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Charles Albert Gobat: Swiss Politician, Administrator and Philanthropist
Charles Albert Gobat was born in Tramelan, Switzerland as the son of a Protestant minister and the nephew of Samuel Gobat, a missionary who became the bishop of Jerusalem. He was a great student who attended the universities of Basel, Heidelberg, Bern, and Paris, earning his doctorate in law, summa cum laude, in 1867 from Heidelberg. Gobat devoted the next fifteen years of his life to the law. He began his profession in Bern while lecturing on French civil law at Bern University. He then built an office in Delémont, canton of Bern, which quickly became the district's top legal practice.
Yet, after 1882, he became increasingly involved in politics and education. He was named supervisor of public instruction for the canton of Bern that same year, a position he held for thirty years. He was a progressive in educational philosophy, reforming the primary education system, obtaining increased budgetary support to improve the teacher-pupil ratio, encouraging the study of living languages, and providing students with an alternative to the traditionally narrow classical education by establishing curricula in vocational and professional training.
His scholarship focused on history. He received accolades for his scholarly République de Berne et la France pendant les guerres de religion in 1891, as well as widespread recognition and enormous sales for his more widely conceived Histoire de la Suisse racontée au peuple (A People's History of Switzerland) in 1900. Meanwhile, he was pursuing a political career. In 1882, he was elected to the Grand Council of Bern, where he served as president of the cantonal government from 1886 to 1887. From 1884 to 1890, he was a member of Switzerland's Council of States, and from 1890 until his death, he was a member of Switzerland's National Council, the other house of the federal Swiss legislative body.
Gobat was a liberal, a moderate reformer in both politics and education. In 1902, he introduced key legislation that applied the notion of arbitration to commercial treaties. As a result, Switzerland decided to include a clause in all commercial treaties, such as customs agreements, requiring the parties to refer any disputes arising from the treaty's day-to-day operation to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Gobat found an appealing forum for his promotion of arbitration and peace with the Interparliamentary Union, which hosted its first major international conference in 1889. Founded mainly through the efforts of the English parliamentarian Cremer, a Nobel Peace Prizewinner in 1903, and the French Deputy Passy, a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, the Interparliamentary Union, brought together interested members of parliaments from all countries to discuss international issues and explore ways to improve collaboration among nations through parliamentary and democratic institutions.
Gobat presided over the Union's fourth conference in Bern in 1892. This conference formally formed the Interparliamentary Bureau and assigned its direction to Albert Gobat. As director of the Bureau, a position he held without pay for the next seventeen years, Gobat oversaw the details of organising the annual conferences, prepared the agenda, arranged for the publication of the proceedings (beginning in 1896), edited a monthly publication to which he frequently made personal contributions, and encouraged members to sponsor proposals to improve international relations within their own legislatures.
After the twelfth Interparliamentary Conference in St. Louis passed a resolution calling for a second Hague Peace Conference, Gobat was the Union's spokesman in requesting US President Theodore Roosevelt to appeal to all nations to join in such a conference. After Élie Ducommun, co-laureate for 1902, died in 1906, Gobat took over the International Peace Bureau, undertaking tasks for that office for the next eight years similar to those he had performed for the Interparliamentary Bureau. Considering his efforts and contributions, Gobat was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, along with Élie Ducommun, in 1902. On March 16, 1914, while attending a peace conference meeting in Bern, he rose to speak but fell, dying approximately an hour later.