (London: Macmillan & Co.; 1889; 289 pages; $1.75.) Sir Francis Ottiwell Adams was for some years British Minister at Berne.

"The Federal Government of Switzerland: An Essay on the Constitution." By Bernard Moses, Ph.D., professor of history and political economy, University of California. (Pacific Press Publishing Company: Oakland, Cal.; 1889; 256 pages; $1.25.) This work is largely a comparative study of constitutions. It is meant chiefly for the use of students of law and of legal history. It abounds, however, in facts as to Switzerland which up to the time of its publication were quite inaccessible to American readers.

"State and Federal Government of Switzerland." By John Martin Vincent, Ph.D., librarian and instructor in the department of history and politics, Johns Hopkins University. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press; 1891; 247 pages; $1.50.) Professor Vincent had access, at the university, to the considerable collection of books and papers relating to Switzerland made by Professor J.C. Bluntschli, an eminent Swiss historian who died in 1881, and also to a large number of government publications presented by the Swiss Federal Council to the university library.

"The Swiss Republic." By Boyd Winchester, late United States Minister at Berne. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.; 1891; 487 pages; $1.50.) Mr. Winchester was stationed four years at Berne, and hence had better opportunity than Professor Vincent or Professor Moses for obtaining a thorough acquaintance with Switzerland. Much of his book is taken up with descriptive writing, all good.

Were I asked which of these four works affords the fullest information as to new Switzerland and new Swiss political methods, I should be obliged to refer the inquirer to his own needs. Professor Moses's is best for one applying himself to law and constitutional history. Professor Vincent's is richest in systematized details and statistics, especially such as relate to the Referendum and taxation; and in it also is a bibliography of Swiss politics and history. For the general reader, desiring description of the country, stirring democratic sentiment, and an all-round view of the great little republic, Mr. Winchester's is preferable.

In expanding and rearranging my "Times" and "Chautauquan" articles, I have, to some extent, used these books.

Throughout this work, wherever possible, conservatives, rather than myself, have been made to speak; hence quotations are frequent. The first drafts of the chapters on Switzerland have been read by Swiss radicals of different schools, and the final proofsheets have been revised by a Swiss writer of repute living in New York; therefore serious error is hardly probable. The one fault I myself have to find with the work is its baldness of statement, rendered necessary by space limits. I could, perhaps more easily, have prepared four or five hundred pages instead of the one hundred and twenty. I leave it rather to the reader to supply comparison and analysis and the eloquent comment of which, it seems to me, many of the statements of fact are worthy. J.W.S.


Democratic versus Representative Government.

There is a radical difference between a democracy and a representative government. In a democracy, the citizens themselves make the law and superintend its administration; in a representative government, the citizens empower legislators and executive officers to make the law and to carry it out. Under a democracy, sovereignty remains uninterruptedly with the citizens, or rather a changing majority of the citizens; under a representative government, sovereignty is surrendered by the citizens, for stated terms, to officials. In other words, democracy is direct rule by the majority, while representative government is rule by a succession of quasi-oligarchies, indirectly and remotely responsible to the majority.

Observe, now, first, the influences that chiefly contribute to make government in the United States what it is:—

The county, state, and federal governments are not democracies. In form, they are quasi-oligarchies composed of representatives and executives; but in fact they are frequently complete oligarchies, composed in part of unending rings of politicians that directly control the law and the offices, and in part of the permanent plutocracy, who purchase legislation through the politicians.

Observe, next, certain strong influences for the better that obtain in a pure democracy:—

An obvious influence is, in one respect, the same as that which enriches the plutocrat and prompts the politician to reach for power—self-interest. When all the members of any body of men find themselves in equal relation to a profitable end in which they solely are concerned, they will surely be inclined to assert their joint independence of other bodies in that respect, and, further, each member will claim his full share of whatever benefits arise. But, more than that; something like equality of benefits being achieved, perhaps through various agencies of force, a second influence will be brought powerfully to bear on those concerned. It is that of justice. Fair play to all the members will be generally demanded.

In a pure democracy, therefore, intelligently controlled self-interest and a consequent sentiment of justice are the sources in which the highest possible social benefits may be expected to begin.

The reader has now before him the political principle to be here maintained—pure democracy as distinguished from representative government. My argument, then, becomes this: To show that, by means of the one lawmaking method to which pure democracy is restricted,—that of direct legislation by the citizenship,—the political "ring," "boss," and "heeler" may be abolished, the American plutocracy destroyed, and government simplified and reduced to the limits set by the conscience of the majority as affected by social necessities. My task involves proof that direct legislation is possible with large communities.

Direct Legislation in Switzerland.

Evidence as to the practicability and the effects of direct legislation is afforded by Switzerland, especially in its history during the past twenty-five years. To this evidence I turn at once.

There are in Switzerland twenty-two cantons (states), which are subdivided into 2,706 communes (townships). The commune is the political as well as territorial unit. Commonly, as nearly as consistent with cantonal and federal rights, in local affairs the commune governs itself. Its citizens regard it as their smaller state. It is jealous of interference by the greater state. It has its own property to look after. Until the interests of the canton or the Confederation manifestly replace those of the immediate locality, the commune declines to part with the administration of its lands, forests, police, roads, schools, churches, or taxes.

In German Switzerland the adult male inhabitants of the commune meet at least once annually, usually in the town market place or on a mountain plain, and carry out their functions as citizens. There they debate proposed laws, name officers, and discuss affairs of a public nature. On such occasions, every citizen is a legislator, his voice and vote influencing the questions at issue. The right of initiating a measure belongs to each. Decision is ordinarily made by show of hands. In most cantons the youth becomes a voter at twenty, the legal age for acquiring a vote in federal affairs, though the range for cantonal matters is from eighteen to twenty-one.

Similar democratic legislative meetings govern two cantons as cantons and two other cantons divided into demi-cantons. In the demi-canton of Outer Appenzell, 13,500 voters are qualified thus to meet and legislate, and the number actually assembled is sometimes 10,000. But this is the highest extreme for such an assemblage—a Landsgemeinde (a land-community)—the lowest for a canton or a demi-canton comprising about 3,000. One other canton (Schwyz, 50,307 inhabitants) has Landsgemeinde meetings, there being six, with an average of 2,000 voters to each. In communal political assemblages, however, there are usually but a few hundred voters.

The yearly cantonal or demi-cantonal Landsgemeinde takes place on a Sunday in April or May. While the powers and duties of the body vary somewhat in different cantons, they usually cover the following subjects: Partial as well as total revision of the constitution; enactment of all laws; imposition of direct taxes; incurrence of state debts and alienation of public domains; the granting of public privileges; assumption of foreigners into state citizenship; establishment of new offices and the regulation of salaries; election of state, executive, and judicial officers.[A]

[Footnote A: J.M. Vincent: "State and Federal Government in Switzerland."]

The programme for the meeting is arranged by the officials and published beforehand, the law in some cantons requiring publication four weeks before the meeting, and in others but ten days. "To give opportunities for individuals and authorities to make proposals and offer bills, the official gazette announces every January that for fourteen days after a given date petitions may be presented for that purpose. These must be written, the object plainly stated and accompanied by the reasons. All such motions are considered by what is called the Triple Council, or legislature, and are classified as 'expedient' and 'inexpedient.' A proposal receiving more than ten votes must be placed on the list of expedient, accompanied by the opinion of the council. The rejected are placed under a special rubric, familiarly called by the people the Beiwagen. The assembly may reverse the action of the council if it chooses and take a measure out of the 'extra coach,' but consideration of it is in that case deferred until the next year. In the larger assemblies debate is excluded, the vote being simply on rejection or adoption. In the smaller states the line is not so tightly drawn.... Votes are taken by show of hands, though secret ballot may be had if demanded, elections of officers following the same rule in this matter as legislation. Nominations for office, however, need not be sent in by petition, but may be offered by any one on the spot."[B]

[Footnote B: Vincent.]

The Initiative and the Referendum.

It will be observed that the basic practical principles of both the communal meeting and the Landsgemeinde are these two:

(1) That every citizen shall have the right to propose a measure of law to his fellow-citizens—this principle being known as the Initiative.

