The Swiss state and its citizens after 1848

The Federal Constitution adopted by the 22 cantons came into force on 14 September 1848. It was the hour of the birth of the Confederation. It brought an end to the conflicts between liberal and catholic-conservative cantons.

Federal Constitutions from 1848, 1874 and 1999

A revision of the Federal Treaty of 1815 was launched after the Sonderbund came to an end. It formed the basis of the Federal Constitution of 1848. The victorious cantons of the Sonderbund civil war considered it as a constitutional law applicable to all cantons. The defeated catholic cantons initially tried to resist the decision.

The Constitution regulated the responsibilities of the federal state and the cantons and introduced male suffrage. It was also innovative to the extent that it introduced the principle of the separation of powers by separating the Federal Assembly (legislative), Federal Council and Federal Administration (executive) and the Federal Court (judiciary).

The total revision of the Federal Constitution of 1874 gave citizens greater civic rights (freedom of trade and economic pursuit, freedom of religion, freedom of establishment and the right of referendum). Additional competencies were assigned to the Confederation at the same time.

A rekindling of the cultural battle between catholic and protestant cantons and the escalation of social conflicts led to a partial revision of the Federal Constitution in 1891. Switzerland's citizens and cantons were granted the right of initiative as a result. It gave citizens an opportunity to exert direct influence on the design of federal law. The referendums on the initiatives are documented in the fonds of the Judiciary 1929 and the Federal Chancellery 1920-1970 and 1963-1992.

Whilst male suffrage was introduced in 1848, it took until 1971 for women's suffrage to be introduced on a national level. The introduction of women's suffrage was also the implementation of a central aspect of equality between men and women.

From the 1960s onwards, voices demanding another total revision of the constitution grew in strength. Antiquated linguistic formulations and outdated or problematic content gave the Constitution a patchwork appearance that lacked clarity and no longer fulfilled the requirements of a constitutional law. After 30 years of work, Switzerland's citizens finally agreed to a total revision of the Federal Constitution in 1999. Up to this point in time, the Constitution of 1874 had been changed and amended 140 times.

The Federal Archives' publication "Federal Constitution Workshop (ger) (PDF, 22 MB, 04.08.2014)" offers a comprehensive overview of the ongoing amendments.

Confederation and cantons

The Federal Constitution grants sovereignty to the people and the cantons and limits the responsibilities of the Confederation. These competencies can only be extended by way of a constitutional amendment.

The cantons as federal units are therefore sovereign within the scope of superordinate federal law. The autonomy of the cantons is a major aspect of the Swiss Confederation. It is for this reason that the majority of documents relating to responsibilities that do not fall under the Confederation's scope of competence are contained in the relevant cantonal and municipal archives (ger).

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Last modification 31.05.2016

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