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Sonderbund war
Violet: Sonderbund cantons
Green: Anti-Sonderbund cantons
Yellow: Neutral cantons
Date 3 November – 29 November 1847
Location Switzerland
Result Victory of the Confederates
Swiss Confederation Sonderbund
Henri Dufour Johann-Ulrich von Salis-Soglio
99,000 79,000
Casualties and losses
60 dead
386 wounded
26 dead
114 wounded

The Sonderbund war (German: Sonderbundskrieg) of November 1847 was a civil war in Switzerland. It ensued after seven Catholic cantons formed the Sonderbund ("separate alliance", in German) in 1845 in order to protect their interests against a centralization of power.

Economically, the Sonderbound war was about whether the Swiss nation would develop into a modern capitalist nation with banking and trade or remain pre-dominately a loose confederation cantons, each based on subsistence agriculture.[1]

The member cantons were Lucerne, Fribourg, Valais, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden and Zug, all predominantly Catholic but then ruled by Conservative administrations. The cantons of Ticino and Solothurn, predominantly Catholic but then ruled by liberal administrations, did not join the alliance.



Distribution of confessions in 1800 (orange: Protestant, green: Catholic)

The Radical Party and liberals made up of urban bourgeosie and burghers, which were strong in the largely Protestant cantons, became majority in the Swiss Diet in the early 1840's. They proposed a new Constituion for the Swiss Confederation which would draw the various cantons into a closer relationship. In 1843, the conservative city patricians and mountain or Ur-Swiss from the largely Catholic cantons were opposed to the new constitution.[2] These cantons combined to form the Sonderbund in 1843. In addition to the centralization of the of the Swiss government, the new Constitution also included protections for trade and other progressive bourgeosie reform measures that would assist the rising bourgeosie class.[3]

The Sonderbund alliance was concluded after the Radical Party, with the approval of a majority of cantons, had taken measures against the Catholic Church such as the closure of monasteries and convents in Aargau in 1841,[4] and the seizure of their properties. When Lucerne, in retaliation, recalled the Jesuits the same year, groups of armed Radicals (Freischärler) invaded the canton. This caused a revolt, mostly because rural cantons were strongholds of ultramontanism.

The Sonderbund was in violation of the Federal Treaty of 1815, §6 of which expressly forbade such separate alliances, and the Radical majority in the Tagsatzung decided to dissolve the Sonderbund on October 21, 1847. The confederate army was raised against the members of the Sonderbund. The army was composed of soldiers of all the other cantons except Neuchâtel and Appenzell Innerrhoden (which had stayed neutral).

War of November 1847

Battle of Geltwil, 12 November 1847

General Guillaume-Henri Dufour led the federal army of 100,000 and defeated the Sonderbund under Johann-Ulrich von Salis-Soglio in a campaign that lasted only from November 3 to November 29, and claimed fewer than a hundred victims. He ordered his troops to care for the injured, anticipating the formation of the Red Cross in which he participated a few years later.

Major actions were fought at Freiburg, Geltwil, Lunnern, Luzern, and finally at Gisikon, Meierskappel and Schüpfheim, after which Luzern capitulated on 24 November.

Swiss Federal Constitution of 1848

In 1848, a new Swiss Federal Constitution ended the almost-complete independence of the cantons and transformed Switzerland into a federal state. The Jesuits were banished from Switzerland. This ban was lifted on 20 May 1973, when 54.9% of the population and 16.5 cantons out of 22 accepted a referendum modifying the Constitution.[5][6]

See also


  • Erwin Bucher: Die Geschichte des Sonderbundskrieges. Verlag Berichthaus, Zürich 1966.
  • Joachim Remak: Bruderzwist nicht Brudermord. Der Schweizer Sonderbundskrieg von 1847. Verlag Orell Füssli, Zürich 1997.

External links

  1. ^ See "The Civil War in Switzerland" in Marx & Engels Collected Works: Volume 6 (International Pub.: New York, 1976) pp. 367-368.
  2. ^ See note 172 on page 687 of Marx & Engels Collected Works Vol. 6. (International Publishers: New York, 1976)
  3. ^ Ibid.
  4. ^ "Switzerland". Encyclopædia Britannica. 26. 1911. pp. 259. Retrieved 2008-08-07. 
  5. ^ (French) Official results on the website of the Swiss Administration.
  6. ^ (German) Cantonal Results of Referendum


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