History of Holland
By George Edmundson

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Chapter XXXIV: The Later Reign of William III, and the Regency Of Queen Emma, 1872-1898

The death of Thorbecke was the signal for a growing cleavage between the old doctrinaire school of liberals, who adhered to the principles of 1848, and the advanced liberalism of many of the younger progressive type. To Gerrit de Vries was entrusted the duty of forming a ministry, and he had the assistance of the former first minister, F. van de Putte. His position was weakened by the opposition of the Catholic party, who became alienated from the liberals, partly on the religious education question, but more especially because their former allies refused to protest against the Italian occupation of Rome. The election of 1873 did not improve matters, for it left the divided liberals to face an opposition of equal strength, whenever the conservatives, anti-revolutionaries and Catholics acted together. This same year saw the first phase of the war with the piratical state of Achin. An expedition of 3600 men under General Köhler was sent out against the defiant sultan in April, 1873, but suffered disaster, the General himself dying of disease. A second stronger expedition under General van Swieten was then dispatched, which was successful; and the sultan was deposed in January, 1874. This involved heavy charges on the treasury; and the ministry, after suffering two reverses in the Second Chamber, resigned (June, 1874), being succeeded by a Heemskerk coalition ministry.

Heemskerk in his former premiership had shown himself to be a clever tactician, and for three years he managed to maintain himself in office against the combined opposition of the advanced liberals, the anti-revolutionaries and the Catholics. Groen van Prinsterer died in May, 1876; and with his death the hitherto aristocratic and exclusive party, which he had so long led, became transformed. Under its new leader, Abraham Kuyper, it became democratised, and, by combining its support of the religious principle in education with that of progressive reform, was able to exercise a far wider influence in the political sphere. Kuyper, for many years a Calvinist pastor, undertook in 1872 the editorship of the anti-revolutionary paper, De Standdard. In 1874 he was elected member for Gouda, but resigned in order to give his whole time to journalism in the interest of the political principles to which he now devoted his great abilities.

The Heemskerk ministry had the support of no party, but by the opportunist skill of its chief it continued in office for three years; no party was prepared to take its place, and “the government of the king must be carried on.” The measures that were passed in this time were useful rather than important. An attempt to deal with primary instruction led to the downfall of the ministry. The elections of 1877 strengthened the liberals; and, an amendment to the speech from the throne being carried, Heemskerk resigned. His place was taken by Joannes Kappeyne, leader of the progressive liberals. A new department of State was now created, that of Waterways and Commerce, whose duties in a country like Holland, covered with a net-work of dykes and canals, was of great importance. A measure which denied State support to the “private” schools was bitterly resisted by the anti-revolutionaries and the Catholics, whose union in defence of religious education was from this time forward to become closer. The outlay in connection with the costly Achin war, which had broken out afresh, led to a considerable deficit in the budget. In consequence of this a proposal for the construction of some new canals was rejected by a majority of one. The financial difficulties, which had necessitated the imposing of unpopular taxes, had once more led to divisions in the liberal ranks; and Kappeyne, finding that the king would not support his proposals for a revision of the Fundamental Law, saw no course open to him but resignation.

In these circumstances the king decided to ask an anti-revolutionary, Count van Lynden van Sandenburg, to form a “Ministry of Affairs," composed of moderate men of various parties. Van Lynden had a difficult task, but with the strong support of the king his policy of conciliation carried him safely through four disquieting and anxious years. The revolt of the Boers in the Transvaal against British rule caused great excitement in Holland, and aroused much sympathy. Van Lynden was careful to avoid any steps which might give umbrage to England, and he was successful in his efforts. The Achin trouble was, however, still a cause of much embarrassment. Worst of all was the series of bereavements which at this time befell the House of Orange-Nassau. In 1877 Queen Sophie died, affectionately remembered for her interest in art and science, and her exemplary life. The king’s brother, Henry, for thirty years Stadholder of Luxemburg, died childless early in 1879; and shortly afterwards in June the Prince of Orange, who had never married, passed away suddenly at Paris. The two sons of William III’s uncle Frederick predeceased their father, whose death took place in 1881. Alexander, the younger son of the king, was sickly and feeble-minded; and with his decease in 1884, the male line of the House of Orange-Nassau became extinct. Foreseeing such a possibility in January, 1879, the already aged king took in second wedlock the youthful Princess Emma of Waldeck-Pyrmont. Great was the joy of the Dutch people, when, on August 31, 1880, she gave birth to a princess, Wilhelmina, who became from this time forth the hope of a dynasty, whose history for three centuries had been bound up with that of the nation.