(2) That the majority shall actually enact the law by voting the acceptance or the rejection of the measures proposed. This principle, when applied in non-Landsgemeinde cantons, through ballotings at polling places, on measures sent from legislative bodies to the people, is known as the Referendum.

The Initiative has been practiced in many of the communes and in the several Landsgemeinde cantons in one form or other from time immemorial. In the past score of years, however, it has been practiced by petition in an increasing number of the cantons not having the democratic assemblage of all the citizens.

The Referendum owes its origin to two sources. One source was in the vote taken at the communal meeting and the Landsgemeinde. The principle sometimes extended to cities, Berne, for instance, in the fifty-five years from 1469 to 1524, taking sixty referendary votings. The other source was in the vote taken by the ancient cantons on any action by their delegates to the federal Diet, or congress, these delegates undertaking no affair except on condition of referring it to the cantonal councils—ad referendum.

The principles of the Initiative and Referendum have of recent years been extended so as to apply, to a greater or lesser extent, not only to cantonal affairs in cantons far too large for the Landsgemeinde, but to certain affairs of the Swiss Confederation, comprising three million inhabitants. In other words, the Swiss nation today sees clearly, first, that the democratic system has manifold advantages over the representative; and, secondly, that no higher degree of political freedom and justice can be obtained than by granting to the least practicable minority the legal right to propose a law and to the majority the right to accept or reject it. In enlarging the field of these working principles, the Swiss have developed in the political world a factor which, so far as it is in operation, is creating a revolution to be compared only with that caused in the industrial world by the steam engine.

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The cantonal Initiative exists in fourteen of the twenty-two cantons—in some of them, however, only in reference to constitutional amendments. Usually, the proposal of a measure of cantonal law by popular initiative must be made through petition by from one-twelfth to one-sixteenth of the voters of the canton. When the petition reaches the cantonal legislature, the latter body is obliged, within a brief period, specified by the constitution, to refer the proposal to a cantonal vote. If the decision of the citizens is then favorable, the measure is law, and the executive and judicial officials must proceed to carry it into effect.

The cantonal Referendum is in constant practice in all the cantons except Freiburg, which is governed by a representative legislature. The extent, however, to which the Referendum is applied varies considerably. In two cantons it is applicable only to financial measures; in others it is optional with the people, who sometimes demand it, but oftener do not; in others it is obligatory in connection with the passage of every law. More explicitly: In the canton of Vaud a mere pseudo-referendary right exists, under which the Grand Council (the legislature) may, if it so decides, propose a reference to the citizens. Valais takes a popular vote only on such propositions passed by the Grand Council as involve a one and a half per cent increase in taxation or a total expenditure of 60,000 francs. With increasing confidence in the people, the cantons of Lucerne, Zug, Bale City, Schaffhausen, St. Gall, Ticino, Neuchatel, and Geneva refer a proposed law, after it has passed the Grand Council, to the voters when a certain proportion of the citizens, usually one-sixth to one-fourth, demand it by formal petition. This form is called the optional Referendum. Employed to its utmost in Zurich, Schwyz, Berne, Soleure, Bale Land, Aargau, Thurgau, and the Grisons, in these cantons the Referendum permits no law to be passed or expenditure beyond a stipulated sum to be made by the legislature without a vote of the people. This is known as the obligatory Referendum. Glarus, Uri, the half cantons of Niwald and Obwald (Unterwald), and those of Outer and Inner Appenzell, as cantons, or demi-cantons, still practice the democratic assemblage—the Landsgemeinde.

In the following statistics, the reader may see at a glance the progress of the Referendum to the present date, with the population of Switzerland by cantons, and the difficulties presented by differences of language in the introduction of reforms:—

- No. inhab. Form of Passing Yr. of Canton. Dec., 1888. Language. Laws. Entry - - - - - Zurich 337,183 German. Oblig. Ref. 1351 Berne 536,679 Ger. and French. " 1353 Lucerne 135,360 German. Optional Ref. 1332 Uri 17,249 Ger. and Italian. Landsgemeinde. 1291 Schwyz 50,307 German. Oblig. Ref. " Unterwald " Obwald 15,041 " Landsgemeinde. Niwald 12,538 " " Glarus 33,825 " " 1352 Zug 23,029 " Optional Ref. " Freiburg 119,155 French and Ger. Legislature. 1481 Soleure 85,621 German. Oblig. Ref. " Bale 1501 City 73,749 " Optional Ref. Country 61,941 " Oblig. Ref. Schaffhausen 37,783 " Optional Ref. " Appenzell 1573 Outer 54,109 " Landsgemeinde. Inner 12,888 " " St. Gall 228,160 " Optional Ref. 1803 Grisons 94,810 Ger.,Ital.,Rom. Oblig. Ref. " Aargau 193,580 German. " " Thurgau 104,678 " " " Ticino 126,751 Italian. Optional Ref. " Vaud 247,655 French and Ger. " " Valais 101,985 " Finance Ref. 1814 Neuchatel 108,153 French. Optional Ref. " Geneva 105,509 " " " - 2,917,740 -

In round numbers, 2,092,000 of the Swiss people speak German, 637,000 French, 156,000 Italian, and 30,000 Romansch. Of the principal cities, in 1887, Zurich, with suburbs, had 92,685 inhabitants; Bale, 73,963; Geneva, with suburbs, 73,504; Berne, 50,220; Lausanne, 32,954; and five others from 17,000 to 25,000. Fourteen per cent of the inhabitants (410,000) live in cities of more than 15,000. The factory workers number 161,000, representing about half a million inhabitants, and the peasant proprietors nearly 260,000, representing almost two millions. The area of Switzerland is 15,892 square miles,—slightly in excess of double that of New Jersey. The population is slightly less than that of Ohio.

Switzerland—The Youngest of Republics.

It is misleading to suppose, as is often done, that the Switzerland of today is the republic which has stood for six hundred years. In truth, it is the youngest of republics. Its chief governmental features, cantonal and federal, are the work of the present generation. Its unique executive council, its democratic army organization, its republican railway management, its federal post-office, its system of taxation, its two-chambered congress, the very Confederation itself—all were originated in the constitution of 1848, the first that was anything more than a federal compact. The federal Referendum began only in 1874. The federal Initiative has been just adopted (1891.)[C] The form of cantonal Referendum now practiced was but begun (in St. Gall) in 1830, and forty years ago only five cantons had any Referendum whatever, and these in the optional form. It is of very recent years that the movement has become steady toward the general adoption of the cantonal Referendum. In 1860 but 34 per cent of the Swiss possessed it, 66 per cent delegating their sovereign rights to representatives. But in 1870 the referendariship had risen to 71 per cent, only 29 submitting to lawmaking officials; and today the proportions are more than 90 per cent to less than 10.

[Footnote C: For constitutional amendments only.]

The thoughtful reader will ask: Why this continual progress toward a purer democracy? Wherein lie the inducements to this persistent revolution?

The answer is this: The masses of the citizens of Switzerland found it necessary to revolt against their plutocracy and the corrupt politicians who were exploiting the country through the representative system. For a peaceful revolution these masses found the means in the working principles of their communal meetings—the Initiative and Referendum,—and these principles they are applying throughout the republic as fast as circumstances admit.[D]

[Footnote D: While the reports of the Secretary of State and "The History of the Referendum," by Th. Curti, will bear out many of the statements here made as to how the change from representative to direct legislation came about, the story as I give it has been written me by Herr Carl Buerkli, of Zurich, known in his canton as the "Father of the Referendum."]

