The Amnestie-Plakat (Proclamation of Amnesty) was issued by the government of Bern (Switzerland) on 11 February 1711, offering the Swiss Brethren "free departure from our lands as well as the complete. withdrawal of their goods." The term "amnesty" implies the forgetting and forgiving of guilt, a complete remission of penalty on the part of the state. The nearly two centuries old struggle of the Bernese government with the Swiss Brethren thereby entered its last stage. Not in any previous mandate had free withdrawal been granted. The opening sentences, to be sure, indicated that the government was reluctant to issue this amnesty. This long "present proclamation" began thus:
We, the mayor, councilors and citizens of the city of Bern, do herewith announce to all: Since we by our wholesome regulations and orders issued from time to time from our paternal care of the canton, have always applied all earnestness and have done our utmost by means of both gentle kindness and also in real application of . . . punishment, to rid our lands and cantons of the so-called sect of the Anabaptists and to cleanse them of these, nevertheless unhappy experience testifies that all the kind and severe means applied . . . against the so-called Anabaptists found from time to time in our land have profited nothing, but that their number has rather increased than decreased.
The government therefore considered it wise to permit "free exit" since they refused to render the oath of allegiance, indeed they "refused to take up arms in case of emergency to defend and protect the dear fatherland." The next question was then: Whither? They noted that there was not yet any country where these people could live freely according to their consciences. The first country considered was the Netherlands. It was therefore decided:
- It should be permitted the emigrating Anabaptists to go to Prussia, "in order there to be able to exercise their freedom of conscience the better." Yet Bern would not permit them to stay in Neuchâtel, which had been a Prussian domain since 1707.
- All Anabaptist persons who had hitherto remained in concealment, those who had been banished by the government, as well as the preachers were not to be included in this "freedom of withdrawal."
- "We have found it wise that the Anabaptists now in the custody of the state" should be released with security, but should neither hold nor attend meetings in the meantime. All those who could not make use of this amnesty should have the privilege of having other members of their families receive their property.
- The time of departure had been determined in consultation with Runkel, the Dutch ambassador in Bern, and set for the end of June. By that time each family should have its affairs in order. Each family should make an exact report of its means and property, on penalty of confiscation.
- The government was not responsible for the traveling expenses; it was enough that in leaving "they were graciously permitted" to take their possessions. Reformed spouses of Anabaptists should likewise have the privilege of free withdrawal.
- In case of mixed marriages, where not all the children belonged to the Anabaptist sect, the Reformed members of the family should also be permitted to leave, but would thereby lose their citizenship.
In conclusion it was remarked that these measures were necessary for the security of the country. For each Anabaptist who returned to Bern, the sponsors would be obliged to pay 50 doubloons for a preacher, and 10 for an ordinary layman to the Täuferkammer. The Anabaptists who had been expelled should now be more closely watched. Anabaptists and all others who now left the country were no longer to be regarded as citizens. In case "contrary to our better expectations some of these persons belonging to this Anabaptist sect should reject our merciful grace and be so bold as to return to our land," they should be considered as seducers of the people and be punished accordingly. All officials were ordered with all seriousness to read this proclamation aloud from all the pulpit and to post it in public places.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 99. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Geiser, Samuel. "Amnestie-Plakat (1711)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1955. Web. 19 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A467.html.
APA style: Geiser, Samuel. (1955). Amnestie-Plakat (1711). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A467.html.