The Van Lynden administration, having steered its way through many parliamentary crises for four years, was at last beaten upon a proposal to enlarge the franchise, and resigned (February 26, 1883). To Heemskerk was confided the formation of a coalition ministry of a neutral character; and this experienced statesman became for the third time first minister of the crown. The dissensions in the liberal party converted the Second Chamber into a meeting-place of hostile factions; and Heemskerk was better fitted than any other politician to be the head of a government which, having no majority to support it, had to rely upon tactful management and expediency. The rise of a socialist party under the enthusiastic leadership of a former Lutheran pastor, Domela Nieuwenhuis, added to the perplexities of the position. It soon became evident that a revision of the Fundamental Law and an extension of the franchise, which the king no longer opposed, was inevitable. Meanwhile the death of Prince Alexander and the king’s growing infirmities made it necessary to provide, by a bill passed on August 2,1884, that Queen Emma should become regent during her daughter’s minority.

Everything conspired to beset the path of the Heemskerk ministry with hindrances to administrative or legislative action. The bad state of the finances (chiefly owing to the calls for the Achin war) the subdivision of all parties into groups, the socialist agitation and the weak health of the king, created something like a parliamentary deadlock. A revision of the constitution became more and more pressing as the only remedy, though no party was keenly in its favour. Certain proposals for revision were made by the government (March, 1885), but the anti-revolutionaries, the Catholics and the conservatives were united in opposition, unless concessions were made in the matter of religious education. Such concessions as were finally offered were rejected (April, 1886), and Heemskerk offered his resignation. Baron Mackay (anti-revolutionary) declining office, a dissolution followed. The result of the elections, however, was inconclusive, the liberals of all shades having a bare majority of four; but there was no change of ministry. A more conciliatory spirit fortunately prevailed under stress of circumstances in the new Chamber; and at last, after many debates, the law revising the constitution was passed through both Chambers, and approved by the king (November 30, 1887). It was a compromise measure, and no violent changes were made. The First Chamber was to consist of 50 members, appointed by the Provincial Councils; the Second Chamber of 100 members, chosen by an electorate of male persons of not less than 25 years of age with a residential qualification and possessing “signs of fitness and social well-being"–a vague phrase requiring future definition. The number of electors was increased from (in round numbers) 100,000 to 350,000, but universal male suffrage, the demand of the socialists and more advanced liberals, was not conceded.

The elections of 1888 were fought on the question of religious education in the primary schools. The two “Christian” parties, the Calvinist anti-revolutionaries under the leadership of Dr Kuyper, and the Catholics, who had found a leader of eloquence and power in Dr Schaepman, a Catholic priest, coalesced in a common programme for a revision of Kappeyne’s Education Act of 1878. The coalition obtained a majority, 27 anti-revolutionaries and 25 Catholics being returned as against 46 liberals of various groups. For the first time a socialist, Domela Nieuwenhuis, was elected. The conservative party was reduced to one member. In the First Chamber the liberals still commanded a majority. In April, 1888, Baron Mackay, an anti-revolutionary of moderate views, became first minister. The coalition made the revision of the Education Act of 1878 their first business; and they obtained the support of some liberals who were anxious to see the school question out of the way. The so-called “Mackay Law” was passed in 1889. It provided that “private” schools should receive State support on condition that they conformed to the official regulations; that the number of scholars should be not less than twenty-five; and that they should be under the management of some body, religious or otherwise, recognised by the State. This settlement was a compromise, but it offered the solution of an acute controversy and was found to work satisfactorily.

