The 26 cantons of Switzerland are the states of the federal state of Switzerland. Each canton was a fully sovereign state with its own borders, army and currency until the establishment of the Swiss federal state in 1848. The most recently created canton is the Canton of Jura, which separated from the Canton of Berne in 1979.
In the 16th century, the Old Swiss Confederation was composed of thirteen sovereign cantons, and there were two different kinds: six land (or forest) cantons and seven city (or urban) cantons. Though they were technically part of the Holy Roman Empire, they had become de facto independent when the Swiss defeated Emperor Maximillian in 1499. The six forest cantons were democratic republics, whereas the seven urban cantons were oligarchic republics controlled by noble families.
Each canton has its own constitution, legislature, government and courts. Most of the cantons' legislatures are unicameral parliaments, their size varying between fifty-eight and two hundred seats. A few legislatures are general assemblies known as Landsgemeinden. The cantonal governments consist of either five or seven members, depending on the canton. For the names of the institutions, see List of legislative and executive councils of the Cantons of Switzerland.
The Swiss Federal Constitution declares the cantons to be sovereign to the extent their sovereignty is not limited by federal law. The cantons also retain all powers and competencies not delegated to the Confederation by the Constitution. Most significantly, the cantons are responsible for healthcare, welfare, law enforcement and public education; they also retain the power of taxation. The cantonal constitutions determine the degree of autonomy accorded to the municipalities, which varies but almost always includes the power to levy taxes and pass municipal laws. The sizes of the cantons vary from 37 km² to 7,105 km²; the populations vary from 14,900 to 1,244,400.
As on the federal level, all cantons provide for direct democracy. Citizens may demand a popular vote to amend the cantonal constitution or laws, or to veto laws or spending bills passed by the parliament. General popular assemblies (Landsgemeinde) are now limited to the cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Glarus. In all other cantons democratic rights are exercised by secret ballot.
|Flag||Abbr||Canton||Since||Capital||Population¹||Area²||Density³||№ munic.¹||Official languages|
|BS||Basel-Stadt (Basel-City)||1501 (part of Basel until 1833)||Basel||186,700||37||5,072||3||German|
|BL||Basel-Landschaft (Basel-Country)||1501 (part of Basel until 1833)||Liestal||261,400||518||502||86||German|
|AR||Appenzell Ausserrhoden (Outer Rhodes)||1513 (part of Appenzell until 1597)||Herisau / Trogen4||53,200||243||220||20||German|
|AI||Appenzell Innerrhoden (Inner Rhodes)||1513 (part of Appenzell until 1597)||Appenzell||15,000||173||87||6||German|
|SG||St. Gallen (St. Gall)||1803||St. Gallen||452,600||2,026||222||90||German|
|GR||Graubünden (Grisons)||1803||Chur||185,700||7,105||26||211||German, Romansh, Italian|
|TG||Thurgau (Thurgovia)||1803||Frauenfeld / Weinfelden5||228,200||991||229||80||German|
|JU||Jura||1979 (previously part of Bern)||Delémont||69,100||838||82||83||French|
|CH||Switzerland||Bern||7,261,200||41,285||174||2,890||German, French, Italian, Romansh|
The two-letter abbreviations for Swiss cantons are widely used, e.g. on car license plates and in the ISO 3166-2 codes (with the prefix "CH-", i.e. CH-SZ for the canton of Schwyz).
Six cantons – Obwalden, Nidwalden, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Basel-City and Basel-Country – have traditionally been called "half-cantons" or "demicantons". This term is now deprecated by constitutional scholars, as the 1999 constitution lists 26 equal cantons. The appellation "cantons with half a cantonal vote" has recently come in use in official and legal texts.
The region of Unterwalden has, in the historical record, always been divided into the half-cantons of Obwalden and Nidwalden. The other four half-cantons have resulted from the division of a preexisting canton: The canton of Appenzell split into the half-cantons of Innerrhoden and Ausserrhoden in 1597 as a result of the Reformation. The canton of Basel was divided into the half-cantons of Basel-City and Basel-Country after a revolt of the Basel countryside in 1833.
The six half-cantons have the same institutional structure as well as the same rights and obligations as all the other cantons, with two exceptions. For one thing, they elect only one member of the Council of States instead of two. Also, in popular referendums that require not only a national popular majority but also the assent of a majority of the cantons (Ständemehr / majorité des cantons), such as constitutional amendments, the result of their cantonal vote counts half as much as that of other cantons. This means that a majority of the cantons is actually the majority of twenty-three cantonal votes.
|AG||Aargau (rare: Argovia)||Argovie||Argovia||Argovia|
|AI||Appenzell Innerrhoden (Appenzell Inner-Rhodes)||Appenzell Rhodes-Intérieures||Appenzello Interno||Appenzell dadens|
|AR||Appenzell Ausserrhoden (Appenzell Outer-Rhodes)||Appenzell Rhodes-Extérieures||Appenzello Esterno||Appenzell dador|
|BS||Basel-City or Basle-City||Bâle-Ville||Basilea-Città||Basilea-Citad|
|BL||Basel-Country, Basle-Country, or Basel-Land||Bâle-Campagne||Basilea-Campagna||Basilea-Champagna|
|SZ||Schwyz||Schwyz (or Schwytz)||Svitto||Sviz|
|SG||St. Gallen (St. Gall)||Saint-Gall||San Gallo||Son Gagl|