The great movement for democracy in Europe that culminated in the uprising of 1848 brought to the front many original men, who discussed innovations in government from every radical point of view. Among these thinkers were Martin Rittinghausen, Emile Girardin, and Louis Blanc. From September, 1850, to December, 1851, the date of the coup d'etat of Louis Bonaparte, these reformers discussed, in the "Democratic pacifique," a weekly newspaper of Paris, the subject of direct legislation by the citizens. Their essays created a sensation in France, and more than thirty journals actively supported the proposed institution, when the coup d'etat put an end to free speech. The articles were reprinted in book form in Brussels, and other works on the subject were afterward issued by Rittinghausen and his co-worker Victor Considerant. Among Considerant's works was "Solution, ou gouvernement direct du peuple," and this and companion works that fell into the hands of Carl Buerkli convinced the latter and other citizens of Zurich ("an unknown set of men," says Buerkli) of the practicability of the democratic methods advocated. The subject was widely agitated and studied in Switzerland, and the fact that the theory was already to some extent in practice there (and in ancient times had been much practiced) led to further experiments, and these, attaining success, to further, and thus the work has gone on. The cantonal Initiative was almost unknown outside the Landsgemeinde when it was established in Zurich in 1869. Soon, however, through it and the obligatory Referendum (to use Herr Buerkli's words): "The plutocratic government and the Grand Council of Zurich, which had connived with the private banks and railroads, were pulled down in one great voting swoop. The people had grown tired of being beheaded by the office-holders after every election." And politicians and the privileged classes have ever since been going down before these instruments in the hands of the people. The doctrines of the French theorists needed but to be engrafted on ancient Swiss custom, the Frenchmen in fact having drawn upon Swiss experience.

The Optional and the Obligatory Referendum.

To-day the movement in the Swiss cantons is not only toward the Referendum, but toward its obligatory form. The practice of the optional form has revealed defects in it which are inherent.[E]

[Footnote E: The facts relative to the operation of these two forms of the Referendum have been given me by Monsieur P. Jamin, of Geneva.]

Geneva's management of the optional cantonal Referendum is typical. The constitution provides that, certain of the laws being excepted from the Referendum, and a prerequisite of its operation being the presentation to the Grand Council of a popular petition, the people may sanction or reject not only the bulk of the laws passed by the Grand Council but also the decrees issued by the legislative and executive powers. The exceptions are (1) "measures of urgence" and (2) the items of the annual budget, save such as establish a new tax, increase one in force, or necessitate an issue of bonds. The Referendum cannot be exercised against the budget as a whole, the Grand Council indicating the sections which are to go to public vote. In case of opposition to any measure, a petition for the Referendum is put in circulation. To prevent the measure from becoming law, the petition must receive the legally attested signatures of at least 3,500 citizens—about one in six of the cantonal vote—within thirty days after the publication of the proposed measure. After this period—known as "the first delay"—the referendary vote, if the petition has been successful, must take place within forty days—"the second delay."

The power of declaring measures to be "of urgence" lies with the Grand Council, the body passing the measures. Small wonder, then, that in its eyes many bills are of too much and too immediate importance to go to the people. "The habit," protested Grand Councilor M. Putet, on one occasion, "tends more and more to introduce itself here of decreeing urgence unnecessarily, thus taking away from the Referendum expenses which have nothing of urgence. This is contrary to the spirit of the constitutional law. Public necessity alone can authorize the Grand Council to take away any of its acts from the public control."

Another defect in the optional Referendum is that it can be transformed into a partisan weapon—politicians being ready, in Geneva, as in San Francisco, to take advantage of the law for party purposes. For example, the representatives of a minority party, seeking a concession from a majority which has just passed a bill, will threaten, if their demands are not granted, to agitate for the Referendum on the bill; this, though the minority itself may favor the measure, some of its members, perhaps, having voted for it. As the majority may be uncertain of the outcome of a struggle at the polls, it will probably be inclined to make peace on the terms dictated by the minority.

But the most serious objections to the optional form arise in connection with the petitioning. Easy though it be for a rich and strong party to bear the expense of printing, mailing, and distributing petitions and circulars, in case of opposition from the poorer classes the cost may prove an insurmountable obstacle. Especially is it difficult to get up a petition after several successive appeals coming close together, the constant agitation growing tiresome as well as financially burdensome. Hence, measures have sometimes become law simply because the people have not had time to recover from the prolonged agitation in connection with preceding propositions. Besides, each measure submitted to the optional Referendum brings with it two separate waves of popular discussion—one on the petition and one on the subsequent vote. On this point ex-President Numa Droz has said: "The agitation which takes place while collecting the necessary signatures, nearly always attended with strong feeling, diverts the mind from the object of the law, perverts in advance public opinion, and, not permitting later the calm discussion of the measure proposed, establishes an almost irresistible current toward rejection." Finally, a fact as notorious in Switzerland as vote-buying in America, a large number of citizens who are hostile to a proposed law may fear to record an adverse opinion by signing a Referendum list. Their signatures may be seen and the unveiling of their sentiments imperil their means of livelihood.

Zurich furnishes the example of the cantons having the obligatory Referendum. There the law provides: 1. That all laws, decrees, and changes in the constitution must be submitted to the people. 2. That all decisions of the Grand Council on existing law must be voted on. 3. That the Grand Council may submit decisions which it itself proposes to make, and that, besides the voting on the whole law, the Council may ask a vote on a special point. The Grand Council cannot put in force provisionally any law or decree. The propositions must be sent to the voters at least thirty days before voting. The regular referendary ballotings take place twice a year, spring and autumn, but in urgent cases the Grand Council may call for a special election. The law in this canton assists the lawmakers—the voters—in their task; when a citizen is casting his own vote he may also deposit that of one or two relatives and friends, upon presenting their electoral card or a certificate of authorization.

In effect, the obligatory Referendum makes of the entire citizenship a deliberative body in perpetual session—this end being accomplished in Zurich in the face of every form of opposing argument. Formerly, its adversaries made much of the fact that it was ever calling the voters to the urns; but this is now avoided by the semi-annual elections. It was once feared that party tickets would be voted without regard to the merits of the various measures submitted; but it has been proved beyond doubt that the fate of one proposition has no effect whatever on that of another decided at the same time. Zurich has pronounced on ninety-one laws in twenty-eight elections, the votes indicating surprising independence of judgment. When the obligatory form was proposed for Zurich, its supporters declared it a sure instrument, but that it might prove a costly one they were not prepared by experiment to deny. Now, however, they have the data to show that taxes—unfailing reflexes of public expenditure—are lower than ever, those for police, for example, being only about half those of optional Geneva, a less populous canton. To the prophets who foresaw endless partisan strife in case the Referendum was to be called in force on every measure, Zurich has replied by reducing partisanship to its feeblest point, the people indifferent to parties since an honest vote of the whole body of citizens must be the final issue of every question.

The people of Zurich have proved that the science of politics is simple. By refusing special legislation, they evade a flood of bills. By deeming appropriations once revised as in most part necessary, they pay attention chiefly to new items. By establishing principles in law, they forbid violations. Thus there remain no profound problems of state, no abstruse questions as to authorities, no conflict as to what is the law. Word fresh from the people is law.

The Federal Referendum.

The Federal Referendum, first established by the constitution of 1874, is optional. The demand for it must be made by 30,000 citizens or by eight cantons. The petition for a vote under it must be made within ninety days after the publication of the proposed law. It is operative with respect either to a statute as passed by the Federal Assembly (congress), or a decree of the executive power. Of 149 Federal laws and decrees subject to the Referendum passed up to the close of 1891 under the constitution of 1874, twenty-seven were challenged by the necessary 30,000 petitioners, fifteen being rejected and twelve accepted. The Federal Initiative was established by a vote taken on Sunday, July 5, 1891. It requires 50,000 petitioners, whose proposal must be discussed by the Federal assembly and then sent within a prescribed delay to the whole citizenship for a vote. The Initiative is not a petition to the legislative body; it is a demand made on the entire citizenship.

Where the cantonal Referendum is optional, a successful petition for it frequently secures a rejection of the law called in question. In 1862 and again in 1878, the canton of Geneva rejected proposed changes in its constitution, on the latter occasion by a majority of 6,000 in a vote of 11,000. Twice since 1847 the same canton has decided against an increase of official salaries, and lately it has declined to reduce the number of its executive councilors from seven to five. The experience of the Confederation has been similar. Between 1874 and 1880 five measures recommended by the Federal Executive and passed by the Federal Assembly were vetoed by a national vote.

Revision of Constitutions.

