1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Unterwalden
UNTERWALDEN, one of the cantons of central Switzerland, extends to the south of the lake of Lucerne, 14 sq. m. of which are included within the canton (13 being in Nidwalden). It is composed of two valleys, through which run two streams, both called Aa, and both flowing into the lake of Lucerne. The more westerly of these glens is called Obwalden, and the more easterly Nidwalden. These names really come from the 13th century expression for the inhabitants, homines intramontani (men dwelling in the mountains), whether of vallis superioris (of the upper valley) or vallis inferioris (of the lower valley). But in the 14th century the relative position of the two valleys is defined as “upper” and “lower” with reference to the great Kerns forest (stretching between Stans and Kerns), and hence is derived the historically inaccurate name of “Forest cantons,” now so well known. The total area of the canton is 295.4 sq. m. (Obwalden has 183.2 and Nidwalden 112.1, though it must be borne in mind that the upper portion of what should be the territory of Nidwalden is, as regards the Blacken Alp, in Uri, while the Engelberg region is in Obwalden). Of this area 238.2 sq. m. (154.1 in Obwalden and 84.1 in Nidwalden) are classed as “productive,” forests covering 73.8 sq. m. (47 in Obwalden and 26.8 in Nidwalden), while of the rest glaciers occupy 5.2 sq. m. (3.9 in Obwalden and 1.3 in Nidwalden), the highest point in the canton being the Titlis (10,627 ft.) situated in the Obwalden half. The small lakes of Sarnen and of Lungern are wholly situated in Obwalden. Obwalden, as including the Engelberg region, is far more mountainous than Nidwalden, which is rather hilly than mountainous. The inhabitants in both cases are mainly devoted to pastoral and, in a lesser degree, to agricultural pursuits. In Obwalden there are 290 “alps,” or mountain pastures, capable of supporting 13,399 cows, and of an estimated capital value of 5,474,400 fr.: the figures for Nidwalden are respectively 166, 5207 and 3,899, 900. In 1900 the total population of the canton was 28,330 (15,260 in Obwalden and 13,070 in Nidwalden), of whom all but the most insignificant proportion were German-speaking and Romanists. Till 1814 the canton was in the diocese of Constance, but since then it is practically administered by the bishop of Coire, though legally included in no diocese. The capital of Obwalden is Sarnen (q.v.), and of Nidwalden Stans (q.v.). The other most considerable villages are all in Obwalden—Kerns (2392 inhab.), Engelberg (1973 inhab.) and Lungern (1828 inhab.). The canton is traversed by the Brünig railway line from Hergiswil (in Nidwalden) to the top of the pass (20 m.), but most of the electric line from Stansstad to Engelberg (14 m.) is in Nidwalden. The mountain lines up Pilatus (Obwalden), the Stanserhorn, and to the Bürgenstock (both in Nidwalden) are also in the canton. Each half forms a single administrative district, and has its own independent local institutions, while in Obwalden there are 7 communes and in Nidwalden 11. In each the supreme legislative authority is the “Landsgemeinde,” or primitive democratic assembly (meeting in both cases on the last Sunday in April), composed of all male citizens of 20 (Obwalden) or 18 (Nidwalden) years of age. In both cases the Landsgemeinde elects the executive for three years (Nidwalden) or four years (Obwalden), while it is composed of 11 (Nidwalden) or 7 (Obwalden) members, out of whom the Landsgemeinde elects annually the chief officials. In each half there is also a sort of “standing committee” (the Landrath, Nidwalden, or Kantonsrath, Obwalden), which drafts measures to be submitted to the Landsgemeinde, supervises the cantonal administration, and is empowered to spend sums below a certain amount. In each case the Landrat is composed of the members of the executive, plus a certain number of members elected in each “commune,” in the proportion of 1 member to every 250 inhabitants, or fraction over 125 (so Nidwalden, which allows them to hold office for six years), or 1 member to every 200 inhabitants (Obwalden, which allows them to hold office for four years). These Landsgemeinden are of immemorial antiquity, while the other constitutional details are settled by the constitution of 1877 in Nidwalden, and by that of 1902 in Obwalden. In each half the single member of the Federal Ständerat is elected by the Landsgemeinde, while the single member enjoyed by each in the Federal Nationalrat is chosen by a popular vote, but not by the Landsgemeinde. The people of the canton have always been very pious and religious. In the church of Sachseln (near Sarnen) still lie the bones of the holy hermit, Nicholas von der Flue, fondly known as "Bruder Klaus" (1417–1487), while at Sarnen there are several convents, though the most famous of all the monasteries in the canton, the great Benedictine house of Engelberg (founded about 1120) is situated at the head of the Nidwalden valley, though politically in Obwalden. At the lower end of the Nidwalden valley is Stans, the home of the Winkelried family (q.v.).
