John Adams: A Defense of the Constitutions of the United States, Letter 6

Liberty Letters, John Adams, 1786

Democratical Republics: UNDERWALD

My dear Sir,

THE canton of Underwald consists only of villages and boroughs, although it is twenty-five miles in length, and seventeen in breadth. These dimensions, it seems, were too extensive to be governed by a legislation so imperfectly combined, and nature has taught and compelled them to separate into two divisions, the one above, and the other below, a certain large forest of oaks, which runs nearly in the middle of the country, from north to south. The inferior valley, below the forest, contains four communities; and the superior, above it, six. The principal or capital is Sarnen. The sovereign is the whole country, the sovereignty residing in the general assembly, where all the males of fifteen have entry and suffrage; but each valley apart has, with respect to its interior concerns, its land amman, its officers of administration, and its public assembly, composed of fifty-eight senators, taken from the communities. As to affairs without, there is a general council, formed of all the officers of administration, and of fifty-eight senators chosen in the said councils of the two valleys. Besides this, there are, for justice and police, the chamber of seven, and the chamber of fifteen, for the upper valley, and the chamber of eleven for the lower.

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Here again are arrangements more complicated, and aristocratical preferences more decided, in order to counterpoise the democratical assembly, than any to be found in America, and the land amman is as great a man in proportion as an American governor. Is this a simple democracy? Has this little clan of graziers been able to collect all authority into one center? Are there not three assemblies here to moderate and balance each other? and are not the executive and judicial powers separated from the legislative? Is it not a mixed government, as much as any in America? although its constitution is not by any means so well digested as ten at least of those of the United States; and although it would never be found capable of holding together a great nation.

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