Revision of a constitution through the popular vote is common. Since 1814, there have been sixty revisions by the people of cantonal constitutions alone. Geneva asks its citizens every fifteen years if they wish to revise their organic law, thus twice in a generation practically determining whether they are in this respect content. The Federal constitution may be revised at any time. Fifty thousand voters petitioning for it, or the Federal Assembly (congress) demanding it, the question is submitted to the country. If the vote is in the affirmative, the Council of States (the senate) and the National Council (the house) are both dissolved. An election of these bodies takes place at once; the Assembly, fresh from the people, then makes the required revision and submits the revised constitution to the country. To stand, it must be supported by a majority of the voters and a majority of the twenty-two cantons.


To sum up: In Switzerland, in this generation, direct legislation has in many respects been established for the federal government, while in so large a canton as Zurich, with nearly 340,000 inhabitants, it has also been made applicable to every proposed cantonal law, decree, and order,—the citizens of that canton themselves disposing by vote of all questions of taxation, public finance, executive acts, state employment, corporation grants, public works, and similar operations of government commonly, even in republican states, left to legislators and other officials. In every canton having the Initiative and the obligatory Referendum, all power has been stripped from the officials except that of a stewardship which is continually and minutely supervised and controlled by the voters. Moreover, it is possible that yet a few years and the affairs not only of every canton of Switzerland but of the Confederation itself will thus be taken in hand at every step.

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Here, then, is evidence incontrovertible that pure democracy, through direct legislation by the citizenship, is practicable—more, is now practiced—in large communities. Next as to its effects, proven and probable.


If it be conceived that the fundamental principles of a free society are these: That the bond uniting the citizens should be that of contract; that rights, including those in natural resources, should be equal, and that each producer should retain the full product of his toil, it must be conceded on examination that toward this ideal Switzerland has made further advances than any other country, despite notable points in exception and the imperfect form of its federal Initiative and Referendum. Before particulars are entered into, some general observations on this head may be made.

The Political Status in Switzerland.

An impressive fact in Swiss politics to-day is its peace. Especially is this true of the contents and tone of the press. In Italy and Austria, on the south and east, the newspapers are comparatively few, mostly feeble, and in general subservient to party or government; in Germany, on the north, where State Socialism is strong, the radical press is at times turbulent and the government journals reflect the despotism they uphold; in France, on the west and southwest, the public writers are ever busy over the successive unstable central administrations at Paris, which exercise a bureaucratic direction of every commune in the land. In all these countries, men rather than measures are the objects of discussion, an immediate important campaign question inevitably being whether, when once in office, candidates may make good their ante-election promises. Thus, on all sides, over the border from Switzerland, political turmoil, with its rancor, personalities, false reports, hatreds, and corruptions, is endless. But in Switzerland, debate uniformly bears not on men but on measures. The reasons are plain. Where the veto is possessed by the people, in vain may rogues go to the legislature. With few or no party spoils, attention to public business, and not to patronage or private privilege, is profitable to office holders as well as to the political press.

In the number of newspapers proportionate to population, Switzerland stands with the United States at the head of the statistical list for the world. In their general character, Swiss political journals are higher than American. They are little tempted to knife reputations, to start false campaign issues, to inflame partisan feeling; for every prospective cantonal measure undergoes sober popular discussion the year round, with the certain vote of the citizenship in view in the cantons having the Landsgemeinde or the obligatory Referendum, and a possible vote in most of the other cantons, while federal measures also may be met with the federal optional Referendum.

The purity and peacefulness of Swiss press and politics are due to the national development of today as expressed in appropriate institutions. Of these institutions the most effective, the fundamental, is direct legislation, accompanied as it is with general education. In education the Swiss are preeminent among nations. Illiteracy is at a lower percentage than in any other country; primary instruction is free and compulsory in all the cantons; and that the higher education is general is shown in the four universities, employing three hundred instructors.

An enlightened people, employing the ballot freely, directly, and in consequence effectively—this is the true sovereign governing power in Switzerland. As to what, in general terms, have been the effects of this power on the public welfare, as to how the Swiss themselves feel toward their government, and as to what are the opinions of foreign observers on the recent changes through the Initiative and Referendum, some testimony may at this point be offered.

In the present year, Mr. W.D. McCrackan has published in the "Arena" of Boston his observations of Swiss politics. He found, he says, the effects of the Referendum to be admirable. Jobbery and extravagance are unknown, and politics, as there is no money in it, has ceased to be a trade. The men elected to office are taken from the ranks of the citizens, and are chosen because of their fitness for the work. The people take an intelligent interest in every kind of local and federal legislation, and have a full sense of their political responsibility. The mass of useless or evil laws which legislatures in other countries are constantly passing with little consideration, and which have constantly to be repealed, are in Switzerland not passed at all.

In a study of the direct legislation of Switzerland, the "Westminster Review," February, 1888, passed this opinion: "The bulk of the people move more slowly than their representatives, are more cautious in adopting new and trying legislative experiments, and have a tendency to reject propositions submitted to them for the first time." Further: "The issue which is presented to the sovereign people is invariably and necessarily reduced to its simplest expression, and so placed before them as to be capable of an affirmative or negative answer. In practice, therefore, the discussion of details is left to the representative assemblies, while the people express approval or disapproval of the general principle or policy embraced in the proposed measure. Public attention being confined to the issue, leaders are nothing. The collective wisdom judges of merits."

A.V. Dicey, the critic of constitutions, writes in the "Nation," October 8, 1885: "The Referendum must be considered, on the whole, a conservative arrangement. It tends at once to hinder rapid change and also to get rid of that inflexibility or immutability which, in the eyes of Englishmen at least, is a defect in the constitution of the United States."

A Swiss radical has written me as follows: "The development given to education during the last quarter of a century will have without doubt as a consequence an improved judgment on the part of a large number of electors. The press also has a role more preponderant than formerly. Everybody reads. Certainly the ruling classes profit largely by the power of the printing press, but with the electors who have received some instruction the capitalist newspapers are taken with due allowance for their sincerity. Their opinion is not accepted without inquiry. We see a rapid development of ideas, if not completely new, at least renewed and more widespread. More or less radical reviews and periodicals, in large number, are not without influence, and their appearance proves that great changes are imminent."

Professor Dicey has contrasted the Referendum with the plebiscite: "The Referendum looks at first sight like a French plebiscite, but no two institutions can be marked by more essential differences. The plebiscite is a revolutionary or at least abnormal proceeding. It is not preceded by debate. The form and nature of the questions to be submitted to the nation are chosen and settled by the men in power, and Frenchmen are asked whether they will or will not accept a given policy. Rarely, indeed, when it has been taken, has the voting itself been full or fair. Deliberation and discussion are the requisite conditions for rational decision. Where effective opposition is an impossibility, nominal assent is an unmeaning compliment. These essential characteristics, the lack of which deprives a French plebiscite, of all moral significance, are the undoubted properties of the Swiss Referendum."

In the "Revue des Deux Mondes," Paris, August, 1891, Louis Wuarin, an interested observer of Swiss politics for many years, writes: "A people may indicate its will, not from a distance, but near at hand, always superintending the work of its agents, watching them, stopping them if there is reason for so doing, constraining them, in a word, to carry out the people's will in both legislative and administrative affairs. In this form of government the representative system is reduced to a minimum. The deliberative bodies resemble simple committees charged with preparing work for an elected assembly, and here the elected assembly is replaced by the people. This sovereign action in person in the transaction of public business may extend more or less widely; it may be limited to the State, or it may be extended to the province also, and even to the town. To whatever extent this supervision of the people may go, one thing may certainly be expected, which is that the supervision will become closer and closer as time goes on. It never has been known that citizens gave up willingly and deliberately rights acquired, and the natural tendency of citizens is to increase their privileges. Switzerland is an example of this type of democratic government.... There is some reason for regarding parliamentary government—at least under its classic and orthodox form of rivalry between two parties, who watch each other closely, in order to profit by the faults of their adversaries, who dispute with each other for power without the interests of the country, in the ardor of the encounter, being always considered—as a transitory form in the evolution of democracy."

