IT IS a generally admitted fact that Switzerland, because of its central geographical situation, the character of its political institutions, the nature and composition of its people, has come to exercise upon the destinies of Europe an influence which is very great in comparison with its size and population.
The Swiss Confederation was founded at the end of the thirteenth century by the union of the three valleys lying at the foot of the St. Gotthard pass: Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden. That these peasant valleys were able to join together and survive was largely due to the growing importance assumed at that time by the traffic over the St. Gotthard pass. The pass had just been opened and was of great political importance for the communication of the Emperors between Germany and Rome; it is on this account that the Swiss valleys enjoyed the protection of the Empire and were able to survive in spite of the powerful and growing hostility of the Hapsburgs. During the fourteenth century Switzerland, in the heart of Europe, was the center of all the struggles for liberty against the dominion of the Austrian dukes. And later, when the Imperial throne was occupied by the Hapsburg family, all the enemies of the Empire turned to Switzerland for leadership.
On this account, and because of the development of infantry into the most powerful instrument of war, the Swiss, who were a fine type of infantrymen, became one of the greatest military and political forces in Europe. It must be remembered that the Continent was divided into fragments by feudalism and that no monarchical state had achieved its territorial unity. Under these circumstances, during the whole of the fifteenth century Switzerland was the most stable political element in Europe. This is seldom realized nowadays because of the preponderance given in histories to the development of the Great Powers. It is, however, an established fact. Their military power led the Swiss to play an important rôle in
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