Democratical Republics: Switzerland, Appenzel
My dear Sir,
IT is commonly said, that some of the cantons of Switzerland are democratical, and others aristocratical: and if these epithets are understood only to mean, that one of these powers prevails in some of those republics, and the other in the rest, they are just enough; but there is neither a simple democracy, nor a simple aristocracy, among them. The governments of these confederated states, like those of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, are very complicated, and therefore very difficult to be fully explained; yet the most superficial enquirer will find the most evident traces of a composition of all the three powers in all of them.
To begin with the cantons commonly reputed democratical.
THE canton of Appenzel consists of a series of vallies, scattered among inaccessible rocks and mountains, in all about eighteen miles square. The people are laborious and frugal, and have no commerce but in cattle, hides, butter, cheese, and a little linen made of their own flax. It has no walled towns, and only two or three open boroughs, and a few small villages: it is, like New England, almost a continued village, covered with excellent houses of the yeomanry, built of wood, each of which has its territory of pasture grounds, commonly ornamented with trees; neatness and convenience are studied without, and a remarkable cleanliness within. The principal part of the inhabitants have preserved the simplicity of the pastoral life. As there are not, at most, above fifty thousand souls, there cannot be more than ten thousand men capable of bearing arms. It is not at all surprising, among so much freedom, though among rocks and herds, to hear of literature, and men of letters who are an ornament to their country.
Nevertheless, this simple people, so small in number, in so narrow a territory, could not agree. After a violent contest, in which they were in danger of a civil war, by the mediation of the other cantons, at the time of the Reformation, they agreed to divide the canton into two portions, the Outer and the Inner Appenzel, or Rhodes Exterior and Rhodes Interior. Each district has now its respective chief magistrate, court of justice, police, bandaret, and deputy to the general diet, although the canton has but one vote, and consequently loses its voice if the two deputies are of different opinions. The canton is divided into no less than twelve communities; six of them called the Inner Appenzel, lying to the east; and six the Outer, to the weft. They have one general sovereign council, which is composed of one hundred and forty-four persons, twelve taken from each community.
The sovereignty resides in the general assembly, which, in the interior Rhodes, meets every year at Appenzel, the last Sunday in April; but, in the exterior Rhodes, it assembles alternately at Trogen and at Hundwyl. In the interior Rhodes are the chiefs and officers, the land amman, the tything-man, the governor, the treasurer, the captain of the country, the director of the buildings, the director of the churches, and the ensign. The exterior Rhodes have ten officers, viz. two land ammans, two governors, two treasurers, two captains, and two ensigns. The interior Rhodes is subdivided into six lesser ones, each of which has sixteen counsellors, among whom are always two chiefs. The grand council in the interior Rhodes, as also the criminal jurisdiction, is composed of one hundred and twenty-eight persons, who assemble twice a year, eight days after the general assembly, and at as many other times as occasions require. Moreover, they have also the little council, called the weekly council, because it meets every week in the year. The exterior Rhodes are now divided into nineteen communities; and the sovereignty of them consists in the double grand council of the country, called the old and new council, which assembles once a year, eight days after the assembly of the country, at Trogen or at Herisaw, and is composed of ninety and odd persons. Then follows the grand council, in which, besides the ten officers, the reigning chiefs of all the communities have teats, the directors of the buildings, the chancellor, and the sautier, which make thirty-five persons; the reigning land amman presides. After this comes the little council from before the sittern, which is held every first Tuesday of each month at Trogen; the reigning land amman is the president, to whom always assists, alternately, an officer, with a member of council from all the thirteen communities, the chancellor of the country, and the sautier, and consists of twenty and odd persons. The little council from behind the sittern is held under the presidency of the reigning land amman, whenever occasion requires; it is held at Herisaw, Hundwyl, or Urnaeschen: at it assist the chancellor of the country, and the sautier, with the counsellors of the six communities behind the sittern, appointed for this service.
Let me ask, if here are not different orders of men, and balances in abundance? Such an handful of people, living by agriculture, in primitive simplicity, one would think might live very quietly, almost without any government at all; yet, instead of being capable of collecting all authority into one assembly, they seem to have been forcibly agitated by a mutual power of repulsion, which has divided them into two commonwealths, each of which has it monarchical power in a chief magistrate; its aristocratical power in two councils, one for legislation, and the other for execution; besides the two more popular assemblies. This is surely no simple democracy. — Indeed a simple democracy by representation is a contradiction in terms.
Liberty Letters is a project of Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.