The spirit of the Swiss law and its relation to the liberty of the individual are shown in passages of the cantonal and federal constitutions. That of Uri declares: "Whatever the Landsgemeinde, within the limits of its competence, ordains, is law of the land, and as such shall be obeyed," but: "The guiding principle of the Landsgemeinde shall be justice and the welfare of the fatherland, not willfulness nor the power of the strongest." That of Zurich: "The people exercise the lawmaking power, with the assistance of the state legislature." That of the Confederation: "All the Swiss people are equal before the law. There are in Switzerland no subjects, nor privileges of place, birth, persons, or families."

In these general notes and quotations is sketched in broad lines the political environment of the Swiss citizen of to-day. The social mind with which he stands in contact is politically developed, is bent on justice, is accustomed to look for safe results from the people's laws, is at present more than ever inclined to trust direct legislation, and, on the whole, is in a state of calmness, soberness, tolerance, and political self-discipline.

The machinery of public stewardship, subject to popular guidance, may now be traced, beginning with the most simple form.

Organization of the Commune.

The common necessities of a Swiss neighborhood, such as establishing and maintaining local roads, police, and schools, and administering its common wealth, bring its citizens together in democratic assemblages. These are of different forms.

One form of such assemblage, the basis of the superstructure of government, is the political communal meeting. "In it take place the elections, federal, state, and local; it is the local unit of state government and the residuary legatee of all powers not granted to other authorities. Its procedure is ample and highly democratic. It meets either at the call of an executive council of its own election, or in pursuance of adjournment, and, as a rule, on a Sunday or holiday. Its presiding officer is sometimes the maire, sometimes a special chairman. Care is taken that only voters shall sit in the body of the assembly, it being a rule in Zurich that the register of citizens shall lie on the desk for inspection. Tellers are appointed by vote and must be persons who do not belong to the village council, since that is the local cabinet which proposes measures for consideration. Any member of the assembly may offer motions or amendments, but usually they are brought forward by the town council, or at least referred to that body before being voted upon."[F] The officials of the commune chosen in the communal meeting, are one chief executive (who in French communes usually has two assistants), a communal council, which legislates on the lesser matters coming up between communal meetings, and such minor officials as are not left to the choice of the council.

[Footnote F: Vincent.]

A second form of neighborhood assemblage is one composed only of those citizens who have rights in the communal corporate domains and funds, these rights being either inherited or acquired (sometimes by purchase) after a term of purely political citizenship.

A third form is the parish meeting, at which gather the members of the same faith in the commune, or of even a smaller church district. The Protestant, the Catholic, and the Jewish are recognized as State religions—the Protestant alone in some cantons, the Catholic in others, both in several, and both with the Jewish in others.

A fourth form of local assembly is that of the school district, usually a subdivision of a commune. It elects a board of education, votes taxes to defray school expenses, supervises educational matters, and in some districts elects teachers.

Dividing the commune thus into voting groups, each with its appropriate purpose, makes for justice. He who has a share in the communal public wealth (forests, pastoral and agricultural lands, and perhaps funds), is not endangered in this property through the votes of non-participant newcomers. Nor are educational affairs mixed with general politics. And, though State and religion are not yet severed, each form of belief is largely left to itself; in some cantons provision is made that a citizen's taxes shall not go toward the support of a religion to which he is opposed.

Organization of Canton and Confederation.

In no canton in Switzerland is there more than one legislative body: in none is there a senate. The cities of Switzerland have no mayor, the cantons have no governor, and, if the title be used in the American sense, the republic has no President. Instead of the usual single executive head, the Swiss employ an executive council. Hence, in every canton a deadlock in legislation is impossible, the way is open for all law demanded by a majority, and neither in canton nor Confederation is one-man power known.

The cantonal legislature is the Grand Council. "In the Landsgemeinde cantons and those having the obligatory Referendum, it is little more than a supervisory committee, preparing measures for the vote of the citizens and acting as a check on the cantonal executive council. In the remaining cantons (those having the optional Referendum), the legislature has the power to spend money below a specified limit; to enact laws of specified kinds, usually not of general application; and to elect the more important officials, the amount of discretion [in the different cantons] rising gradually till the complete representative government is reached"[G] in Freiburg, which resembles one of our states. Though in several cantons the Grand Council meets every two months for a few days' session, in most of the cantons it meets twice a year. The pay of members ranges from sixty cents to $1.20 per day. The legislative bodies are large; the ratio in five cantons is one legislator to every 1,000 inhabitants; in twelve it ranges from one to 187 up to one to 800, and in the remaining five from one to 1,000 to one to 2,000. The Landsgemeinde cantons usually have fifty to sixty members; Geneva, with 20,000 voters, has a hundred.

[Footnote G: Vincent.]

In six of the twenty-two cantons, if a certain number of voters petition for it, the question must be submitted to the people whether or not the legislature shall be recalled and a new one elected.

The formation of the Swiss Federal Assembly (congress), established in 1848, was influenced by the make-up of the American congress. The lower house is elected by districts, as in the United States, the basis of representation being one member to 20,000 inhabitants, and the number of members 147. The term for this house is three years; the pay, four dollars a day, during session, and mileage. The upper house, the Council of States (senate), the only body of the kind in Switzerland, is composed of two members from each canton. Cantonal law governing their election, the tenure of their office is not the same: in some cantons they are elected by the people, in others by the legislature; their pay varies; their term of office ranges from one to three years. Their brief terms and the fact that their more important functions, such as the election of the federal executive council, take place in joint session with the second chamber, render the members of the "upper" house of less weight in national affairs than those of the "lower."

Swiss Executives.

The executive councils of the cities, the cantons, and the Confederation are all of one form. They are committees, composed of members of equal rank. The number of members varies. Of cantonal executive councilors, there are seven in eleven of the cantons, three, five, and nine in others, and eleven in one. In addition to carrying out the law, the executive council usually assists somewhat in legislation, the members not only introducing but speaking upon measures in the legislative body with which they are associated, without, however, having a vote. In about half the cantons, the cantonal executive councils are elected by the people; in the rest by the legislative body.

Types of the executive councils are those of Geneva, city and canton. The city executive council is composed of five members, elected by the people for four years. The salary of its president is $800 a year; that of the other four members, $600. The cantonal executive has seven members; the salaries are: the president, $1,200; the rest, $1,000. In both city and cantonal councils each member is the head of an administrative department. The cantonal executive council has the power to suspend the deliberations of the city executive council and those of the communal councils whenever in its judgment these bodies transcend their legal powers or refuse to conform to the law. In case of such suspension, a meeting of the cantonal Grand Council (the legislature) must be called within a week, and if it approves of the action of the cantonal executive, the council suspended is dissolved, and an election for another must be had within a month, the members of the body dissolved not being immediately eligible for re-election. The cantonal executive council may also revoke the commissions of communal executives (maires and adjoints), who then cannot immediately be re-elected. Check to the extensive powers of the cantonal executive council lies in the fact that its members are elected directly by the people and hold office for only two years. But in cantons having the obligatory Referendum, Geneva's methods, however advanced in the eyes of American republicans, are not regarded as strictly democratic.

The Federal Executive Council.

The Swiss nation has never placed one man at its head. Prior to 1848, executive as well as legislative powers were vested in the one house of the Diet. Under the constitution adopted in that year, with which the Switzerland as now organized really began, the present form of the executive was established.

This executive is the Federal Council, a board of seven members, whose term is three years, and who are elected in joint session by the two houses of the Federal Assembly (congress). The presiding officer of the council, chosen as such by the Federal Assembly, is elected for one year. He cannot be his own successor. While he is nominally President of the Confederation, Swiss treatises on the subject uniformly emphasize the fact that he is actually no more than chairman of the executive council. He is but "first among his equals" (primus inter pares). His prerogatives—thus to describe whatever powers fall within his duties—are no greater than those pertaining to the rest of the board. Unlike the President of the United States, he has no rank in the army, no power of veto, no influence with the judiciary; he cannot appoint military commanders, or independently name any officials whatever; he cannot enforce a policy, or declare war, or make peace, or conclude a treaty. His name is not a by-word in his own country. Not a few among the intelligent Swiss would pause a moment to recall his name if suddenly asked: "Who is President this year?"

