John Adams: A Defense of the Constitutions of the United States, Letter 9

Liberty Letters, John Adams, 1786

Democratical Republics: CANTON OF URL [Switzerland]

My dear Sir,

THE canton of Uri, the place of the birth and residence of William Tell, shook off the yoke of Austria in 1308, and, with Switz and Underwald, laid the foundation of the perpetual alliance of the cantons, in 1315. The canton consists only of villages and little towns or bourgades, and the whole is divided into ten genossamen, or inferior communities. It has no city. Altdorf, where the general assembles are held, and the land amman and regency resides, is the principal village.

The land amman and the principal magistrates are elected in the general assembly, in which all the male persons of fifteen years of age have a right to a feat and a vote.

The senate or council of regency, in whom is vested the executive power, is composed of sixty members, taken equally from each genossamen, though they reside at the capital borough. From this council are taken all the necessary officers.

There are two other councils; one called the chamber of seven, and the other the chamber of fifteen, for the management of lesser affairs.

The valley of Urseren, three leagues in length and one in breadth, marches under the banners of Uri a but it is but an ally, connected by treaty in 1410. It has its proper land amman and council, and has also a bailiwick subject to it.

The village of Gersaw is a league in breadth and two in length: there are about a thousand inhabitants. This is the smallest republic in Europe: it has however its land amman, its council of regency, and its general assembly of burgesses, its courts of justice and militia, although it is said there is not a single horse in the whole empire. Such a diminutive republic, in an obscure corner, and unknown, is interesting to Americans, not only because every spot of earth on which civil liberty flourishes deserves their esteem, but upon this occasion is particularly important, as it shews the impossibility of erecting even the smallest government, among the poorest people, without different orders, councils, and balances.