Restauration 1815-1830 Belgium 1848-1870

Belgian War for Independence 1830-1831

Constitutionalism. Independent Belgium, 1830 - 1848

A.) Independence and Foreign Policy

The Belgian state existed since 1830, but it was not internationally recognized until 1839, in the TREATY OF LONDON. In 1831 Dutch troops invaded (10 days campaign); French troops entered the country to secure Belgian independence. International diplomacy set in, and both armies left the country (Treaty of 18 Articles, London 1831). In 1831/1839 the neighbouring powers (Britain, France, the Netherlands, Prussia) agreed to recognize Belgium, and imposed on its government political NEUTRALITY (strong francophone elements within Belgium had favoured alliance with or even annexation to France), a neutrality the foreign signatories guaranteed.
Now the border was fixed, two contested border regions - Limburg and Luxemburg, were partitioned, the western halves of both being annexed by Belgium. While the Dutch half of Limburg and the remaining Grand Duchy of Luxemburg were part of the German Confederation, the Belgian provinces of Limburg and Luxemburg were not.
In 1832, King Leopold I. married LOUISE-MARIE DE ORLEANS, daughter of French King Louis Philippe.

B.) Administration

In 1831 the Belgians elected Leopold von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha, a German prince, as their king. Belgium adopted the constitution of a constitutional monarchy where policy was decided by parliament. The state was centralized on the capital in Brussels.
Belgium was a liberal state, state and church were strictly separated. Belgium's parliament was dominated by two groups - the UNIONISTS and the LIBERALS, the liberal party formally being organized in 1846. Another group, the CATHOLICS, formed the opposition. The franchise is limited to those who qualify by paying a minimum tax. The bourgeoisie mostly spoke French, which was declared the language of administration and education. The Flemish population resented this treatment; many Flemish felt alienated by the Belgian state; a Flemish movement emerged in the 1840es.
King LEOPOLD I. (1831-1865) accepted the function of a constitutional monarch. The political factions, realizing the precarious situation of a nation only unwillingly recognized by some of her neighbours, for the first years cooperated (UNIONISM, cooperation of Catholics and Liberals). In 1848, when many countries in continental Europe saw revolutions that paralyzed the state administration and questioned the organization of the state, only a small group of political adventurers began a revolt at QUIVRAIN; surrounded by Belgian troops, they soon had to surrender. An electoral reform, which about doubled the franchise to inlude 90,000 voters, reduced tension. The statistical table shows limited irregular expenses for 1848 - as compared with other states of continental Europe - indicating it to have been a relatively quiet year.

In an anti-Dutch atmosphere, just after the secession, within the Flemish speaking community the question of developing a formal standardized Flemish language out of Belgium's various regional dialects, in order to replace the Dutch language, was discussed, but not adopted. The FLEMISH MOVEMENT was established (Manifesto of November 1847). The LIBERAL PARTY was founded in 1846, the reform of the electoral law (achieved in 1848) one of her major issues.

C.) Economy and Society

Belgium was the first country on the continent to be industrialized, the coal mines in the BORINAGE developed, a railway network established, steel produced in Charleroi. Canals were dug; Antwerp grew to one of the world's busiest ports. On the other hand, the separation of Belgium from the Netherlands negatively affected the industries of Gent (which lost part of their market) and Antwerp (the port of which lost part of her hinterland).
In the 19th century, Belgium was a modern state in regard to its political constitution, its administration and economy. Belgian banks were models to those in other countries.
Until 1840, Belgium, in most years successfully, attempted to manage with a balanced budget. From 1841 onward, investments in the infrastructure (railways etc.) and the massive social problem caused a mounting state debt.
The European continent's first steam-powered railway line was opened between Mechelen and Brussels in 1835; it was quickly expanded, and by 1843 Belgium had a railroad network. Most of Belgium's railroads were constructed by the Belgian State Railways - thus the lines were built with a standard gauge. The chaos of having numerous private lines of different gauge width other countries had to deal with, was avoided.
The potato became staple food for the mass of the poor workers; bread was a luxury, due to relatively high grain prices. A rubber industry was established in 1832.
From independence (1830) to 1863, Belgian economic policy was protectionist, with import tariffs regarded necessary to shield the domestic industry against foreign, i.e. primarily English, imports. In 1833 the French coin system (Franc) was introduced, in a treaty with France, low customs tariffs in mutual trade agreed upon (opening the French market for Belgium's industry, 1831) and even the establishment of a Franco-Belgian customs union contemplated, but not implemented. Belgium's railroad network caused the transit trade from Belgian ports to the German Zollverein to increase tenfold in the later 1840es.
The ongoing Industrial Revolution had a strong effect on Belgium. As the prices for yarn and for textiles decreased sharply (due to British machine-manufactured products), the textile industry of Flanders was in a severe crisis; wages paid to weavers etc. dropped dramatically. Regarding the developing social problem - a working class working 12 to 13 hours a day, utterly unprotected, with daily wages ranging between 0.80 fr in the flax textile industry and 2.58 fr in the glass industry, the government pursued the ostrich policy - hope the problem to solve itself. The existence of a railroad system exacerbated the consequences of the industrial revolution; the Belgian nonmechanical weaving industry vanished in the 1840es, some finding employment in the expanding industries, many joining the poor (unemployed). Belgian social thinker Ducpetiaux developed a scheme for an interventionist policy in which the government would accept social responsibility (1843). The years 1846 to 1850 were Hunger Years in Flanders; the problem of poverty only worsened. Many families were given (marginal) subsidies. Many Flemish families emigrated, mostly into the industrial centers of Wallonia, others overseas. In 1844, prior to the onset of the potato famine, the average life expectancy of the Belgian was 41 years (Quetelet 2005). In 1846 the Association por la liberte commerciale was established, promoting free trade. In reaction to the potato famine of 1846, import tariffs on grain were abolished.