The federal executive council is elected on the assembling of the Federal Assembly after the triennial election for members of the lower house. All Swiss citizens are eligible, except that no two members may be chosen from the same canton. The President's salary is $2,605, that of the other members $2,316. While in office, the councilors may not perform any other public function, engage in any kind of trade, or practice any profession. A member of the council is at the head of each department of the government, viz.: Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice and Police, Military, Finances, Commerce and Agriculture, and Post-Office and Railroads. The constitution directs a joint transaction of the business of the council by all the seven members, with the injunction that responsibility and unity of action be not enfeebled. The council appoints employes and functionaries of the federal departments. Each member may present a nomination for any branch, but names are usually handed in by the head of the department in which the appointment is made. As a minority of the board is uniformly composed of members of the political party not, if it may be so described, "in power," purely partisan employments are difficult. Removals of federal office-holders in order to repay party workers are unheard of.

The executive council may employ experts for special tasks, it has the right to introduce bills in the Federal Assembly, and each councilor has a "consultative voice" in both houses. In practice, the council is simply an executive commission expressing the will of the assembly, the latter having even ordered the revision of regulations drawn up by the council for its employes at Berne. The acts of the assembly being liable to the Referendum, connection with the will of the people is established. Thus popular sovereignty finally, and quite directly, controls.

While both legislators and executives are elected for short terms, it is customary for the same men to serve in public capacities a long time. Though the people may recall their servants at brief intervals, they almost invariably ask them to continue in service. Employes keep their places at their will during good behavior. This custom extends to the higher offices filled by appointment. One minister to Paris held the position for twenty-three years; one to Rome, for sixteen. Once elected to the federal executive council, a public man may regard his office as a permanency. Of the council of 1889, one member had served since 1863, another since 1866. Up to 1879 no seat in the council had ever become vacant excepting through death or resignation.

Features of the Judiciary.

Civil and criminal courts are separate. The justice of the peace sits in a case first as arbitrator, and not until he fails in that capacity does he assume the chair of magistrate. His decision is final in cases involving sums up to a certain amount, varying in different localities. Two other grades of court are maintained in the canton, one sitting for a judicial subdivision called a district, and a higher court for the whole canton. Members of the district tribunal, consisting of five or seven members, are commonly elected by the people, their terms varying, with eight years as the longest. The judges of the cantonal courts as a rule are chosen by the Grand Council; their number seven to thirteen; their terms one to eight years. The cantonal court is the court of last resort. The Federal Tribunal, which consists of nine judges and nine alternates, elected for six years, tries cases between canton and canton or individual and canton. For this bench practically all Swiss citizens are eligible. The entire judicial system seems designed for the speedy trial of cases and the discouragement of litigation.

No court in Switzerland, not even the Federal Tribunal, can reverse the decisions of the Federal Assembly (congress). This can be done only by the people.

The election by the Assembly of the Federal Tribunal—as well as of the federal executive—has met with strong opposition. Before long both bodies may be elected by popular vote.

Swiss jurors are elected by the people and hold office six years. In French and German Switzerland, there is one such juror for every thousand inhabitants, and in Italian Switzerland one for every five hundred. To a Swiss it would seem as odd to select jurors haphazard as to so select judges.

In most of the manufacturing cantons, councils of prud'hommes are elected by the people. The various industries and professions are classified in ten groups, each of which chooses a council of prud'hommes composed of fifteen employers and fifteen employes. Each council is divided into a bureau of conciliation, a tribunal of prud'hommes, and a chamber of appeals, cases going on appeal from one board to another in the order named. These councils have jurisdiction only in the trades, their sessions relating chiefly to payment for services and contracts of apprenticeship.

A Democratic Army.

In surveying the simple political machinery of Switzerland, the inquirer, remembering the fate of so many republics, may be led to ask as to the danger of its overthrow by the Swiss army. The reply is that, here, again, so far as may be seen, the nation has wisely planned safeguards. To show how, and as the Swiss army differs widely from all others in its organization, some particulars regarding it are here pertinent.

The more important features of the Swiss military system, established in 1874, are as follows: There is no Commander-in-chief in time of peace. There is no aristocracy of officers. Pensions are fixed by law. There is no substitute system. Every citizen not disabled is liable either to military duty or to duties essential in time of war, such as service in the postal department, the hospitals, or the prisons. Citizens entirely disabled and unfit for the ranks or semi-military service are taxed to a certain per centage of their property or income. No canton is allowed to maintain more than three hundred men under arms without federal authority.

Though there is no standing army, every man in the country between the ages of seventeen and fifty is enrolled and subject annually either to drill or inspection. On January 1, 1891, the active army, comprising all unexempt citizens between twenty and thirty-two years, contained 126,444 officers and men; the first reserve, thirty-three to forty-four years, 80,795; the second reserve, all others, 268,715; total, 475,955. The Confederation can place in the field in less than a week more than 200,000 men, armed, uniformed, drilled, and every man in his place.

On attaining his twentieth year, every Swiss youth is summoned before a board of physicians and military officers for physical and mental examination. Those adjudged unfit for service are exempted—temporarily if the infirmity may pass away, for life if it be permanent. The tax on exempted men is $1.20 plus thirty cents per year for $200 of their wealth or $20 of their income, until the age of thirty-two years, and half these sums until the age of forty-four. On being enrolled in his canton, the soldier is allowed to return home. He takes with him his arms and accoutrements, and thenceforth is responsible for them. He is ever ready for service at short call. Intrusting the soldiery with their outfit reduces the number of armories, thus cutting down public expenditures and preventing loss through capture in case of sudden invasion by an enemy.

In the Swiss army are eight divisions of the active force and eight of the reserve, adjoining cantons uniting to form a division. Each summer one division is called out for the grand manoeuvres, all being brought out once in the course of eight years.

In case of war a General is named by the Federal Assembly. At the head of the army in time of peace is a staff, composed of three colonels, sixteen lieutenant colonels and majors, and thirty-five captains.

The cost of maintaining the army is small, on an average $3,500,000 a year. Officers and soldiers alike receive pay only while in service. If wounded or taken ill on duty, a man in the ranks may draw up to $240 a year pension while suffering disability. Lesser sums may be drawn by the family of a soldier who loses his life in the service.

At Thoune, near Berne, is the federal military academy. It is open to any Swiss youth who can support himself while there. Not even the President of the Confederation may in time of peace propose any man for a commission who has not studied at the Thoune academy. A place as commissioned officer is not sought for as a fat office nor as a ready stepping-stone to social position. As a rule only such youths study at Thoune as are inclined to the profession of arms. Promotion is according to both merit and seniority. Officers up to the rank of major are commissioned by the cantons, the higher grades by the Confederation.

* * * * *

In Switzerland, then, the military leader appears only when needed, in war; he cannot for years afterward be rewarded by the presidency; pensions cannot be made perquisites of party; the army, i.e. the whole effective force of the nation, will support, and not attempt to subvert, the republic.

The True Social Contract.

The individual enters into social life in Switzerland with the constitutional guarantee that he shall be independent in all things excepting wherein he has inextricable common interests with his fellows.

Each neighborhood aims, as far as possible, to govern itself, so subdividing its functions that even in these no interference with the individual shall occur that may be avoided. Adjoining neighborhoods next form a district and as such control certain common interests. Then a greater group, of several districts, unite in the canton. Finally takes place the federation of all the cantons. At each of these necessary steps in organizing society, the avowed intention of the masses concerned is that the primary rights of the individual shall be preserved. Says the "Westminster Review": "The essential characteristic of the federal government is that each of the states which combine to form a union retains in its own hands, in its individual capacity, the management of its own affairs, while authority over matters common to all is exercised by the states in their collective and corporate capacity." And what is thus true of Confederation with respect to the independence of the canton is equally true of canton with respect to the commune, and of the commune with respect to the individual. No departure from home rule, no privileged individuals or corporations, no special legislation, no courts with powers above the people's will, no legal discriminations whatever—such their aim, and in general their successful aim, the Swiss lead all other nations in leaving to the individual his original sovereignty. Wherever this is not the fact, wherever purpose fails fulfillment, the cause lies in long-standing complications which as yet have not yielded to the newer democratic methods. On the side of official organization, one historical abuse after another has been attacked, resulting in the simple, smooth-running, necessary local and national stewardships described. On the side of economic social organization, a concomitant of the political system, the progress in Switzerland has been remarkable. As is to be seen in the following chapter, in the management of natural monopolies the democratic Swiss, beyond any other people, have attained justice, and consequently have distributed much of their increasing wealth with an approach to equity; while in the system of communal lands practiced in the Landsgemeinde cantons is found an example to land reformers throughout the world.


