Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 December 2020
On the morning of Monday, 22 January 1798, the inhabitants of The Hague witnessed a revolution within a revolution. Almost exactly three years earlier, reformist Dutch citizens had proclaimed the so-called ‘Batavian’ Revolution after the invasion of a French revolutionary army had caused the oligarchic regime of the Orangist stadholder to implode. In May 1795, the French had officially recognized the independence of a Batavian Republic. In March 1796, the Batavian revolutionaries had established a Nationale Vergadering, a legislative and constituent assembly loosely modelled on the French Assemblée Nationale. In May 1797, the members of this Dutch National Assembly had completed a draft constitution, which was then put to a popular vote some months later. The outcome of the first referendum in Dutch history was dramatic: eighty per cent of the voters had rejected the draft constitution, which most had considered a weak compromise between different views that had struggled for dominance in the first Dutch parliament. A second National Assembly was elected, but this constituent body was faced with a similar deadlock of opinions. In the fifth month after the second Nationale Vergadering had first gathered in The Hague, on the said 22 January 1798, a radical minority staged a coup d’etat and purged the parliament of its most insistent political adversaries. This act would turn the Batavian Revolution on its head.
Between the French invasion of January 1795 and the coup of January 1798, the French Directoire had refrained from direct intervention in Dutch politics, as it had taken the position that the Batavians would be of most use as military allies when they were allowed to have a stable and independent republic. Now, after three years of difficult and fruitless deliberations over the constitution that was to guide this republic, it had instructed Charles Delacroix, the new French envoy to the Batavian Republic, to intervene more actively than his predecessor had done and make clear to the Batavian politicians that the French government would not tolerate any further delays. Delacroix gave his support to the coup that the Dutch radicals had been preparing, putting an end to the policy of French non-interventionism in internal political matters.