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Useful citizens. Citizenship and democracy in the Batavian Republic, 1795-1801

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 December 2020

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Summary

The concept of citizenship in the Dutch Republic changed dramatically at the end of the ancien régime. During the revolutionary era, the primary meaning of citizenship as the privileged membership of the urban community gave way to the notion that a citizen was first and foremost a member of the nation-state. The citizens of the nation-state would enjoy certain basic rights on an equal basis, such as the freedom of speech, assembly, and religion as well as the protection of property.

The development of national citizenship in the Netherlands was far from straightforward for a number of reasons. To begin with, there was little agreement on the question which inhabitants should count as citizens and whether separate rights and duties should be reserved for different categories of people (take for example the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen). Moreover, the terms ‘citizen’ and ‘citizenship’ are not only legal concepts, they also carry socio-cultural meanings that perhaps weigh more heavily than legal notions. ‘Citizen’ is not just a legal category but also a title, a quality that can be defined in different ways. These meanings all played a part in the conceptualization of the national citizen. Third, national citizenship did not simply succeed or overtake urban citizenship; it developed and existed alongside it. It developed through the creation of an alternative political domain, whose context and characteristics have to be taken into account to understand the development of citizenship in the Batavian Republic (1795-1801). This is the aim of this contribution.

I will start by briefly describing the history of the concept and its different meanings leading up to the Batavian Revolution. I will then discuss the use of citizenship within its specific political context after 1795. Lastly, I will give a more detailed analysis of one specific argumentation that was used during the Batavian Republic: the utilitarian view on citizenship. This particular view has received little attention in the context of the Batavian Republic but offers a good example of the way in which citizenship was transformed and defined along new lines in the late eighteenth century.

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The Political Culture of the Sister Republics, 1794-1806
France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy
, pp. 73 - 84
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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