Emil Frey

For the Swiss composer, see Emil Frey (composer).

Emil Johann Rudolf Frey (24 October 1838 – 24 December 1922) was a Swiss politician, soldier in the American Civil War and member of the Swiss Federal Council (18901897).

Early life

Frey was born in Arlesheim, Switzerland, as the son of Emil Remigius Frey. His father was a liberal separatist politician.

Frey's family provided refuge for Friedrich Hecker when he fled the repression following the revolution in Germany in 1848. Frey later emigrated to the USA arriving in Belleville, Illinois an area with many Forty-Eighters, veterans of the 1848 revolutions in Europe. For a while he worked for Hecker, but they had a falling out.[1]

Career during the American Civil War

Frey in the Union Army

Frey entered the unionist 24th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment as a private. Frey wrote in his essay "My American Experiences" that "on 17th of June [1861] I enlisted in the 24th at Chicago. On that same day I was appointed by Colonel Hecker to be the colorbearer of the regiment, and in the evening we left Chicago for Alton, Ill." Hecker was his commander, and they became friends again, with Frey sharing a tent with Hecker's son. Frey was later promoted to First lieutenant but resigned on 17 June 1862. He began raising a company for the Second Hecker Regiment (The 82nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment) and became the company's captain. Captain Frey was taken prisoner at the battle of Gettysburg on 1 July 1863 and held in Libby Prison for eighteen months before being exchanged for Captain Gordon, a Confederate prisoner under sentence of death.[2]

Swiss politician

After the Civil War, Frey returned to Switzerland. From 1866 to 1872, he was a member of the cantonal government of Basel-Country. In 1870, he married Emma Kloss (born 1848) from Liestal, with whom he had five children: Hans (1871–1913), Emil (1872–1913), Carl (1873–1934), Anna (1874–1893) and Helene (1876–1944). In 1877 Emma died from pulmonary tuberculosis, aged just 28 years.

In 1872, Frey was elected to the Swiss National Council, council he presided in 1875/1876.

From 1882 to 1888, Frey was the first ambassador (Minister) of Switzerland to the United States in Washington.

He was elected to the Federal Council of Switzerland on 11 December 1890 and handed over office on 31 March 1897. He was affiliated to the Free Democratic Party. During his office time he held the Military Department.

He was President of the Confederation in 1894.

From 1897 to 1921, Frey was director of the International Telegraph Union.[3]

Literary works


  1. II Formation and Enlistment by Ray W. Burhop, accessed December 10, 2007
  2. 'Receiving the Swiss Minister: Col. Frey receiving the congratulations of his countrymen' New York Times, November 20, 1882; Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois, Civil War, vols. 2 and 5.
  3. ITU: ITU's Former Secretaries-General
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Preceded by
Jakob Stämpfli
President of the Swiss National Council
Succeeded by
Arnold Otto Aepli
Preceded by
Bernhard Hammer
Member of the Swiss Federal Council
Succeeded by
Ernst Brenner
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