James H. HutsonSwiss-American Peacemaking

2.16 James H. Hutson, Swiss-American Peacemaking: The Alabama Affair and the League of Nations, excerpt, in The Sister Republics, Switzerland and the United States, from 1776 to the Present, Library of Congress, Washington DC, 1991, p. 51 – 57

a) Background

A Special focus of this part of the Anthology is on the cultural exchanges and cultural encounters between Switzerland and the United States. According to James Hutson it is not immodest to say that we are talking about a special relationship. He writes in the introduction to the book at hand, that in 1776 the government of Switzerland known to its citizens as Eidgenossenschaft (community of the oath) had existed for almost 500 years. The Eidgenossenschaft was a Confederacy of 13 states called Cantons, which where republics of various sizes, some democratic, others aristocratic”. Republics were rare in 1776 and had little company in 18th century Europe. As the introduction states, therefore, many Swiss welcomed the Declaration of Independence of the United States “since it ushered a soulmate into the community of nations.” Republicanism was not the only bond between Switzerland and the United States. From 1776 on, political developments in one country often paralleled those in the other, and on important occasions served as a constitutional model for the others. First, according to James Hutson, the Amercian national constitution, the Articles of Confederation, was constructed on the Swiss model of a confederacy of some over sovereign states. Then, Americans repudiated confederal government in 1787 as impotent and unworkable and adapted a new federal constitution. The opponents of the new charter, the Anti Federalists argued that a Swiss style government was still a viable model which offered the best hope for the preservation of American liberty. The Swiss themselves repudiated confederate government in 1848 using many of the same arguments Americans had marshalled against it in 1787 and adapted a Federal constitution modelled after the American constitution of 1787. After the Civil War many American state and local governments adapted constitutional reforms borrowed from the Swiss. The initiative and referendum – which continues to this hour to give the politics of California and other influential states their distinctive tone. The institutional borrowing, according to James Hutson, between the United States and Switzerland ceased after the first World War. Not long afterwards Swiss and Americans ceased referring to each others countries as sister republics.

The editor has divided the book in various chapters, following the chronological order of the book and parallelizing it with the chronological and topical order of the part of the Americanization of Swiss law and legal culture of the Anthology. The book is a welcome addition to the views of the legal relationship between the United States and Switzerland by an American view. The book is vividly written and contains pictures. It is addressed to a broader public and contains a number of footnotes for further research. It is a short and coherent “red thread” (Roter Faden) of the history of the relationship from 1776 to about the first World War.

The author of the book James H. Hutson received his PhD in history from Yale University in 1964. He has been a member of the history department in Yale and William and Mary. Since 1982 he has been chief of the Libraries manuscript division. Dr. Hutson is the author of several books (see biography). We particularly draw the attention to a text written after World War II on the bombing of the Swiss city of Schaffhausen in April 1944 by American airplanes.

b) Summary

The text at hand is a chapter of the book The Sister Republics, Switzerland and the United States, from 1776 to the present, which accompanied an exhibition of the Library of Congress opening in May 1991 to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Switzerland.

This text has to be read in conjunction with the text of Heinz K. Meier, Rappard, Wilson and the League of Nations (2.19) and Raymond Probst, “Good offices” in the light of Swiss international practice and experience (2.20).

The text at hand states, that the impact of the American Civil War continued to be felt in Switzerland long after the last signature was subscribed to the congratulatory addresses of 1865, for another 50 years. In fact, according to Hutson, a famous Civil War time incidence indirectly helped to persuade an American president to establish the League of Nations on Swiss territory.

