Frédéric-César de La Harpe

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Frédéric-César de La Harpe
Portrait of Frédéric-César de La Harpe
Born (1734-04-06)6 April 1734
Rolle, Vaud, Switzerland
Died 30 March 1838(1838-03-30) (aged 83)
Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland
Nationality Swiss
Occupation

Founder and Director of Helvetic Republic

Tutor to Alexander I of Russia
Notable work Essay on the Constitution of the Vaud

Frédéric-César de La Harpe, 6 April 1754 (Rolle, Vaud, Switzerland) – 30 March 1838 (Lausanne, Switzerland) was a Swiss political leader, scholar, and Vaudois patriot best known for his pivotal role in the formation of the Helvetic Republic, and for serving as a member of the Helvetic Directory.[1]

Biography and Political Introduction[edit]

LaHarpe was born in 1754 in Rolle, Switzerland in the canton of Vaud. At the time Switzerland was a confederacy of mainly self-governing cantons held together by a loose military alliance, with little in terms of actual union and no central government. Some of the cantons were what was referred to as subject lands since they were governed by other cantons: Vaud, for example, had been under the control of Bern since the 16th century. LaHarpe studied at the University of Tübingen in 1774, graduating with a doctorate of Laws degree.[1] Leaving Switzerland, LaHarpe travelled to Russia, where he became a tutor for the children of the Russian Emperor Paul I, including the future Alexander I with whom LaHarpe remained in contact well into his reign.[2]

LaHarpe was a republican idealist, seeing the rule of the Bernese administration as oligarchical, and as an infringement on the natural rights of the people of Vaud and the other subject states, such as Fribourg.[3][4] LaHarpe viewed the rule of the culturally dissimilar Bernese government and aristocracy as uncaring for the popular will, and contrary to the historical sovereignty of Vaud, in the tradition of the Swiss people.[4] Because of this, LaHarpe attempted to achieve a return to the "Old Regime" of the Swiss, and to create a system wherein local governance was centralized in a representative structure, rather than the existing system of subject states within the region; this system he proposed would, he thought, preserve the natural rights and freedom of citizens.[4]

Foundation of the Helvetic Republic[edit]

During his time in St. Petersburg, LaHarpe began to plan an uprising of the people of Vaud against the rule of Bern. LaHarpe returned to Switzerland in 1794, in the midst of the French Revolution of 1787-1799, to seek support for his planned uprising; with support gathered, LaHarpe continued to Paris, seeking French support to fight the control of Bern, publishing documents such as the Essay on the Constitution of the Vaud.[3] On 10 December 1797 he addressed the French Directory, stating that commitments made by the Duke of Savoy in treaties signed with Bern at Lausanne in 1564 were now the responsibility of the French and thus gave them the right to assist the people of Vaud against the Bernese.[4]

LaHarpe's "Essai sur la Constitution du Pays de Vaud"

By the time the French did send troops into Vaud in late January 1798, the locals had already risen up and driven away the Bernese baillis (or governor) and proclaimed the Lemanic Republic. This did not stop the French who proceeded to a largely peaceful invasion of Switzerland. With this French aid, a broader movement throughout Switzerland was begun by LaHarpe and Peter Ochs, which culminated in the eventual formation of a centralized republic, called the Helvetic Republic.[1] The republic was ruled by a central Directory, of which LaHarpe became a member on 29 June 1798, as well as a Senate and some local governance.[1]

However, this state would not last; the abolishing of the traditional cantons, as well as the overall structure of the Republic was unpopular with many of the Swiss people; additionally, the French pillaging of state coffers, the curbing of the right to worship and the heavy-handed crushing of resistance, most notably in Nidwalden, caused considerable resentment among the Swiss people.[1] Invasions by Austrian and Russian troops opposing the spread of the French Revolutionary sentiment lead to further dissatisfaction. More trouble stirred internally with the Republican government, as LaHarpe deposed the leader of the Directory, and the Helvetic Republic’s co-founder, Peter Ochs in 1799. La Harpe himself eventually became victim of the instability and violence that had surrounded Switzerland in the late eighteenth century. He was overthrown by a coup and was forced to flee in 1799, which culminated in the abolition of the Helvetic Republic in 1803.

Post-Republic Career and Legacy[edit]

A map of the Helvetic Republic, of which LaHarpe was a founder and leader, specifically in the Canton of Léman.

