Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. I. - The True Interest and Political Maxims, of the Republic of Holland
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CHAP. I. - Pieter de la Court, The True Interest and Political Maxims, of the Republic of Holland 
The True Interest and Political Maxims of the Republic of Holland (London: John Campbell, Esq, 1746).
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Wherein are laid down the general political maxims which tend to the prosperity of all countries: and some reasons to make it evident, that the same do aptly agree to Holland and West-Friesland.
THAT we may not abruptly speak of the true interest and political maxims of Holland and West-Friesland, nor yet surprize the reader with unknown matters, I judge it necessary to begin with a general discourse of the universal and true political maxims of all countries: that the reader being enlightned by such reasoning, may the better comprehend the true political maxims of Holland and West-Friesland. And seeing that almost all the people in Europe, as the Spaniards, Italians, French, &c. do express the same by the word interest, I shall often have occasion to use the same likewise here for brevity sake, in the same sense that they do; viz. seeing the true interest of all countries consists in the joint welfare of the governors and governed; and the same is known to depend on a good government, that being the true foundation whereon all the prosperity of any country is built;The true interest of all countries consists in the prosperity of all the inhabitants. we are therefore to know, that a good government is not that where the well or ill-being of the subjects depends on the virtues or vices of the rulers; but (which is worthy of observation) where the well or ill-being of the rulers necessarily follows or depends on the well or ill-being of the subjects. For seeing we must believe that in all societies or assemblies of men, self is always preferred; so all sovereigns or supreme powers will in the first place seek their own advantage in all things, tho’ to the prejudice of the subject. But seeing on the other hand true interest cannot be compassed by a government, unless the generality of the people partake thereof; therefore the publick welfare will ever be aimed at by good rulers. All which very aptly agrees with our Latin and Dutch proverb, that, Tantum de publicis malis sentimus, quantum ad privatas res pertinet; i. e. We are only sensible of publick afflictions, in so far as they touch our private affairs; for no body halts of another man’s sore.
Whereby it clearly follows, that all wise men, whether monarchs, princes, sovereign lords, or rulers of republicks, are always inclined so to strengthen their country, kingdom, or city, that they may defend themselves against the power of any stronger neighbour. The rulers welfare therefore does so far necessarily depend on the welfare of the subject; else they would soon be conquer’d by stronger neighbouring princes, and be turn’d out of their government. Those monarchs and supreme powers, who by bad education, and great prosperity, follow their pleasures, suffer their government to fall into the hands of favourites and courtiers, and do commonly neglect this first duty; the said favourites in the mean time finding themselves vested with such sovereign power, do for the most part rule to the benefit of themselves, and to the prejudice, not only of such voluptuous and unwary chief magistrates, but also of their subjects; and by consequence to the weakning of the political state; so that we have often seen revolutions of such monarchies by the ill government of favourites. But such princes as are wife, and do not entrust their power in other mens hands, will not omit to strengthen their dominions against their neighbours as much as possible. But when monarchies, or republicks are able enough to do this, and have nothing to fear from their neighbouring states or potentates, then they do usually, according to the opportunity put into their hands by the form of their government, take courses quite contrary to the welfare of the subject.
Whence ’tis the interest of monarchs to weaken and impoverish the subject, that they may assume to themselves what power they please. Arist.For then it follows as truly from the said general maxims of all rulers, that the next duty of monarchs, and supreme magistrates, is to take special care that their subjects may not be like generous and metalsome horses, which, when they cannot be commanded by the rider, but are too headstrong, wanton, and powerful for their master, they reduce and keep so tame and manageable, as not to refuse the bit and bridle, I mean taxes and obedience. For which end it is highly necessary to prevent the greatness and power of their cities, that they may not out of their own wealth be able to raise and maintain an army in the field, not only to repel all foreign power, but also to make head against their own lord, or expel him.Polit. l. 5. c. 11. And as little, yea much less may prudent sovereign lords or monarchs permit that their cities, by their strong fortifications, and training their inhabitants to arms, should have an opportunity easily, if they pleas’d, to discharge and turn off their sovereign. Bot if herein a sovereign had neglected his duty, there’s no way left for him, but to wait an opportunity to command such populous cities and strongholds by citadels, and to render them weak and defenceless.L. 7. c. 11. ibid. And tho’ Aristotle says, that it very well suits an oligarchical state to have their cities under command of a castle, yet this is only true of a great and populous