Federal Charter seals close Swiss-US ties

About 5,000 people a day are expected to see the charter until June 30 Keystone

An exhibition has opened in the United States city of Philadelphia featuring Switzerland's treasured Federal Charter of 1291 on its first ever visit outside the country.

This content was published on June 11, 2006 - 13:03

The three-week show entitled Sister Republics aims to reveal the similarities between the US and Switzerland as the world's first democratic republics.

Opened by former Swiss cabinet minister Arnold Koller at the National Constitution Center, the exhibition is one of the main events of Swiss Roots, a wide-ranging campaign to bring the US and Switzerland closer together.

Swiss Roots aims to invite the estimated one million US citizens with Swiss origins to discover what Switzerland is all about.

Organisers note that while the Federal Charter may well be viewed by almost 5,000 visitors daily in Philadelphia, only 10,000 people a year go to see it in Switzerland at the museum where it is housed in the central town of Schwyz.

The charter, which some rightwing politicians in Switzerland did not want to be taken out of the country, was under tight security for its journey to Philadelphia and is under a bulletproof glass case at the exhibition.

"I think it's even better than the one we have [at home]," commented Kaspar Michel, the archivist of canton Schwyz who is responsible for the document.

The Swiss consul general in New York, Raymond Loretan, and Faith Whittlesey, a former US ambassador to Switzerland, attended the opening ceremony, which included much Swiss folklore.

Special suitcase

The charter, insured for SFr1 million ($810,000), was housed for its transatlantic journey in a special suitcase which was handcuffed to Michel's wrist.

On arrival in New York several police vehicles accompanied Michel to a private aircraft which flew on to Philadelphia.

The document was then carefully transported to the National Constitution Center where it was immediately placed in a safe. The same precautions will be taken for the return journey.

"It was very efficient and very... American," Michel said.

The relieved archivist later commented that the Sister Republics exhibition had given a promotional boost to both the charter and the museum in Schwyz.

"Over these past four or five months, the media haven't stopped talking about the Federal Charter. What [other] museum can benefit from that kind of publicity?"

He noted that attendance at the Schwyz museum had since shown increasing numbers.

Michel, who was accompanied by a scientific colleague on the journey, will pick up the document for the return journey in three weeks.

"And then [after that] everything will be the same as before," he said.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

There are about one million Americans of Swiss descent.
More than 5,000 US towns and cities have Swiss names.
Most Americans with Swiss roots live in California, New York State, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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In brief

The first Swiss Federal Charter, also known as Letter of Alliance, was written in 1291.

It documents the union of three cantons of what is now central Switzerland. The alliance was set up for defence purposes.

The letter is on permanent display in a museum in the central town of Schwyz near the mythical birthplace of Switzerland. The authenticity of the charter is disputed.

Other federal charters were written in the subsequent years from 1291 to 1513.

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