Unless producers may exercise equal right of access to land, the first material for all production, they stand unequal before the law; and if one man, through legal privilege given to another, is deprived of any part of the product of his labor, justice does not reign. The economic question, then, under any government, relates to legal privilege—to monopoly, either of the land or its products.

With the non-existence of the exclusive enjoyment of monopolies by some men—monopolies in the land, in money-issuing, in common public works—each producer would retain his entire product excepting his taxes. This end secured, there would remain no politico-economic problem excepting that of taxation.

Of recent years the Swiss have had notable success in preventing from falling into private hands certain monopolies that in other countries take from the many to enrich a few. Continuing to act on the principles observed, they must in time establish not only equal rights in the land but the full economic as well as political sovereignty of the individual.

Land and Climate.

Glance at the theatre of the labor of this people. Switzerland, with about 16,000 square miles, equals in area one-third of New York. Of its territory, 30 per cent—waterbeds, glaciers, and sterile mountains—is unproductive. Forests cover 18 per cent. Thus but half the country is good for crops or pasture. The various altitudes, in which the climate ranges from that of Virginia to that of Labrador, are divided by agriculturists into three zones. The lower zone, including all lands below a level of 2,500 feet above the sea, touches, at Lake Maggiore, in the Italian canton of Ticino, its lowest point, 643 feet above the sea. In this zone are cultivated wheat, barley, and other grains, large crops of fruit, and the vine, the latter an abundant source of profit. The second zone, within which lies the larger part of the country, includes the lower mountain ranges. Its altitudes are from 2,500 to 5,000 feet, its chief growth great forests of beech, larch, and pine. Above this rises the Alpine zone, upon the steep slopes of which are rich pastures, the highest touching 10,000 feet, though they commonly reach but 8,000, where vegetation becomes sparse and snow and glaciers begin. In these mountains, a million and a half cattle, horses, sheep, and goats are fed annually. In all, Switzerland is not fertile, but rocky, mountainous, and much of it the greater part of the year snow-covered.

Whatever the individual qualities of the Swiss, their political arrangements have had a large influence in promoting the national well-being. This becomes evident with investigation. Observe how they have placed under public control monopolies that in other countries breed millionaires:—


One bureau of the Post-Office department exercises federal supervision over the railroads, a second manages the mail and express services, and a third those of the telegraph and telephone.

Of railroads, there are nearly 2,000 miles. Their construction and operation have been left to private enterprise, but from the first the Confederation has asserted a control over them that has stopped short only of management. Hence there are no duplicated lines, no discriminations in rates, no cities at the mercy of railroad corporations, no industries favored by railroad managers and none destroyed. The government prescribes the location of a proposed line, the time within which it must be built, the maximum tariffs for freight and passengers, the minimum number of trains to be run, and the conditions of purchase in case the State at any time should decide to assume possession. Provision is made that when railway earnings exceed a certain ratio to capital invested, the surplus shall be subjected to a proportionately increased tax. Engineers of the Post-Office department superintend the construction and repair of the railroads, and post-office inspectors examine and pass upon the time-tables, tariffs, agreements, and methods of the companies. Hence falsification of reports is prevented, stock watering and exchange gambling are hampered, and "wrecking," as practiced in the United States, is unknown.

Owing to tunnels, cuts, and bridges, the construction of the Swiss railway system has been costly; Mulhall's statistics give Switzerland a higher ratio of railway capital to population than any other country in Europe. Yet the service is cheap, passenger tariffs being considerably less than in France and Great Britain, and, about the same as in Germany, within a shade as low as the lowest in Europe.

Differing from the narrow compartment railway carriages of other European countries, the passenger cars of Switzerland are generally built on the American plan, so that the traveler is enabled to view the scenery ahead, behind, and on both sides. For circular tours, the companies make a reduction of 25 per cent on the regular fare. At the larger stations are interpreters who speak English. Unlike the service in other Continental countries, third class cars are attached to all trains, even the fastest. On the whole, despite the highest railroad investment per head in Europe, Switzerland has the best of railway service at the lowest of rates, the result of centralized State control coupled with free industry under the limitations of that control. In the ripest judgment of the nation up to the present, this system yields better results than any other: by a referendary vote taken in December, 1891, the people refused to change it for State ownership of railroads.

Mails, the Telegraph, the Telephone, and Highways.

The Swiss postal service is a model in completeness, cheapness, and dispatch. Switzerland has 800 post-offices and 2,000 depots where stamps are sold and letters and packages received. Postal cards cost 1 cent; to foreign countries, 2 cents, and with return flap, 4. For half-ounce letters, within a circuit of six miles, the cost is 1 cent; for letters for all Switzerland, up to half a pound, 2 cents; for printed matter, one ounce, two-fifths of a cent; to half a pound, 1 cent; one pound, 2 cents; for samples of goods, to half a pound, 1 cent; one pound, 2 cents.

There are 1,350 telegraph offices open to the public. A dispatch for any point in Switzerland costs 6 cents for the stamp and 1 cent for every two words.

The Swiss Post-Office department has many surprises in store for the American tourist. Mail delivery everywhere free, even in a rural commune remote from the railroad he may see a postman on his rounds two or three times a day. When money is sent him by postal order, the letter-carrier puts the cash in his hands. If he wishes to send a package by express, the carrier takes the order, which soon brings to him the postal express wagon. A package sent him is delivered in his room. At any post-office he may subscribe for any Swiss publication or for any of a list of several thousand of the world's leading periodicals. When roving in the higher Alps, in regions where the roads are but bridle paths, the tourist may find in the most unpretending hotel a telegraph office. If he follows the wagon roads, he may send his hand baggage ahead by the stage coach and at the end of his day's walk find it at his destination.

There are three hundred stage routes in Switzerland, all operated under the Post-Office department, private posting on regular routes being prohibited. The department owns the coaches; contractors own the horses and other material. From most of the termini, at least two coaches arrive and depart daily. Passengers, first and second class, are assigned to seats in the order of purchasing tickets. Every passenger in waiting at a stage office on the departure of a coach must by law be provided with conveyance, several supplementary vehicles often being thus called into employ. A postal coach may be ordered at an hour's notice, even on the mountain routes. Coach fare is 6 cents a mile; in the Alps, 8. Each passenger is allowed thirty-three pounds of baggage; in the Alps, twenty-two. Return tickets are sold at a reduction of 10 per cent.

The cantonal wagon roads of Switzerland are unequaled by any of the highways in America. They are built by engineers, are solidly made, are macadamized, and are kept in excellent repair. The Alpine post roads are mostly cut in or built out upon the steep mountain sides. Not infrequently, they are tunneled through the massive rocky ribs of great peaks. Yet their gradient is so easy that the average tourist walks twenty-five miles over them in a short day. The engineering feats on these roads are in many cases notable. On the Simplon route a wide mountain stream rushes down over a post-road tunnel, and from within the traveler may see through the gallery-like windows the cataract pouring close beside him down into the valley. On the route that passes the great Rhone glacier, the road ascends a high mountain in a zigzag that, as viewed in front from the valley below, looks like a colossal corkscrew. This road is as well kept as the better turnpikes of New York, teams moving at a fast walk in ascending and at a trot in descending, though the region is barren and uninhabitable, and wintry nine months in the year. These two examples, however, give but a faint idea of the vast number of similar works. The federal treasury appropriates to several of the Alpine cantons, in addition to the sums so expended by the local administrations, from $16,000 to $40,000 a year for the maintenance of their post roads.

With lower postage than any other country, the net earnings of the Swiss postal system for 1889 were $560,000. This, however, is but a fraction of the real gain to the nation from this source. Without their roads, railroads, stage lines, and mail facilities, their hotels, numbering more than one thousand and as a rule excellently managed, could not be maintained for the summer rush of foreign tourists, worth to the country many million dollars a year. The finest Alpine scenery is by no means confined to Swiss boundaries, but within these lines the comforts of travel far surpass those in the neighboring mountainous countries. In Savoy, Lombardy, and the Austrian Tyrol, the traveler must be prepared to put up with comparatively antiquated methods and primitive accommodations.