The death of King William on November 23, 1890, was much mourned by his people. He was a man of strong and somewhat narrow views, but during his reign of 41 years his sincere love for his country was never in doubt, nor did he lose popularity by his anti-liberal attitude on many occasions, for it was known to arise from honest conviction; and it was amidst general regret that the last male representative of the House of Orange-Nassau was laid in his grave.

A proposal by the Catholic minister Borgesius for the introduction of universal personal military service was displeasing however to many of his own party, and it was defeated with the help of Catholic dissidents. An election followed, and the liberals regained a majority. A new government was formed of a moderate progressive character, the premier being Cornelis van Tienhoven. It was a ministry of talents, Tak van Poortvliet (interior) and N.G. Pierson (finance) being men of marked ability. Pierson had more success than any of his predecessors in bringing to an end the recurring deficits in the annual balance sheet. He imposed an income tax on all incomes above 650 florins derived from salaries or commerce. All other sources of income were capitalised (funds, investments, farming, etc.); and a tax was placed on all capital above 13,000 florins. Various duties and customs were lowered, to the advantage of trade. There was, however, a growing demand for a still further extension of the franchise, and for an official interpretation of that puzzling qualification of the Revision of 1889–"signs of fitness and social well-being.” Tak van Poortvliet brought in a measure which would practically have introduced universal male suffrage, for he interpreted the words as including all who could write and did not receive doles from charity. This proposal, brought forward in 1893, again split up the liberal party. The moderates under the leadership of Samuel van Houten vigorously opposed such an increase of the electorate; and they had the support of the more conservative anti-revolutionaries and a large part of the Catholics. The more democratic followers of Kuyper and Schaepman and the progressive radicals ranged themselves on the side of Tak van Poortvliet. All parties were thus broken up into hostile groups. The election of 1894 was contested no longer on party lines, but between Takkians and anti-Takkians. The result was adverse to Tak, his following only mustering 46 votes against 54 for their opponents.

A new administration therefore came into office (May, 1894) under the presidency of Jonkheer Johan Roëll with Van Houten as minister of the interior. On Van Houten’s shoulders fell the task of preparing a new electoral law. His proposals were finally approved in 1896. Before this took place the minister of finance, Spenger van Eyk, had succeeded in relieving the treasury by the conversion of the public debt from a 3-1/2 to a 3 per cent, security. The Van Houten reform of the franchise was very complicated, as there were six different categories of persons entitled to exercise the suffrage: (1) payers of at least one guilder in direct taxation; (2) householders or lodgers paying a certain minimum rent and having a residential qualification; (3) proprietors or hirers of vessels of 24 tons at least; (4) earners of a certain specified wage or salary; (5) investors of 100 guilders in the public funds or of 50 guilders in a savings bank; (6) persons holding certain educational diplomas. This very wide and comprehensive franchise raised the number of electors to about 700,000.

The election of 1897, after first promising a victory to the more conservative groups, ended by giving a small majority to the liberals, the progressive section winning a number of seats, and the socialists increasing their representation in the Chamber. A liberal-concentration cabinet took the place of the Roell-Van Houten ministry, its leading members being Pierson (finance) and Goeman-Borgesius (interior). For a right understanding of the parliamentary situation at this time and during the years that follow, a brief account of the groups and sections of groups into which political parties in Holland were divided, must here interrupt the narrative of events.

