1830-1848 1870-1887

Constitutionalism. The Northern Netherlands, 1848-1870

The New Constitution : King William II (1840-1849), fearing revolution, in 1848 called a liberal cabinet under Donker Curtius; the politician most influential in shaping the new constutution was J.R. Thorbecke. The 3rd constitution since 1813, introduced Parliamentary Rule (Responsibility) and the Cabinet System. Deputies of the Second Chamber of the Staten-Generaal (Estates General were elected in Direct Election, for a period of 4 years; every two years an election would be held in which half of the members were elected. Deputies of the First Chamber were appointed by the provinces, for a period of 9 years. The portfolio ministers were responsible to the Staten Generaal.

Domestic Policy : Parliament and King William III. had to adjust to the new constitution. Political parties did not exist yet; there were factions of conservatives, liberals, Protestants and Catholics (until 1864); parliamentary traditions had yet to be established; the king repeatedly attempted to interfere in politics.
In 1853 a new church law permits the reestablishment of the Catholic church hierarchy; the Archdiocesis of Utrecht was founded, with suffragan dioceses at Haarlem, Den Bosch, Breda and Roermond. Catholics (the majority in the southern provinces) participated in politics until the pope in 1864 published the encyclica Syllabus Errorum, which condemned the liberal state. Laws were passed granting the right of peaceful assembly; a judicial reform was enacted. In 1860 an institution to train women as school teachers was opened. In 1868 the Dutch Catholic bishops expressed the need for separate Catholic schools, beginning the debate over the School Issue which was to dominate Dutch politics in the later 19th century.

Foreign Policy : In 1866, Luxemburg and Limburg (members since 1839) left the German Confederation. During the Seven Weeks War between Austria and Prussia (1866), the Netherlands remained neutral. In 1867 the future of Luxemburg was debated (tied in Dynastic Union, under the House of Orange, with the Netherlands); Emperor Napoleon III. of France offered to buy it. When the Franco-German War broke out in 1870, the Netherlands again pursued a policy of neutrality. Upon completion of Italian Unification (in 1870), the Netherlands withdrew her embassy from the Papal State.

The Economy : Economically, the Northern Netherlands entered the industrial era much later than Belgium. One reason was that the North, with it's system of rivers and canals, had an excellent transportation network before the railway was invented. On the other hand, the country has few mineral sources, only a small stretch of a coal mining area in southern Limburg, and no iron. The Netherlands traditionally was a trading nation, not a producing nation.
The Netherlands saw a modernization and expansion of her merchant fleet; protectionist obstacles such as the English Navigation Act finally disappeared (1849), opening markets for Dutch shipping; new steamships lead to an acceleration and expansion of transoceanic trade. Only in 1863, Slavery was abolished in the Dutch colonies. The Postal Service was reorganized; in 1852 the Netherlands issued its first postage stamps. Only in the 1860es did the government adopt the policy of extending the railroad network (the first Dutch railroad, with private money, having been constructed in 1839-1845).

Dutch Government Revenue and Expenditure, 1845-1870
Source : B.R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics 1750-1988, pp.796, 798, 808 and 812
statistical data are available from 1845 onward; figures in Dutch Guilders







Article Willem III., Johan Rudolf Thorbecke, Schoolstrijd (school issue), Geschiedenis van Nederland : Hervormingen na 1848, from Wikipedia Dutch Edition
Development of Parliamentary Democracy, from the Holland Page (scroll down to find the chapter)
The Dutch Railway, Stoom in Nederland, Dutch Railway History
De belangrijkste gebeurtenissen uit de periode 1850 - 1899, from geschiedenis.com, detailed chronological list, in Dutch
Short History of Dutch Catholicism : Revival, 1795-1890, from Katholieke Documentatie Centrum at Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen
Biography Jan Rudolf Thorbecke, from Multatuli Encyclopedie, in Dutch
Charles A. Venturi, History of Europe 1856-1865, chronological list of events in intenational affairs, detailed, from Societe d'Europe, scroll down for Netherlands
Timeline 1850-1899, from geschiedenis.com, in Dutch
Nederlands en Belgisch Limburg, from Museum voor Vaderlandse Geschiedenis, in Dutch
Periode 1848-1872 - het tijdperk van Thorbecke (1848-1872 - the period of Thorbecke), from Parlement en Politiek, in Dutch, official site on the history of the Netherlands' Parliament
Baud en Thorbecke 1847-1851, by A. Alberts, online dissertation, in Dutch
DOCUMENTS Links to Documents on the History of the Netherlands in the 19th Century, posted by psm-data
Map : Ecclesiastical geography of the Netherlands since 1853, from Commissaris 1935, posted by Katholiek Documentatie Centrum
Briefwisseling (letters) J.R. Thorbecke, 1849-1853, from KB / RGP, in Dutch
Nalatenschap (Private Archive) Groen van Prinsterer 1821-1870, from KB / RGP, in Dutch
Coins issued under Willem III. (1849-1890), from Numismania
Portrait of King Willem III., from Art Istocracy
Constitution of 1815 as amended in 1848, from Verfassungen.de, in German
REFERENCE Mark T. Hooker, The History of Holland, Westport : Greenwood, 1999; KMLA Lib.Sign. 949.2 H783h
J.C.H. Blom, A Small European Nation State (1830-1870s), pp.387-404 in : J.C.H. Blom and E. Lamberts (ed.), History of the Low Countries, trsl. by James C. Kennedy, NY : Berghahn Books 1999, KMLA Lib. Sign. 949.3 B653h
A.J.W. Camijn, Een eeuw vol bedrijvigheid. De industrialisatie van Nederland, 1814-1914 (A century of industry, the industrialization of the NL), Utrecht : Veen 1987 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on April 20th 2008

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