The Republic of the United Netherlands was the scene of one of the first attempts at a democratic revolution in Europe. Following the example of the American revolutionaries, the Dutch 'patriottic movement' tried to introduce a democratic form of government, years before the French started their famous revolution in 1789. In september 1781, the Dutch patriottic leader Johan Derk van der Capellen wrote a pamphlet entitled 'To the people of the Netherlands'. It was published anonymously and started the patriot revolution. I have translated some of the most important passages into English.
Full text in the original Dutch version.

PEOPLE OF THE NETHERLANDS!

FELLOW CITIZENS!

Not since yesterday or the day before have you been misled and mistreated; during nearly two centuries, not to mention earlier periods, have you been at the mercy of several ambitious persons, who have aimed - pretending to care for your interests en freedom - at nothing else, by God to whom I shall have to account for these writings, absolutely nothing else but pressing a hereditary yoke on your free necks.

If peoples are to safeguard their freedom, they should constantly be vigilant and have no unlimited confidence in any human being - whoever he may be. On the contrary, they must thoroughly distrust all persons having any authority or power, especially princes and aristocrats, constantly keeping an eye on them, because experience of all periods from the beginnings of the earth until our time has shown that even the best are usually weak enough to try to increase the power with which they are entrusted. Power is sweet! So my fellow countrymen, be vigilant and you will remain free!

O my fellow citizens, the great are the ones that you must watch! The Prince leads them nearly all. They will do anything for offices and commissions, for a meal at the court. They usually care little for oaths and duties or the well-being of the fatherland. The losses they and other people suffer from the decay of trade en prosperity will amply be compensated, they think, by the favours of our lord the Prince, who always has the power to keep their chimneys smoking, as he faithfully does.

My dear fellow countrymen, beware of all who command troops, for it is well known that they have nearly always and everywhere domineered over their own landsmen and fellow citizens. In Europe no freedom has existed since princes have started to keep permanent armies in their service. In earlier times, when no soldiers existed yet, the vassals went to war with burghers and peasants. The cunning princes, knowing that these people in arms would not be willing to help them dominate their countries, proposed to the people to pay money rather than serve in wars personally while neglecting their businesses and endangering their lives. The money would be used to hire soldiers in their place. The simple inhabitants were wonderfully pleased by this idea, but they did not understand which would be its natural consequences. As soon as the princes had a permanent army at their disposal, exclusively depending on them and completely separated from the other parts of the nation, they could do whatever they liked. No city or land could defend its rights or privileges any longer. History shows that the peoples around us, who are nowadays sighing under arbitrary one-headed governments - even the Spaniards, the French and all of Germany - have been free men not so long ago and became enslaved only by hired troops, without being able, until this hour, to defend their rights and freedoms, however beautifully these were to be read on sealed old parchments.

O my fellow countrymen! Arm yourselves all together and take care of the affairs of this whole country, that is: of your own affairs. The country belongs to all of you together, not only to the Prince and his great men, who consider and treat you, all of us, the whole Netherlands people, the descendants of the free Batavians, as their hereditary property, as their oxen and sheep, which they can and may shear or slaughter as they think fit to do. The people who live in a country, the inhabitants, townsfolk and countrymen, poor and rich, the great and the little ones - all together - they are the true proprietors, the lords and masters of the country and can say how the country's affairs should be managed, in what manner and by whom they wish to be governed. A people is nothing different from a large company. The regents, the authorities and magistrates, the Prince or whoever has any powerful position - they are only the managers, administrators and stewards of the company and as such less than the company's members, that is to say: the whole nation or the whole people. For example. The East India Company is a large corporation or company of tradesmen who have united to trade with the East Indies. Their number is too large and they live at too long distances from each other to be able to meet continuously when necessary, or to be able to manage the company's affairs in person. Also, to be able to do this, skills and qualities are required which are not to be found in all of the participants. For this reason, the participants have wisely decided to appoint administrators and stewards. They pay them for their work and give them exactly enough power, but no more than necessary, to be able to do what they are called, hired and appointed for. The administrators of course have more power in the company's affairs than any of the participants individually, and even more than quite a lot of participants together, who are not the majority. But if all of the participants together or an absolute majority among them desire changes in the company's policy - changes in their own affairs that is - it is the duty of the managers or administrators, who in this respect are servants to the participants - to obey and act according to the participants' wishes. For not they administrators, but the participants are the company's true proprietors, lords and masters. The situation of the great people's company is similar. The great that are governing you, the Prince or whoever has any authority in this country, only do this on your behalf. All of their authority derives from you. You are the participants, the proprietors, the lords and masters of the people's company which has been established in this region under the name of United Netherlands. The great, the regents on the contrary are no more than administrators, managers and stewards of this people's company. You are paying them with your own money, that is the people's money. They are therefore in your service, they are your servants, and subjected to your majority, to which they owe obedience and responsibility. Again. All men are born free. By nature, no one has any authority over anyone else. Some people may be gifted with a better understanding, a stronger body or greater wealth than others, but this does not in the least entitle the more sensible, stronger or wealthier to govern the less sensible, the weaker and the poorer. God, our Father, has created men to become happy and has given the duty to all men - excluding no one - to make each other as happy as possible. To be able to reach this good aim of their Creator, that is: to promote their happiness, people have found that they can do no better than to assemble in large numbers - sometimes a few millions - and to establish large companies, the members of which are all each other's equals by nature (this is something you must always keep in mind) and one not subjected to another. In these companies, usually called civil societies, peoples or nations, the members or participants pledge to promote each others' happiness as much as possible, to protect each other with united force and to maintain each other in an uninterrupted enjoyment of all property, possessions and all inherited and lawfully acquired rights.