city, that hath a prince over it, and not of a city that governs itself, or hath a share in the supreme government; for in such a republick, the governor of that citadel would certainly be able to make himself master of that city, and to subjugate or overtop his rulers. And we see that this reason is so strong and clear, and confirm’d by experience, that the history of all former ages, as well as the age we live in, teach us, that the rulers of republicks, whatever they are, have wisely forborn erecting citadels, and do still continue to do so. So that it appears that the said maxim tending to the overthrow of great and populous cities, may be attributed to monarchs and princes at all times, but never to republicks, unless when they have inconsiderately subdued great cities; and tho’ not willing to demolish them, yet are willing to keep them distinct from the sovereiggn government. But if the inconsiderate reader be so far prepossess’d in favour of monarchy and against common freedom, that he neither can nor will submit himself to this way of reasoning, nor to the venerable and antient lessons of old and renowned philosophers, then let him know, that the christian and invincible monarch Justinian has for ever established the said monarchical maxim by form of law in the corpus juris, now become the common law-book of all civiliz’d people, and especially of Christians. As the Emperor Justinianus in his corpus juris, inform of a perpetual law, has establish’d it.* For the said emperor having by his captain general of the east, Belisarius, reconquer’d from the Goths that part of Africa which he had formerly lost, and brought it under his subjection, gave him no order that the inhabitants of great cities should be better disciplin’d and provided with arms, or strengthned by good walls, that they might jointly with ease defend themselves, and their great and populous cities, against the assaults of those barbarous people: but on the contrary, he commands the said captain general Belisarius (and consequently, according to the Roman laws, all his other governors of provinces) to make such provision, that no city or strong hold lying on the frontiers be so great as it could not be well kept; but in such cases so to order them to be built, that they may be well defended with few soldiers, and particularly such as were in pay, and depended only on the emperor of Rome.
And tho’ weak, voluptuous, dull and sluggish monarchs neglect all these things, yet will not the courtiers who govern in their stead, neglect to seek themselves, and to fill their coffers whether in war or in peace: and thus the subjects estates being exhausted by rapine, those great and flourishing cities become poor and weak. And to the end that the subject should not be able to hinder or prevent such rapine, or revenge themselves, those favourites omit no opportunities to divest those populous cities of all fortifications, provision, ammunition of war, and to hinder the exercising of the commonalty in the use of arms. Since it appears from the said maxims, that the publick is not regarded but for the sake of private interest;The interest of republican rulers, is to procure rich and populous cities. Arist. and consequently, that is the best government, where the chief rulers may obtain their own welfare by that of the people: It follows then to be the duty of the governours of republicks to seek for great cities,Pol. l. 7. c. 11. l. 5. c. 11. and to make them as populous and strong as possible, that so all rulers and magistrates, and likewise all others that serve the publick either in country or city, may thereby gain the more power, honour and benefit, and more safely possess it, whether in peace or war: and this is the reason why commonly we see that all republicks thrive and flourish far more in arts, manufacture, traffick, populousness and strength, than the dominions and cities of monarchs:* for where there is liberty, there will be riches and people.
Holland’s true interest consists in promoting fishing, manufacture, traffick, &c.To bring all this home, and make it suit with our state, we ought to consider that Holland may easily be defended against her neighbours; and that the flourishing of manufactures, fishing, navigation, and traffick, whereby that province subsists, and (its natural necessities or wants being well considered) depends perpetually on them, else would be uninhabited: I say, the flourishing of those things will infallibly produce great, strong, populous and wealthy cities, which by reason of their convenient situation, may be impregnably fortified: all which to a monarch, or one supreme head, is altogether intolerable. And therefore I conclude, that the inhabitants of Holland, whether rulers or subjects, can receive no greater mischief in their polity, than to be governed by a monarch, or supreme lord: and that on the other side, God can give no greater temporal blessing to a country in our condition, than to introduce and preserve a free commonwealth government.
But seeing this conclusion opposeth the general and long-continued prejudices of all ignorant persons, and consequently of most of the inhabitants of these United Provinces, and that some of my readers might distaste this treatise upon what I have already said, unless somewhat were spoken to obviate their mistakes, I shall therefore offer them these reasons.
Altho’ by what hath been already said, it appears, That the inhabitants of a republick are infinitely more happy than subjects of a land governed by one supreme head; yet the contrary is always thought in a country where a prince is already reigning, or in republicks, where one supreme head is ready to be accepted.