The text first contains a vivid description of the incident, which led to the so called Alabama Affair arbitration in the city of Geneva. The confederate agents in 1862 had commissioned a Liverpool Shipyard to build an armed vessel, the Alabama. The ship scoured the seas for Union shipping. She captured more than 60 merchant man, according to James Hutson, burning many on the spot. The Union government considered the captain and the crew to be pirates and the British who had apparently connived at their mission to be little better. Americans through their minister in London threatened the British with war and from 1863 onwards the Union pressed the British Foreign Minister to submit the depredations of the Alabama and other confederate corsairs to international arbitration. In order to appease the American government, which had emerged from the Civil War with a powerful army, the British feared an appetite for Canada and therefore in May 1871 signed the Treaty of Washington, which bound the United States and Britain to submit American claims for damages inflicted by the Alabama to an Arbitration Tribunal in Geneva 1972. The text vividly describes the arbitration proceedings in which Switzerland as a fifth member was represented by non other than Jakob Stämpfli who had promoted the painter Frank Buchsers mission to America. The British feared that Stämpfli’s pro-union sympathy would dispose him to support the American position during the Geneva negations. The case finally was settled by an award for 155000 dollars afflicted by the Alabama and other Confederate raiders “over which the British were judged to have exercised insufficient control”

The events at Geneva, according to the text of James Hutson, made a strong impression on statesmen and jurists, who were seeking to persuade governments to result their differences peacefully. Geneva and by extension Switzerland were soon considered oases of hope by men of peace. A report was published late in 1872 promoting Geneva as an ideal site for a conference for international matters. The reputation of Switzerland had become well known by 1894 as “ever a fitting center for international congresses, arbitration courts, and postal unions”. The position materialized, when Woodrow Wilson arrived in Europe after the end of World War I. During the peace conference at Paris, the Swiss government had its own agenda in dealing with president. Wilson: preservation of Swiss neutrality and establishment of the prospective League of Nations. Switzerland was working through professor William Rappard, who was present in Paris based upon an informal mandate. The text argues, that Woodrow Wilson had favoured Geneva from the outset. Wilson had openly mentioned his preference for Geneva rather than Brussels, mentioning the Red Cross, founded by Swiss citizens in Geneva in 1860 joined by the United States in 1882 and testifying for the Swiss attitude for organizing and accommodating multinational ventures in peacemaking and philanthropy.

James Hutson cites Woodrow Wilsons statement addressing the Crillon Commission in Paris at the crucial moment on april 10th 1919 as follows:

“We wish to rid the world of the sufferings of war. We should not obtain this result if we chose a town (Brussels) where the memory of this war would prevent impartial discussion. The peace of the world could not be secured by perpetuating international hatreds. Geneva was already the seat of the International Red Cross, which had placed itself at the service of both groups of belligerents, and which, so far as possible, had remained unaffected by the antipathies provoked by the war. Moreover, Switzerland was a people vowed to absolute neutrality by its constitution and its blend of races and languages. It was marked out to be the meeting-place of other peoples desiring to undertake a work of peace and cooperation. The choice of Geneva did not mean that we did not recognize the eminent merits of Belgium and of Brussels. … The capitals of other neutral nations might have been proposed, but none had behaved so impartially as Switzerland. Switzerland had always acted with dignity; she had suffered from the war and she had gained the respect of both groups of belligerents.”

Wilsons argument prevailed and Geneva was selected to host the League of Nations. (see text 2.19 by Heinz K. Meier on the Swiss perspective on William Rappard mission to the Paris Peace Conference.)

As a footnote in the context of this Anthology it has to be mentioned that Woodrow Wilson as a professor at Princeton University used books on international public law by the Swiss author Johann Jakob Bluntschli, who together with his friend Franics Lieber in New York City planned to codify International Public Law based upon his experience of codifying the Code of Civil Law of the Canton of Zurich (see Betsy Röben, Johann Caspar Bluntschli, Francis Lieber und das modern Völkerrecht 1861 – 1881, Baden-Baden, 2003) His decision for Geneva and the decision for forming the League of Nations led to remarkable schism between Switzerland and the United States. The United States did not become a member, Switzerland did become a member of the League of Nations. This daring move of Switzerland seriously affected its attitude after World War II, to safeguard its neutrality as the then perceived only means to guarantee the independance of the country after World War II.

c) Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here:
A_2.16_HUTSON_Swiss-American Peacemaking


© Prof. Jens Drolshammer, office@drolshammer.com,  www.drolshammer.net

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