These are the people's rights! These are your rights, o people, o Netherlanders! Those who teach you differently - even from the pulpit - are your enemies and bribed by the Prince and his great ones, or they understand nothing about it. So do not believe them, but consider all of which I have taught you here so clearly and simply. And then, you yourselves will feel, yes, feel that things are such and cannot be different, whatever people want to make you believe and however they want to declare these eternal truths to be dangerous heresies. Again, do not believe them, they are deceiving you.

O, fellow countrymen! Our dear Orange princes, however beautifully they have themselves pictured by their flatterers and wage-slaves, are princes just like others in the world. They are raised in the same perverted kind of courtly education; from their youth they suck up the same sentiments, the same arrogance, pride, ambition, the same desire to lift themselves up above everything. From their youth they are used to never experiencing any resistance, and that is the reason why later on they cannot bear the resistance of the country's rights and privileges, the reason why these are intolerable to them. They have the same kind of court, the same way of living, in one word: they are princes and act like princes. They would like to have rich slaves, just like other monarchs who favour the trade of their inhabitants. They would like to see Amsterdam's trade flourishing, which is now perishing, if only that city would open its gates for the Prince's garrison and would leave the appointment of its governors to him. But mighty inhabitants who are free and who come to bore them with petitions and bother them with their plans, are intolerable to them. The saying is correct that freedom of the people is the slavery of the prince.

Can such a Prince, my fellow countrymen, say with old father Samuel: Behold, here I am, witness against me before the Lord: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed and out of whose hand have I received any bribe? Can such a Prince, who openly declares that he considers it an invaluable privilege for himself to be the subject of the love of a FREE PEOPLE, and nevertheless accepts authority which he attaches to his family as a heritage, can such a prince demand that one believes him? Believe me, my friends! Whatever one tells you or preaches to you, whatever attestations our hereditary stadtholders make to you that they will always do everything in their power for your freedom which they will defend into eternity. Believe me! Deceiving and misleading fits princes just as well as their constant striving for higher authority. There is no freedom and no freedom can exist in a country where one single person has the hereditary command over a large army, appoints and dissmisses the country's regents and keeps them in his power and under his influence, deals with all the offices, and by his influence on the appointments of professors controls the subject matter that is being taught to the country's youth studying in universities, where the people is kept ignorant, where the people is unarmed and has nothing in the world, God, nothing to say! This is your situation, Netherlanders!

Anything which is attempted at this time to save our truly almost irretreavably lost fatherland will be in vain, if you, o people of the Netherlands, remain passive bystanders any longer. So do this! Assemble each and everyone in your cities and in the villages in the country. Assemble peacefully and elect from the midst of you a moderate number of good, virtuous, pious men; elect good patriots whom you can trust. Send these as your commissioners to the meeting places of the Estates of your Provinces and order them that they must assemble as soon as possible to make, together with the Estates, in the name of and on behalf of this nation, a precise enquiry into the reasons for the extreme slowness and weakness with which the protection of this country against a formidable and especially active enemy is being treated. Order them as well that they, again together with the Estates of the various provinces, elect a council for His Highness, and that they, the sooner the better, help to devise and deploy all such means as will be considered suitable for the salvation of the endangered fatherland.

Let your commissioners publicly and openly report to you about their actions from time to time by means of the press. Take care of the freedom of the press, because it is the only support for your national freedom. If one cannot speak freely to one's fellow citizens and warn them in time, it is only too easy for the oppressors to play their role. That is the reason why those whose behaviour cannot endure any enquiry are always so much opposed to freedom of writing and printing and would like to see that nothing could be printed or sold without permission.

Arm yourselves, all of you, and elect yourselves the ones that must command you. Act with calmness and modesty in all things (like the people of America, where not one drop of blood was shed before the English attacked them in the first place), and Jehova, the God of Freedom, who has led the Israelites out of slavery and made them a free people, will also without doubt support our good cause.

I am,
People of the Netherlands!
Dear Fellow Citizens!

Your faithful fellow citizen.


This page was published by Arie Wilschut, senior lecturer in history and history education at the School of Education of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands.
January 15th, 1998. Free counter and web stats