Archive for March 9th, 2012

1784: Anton Joseph Suter, Appenzell politician

Add comment March 9th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1784, 64-year-old former Landammann of Appenzell,** was beheaded in a nasty bout of local politics.

The amiable and fair-minded Suter (wee German bio), a tavernkeeper, won election to his position at the head of a popular party — in the process defeating a local aristocrat who expected the gig as his birthright and nursed a terrible grudge against Suter for the defeat.


The cantonal form of direct democracy by which Suter was elected, the Landsgemeinde, is still practiced in Appenzell. This (cc) image from Götz A. Primke shows the 2009 assembly in Appenzell, at which crotchety, longsword-bearing residents voted a ban on nude hiking.

This aggrieved aristocrat, Geiger by name, had to bide his time all through the 1760s and into the 1770s, until the political stars aligned against Suter.

It seems a neighboring town had been able to take possession of a lush alpine slope in Appenzell’s environs by dint of an unpaid mortgage, a terrible wound to Appenzell’s pride and no small inconvenience to its residents.

Suter pushed an attempt to force repurchase of this land in a suit at the Swiss Diet, a sort of United Nations of otherwise-autonomous Swiss cantons. But he lost the suit, and the Diet demanded that Appenzell cough up the court costs as well.

Accustomed as we are today to the suits and countersuits that constitute the very cogs of late capitalism, it’s a little hard to understand how the trifling matter of a court fee could suffice to topple a government — but it did. Geiger’s people prevailed upon the canton’s executive council to drop the suit (Suter pursued it on his own), and now persuaded it to drop Suter.

Well, persuaded. It’s more like, it did several days frantic retail politicking from the pulpits and in the streets, then showed up when the council met to shout down Suter and drag him out by force, not neglecting to disenfranchise Suter’s many supporters who fought them on the point. As Suter fled into exile, Appenzell pronounced him a rebel on the strength of some super-secret documents.

That really could have been that, but Suter’s foes were so intent on his head that they contrived a ruse to lure him back into the canton’s territory on the pretext of a secret meeting with his daughter — then arrested him, tortured him with thumbscrews and the rack, and finally sentenced him to death.

On the day appointed the scaffold was closely surrounded by troops. Suter, maimed and pale, was assisted to his place. Standing there a moment he addressed the people, declaring himself robbed and murdered by his country. He then knelt down and in clear tones thrice pronounced the Ave Maria. With the last word of the last repetition of the prayer the sword descended and his head fell …

The sight of the blood of the ex-Landamman filled the people with rage. They had looked for a reprieve to the very last; and now that all hope was gone, they fell upon such of the victim’s enemies as were to be found lingering in the streets and fought and struggled with them in their desperation … The enemies of Suter were found to form no exception to the rule that retribution pursues the murderer. No sooner was the ex-Landamman in his grave than the Furies took up their task … Geiger, who formerly had gone about demanding Suter’s life, now — a pitiable victim to remorse — went about acknowledging that for seven long years he had pursued him without a cause. It is related concerning the member of the Blood Court that they all ever afterwards were harassed by terrors of conscience, one to such an extent that he even became insane. The guilt of Suter’s murder settled upon Inner-Rhoden irretrievably … like the very brand of Cain. Time went by and changes occurred, but that remained. Finally in 1829, forty-five years after the execution, the Great Council met and, with a solemnity befitting he occasion, unanimously revrsed the findings of the court by which Suer had been banished, as also of that by which he had been sent to the block.

Another summary of Suter’s career and sad end can be found here.

* Thanks to the same public-domain source, we’ve visited Appenzell before.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Politicians,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Public Executions,Switzerland,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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