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    Figure 2: Federal Charter of 129112


    Figure 3: Oath on the „Rütli-Wiese“13

    The 19th century historians determined that the founding of the Old Swiss Confederacy occurred on 1st August 1291. This is the date of the so called Federal Charter (Bundesbrief) which united Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden as a “sworn union” against foreign oppressors. According to subsequent mystifications, the oath was taken on the Rütli-Wiese, a commons near Seelisberg/Uri. This legend also made its way into FRIEDRICH SCHILLER’S drama of William Tell (1804). The date of Switzerland’s national holiday today is the 1st of August.

    The modern Swiss federal state only emerged after a short civil war in November 1847. In the lead up to the conflict, Catholic cantons formed a separate alliance (Sonderbund) to oppose the gradual centralisation of powers by the predominantly Protestant cantons. In the ensuing Sonderbund War, the Protestants prevailed. Still, in the following constitutional convention, the majority of the founding fathers recognised that a centralised political system, as was the French model for example, would not be sustainable. The different cultural and religious identities of the cantons had to be respected. Hence, taking much inspiration from the United States of America, the founding fathers drew up a constitution for a Swiss federal state. Its two main features were (and are) the separation of powers at the federal level (III.) and the sovereignty of the cantons (IV.).

    12Source: Wikipedia (–4NKJ).

    13Source: Wikipedia (

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