The interest of courtiers and soldiers is directly against them.For not only officers, courtiers, idle gentry, and soldiery, but also all those that would be such, knowing, that under the worst government they use to fare best, because they hope that with impunity they may plunder and rifle the citizens and country people, and so by the corruption of the government enrich themselves, or attain to grandeur, they cry up monarchical government for their private interest to the very heavens:1 Sam. 1. 8, 12. altho God did at first mercifully institute no other but a commonwealth government, and afterwards in his wrath appointed one sovereign over them.Which is not believed by some, Yet for all this, those blood-suckers of the state, and, indeed of mankind, dare to speak of republicks with the utmost contempt, make a mountain of every molehill, discourse of the defects of them at large, and conceal all that is good in them, because they know none will punish them for what they say:Because among others, the manner of judging among all common subjects, tends to the advantage of monarchy. wherefore all the rabble (according to the old*Latin verse) being void of knowledge and judgment, and therefore inclining to the weather or safer side, and mightily valuing the vain and empty pomp of kings and princes, say amen to it; especially when kept in ignorance, and irritated against the lawful government by preachers, who aim at dominion, or would introduce an independent and arbitrary power of church-government; and such (God amend it) are found in Holland, and the other United Provinces, insomuch, that all vertuous and intelligent people have been necessitated to keep silence, and to beware of disclosing the vices of their princes, or of such as would willingly be their governors, or of courtiers and rude military men, and such ambitious and ungovernable preachers as despise God, and their native country.
And how dangerous it is for the wiser sort to declare themselves to the prejudice of governments by single persons.Nay there are few inhabitants of a perfect free state to be found, that are inclinable to instruct and teach others, how much better a republick is than a monarchy, or one supreme head, because they know no body will reward them for it; and that on the other side,* kings, princes, and great men are so dangerous to be conversed with, that even their friends can scarcely talk with them of the wind and weather, but at the hazard of their lives; and kings with their long arms can give heavy blows.Which yet out of love to my native country, I have here performed, and enquired, And altho’ all intelligent and ingenuous subjects of monarchs, who have not, with lying sycophantical courtiers, cast off all shame, are generally by these reasons, and daily experience, fully convinced of the excellency of a republick above a monarchical government; yet nevertheless, many vertuous persons, lovers of monarchy, do plausibly maintain, that several nations are of that temper and disposition, that they cannot be happily governed but by a single person, and quote for this the examples of all the people in Asia and Africa, as well as Europe, that lie southerly.Whether any people naturally are to be governed by one person. They do also alledge, that all the people who lie more northerly, are more fit to be governed by a single person, and with more freedom; as from France to the northward, all absolute monarchical government ceaseth; and therefore maintain or assert, with such ignorant persons as I mentioned before, that the Hollanders in particular are so turbulent, factious, and disingenuous, that they cannot be kept in awe, and happily governed, but by a single person; and that the histories of the former reigns or government by earls, will sufficiently confirm it.
Whether the Hollanders are so peevish, that they cannot be governed but by a single person?But on the other side, the patriots, and lovers of a free-state will say, that the foregoing government by earls is well know to have been very wretched and horrid, their reigns filling history with continual wars, tumults, and detestable actions, occasioned by that single person. And that on the contrary, the Hollanders, subsisting by manufactures, fishing, navigation, and commerce, are naturally very peaceable, if by such a supreme head they were not excited to tumults.Deduct. Part 2. ch. 3, 4, 7, 13. Whether this be so or not, may be learned and confirmed too in part from those histories.
But here it may be said, that things are much altered within these 100 years last;Whether they would be happier under a stadtholder, than formerly under earls? for Holland then subsisted mostly by agriculture, and there were then no soldiery, treasure, or fortified places to be at the earl’s disposal. But when he had wars, it was with the help of his homagers and tenants, only subsidies or money being given him at his request by the states of the country: And moreover, the cities of Holland, and castles of the nobility were (according to the then method of war) so strong, that they could not be taken by the said earls, without great forces imployed against them; so that the states of Holland in their assemblies, have boldly contended for their rights against the earl’s encroachments. Therefore these earls, on the other side, by reason of their dignity, had many adherents that depended on them, which must needs make that government by earls every way unsteady, weak and tumultuous.
To this an approver of monarchical government may further add, that Holland now wholly subsists by traffick, and that one supreme head, captain-general, or stadtholder, would have his own life-guards at the Hague, the place of assembly, and likewise the assistance of a great and well-paid army, and of all the preachers, and by them the love of the whole populace; and that at his pleasure he may dispose of all the impregnable frontier towns of those provinces that have no suffrages or voices in the state, tho’ he should not increase his strength by any foreign alliances, or by collusion and flattery with the deputies of the other provinces of the generality; insomuch that the states of Holland would not dare, no not in their assemblies, to open their mouths against the interest of such a supreme head, or if they did, he would order his souldiers to take them by the collar, and might easily overpower most of the cities of Holland, the people being unaccustomed to arms, and moreover divided, fortifications but slight and mean in comparison of the present way of fortifying: so that one may truly say, that the Hollanders by setting up one supreme head over themselves, may now with ease, and without tumult, be govern’d like sheep, by an irresistible sovereign, against whom they durst not speak one word, when he should think fit to sheer, flea, or devour them.
