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URI

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Originally appearing in Volume V27, Page 796 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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URI, one of the cantons of central Switzerland, and one of the earliest members of the confederation. The name is probably connected with the same obscure root as Reuss and Ursern, and is popularly derived from Urochs or Auerochs (wild bull), a bull's head having been borne for ages as the arms of the region. The total area of the canton is 415.3 sq. m., of which 184.3 are reckoned as " productive " (forests covering 43.9 sq. m.), while of the rest 44.3 are occupied by glaciers and 71 sq. m. by the cantonal share of the Lake of Lucerne. The highest summit in the canton is the Dammastock (11,920 ft.). The canton is composed of the upper valley of the Reuss, a mountain torrent that has cut for itself a deep bed, save in case of the basin of Ursern, near its upper end, and the plain of Altdorf, just before it forms the Lake of Lucerne. Hence, save in these two cases, the canton is made up of a wild Alpine valley, very picturesque in point of scenery, but not offering much chance of cultivation. Through nearly the whole of this savage glen runs the main line of the St Gotthard railway (opened in 1882), the part (281 m.) in the canton being that between Sisikon, on the Lake of Lucerne, and Goschenen, at the northern mouth of the great tunnel (91 m.) through the Alps, and at the lower end of the wild SchBllenen gorge that cuts it off from the basin of Ursern. The most remarkable engineering feats are near Wassen. There is also an electric tramway from Altdorf to its port, Flifelen. On the other hand, several magnificent carriage roads are within the borders of the canton, leading to or over the mountain passes that give access either to Glarus (the Klausen Pass, 6404 ft.), or to Ticino (St Gotthard Pass, 6936 ft.), or to the Grisons (Oberalp Pass, 6719 ft.), or to the Valais (Furka Pass, 7992 ft.). Owing to the physical conformation of the canton, it was difficult for it to extend its rule save towards the south (see below), but since very early days it has held the splendid pastures of the Urnerboden, on the other slope of the Klausen Pass, as well as the Blacken Alp, at the head of the Engelberg valley, though the northernmost slope of the St Gotthard Pass still belongs to Ticino. In 1900 the population of the canton was only 19,700, of whom 18,685 were German-speaking, 947 Italian-speaking (this number varied much during the construction of the St Gotthard railway, mainly by Italian navvies), and 24 French-speaking, while 18,924 were Romanists, 793 Protestants, and z a Jew. The capital is Altdorf (q.v.), indissolubly connected with the legend of William Tell (q.v.). The only other important villages are Erstfeld (2416 inhab.), a great railway centre, where the mountain engines are put on, and Silenen (1892 inhab.). The population is all but exclusively pastoral, natural causes limiting much effort in the way of agriculture, save near Altdorf. In the canton there are 102 " alps " or mountain pastures, capable of supporting 10,354 cows, and of an estimated capital value of 5,771,000 fr. Till 1814 Uri formed part of the diocese of Constance (save Ursern, which has always been in that of Coire), while since that date it is administered by the bishop of Coire, though legally in no diocese. The inhabitants are very industrious and saving, though not rich in worldly goods, as their land is so barren. They are extremely conservative, and passionately attached to their religion. Wooden sandals are still commonly worn in the Alpine glens. Of recent years the canton has been much visited by travellers, who have brought much money into it. It forms a single administptive district, which comprises twenty communes. The legislature of the canton is the time-honoured primitive democratic assembly, called the Landsgemeinde, composed of all male citizens of 20 years of age, and meeting once annually near Altdorf on the first Sunday in May. It has retained many curious antique ceremonies and customs. It elects the single member of the Federal Standerat, as well as the cantonal executive of seven members (holding office for four years), two of whom are the highest officials, the Landammann and his deputy. There is also a sort of standing committee, called the Landrat, which is charged with the administration and minor legislative matters. It is composed of members elected for four years by a popular vote in the pro-portion of one to every 400 (or fraction over 200) inhabitants, though each commune, even if not attaining this standard of population, is entitled to a member. The single member of the Federal Nationalrat is elected by a popular vote. The constitutional details, apart from the Landsgemeinde, are settled by the cantonal constitution of 1888 (since revised slightly). Uri is first mentioned in 732 as the place of banishment of Eto, the abbot of Reichenau, by the duke of Alamannia. In 853 it was given by Louis the German to the nunnery (Frauenmunster) at Zurich which he had just founded, and of which his daughter, Hildegard, was the first abbess. Hence the "abbey folk" in Uri enjoyed, as such, the privilege of exemption from all jurisdictions save that of the king's Vogt or " steward of the manor " at Zurich, this Vogtei being cut off from the country of the Zurichgau. The rule of the abbess was mild, so that the other inhabitants of Uri either became her. tenants or obtained similar privileges. Little by little the gathering together of all the inhabitants for the purpose of regulating the customary cultivation of the land created a corporate feeling and led to a sort of local government. On the extinction of the Zaringen dynasty (1218), the Vogtei reverted to the king, who gave it to the Habsburgs. But in 1231 King Henry bought Uri from them, and thus it became again immediately dependent on the king, the purchase being perhaps due to the rising importance of the route over the St Gotthard Pass (first distinctly mentioned in 1236). As early as 1243 Uri had a common seal, and in the confirmation of its privileges (1274) granted by Rudolf of Habsburg mention is made of its " head-man " (Amman) and of the " commune " (universitas). Uri therefore was quite ready to take part, with Schwyz and Unterwalden, in founding the " Everlasting League " (germ of the later Swiss confederation) on the 1st of August 1291, defending its liberty in the fight of Morgarten(1315) and renewing the League of the Three at Brunnen (2315). Later it took part in the victory of Sempach (1386). In 1403, with the help of Obwalden, it won the Val Leventina from the duke of Milan, but it was lost in 1422, though in 1440 Uri alone reconquered it and kept it (winning the bloody fight of Giornico in 1478) till 1798. In 1419, with Obwalden, Uri bought Bellinzona, but lost it at the battle of Arbedo (1422), though, with Schwyz and Nidwalden, it won it back in 1500, keeping it also till 1798. In 1512 Uri shared in the conquest of Lugano, &c., by the Confederates, her natural position forcing her to extend her rule towards the south, though many attempts on and temporary occupations of the Val d'Ossola (1410-1515) ultimately failed. In 1410 a perpetual alliance was made with the valley of Ursern or Val Orsera, the latter being allowed its own head-man and assembly, and courts under those of Uri, with which it was not fully incorporated till 1888. Ursern originally belonged to the great Benedictine monastery of Disentis, at the head of the Vorder Rhine valley, and was most probably colonized in the 13th century by a German-speaking folk from the Upper Valais. At the Reformation Uri clung to the old faith, becoming a member of the " Christliche Vereinigung " (1529) and of the Golden League (1586). In 1798, on the formation of the Helvetic republic, Uri be-came part of the huge canton of the Waldstatten and lost all its Italian possessions. In September 1799 Suworoff and the Russian army, having crossed the St Gotthard to Altdorf, were forced by the French to pass by the Kinzigkulm Pass into Schwyz, instead of sailing down the lake to Lucerne. In 1803 Uri became an independent canton again, with Ursern, but without the Val Leventina. It tried hard to bring back the old state of things in 1814-15, and opposed all attempts at reform, joining the League of Sarnen in 1832 to maintain the pact of 1815, opposing the proposed revision of the pact, and being one of the members of the Sonderbund in 1845. Despite defeat in the civil war of 1847, Uri voted against the Federal constitution of 1848, and by a crushing majority against that of 1874.
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