It has already been told that the deaths of Thorbecke and Groen van Prinsterer led to a breaking up of the old parties and the formation of new groups. The Education Act of 1878 brought about an alliance of the two parties, who made the question of religious education in the primary schools the first article of their political programme–the anti-revolutionaries led by the ex-Calvinist pastor Dr Abraham Kuyper and the Catholics by Dr Schaepman, a Catholic priest. Kuyper and Schaepman were alike able journalists, and used the press with conspicuous success for the propagation of their views, both being advocates of social reform on democratic lines. The anti-revolutionaries, however, did not, as a body, follow the lead of Kuyper. An aristocratic section, whose principles were those of Groen van Prinsterer, “orthodox” and “conservative,” under the appellation of “Historical Christians,” were opposed to the democratic ideas of Kuyper, and were by tradition anti-Catholic. Their leader was Jonkheer Savornin Lohman. For some years there was a separate Frisian group of “Historical Christians,” but these finally amalgamated with the larger body. The liberals meanwhile had split up into three groups: (1) the Old Independent (vrij) Liberals; (2) the Liberal Progressive Union (Unie van vooruitstrevende Liberalen); (3) Liberal-Democrats (vrijzinnig-democratischen Bond). The socialist party was a development of the Algemeene Nederlandsche Werklieden Verbond founded in 1871. Ten years later, by the activities of the fiery agitator, Domela Nieuwenhuis, the Social-Democratic Bond was formed; and the socialists became a political party. The loss of Nieuwenhuis’ seat in 1891 had the effect of making him abandon constitutional methods for a revolutionary and anti-religious crusade. The result of this was a split in the socialist party and the formation, under the leadership of Troelstra, Van Kol and Van der Goes, of the “Social-Democratic Workmen’s Party,” which aimed at promoting the welfare of the proletariat on socialistic lines, but by parliamentary means. The followers of Domela Nieuwenhuis, whose openly avowed principles were “the destruction of actual social conditions by all means legal and illegal,” were after 1894 known as “the Socialist Bond.” This anarchical party, who took as their motto “neither God nor master,” rapidly decreased in number; their leader, discouraged by his lack of success in 1898, withdrew finally from the political arena; and the Socialist Bond was dissolved. This gave an accession of strength to the “Social-Democratic Workmen’s Party,” which has since the beginning of the present century gradually acquired an increasing hold upon the electorate.


General Preface  •  Prologue  •  Chapter I: The Burgundian Netherlands  •  Chapter II: Habsburg Rule in the Netherlands  •  Chapter III  •  Chapter IV: The Revolt of the Netherlands  •  Chapter V: William the Silent  •  Chapter VI: The Beginnings of the Dutch Republic  •  Chapter VII: The System of Government  •  Chapter VIII: The Twelve Years’ Truce  •  Chapter IX: Maurice and Oldenbarneveldt  •  Chapter X: From the End of the Twelve Years’ Truce to the Peace of Muenster  •  Chapter XI  •  Chapter XII: Letters, Science and Art  •  Chapter XIII: The Stadholderate of William II.  •  Chapter XIV  •  Chapter XV  •  Chapter XVI  •  Chapter XVII  •  Chapter XVIII  •  Chapter XIX  •  Chapter XX: The War of the Spanish Succession and the Treaties of Utrecht, 1702-1715  •  Chapter XXI: The Stadholderless Republic, 1715-1740  •  Chapter XXII: The Austrian Succession War. William Iv, 1740-1751  •  Chapter XXIII: The Regency of Anne and of Brunswick.  •  Chapter XXIV  •  Chapter XXV: Stadholderate of William V, continued, 1780-1788  •  Chapter XXVI: The Orange Restoration. Downfall of the Republic, 1788-1795  •  Chapter XXVII: The Batavian Republic, 1795-1806  •  Chapter XXVIII: The Kingdom of Holland and the French Annexation, 1806-1814  •  Chapter XXIX: The Formation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 1814-1815  •  Chapter XXX: The Kingdom of the Netherlands–union of Holland and Belgium, 1815-1830  •  Chapter XXXI: The Belgian Revolution, 1830-1842  •  Chapter XXXII: William II. Revision of the Constitution.  •  Chapter XXXIII: Reign of William III to the Death of Thorbecke, 1849-1872  •  Chapter XXXIV: The Later Reign of William III, and the Regency Of Queen Emma, 1872-1898  •  Chapter XXXV: The Reign of Queen Wilhelmina, 1898-1917  •  Epilogue  •  Footnotes

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History of Holland, (Cambridge historical series)
By George Edmundson
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