Now what there is in this, and whether the Hollanders would be happy in such a condition, I shall at large hereafter give you my judgment.
Whether they are too stupid naturally to be governed as a commonwealth.But as to the stupidity of the Hollanders, whether that be so great, as that they have not wit enough to form a free commonwealth; and having found that precious jewel of freedom, would, with Esop’s cocks, prefer a grain of corn before it: This is what hath not been judged so hitherto, but on the contrary. Which that it may be evident to the reader, he may be pleas’d to observe the prudent conduct of the states of Holland, at their great assembly in the years 1650 and 1651, as also seriously to ponder and weigh the manifold reasons and examples produced to this end in their deduction of the year 1654.The States of Holland, since the year 1650, having manifested the contrary by manifold acts, as also All this is yet further confirmed by that magnanimous resolution of the 23d of January 1657, wherein the states of Holland unanimously declared, after consulting the general assemblies, or common-halls of the respective cities in that province, to hold for a fundamental and certain maxim, “That to place a perpetual head, chieftain, or general over the army, is not only needless, but likewise exceeding prejudicial, and that accordingly in this province all things shall be thus directed; that whenever in a time of war, and pressing necessity, the states of Holland, with the other provinces, shall think fit to proceed to elect a general for the army, or that upon any other occasion a captain-general should be chosen, then not to chuse such a chieftain as shall have a perpetual commission, but for such an expedition, campaign, or occasion only as may happen, &c.” And moreover, you may there fee, that these, and other vigorous resolutions of the like nature, were taken with this special proviso, “that the said resolution shall not be dispensed with, but by the unanimous consent of all the members of the said assembly.”
By this you may perceive, that the supposition of the Hollanders being phlegmatick and dull, and of a slavish nature, is altogether groundless; for seeing they became not free but by the death of the last stadtholder and captain general, and that it was unseasonable and imprudent before that time, for them to shew their commendable zeal for their freedom, and their skill in point of government: and seeing it is evident, that a generation of men that are in freedom, must be overcome, before we can pass a right judgment thereof, and stop the mouths of opposers; we must therefore, leave it to God and time: and if such as like monarchical government, and those base and slavish opposers of liberty survive those times, they will then be able to discern which of the two governments is founded on best reason.
It shall not satisfy me to have said thus much in general; for seeing the states of Holland in their deduction, Chap. 6. Art. 29. declare, that they will not lose their freedom, but with their lives;Because the states of Holland, in their deduction, affirm the contrary. Deductie. Par. 2. Chap. 6. Art. 29. I shall therefore presume to give my opinion of the political maxims of Holland, hoping that my sincere zeal and uprightness to express the same for the benefit of the publick, will be so acceptable to our lawful rulers, that tho’ I may have failed in some things, and by stating the true interest of my country, have been necessitated to reflect on persons, who seek their advantage to the prejudice of Holland, as it is now governed; the said rulers, and true lovers of their native country, will so favour this work, and its author, against the said malevolent persons, that it shall never repent him to have been the first generous and bold undertaker of so commendable a work. But howsoever things happen, or times oppose it, recte fecisse merces est, & ipsa sui pretium virtus; (i. e. to do good is a reward of it self, and virtue carries its own recompence along with it) I shall then, having done my duty as an honest man, good citizen, and upright christian, that may not bury his talent, be able to take comfort in my sincere endeavours: and posterity, into whose hands these writings may fall, will, in spite of all the present powers that oppose it, be able to judge impartially, and that with a sound judgment; because by that time they will have learned, by joyful or sad experience, whether Holland’s interest can be settled upon any other foundation or maxims than those herein exprest; and whether these reasons of mine will not be confirmed by the experience of following ages.
[* ]Belisario magistro militum per orientem, &c. Interea vero fi aliquas civitates seu Castella per limites constituta providerit tua magnitudo nimiæ esse magnitudinis, & propter hoc nox posse bene custodiri ad talem modum ea construi disponat, ut possint per paucos bene servari, &c. Cod. l. 1. Tit. 27. par. 14.
[* ]Quippe ubi libertas, ibi & populus & divitiæ.