It is very remarkable that in both valleys the old “common lands” are still in the hands of the old gilds, and “communes” consist of natives, not merely residents, though in Obwalden these contribute to the expenses of the new “political communes” of residents, while in Nidwalden the latter have to raise special taxes. In Engelberg (which still retains some independence) the poor are greatly favoured in the division of the common lands and their proceeds, and unmarried persons (or widowers and widows) receive only half of the share of those who are married.
Historically, both Obwalden (save a small bit in the Aargau) and Nidwalden were included in the Zürichgau. In both there were many great landowners (specially the abbey of Murbach and the Habsburgs) and few free men; while the fact that the Habsburgs were counts of the Aargau and the Zürichgau further delayed the development of political freedom. Both took part in the risings of 1245-47, and in 1247 Sarnen was threatened by the pope with excommunication for opposing its hereditary lord, the count of Habsburg. The alleged cruelties committed by the Habsburgs do not, however, appear in history till Justinger's Chronicle, 1420 (see Tell). On the 16th of April 1291, Rudolph the future emperor bought from Murbach all its estates in Unterwalden, and thus ruled this district as the chief landowner, as count and as emperor. On the 1st of August 1291 Nidwalden (Obwalden is not named in the text of the document, though it is named on the seal appended to it) formed the “Everlasting League” with Uri and Schwyz (this being the first known case in which its common seal is used). In 1304 the two valleys were joined together under the same local deputy of the count, and in 1309 Henry VII. confirmed to them all the liberties granted by his predecessor—though none is known to have been granted. However, this placed Unterwalden on an equal political footing with Uri and Schwyz; and as such it took part (1315) in Morgarten fight (also driving back an invasion over the Brünig Pass) and in the renewal of the Everlasting League at Brunnen (1315), as well as at Sempach (1386) and in driving back the Gugler or English freebooters (1375). For physical reasons, it was difficult for Unterwalden to enlarge its territories. Yet in 1368 it acquired Alpnach, and in 1378 Hergiswil. So too Obwalden snared with Uri in the conquest of the Val Leventina (1403) and in the purchase of Bellinzona (1419), as well as in the loss of both (1422). It was Nidwalden that, with Schwyz and Uri, finally won (1500) and ruled (till 1798) Bellinzona, the Riviera, and the Val Blernio; while both shared in conquests of the Aargau (1415), the Thurgau (1460), and Locarno, &c. (151 2), and in the temporary occupation of the Val d’ Ossola (1410–14, 1416–22, 1425–26, 1512–15). In the Burgundian war Unterwalden, like the other Forest cantons, long hung back through jealousy of Bern, but came to the rescue in time of need. In 1481 it was at Stans that the Confederates nearly broke up the League for various reasons, and it was only by the intervention then of the holy hermit Nicholas von der Flue (of Sachseln in Obwalden) that peace was restored, and the great Federal agreement known as the compact of Stans concluded. Like the other Forest cantons, Unterwalden clung to the old faith at the time of the Reformation, being a member of the “Christliche Vereinigung” (1529) and of the Golden League (1586).
In 1798 Unterwalden resisted the Helvetic republic, but, having formed part of the short-lived Tellgau, became a district of the huge canton of the Waldstatten. Obwalden submitted at an early date, but Nidwalden, refusing to accept the oath of fidelity to the constitution mainly on religious grounds, rose in desperate revolt (September 1798), and was only put down by the arrival of 16,000 armed men and by the storming of Stans. In 1803 its independence as a canton was restored, but in 181 5 Nidwalden refused to accept the new constitution, and Federal troops had to be employed to put down its resistance, the punishment inflicted being the transfer (181 6) to Obwalden of the jurisdiction over the abbey lands of Engelberg (since 1462 " protected " by the four Forest cantons), which in 1798 had fallen to the lot of Obwalden and had passed in 1803 to Nidwalden. Since that time the history of Unterwalden has been like that of the other Forest cantons. It was a member of the " League of Sarnen " (1832), to oppose the reforming wishes of other cantons, and of the " Sonderbund " (1845); it was defeated in the war of 1847; and it voted against the acceptance of the Federal constitution both in 1848 and in 1874.