Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1920

League of Nations recognizes perpetual Swiss neutrality

The League of Nations, the international organization formed at the peace conference at Versailles in the wake of World War I, recognizes the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland on this day in 1920.

Switzerland was a loose confederation of German-, French-, and Italian-speaking communities until 1798, when the French, under Napoleon Bonaparte, conquered and unified the country as the Helvetic Republic and imposed a constitution, which was enforced by French occupation troops. Bitterly resented by the Swiss people, the French occupation ended in 1803, when Napoleon agreed to a new Swiss-approved constitution and withdrew his troops. The Congress of Vienna in 1815, which would determine Europe’s borders until the outbreak of World War I nearly a century later, recognized the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland.

The Swiss considered preserving this neutrality essential to Switzerland’s economic and political development. A new constitution, adopted in 1848, reinforced the neutrality principle by outlawing Swiss service in foreign armies or the acceptance of pensions from foreign governments. Neither the unification of Italy in 1861 nor the birth of the German empire in 1871 shook the loyalty of the nation’s Italian or German population to Switzerland. With industrialization, fueled largely by hydroelectric power, and the construction of an efficient railroad network, Switzerland’s economy continued to grow, spawning a thriving tourism industry by the end of the 19th century.

Though Switzerland maintained its neutrality during World War I, with German, French and Italian Swiss standing firm to preserve their country’s solidarity, a costly military mobilization to protect the Swiss borders diverted most of the working population to war-related work and brought economic hardship. After the war ended, membership in the League of Nations—the international organization established at the Versailles peace conference—was narrowly approved by Swiss voters after a federal council opposed it. In February 1920, the League voted to recognize the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland. The League also established its headquarters in the Swiss city of Geneva, a tribute to the country’s neutrality as well as its relative economic and political stability, which has continued to the present day.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

First Medal of Honor action

The earliest military action to be revered with a Medal of Honor award is performed by Colonel Bernard J.D. Irwin, an assistant army surgeon serving in the first major U.S.-Apache conflict. Near Apache Pass, in southeastern Arizona, Irwin, an Irish-born doctor, volunteered to go ...read more

Johnson approves Operation Rolling Thunder

President Lyndon B. Johnson decides to undertake the sustained bombing of North Vietnam that he and his advisers have been contemplating for a year. Called Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign was designed to interdict North Vietnamese transportation routes in the ...read more

ASCAP is founded

“If music did not pay, it would be given up.” So wrote Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1917. Holmes wasn’t referring to musicians themselves in that statement, but to places of business in which copyrighted musical works could be heard, ...read more

Serial killer strikes in Colorado

A 21-year-old woman named Mary accepts a ride from a man in the ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado, and is raped and severely beaten with a claw hammer. The attacker, Tom Luther, was traced through his truck and apprehended. Luther told a psychiatrist thatMary reminded him of his ...read more

Chernenko becomes general secretary

Following the death of Yuri Andropov four days earlier, Konstantin Chernenko takes over as the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, the ruling position in the Soviet Union. Chernenko was the last of the Russian communist “hard-liners” prior to the ascension to power ...read more

Firebombing of Dresden

On the evening of February 13, 1945, a series of Allied firebombing raids begins against the German city of Dresden, reducing the “Florence of the Elbe” to rubble and flames, and killing as many as 135,000 people. It was the single most destructive bombing of the war—including ...read more