Following Napoleon Bonaparte's Act of Mediation which abolished the Helvetic Republic and turned Switzerland back into a confederacy in 1803, LaHarpe continued to support the independence of Vaud, and other subject states in the Swiss confederation. LaHarpe continued lobbying for the abolishment of the restored Cantons and feudalism. The Swiss Confederacy initially suppressed LaHarpe's modernist reforms, however, owing to the large scale support garnered by the Swiss Republicans, granted them the liberty to express their beliefs. La Harpe himself refused to take part in the negotiations, in fact he wrote to his former pupil, Emperor Alexander I of Russia, complaining that "So much trouble has gone into doing such detestable work, whereas a week would have been enough to supplement all that was required for a single, central government".[5] At the collapse of Napoleon’s regime, La Harpe and his friend Henri Monod lobbied Emperor Alexander, who in turn persuaded the other Allied powers opposing Napoleon to recognise Vaudois and Argovian independence, in spite of Bern's attempts to reclaim them as subject lands. La Harpe attended the Congress of Vienna where the major powers set about redrawing the map of Europe following Napoleon's defeat. He gained further recognition for Vaud's rights, though he opposed the Federal Treaty of 1815 which established Switzerland's post-Napoleonic arrangements.[6]

LaHarpe died on 30 March 1838 in Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland. Although the Helvetic Republic was itself short-lived, many fragments of the republic live on in modern Swiss society. While the involvement of French troops in the republic, and the internal conflict involved are largely criticized, the structure of the government mirrors fairly closely the current Swiss government; in particular, the Swiss Directory, a committee of a few members, as the head of the government is an idea which was adopted in the Swiss Federal Constitution, and lives on in the current Swiss Federal Council.[1]

Impact on the Revolutionary Period[edit]

LaHarpe, in addition to supporting the independence of subject states in Switzerland, also played a large part in shaping the French Revolutionary period. Republican government, having only recently taken root in France, was a very new part of the European political sphere, and the creation of the Helvetic Republic marked a continued spread of republican ideas in practice.[1] While short lived, the work of LaHarpe contrasted the situations in the German states, and of the Austrian Hapsburg regime at the time.[2] While this republic was met with poor response by the Swiss people, the ideas and structure of its government contributed to the shaping of the political conditions and respective governments of the nation-states of the 1800s, especially Germany and Italy.[1]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Arnal, Sonia. "Frédéric-César Laharpe «fossoyeur» Puis Sauveur Des Suisses." Allez Savior! 28 (2004): 3-10. Feb. 2004. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  2. ^ a b Czartoryski, Adam Jerzy; Alexander I., (Emperor of Russia) (1888). Memoirs of Prince Adam Czartoryski and His Correspondence with Alexander I.: With Documents Relative to the Prince's Negotiations with Pitt, Fox, and Brougham, and an Account of His Conversations with Lord Palmerston and Other English Statesmen in London in 1832. Remington & Company. 
  3. ^ a b Harpe, Frédéric-César de La (1796). Essai sur la Constitution du pays de Vaud (in French). Chez Batittiot frères, L'an Ve de la Rép. 
  4. ^ a b c d Lerner, Marc H. A Laboratory of Liberty: The Transformation of Political Culture in Republican Switzerland. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2011. Google Books. Web. 08 Dec. 2015. Found here
  5. ^ Frédéric-César de La Harpe entry in Britannica - The Online Encyclopedia
  6. ^ ATRIUM History section

Bibliography[edit]

  • (French) Sonia Arnal, "Frédéric-César Laharpe « fossoyeur » puis sauveur des Suisses", Allez savoir !, no. 28, February 2004.
  • Zartoryski, Prince Adam. Memoirs of Prince Adam Czartoryski and His Correspondence with Alexander I.: With Documents Relative to the Prince's Negotiations with Pitt, Fox, and Brougham, and an Account of His Conversations with Lord Palmerston and Other English Statesmen in London in 1832. Ed. Adam Gielgud. London: Remington, 1888. Google Books. 20 Aug. 2014. Web. 05 Dec. 2015. here.
  • De LaHarpe, Frédéric-César. Essai Sur LaConstitution Du Pays De Vaud. Paris: Batilliot, 1796. Google Books. 19 Apr. 2010. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. here.
  • De LaHarpe, Frédéric-César. Biographie De Mr Frédéric César Laharpe, Ci-devant Directeur De La République Helvétique: Suivie D'extraits De Ses Ouvrages Politiques. N.p.: n.p., 1818. Google Books. University of Lausanne, 8 Jan. 2009. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. here .
  • De LaHarpe, Frédéric-César. Biographie De Mr Frédéric César Laharpe, Ci-devant Directeur De La République Helvétique: Suivie D'extraits De Ses Ouvrages Politiques. N.p.: n.p., 1818. Google Books. University of Lausanne, 8 Jan. 2009. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. here .
  • Lerner, Marc H. A Laboratory of Liberty: The Transformation of Political Culture in Republican Switzerland. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2011. Google Books. Web. 08 Dec. 2015. here.

External links[edit]