Atlantic Dimensions 6

For if the social implications of American constitutionalism were critical for the English radicals, and if defining human rights and assessing the benefits and dangers of balancing powers were critical for the French revolutionaries, American federalism proved to be a primary concern for nations as different as Switzerland and Argentina, attempting to reconstruct their public institutions—in the one case after Napoleon’s imposition of the Helvetic Republic, in the other after the overthrow of Iberian imperialism.
For Switzerland, the dominant public issue for fifty years after Napoleon’s conquest of 1798 was the struggle between, on the one hand, conservatives seeking to maintain the traditional autonomy of the cantons together with the patriarchal social order within them, and, on the other, progressives seeking broader powers for the cen-tral government and more equal social and political rights. And in all the immensely complex drafting and redrafting of constitutions and the rocketing back and forth between the two sides, American con¬stitutions and American authorities and formulations were cited, quoted, and imitated—at times in astonishing detail, and also with much confusion. For such were the apparent ambiguities of the American system that both sides could, and did, claim its authority: the cantonists for the survival of states’ rights in the American feder¬alist system, the centralists for the supremacy of Congress, the presi¬dent, and the federal courts. When one side claimed an advantage by association with the United States, the other, which in different cir¬cumstances was equally pro-American, ridiculed any supposed analogies.
Thus the ultracentralist Jean-Jacques Cart, once a resident of Boston and New York and a devoted Americanist, fearing the force of his conservative opponents’ efforts to emulate American federalism, declared that to “dress [Switzerland] up as the United States . . . would be to wrap up a pygmy in the garb of a giant. The trousers would be longer than the legs. He could not walk.” To federalize “poor littie Switzerland,” he wrote, “would be absurd . .. strike out the term canton from the Helvetic dictionary. Strike it out for ever.” But it was not struck out. Though the Act of Mediation of 1803 created a more centralized state, the cantonal powers were restored in the Federal Pact of 1815, together with restrictions on political rights. That pact was immediately attacked by the philo-American Helvetic Society whose leaders called it a “political bastard” and declared (remarkably—this was 1830) that all Swiss governments must be “of the people, by the people, and for the people” (“aus dem Volke, durch das Volk, und fur das Volk”). The restoration of more liberal institutions in 1830 led to even more elaborate examinations of American federalism in an outpouring of pamphlets, articles, and speeches. One side’s declaration that “a government similar to that of the United States would suit our ancient confederation just as well as it suits those young and wise republics” was denounced by the other as “insidious,” “dictatorial,” and destructive to cantonal sover¬eignty—not because they objected to the American model in general (in fact they admired its decentralization) but because they feared presidential power in particular.
Through all this dense maze of polemics and proposals, much of it tangles of interpretations of American constitutionalism, there were powerful forces for compromise, which was achieved at last in the complex bicameral federalist system of Switzerland’s long-lasting Eidgenossenschaft. That outcome was largely the work of the libertar¬ian philosopher Troxler, who wrote, The constitution of the United States of America is a great work of art which the human mind created according to the eternal laws of its divine nature … It is a model and a pattern for the organization of the public life of republics in general, in which the whole and the parts shall both be free and equal… The problem has been solved by the new world for all peoples, states and countries.
There were similar encomia, though in far more bitterly contested circumstances, four thousand miles to the west. In the emerging nations of Latin America—sprawling, undeveloped, multiracial, politically chaotic at times to the point of anarchy—federalism was not a theoretical issue of choice. It was an inescapable structural problem in all of Spain’s former provinces and territories as they groped, amid the blood-stained rubble of imperial rule and the fero¬cious ambitions of the caudillos, for ways to form stable, peaceful regimes. There were no autochthonous, pre-existing quasi-national units to declare their independence of alien powers and to evolve nat¬urally into viable nation states. There were only larger or smaller jurisdictions whose legitimacy vanished with Spanish rule. As a result the basic struggle everywhere, once the Spanish troops were defeated, was to bring together whatever elements of authority there were— mainly cities and provinces—into combinations that would agree to share in a common authority. Federalism was therefore a fact before it was a theory.

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