Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. X. - The True Interest and Political Maxims, of the Republic of Holland
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CHAP. X. - 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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Some general and particular inferences drawn from the foregoing considerations, touching all our allies.
OUT of all which foregoing particulars, I conceive we may draw the following corollaries.
General maxims against the three most potent monarchs,First, that all alliances which Holland might make in a time of peace with any neighbouring princes of Europe are wholly unserviceable to us; since in our necessity we shall never receive aid from them, but rather be drawn into a war. But in times of war and trouble we should consider, according to what I formerly mentioned, whether Holland were able to defend itself, and continue to do against its most potent neighbours, France, Spain, and England, without any assistance from abroad. And seeing I suppose we can, it then follows, that if we are attack’d by a weaker power, we must not seek help from those great potentates mentioned, because they would thereby become greater and mightier. And on the contrary, a good patriot of Holland ought to wish, that France and England may decrease, and that Spain may not increase in strength.
And if it should so fall out, that one of the three abovementioned kingdoms should make war upon us, it is not at all needful that we therefore should seek aid from abroad against them by alliances, unless they of their own accord, and decently offer themselves; for otherwise we shall get nothing but a number of good words;France. and if we rely on them, we shall be much hindered, as we lately found in our English war, when we were allied with France, and have learned from that inferior and ungrateful Denmark. But when those alliances fall into our laps, then, I say;
England.2. When Holland is fallen into a war with England, all alliances with other potentates are good, in order to escape, provided our allies first perform their engagements.
Spain.3. When Spain makes war with us, an offensive alliance with France is good, provided the French comply first with their engagements; and if they will not, it is better to stand upon our own bottom, and to labour that we run not aground: and seeing we must run the adventure, it is better to endeavour with full sail to pass over the flats, than in expectation of foreign pilots, who all may promise to assist us with their skill, to let our vessel drive slowly, but certainly on the sands, and perish.
That in matters of polity, relating to an enemy, none ought to be faint-hearted.It is always more decent and honourable for men to show that courage they have, and effectually to exert their utmost strength against an enemy, in order to preserve their rights, than to surrender all through cowardice and fear. For tho’ they may lose by the war, yet they sell every advantage so dear to the enemy, that afterwards neither he nor any other will rashly come on again. But he who for fear, and want of courage, gives up any part of his estate and right, invites and pulls down upon his own head all that a covetous enemy can desire, and is despised by all men.
Contracts with lesser states are the best.4. All these disturbances and wars, whether against France (unless that kingdom were strengthned by devouring the Spanish Netherlands, and so become our neighbour) or against any other potentates, may more easily be overcome without any alliance; tho’ in such a case the lesser republicks and potentates may, in favour of Holland, be drawn into the war by some preceding alliance, because we having gotten what we aimed at, will ever interpret the alliance made to our best advantage.
And a good alliance with a republick, is better than with a king.5. It is cæteris paribus more useful either for Holland, or other potentates, to have alliances with a republick, than with a prince or king, because such alliances being grounded upon a common interest, they may assure themselves that they will always be so understood by the governors of a commonwealth, who besides are immortal and perpetual. Whereas on the other side, single persons have seldom so much understanding and knowledge, as to apprehend their own interest, much less will they take the pains to govern by that rule; and besides, they are very inconstant and mortal, and naturally hate all republicks.
6. It is, and always will be dangerous for Holland to make alliances with France, Spain, or England, because ’tis probable that they who are more esteemed only because they are kings, and possess larger territories than we, will always oblige us to perform our engagements first, and expound all ambiguous points to their own advantage.But alliances with France, Spain, and England, are dangerous. But so long as we are in the least fear of France, that is, so long as Spain can keep the Netherlands, we may best enter into alliance with that kingdom for common defence, against those that might wrong, or make war against the one or the other.Yet that we may not have France for our neighbour, almost all alliances are good. But when France is like to be master of the Netherlands, and become our neighbour, it is not only necessary for Holland to prevent that potent, and always bold and insolent neighbour, and to take great care not to make any league, by which France may in any measure increase in power; but all the potentates and states of Europe ought to combine together to hinder the further growth of that kingdom, which hath already overgrown all its neighbours.
Above all things we ought to make no alliance with England save against France.Likewise so long as we must dread England in the highest degree, it is perfectly useless to make the least alliance with that kingdom, save such as is grounded upon a common fear of agreater power, as now France is; seeing all written alliances, without common necessity, are interpreted in favour of the greatest, as happens in all doubtful cases: besides that England will thus find more cause with appearance of right to make war against us. For if that be found true, which mean persons conclude, that all that are in partnership have a master; and that all such partnerships begin In the name of God, but use to end in that of the devil: ’tis much more true of kings and princes, who have outgrown all justice; and consequently as true, that so long as England intends to have the quiet or disquiet of Holland at their own disposal, she would be the worst and most tyrannical ally for us that were to be found in the whole world, unless the dread of a more powerful neighbour should curb that pernicious inclination.