D.) Intellectual Life

In 1832, JOSEPH PLATEAU (1801-1883) invented the Phenakistiscope, an early version of the STROBOSCOPE (without electricity). Totally blind since 1843, having lost his teaching position and being without a proper laboratory, he continued experimenting until the end of his life.
In 1838, HENDRIK CONSCIENCE (1812-1883), the most popular Flemish-language novelist of the 19th century, published De Leeuw van Vlaanderen (The Lion of Flanders). In 1846, ADOLPHE SAX (1814-1894) patented the SAXOPHONE.
In 1834 the CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF MECHELEN (Malines) was founded; in 1835 it was moved to LEUVEN (Louvain) where the state university, established there by King Willem I. in 1816, was abolished (or her institutions taken over by the Catholic University).

Belgium's Steel Network, Belgian railway history
Life in Flanders in the 18th and 19th Century, click : Poverty, Child Labor etc.
Bevolking sterft in stilte aan de 'Vlaamse ziekte', article from De Standaard 1996, in Dutch, on poverty, famine in Flanders in the 1840es, causes of emigration
From the creation of the Grenadiers until 1914, from History of the 2nd Belgian Grenadiers
Military Orders of Belgium, from Orders of the World
Belgium in 1848, from the Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions
De Geschiedenis van de Belgische Luciferproduktie, from Matchbox Label
Geschiedenis van de Belgische Marine, 1831-1835, 1835-1940
Links to Joseph Plateau from the Geometry Net
Nederlands en Belgisch Limburg, from Museum voor Vaderlandse Geschiedenis, in Dutch
De Universiteit van Leuven, 1816-1970, from Museum voor Vaderlandse Geschiedenis, in Dutch
Biography of Leopold I., from Museum voor Vaderlandse Geschiedenis, in Dutch
Belgian Electoral Law of 1848, from Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions
Belgium in 1848, from Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions
Flanders in 1848, from Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions
De Godsdienstige Gevoelens van Leopold I. (The Religious Sentiments of Leopold I.), by E.M. Braekman
De ¡®Armste stad van Belgie¡¯ tijdens de crisisjaren. Onderzoek naar de conjunctuurgevoeligheid van de diefstallen te Brugge (1841-1851). The 'Poorest City of Belgium' during the Years of Crisis. Examination of the cultural sensitivity on theft in Brugge 1841-1851), by Sijn de Meester, diss. Gent 2003, in Dutch
De kijk van de Belgische volksvertegenwoordigers op de 'Ellende der Vlaanders'. Analyse van de parlementaire debatten over de crisis in de vlasnijverheid 1840-1850. (The view of Belgian Parliamentarians of the Misery of Flanders. Analysis of the parlamentary debate on he crisis of the textile industry 1840-1850), by Jonas Raats, diss. Gent 2003, in Dutch
De moeilijke jaren 1840 in Oudenaarde. Sociaal-economisch en politiek beeld van een stad tussen 1840 - 1850. Een historisch onderzoek naar het verloop van de crisis van 1845 - 1849 binnen de sociaal-economische context van Oudenaarde en de behandeling van die crisis binnen de politieke context van Oudenaarde. (The difficult 1840es in Oudenaarde. A historical analysis of the crisis 1845-1849 in the socio-economic context of Oudenaarde ..) by Wouter Ronsyn, diss. Gent 2004, in Dutch
Urbanisme in Brussel 1830-1860, by Edwin Smellinckx, diss. Leuven 2001, in Dutch
Claire Quetelet, De evolutie van de levensverwachting in Belgie, 18de - 20ste eeuw (The Evolution of Life Expectancy in Belgium, from the 18th to the 20th century), thesis Univ. Gent 2005, in Dutch
DOCUMENTS Treaty of Nov. 15th 1831, on the Establishment of the Kingdom of Belgium, from France Diplomatie, photo of manuscript, not full text
Portraits of King Leopold I. : No.1; No.2; No.3 from Art Istocracy
Portraits of King Leopold II, No.1, from Art Istocracy
Convention Relative to Import Duties and Capitalization of Scheldt Dues: May 20, 1863(1) from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Neue Rheinische Zeitung, September 3rd 1848 : The Antwerp Death Sentences, from Marx/Engels Archive at Colorado State
Image of the Phenakistoscope, from
Alzamiento Belga 1830-1831, from Uniformes Militares del Mundo 1740-1914, in Spanish
Belgian Constitution of 1831, from, in German
Verordeningen der Maetschappy van den Balboog, ingerigt den 14 Augusty 1842, posted by Dirk de Wolf
Robert Peel, Belgium and Payments to Russia, Speech 1832, from Wikisource
REFERENCE W. Harold Claflin (ed.), The History of Nations : Holland and Belgium, N.Y.: Collier (1907) 1916
Floris Prims, De Sociaal-Economische Geschiedenis van Belgie (The Socio-Economic History of Belgium), (1926) Gent 2002

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on June 5th 2008

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