Helvetic Republic hĕlvē´tĭk [key], 1798–1803, Swiss state established under French auspices. In Sept., 1797, several exiled Swiss leaders in France (notably Frédéric César de La Harpe) formally urged the French Revolutionary government (the Directory) to help in liberating the subject districts of Switzerland and in overthrowing the aristocratic cantonal governments. The Directory, eager to secure the Alpine passes as well as the treasury of Bern, ordered the invasion of Switzerland (Jan., 1798); resistance was brief. A unified state, the Helvetic Republic, was set up. Lack of funds and constant French political and military intervention proved troublesome; finally, the French Revolutionary Wars shifted (1799) into Switzerland. An Austrian army defeated the French at Zürich (June), but Austro-Russian discord led to the victory (Sept.), again at Zürich, of André Masséna over a Russian army under General Korsakov. General Suvorov, who arrived from Italy to aid Korsakov, was obliged to retreat to Lindau in Germany. The survival of the Helvetic Republic until 1803 was largely due to the presence of French troops, since the Swiss were hostile to centralization. In Feb., 1803, Napoleon, imposing the Act of Mediation, established a confederation of 19 cantons, with a federal diet subservient to France.
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