To sum up all: so long as Holland can stand on its own legs, it is utterly unadvisable to make any alliance with those who are more potent; and especially it is not good to perform any thing first, or be before hand with those unconstant monarchs and princes, in hope that they will perform with us afterwards, according to the old saying, They that eat cherries with great men must pay for them themselves; and besides, suffer them to chuse the fairest, and expect at last to be pelted with the stones, instead of thanks for the favour received.
Benefit of alliances consists in never performing first.7. And consequently it is certain, that all the advantage in articles of an alliance consists in this, that Holland do always covenant that the other allies shall first perform their engagements. All other sort of alliances are very prejudicial to us: for by the proper constitution, or antient custom of our government, the deputies of the provinces upon all occasion will, where they can expect any private benefit, suffer themselves to be moved by foreign ambassadors to draw in Holland to their party, when they can see no detriment to accrue thereby to their particular provinces.
Especially because our generalities colleges are not settled according to our interest.And the following proverb takes place with those especially (whose commissioners for the generality are not concerned for the publick, so long as their provinces remain unburdened) That it is very easy to lie in the ashes with another man’s garment, and be warm. So also ’tis not difficult to take generous resolutions at the cost of another, to keep promise, to be liberal and merciful towards our neighbours, while all other potentates and states continue to deal openly and fairly with us. But supposing the other provinces might be somewhat concerned therein, yet is their interest so inconsiderable, that among their deputies we ever find that a general evil is weighed according to the weigher’s particular interest and no otherwise, how heavily soever another may be oppressed thereby; especially here, because they are seldom called to account by their superiors for their transactions.
And if any one doubts of the truth of these inferences, viz. That all superior powers, especially the monarchs and princes of Europe, play with their allies as children do with nine-pins, which they set up, and immediately beat down againas they please;For potentates trifle with oaths. and that he that first performs is ever the loser, and suffers shame, let him read the histories of Francisco Guicciardino, and Philip de Commines. And if these two famous politicians, the one an Italian, the other a Netherlander, writing of matters in which they had the profoundest skill, and in which they were very often employed; if they, I say, do not remove these doubts, much less will it be effected by any reasoning from me.
In the mean time, to conclude what hath been alledged above (viz. seeking our preservation by alliances) I shall lay before you that which the antients have figured out by the ensuing fable.
The general conclusion illustrated by a fable of an old and rich man, and a young country fellow.“A rich but weak countryman, observing that his poor and strong neighbour, contrary to preceding promises made of assisting each other, did notwithstanding steal his apples, and robb’d his orchard; told him of the injustice and perfidiousness of the thing, desiring that he would be satisfied with what he had. To this the strong boor answered, that this sermon very well became a rich unarmed man; but that he being hungry, could not fill his empty belly with such food. And as to his former promises and engagements for mutual defence, such kind of necessity is ever excepted, and that he could not comply therewith. Upon this the other weak and old boor having gathered a nosegay of sweet herbs and beautiful flowers, threw them to the plunderer, saying, I present you with these fruits, that you may not rob my orchard, which I use to sow and plant for the use and refreshment of friends. The impudent young fellow thinking with himself, that he must needs be very silly, who being able to take all, will be content with so small a matter, robb’d him more and more of all that came to hand; insomuch that the owner became impatient, and in great haste gathered up some stones, and threw them at the plunderer; who being grievously hurt, was necessitated to leap down from the tree and fly.Weak states improving their natural strength-do commonly defend themselves against a bold aggressing neighbour The old boor finding himself alone, broke out into these words, Formerly we used to say, in words, herbs and stones, there are great virtues; but now I really find the weakness of words and herbs, i. e. alliances, and gifts to knavish men. For all gifts and receipts are good for the physician, and the true antidote in all politick distempers, is good arms and treasure: so that to make an end, I say, that no body can defend his goods against wicked men, but by stones, that is, good arms, which are the only things left us, whereby we can bravely defend our lives and estates.
But seeing these conclusions do affirm, that Holland is able to defend itself against all foreign power, and yet the same is not sufficiently proved; there fore I shall do it in the following chapters more fully, with this reserve, that Holland notwithstanding ought for its own interest always to maintain the union of Utrecht, so long as the other provinces forsake not Holland, nor assault it in a hostile manner.