Yet, previous to 1849, each Swiss canton had its own postal arrangements, some cantons farming out their systems either to other cantons or to individuals. In each canton the service, managed irrespective of federal needs, was costly, and Swiss postal systems, as compared with those of France and Germany, were notoriously behindhand.


While the Confederation coins the metallic money current in the country, it is forbidden by the constitution to monopolize the issue of notes or guarantee the circulation of any bank. For the past ten years, however, it has controlled the circulation of the banks, the amount of their reserve fund, and the publication of their reports.[H] The latter may be called for at the discretion of the executive council, in fact even daily.

[Footnote H: A vote, October 18, 1891, made note-issuing a federal monopoly.]

There are thirty-five banks of issue doing business under cantonal law. Of these, eighteen, known as cantonal banks, either are managed or have their notes guaranteed by the respective cantons. Thus, while banking and money-issuing are free, the cantonal banks insure a requisite note circulation, minimizing the rate of interest and reducing its fluctuations. The setting up of cantonal banks, in order to withdraw privileges from licensed banks, was one of the public questions agitated by social reformers and decided in several of the cantons by direct legislation.


The framework of this little volume does not admit so much as an outline of the various methods of taxation practiced in Switzerland. As in all countries, they are complex. But certain significant results of direct legislation are to be pointed out. In all the cantons there is a strong tendency to raise revenue from direct, as opposed to indirect, taxes, and from progressive taxation according to fortune. The following, from an editorial in the "Christian Union," February 12, 1891, so justly and briefly puts the facts that I prefer printing it rather than words of my own, which might lie under suspicion of being tinged with the views of a radical: "With the democratic revolution of 1830 the people demanded that direct taxation should be introduced, and since the greater revolution of 1848 they have been steadily replacing the indirect taxes upon necessities by direct taxes upon wealth. In Zurich, for example—where in the first part of this century there were no direct taxes—in 1832 indirect taxation supplied four-fifths of the local revenue; to-day it supplies but one-seventeenth. The canton raises thirty-two francs per capita by direct taxation where it raises but two by indirect taxation. This change has accompanied the transformation of Switzerland from a nominal to a real democracy. By the use of direct taxation, where every man knows just how much he pays, and by the use of the Referendum, where the sense of justice of the entire public is expressed as to how tax burdens should be distributed, Switzerland has developed a system by which the division of society into the harmfully rich and wretchedly poor has been checked, if not prevented. In the most advanced cantons, as has been brought out by Professor Cohn in the 'Political Science Quarterly,' the taxes, both on incomes and on property, are progressive. In each case a certain minimum is exempted. In the case of incomes, the progression is such that the largest incomes pay a rate five times as heavy as the very moderate ones; while in the case of property, the largest fortunes pay twice as much as the smallest. The tax upon inheritances has been most strongly developed. In the last thirty years it has been increased sixfold. The larger the amount of property, and the more distant the relative to whom it has been bequeathed, the heavier the rate is made. It is sometimes as high as 20 per cent. Speaking upon this point, the New York 'Evening Post' correspondent says: 'Evidently there are few countries that do so much to discourage the accumulation of vast fortunes; and, in fact, Switzerland has few paupers and few millionaires.'"

Until 1848, each canton imposed cantonal tariff duties on imported goods, and, as is yet the case in most continental countries, until a few years ago the larger cities imposed local import duties (octrois). But the octroi is now a thing of the past, and save in one respect the cantons have abolished cantonal tariffs. The mining of salt being under federal control, and the retail price regulated by each canton for itself, supervision of imports of salt into each canton becomes necessary.

The "Statesmen's Year Book" (1891) gives the debts of all the cantons of Switzerland as inconsiderable, while the federal debt, in 1890 but eleven million dollars, is less than half the federal assets in stocks and lands. In summing up at the close of his chapter on "State and Local Finance," Prof. Vincent says: "On the whole, the expenditures of Switzerland are much less than those of neighboring states. This may be ascribed in part to the lighter military burden, in part to the fact that no monarchs and courts must be supported, and further, to the inclinations of the Swiss people for practical rather than ornamental matters." And he might pertinently have added, "and to the fact that the citizens themselves hold the public purse-strings."

Limitations to Swiss Freedom.

Certain stumbling blocks stand in the way of sweeping claims as to the freedom enjoyed in Switzerland. One is asked: What as to the suppression of the Jesuits and the Salvation Army? As to the salt and alcohol monopolies of the State? As to the federal protective tariff? What as to the political war two years ago in Ticino?

Two mutually supporting forms of reply are to be made to these queries. One relates to the immediate circumstances under which each of the departures from freedom cited have taken place; the other to historical conditions affecting the development of the Swiss democracy of to-day.

As to the first of these forms of reply:

In the decade previous to 1848 occurred the religious disturbances that ended in the war of the Sonderbund (secession), when several Catholic cantons endeavored to dissolve the loose federal pact under which Switzerland then existed. On the defeat of the secessionists, the movement for a closer federation—for a Confederation—received an impetus, which resulted in the present union. By an article of the constitution then substituted for the pact, convents were abolished and the order of the Jesuits forbidden on Swiss soil. Both had endangered the State. Mild, indeed, is this proscription when compared with the effects of the religious hatreds fostered for centuries between territories now Swiss cantons. In the judgment of the majority this restriction of the freedom of a part is essential to that enjoyed by the nation as a whole.

The exercises of the Salvation Army fell under the laws of the municipalities against nuisances. The final judicial decision in this case was in effect that while persons of every religious belief are free to worship in Switzerland, none in doing so are free seriously to annoy their neighbors.

The present federal protective tariff was imposed just after the federal Referendum (optional) had been called into operation on several other propositions, and, the public mind weary of political agitation, demand for the popular vote on the question was not made. The Geneva correspondent of the Paris "Temps" wrote of the tariff when it was adopted in 1884: "This tariff has sacrificed the interest of the whole of the consumers to temporary coalitions of private interests. It would have been shattered like a card house had it been submitted to the vote of the people." In imposing the tariff, the Federal Assembly in self-defense followed the action of other Continental governments. Many raw materials necessary to manufactures were, however, exempted and the burden of the duties placed on luxuries. As it is, Switzerland, without being able to obtain a pound of cotton except by transit through regions of hostile tariffs, maintains a cotton manufacturing industry holding a place among the foremost of the Continent, while her total trade per head is greater than that of any other country in Europe.

The days of the federal salt monopoly are numbered. The criticisms it has of late evoked portend its end. A popular vote may finish it at any time.

The State monopoly of alcohol, begun in 1887, is as yet an experiment. Financially, it has thus far been moderately successful, though smuggling and other evasions of the law go on on a large scale. The nation, yet in doubt, is awaiting developments. With a reaction, confidently predicted by many, against high tariffs and State interference with trade, the monopoly may be abolished.

The little war in Ticino was the expiring spasm of the ultramontanes, desperately struggling against the advance of the Liberals armed with the Referendum. The reactionaries were suppressed, and the people's law made to prevail. The story, now to be read in the annual reference books, is a chronicle that cannot fail to win approval for democracy as an agency of peace and justice.

* * * * *

The explanations conveyed in these facts imply yet a deeper cause for the lapses from freedom in question. This cause is that Switzerland, in many cantons for centuries undemocratic, is not yet entirely democratic. Law cannot rise higher than its source. The last step in democracy places all lawmaking power directly and fully in the hands of the majority, but if by the majority justice is dimly seen, justice will be imperfectly done. No more may be asserted for democracy than this: (1) That under the domination of force, at present the common state of mankind, escape from majority rule in some form is impossible. (2) That hence justice as seen by the majority, exercising its will in conditions of equality for all, marks the highest justice obtainable. In their social organization and practice, the Swiss have advanced the line of justice to where it registers their political,—their mental and moral,—development. Above that, manifestly, it cannot be carried.

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