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The national dimension in the Batavian Revolution: Political discussions, institutions, and constitutions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 December 2020

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Summary

Traditional historiography has always denied the Dutch character of the Batavian Revolution. Greatly influenced by the politics of ‘forgiving and forgetting’ of the Orange monarchy (founded in 1813) and by nineteenthcentury nationalism, its narratives have tried to erase the nation's revolutionary moments from Dutch memory. Yet, since the 1980s it is well known that the Dutch experienced a first revolutionary sequence during the 1780s, one that was absolutely independent. The second revolution, between 1795 and 1801, only succeeded with the aid of the French army. This army remained in the country until 1813 and intervened in Dutch politics several times, as did several French agents or ministers. Minister François Noël, for instance, reminded the Dutch that they ought to enforce national unity, while Minister Charles Delacroix suggested the implementation of the 1798 constitution without popular approval.

From these facts, Dutch historians concluded that the Batavian Revolution was anything but Dutch. This is, however, an oversimplification that dodges the problem of interaction between the two allies. A new generation of scholars has already brought some qualification to this one-sided view. One can think of Simon Schama's work, based on Cornelis de Wit's study. But even here, things are not always conclusive and often too teleological. Both authors argued that the Patriot Revolution foreboded the Batavian Republic and the Thorbeckian constitution of 1848. Yet, this interpretation is just another way of denying the originality of the Batavian Revolution. Furthermore, both authors interpreted the political events of the 1790s as democratic and, like R. R. Palmer, did not stress enough that the democracy was in reality rather limited. It would have been better to say that it was the very beginning of representative democracy. The people gained the right to elect their representatives but were not allowed to participate directly in high politics, except during a short power vacuum in 1798.

To be able to discover what the national dimension of the Batavian Revolution is and what it is not, the best approach may be to carry out a brief survey of the Patriot Revolution (1781-1787) and its aims; then to study the Dutch exiles in Paris during the French Revolution, their political contentions and relations with their colleagues in the Netherlands; and finally the Batavian Revolution or Batavian Republic (1795-1806) and its achievements.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Political Culture of the Sister Republics, 1794-1806
France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy
, pp. 187 - 200
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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