Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XII. - The True Interest and Political Maxims, of the Republic of Holland
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CHAP. XII. - 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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That Holland, during its free government, cannot be ruined by any intestine power.
An enquiry whether Holland may be ruin’d by factions.’TIS evident that no domestick power can subvert the republic of Holland, nor destroy the welfare of the inhabitants, except by a general conspiracy, sedition, insurrection, and civil war of the people and cities of Holland against one another, because they are so wonderfully linked together by a common good, that those homebred tumults and wars are not to be supposed able to be raised, except by inhabitants of such eminent strength, as is able to force the magistracy of the country to the execution of such destructive counsels.In case one province should take the prince of Orange for their head. And seeing now in Holland and West-Friesland there is no captain-general or stadtholder, nor any illustrious person except the prince of Orange; therefore we will consider, whether if the said prince, who is in no office of the generality, continuing in these provinces, might be able to cause or effect such ruinous and destructive divisions in Holland.
And indeed as I have a prospect, that if he should happen to get into any administration, he might occasion such divisions and breaches: yet on the other side, I cannot see how without employment, either from the generality, or this province, he could obtain so great an interest in the government of these countries, as to be able to cause a civil war, and make himself master of them, either with the old or a new title: for he being no general, nor having any military dependents, and out of all command, tho’ he might by seditious preachers cause a few of the rabble to rise against their lawful rulers;It is answered in the affirmative, but else not. yet this would not be like to happen at one time, and in so many places together, as to make an alteration in the provincial government. And that free government remaining intire, the new magistrates obtruded on the people upon this rising, would be turned out, and the seditious every time signally punished. And this would also tend to the great prejudice of the honour of the prince of Orange; besides, that by this means he would lose all hopes and appearances of ever being imployed in the country’s service; and on the other side might fear, that he and his posterity should for ever be excluded from all government and service in these United Netherlands by a perpetual law.
Much less could the deputies of the generality, depriv’d of such a head, be able to cause commotions.And if the prince of Orange be not able to cause such seditions and divisions, I suppose it could less be done by any college of the generality: for I would fain know in which of the cities of Holland would the states general, or the council of state, without a military head, be now able to alter the present free government by force or faction? Assuredly not in any one city. And from the lesser colleges of the generality such mischiefs are less to be feared.
But perhaps some may say, that the rulers or states of this province, of their own accord, or seduced by promises and gifts, forget that warning, fear those who are accustomed to do ill, especially when they make presents* , and will bring in the Trojan horse. But yet the arm’d men concealed in his belly, will never be able, by the conspiracy of some magistrates, to destroy our province, and to subdue and burn our cities by uproars against the rulers;Whether the free Holland rulers are likely to bring in the Trojan horse. but possibly they may by bringing in the horse, weaken our lawful governors, and leave our cities without defence, and then the horse may be drawn into the inward court, and into the feeble and weak assembly of the states. As Ruy Gomaz de Silva says of the Netherlands in general, “That they are more fiery than they should be for the preservation of their liberties, when by force they are attempted to be taken from them; and yet never any people have been so easy almost wholly to resign them.See F. Strada. lib. 6. And the emperor Charles the fifth used to say, that no people were so averse from servitude as the Netherlanders, and yet in the world no people suffered the yoke to be so easily laid on them, when they were gently treated.”See Bentiveglio, relat. lib. 3. ch. 7, 8. Besides which, cardinal Bentivoglio endeavours to shew by many reasons, that the United Netherland Provinces cannot long preserve their free government; but seeing the Netherlanders have never before been in the quiet possession of a free republick, at least not the Hollanders, there can be no example given of their neglecting their own freedom, or of corrupting them with money for that end. For when formerly it happened in Holland by unavoidable sad accidents, that we were necessitated to draw the Trojan horse into the inward court, we saw the fire and flame, snorting, neighing, and armed men spring from his body at pleasure, without regard either to the benefit or damage of the inhabitants. So we shall always find it true, in all chargeable and necessitous countries, governed by a few aristocratical rulers, and provided with but few unrewarded annual magistrates, that a great person obtaining there any power in the government or militia, will easily draw to his party all rulers and magistrates by the most considerable and profitable offices and benefices which he can confer;Why this happened in part in these Netherlands. or if any dare to stand it out against him, he would keep him out of employment, or deter him from maintaining the publick liberty: so that every one to obtain those advantages, or to evade those hardships, will be tempted to give up the freedom of his country; and it is no wonder that we have seen such dealings so often practised in these parts.
Viz. Because the earls, stadtholders, &c. were to be flattered, not contradicted.But it is also true, that when the princes of these countries were raised to such a degree, that they conceiv’d it was no longer needful for them to oblige the rulers and magistrates of the gentry, and cities, not doubting to bear them down by their great popularity among the inhabitants, or to suppress them by their military authority; it hath often appeared, that beyond expectation many good patriots, and lovers of liberty, especially many prudent, ancient, and experienced merchants, have then evidenced their zeal for the defence of their privileges, well knowing they should be forced to part with them under a monarchical government; and therefore joined with such rulers and magistrates as encouraged them to maintain their freedom, as far as they possibly could, nay, even the shadow of liberty, with their lives and fortunes.
It is not probable it will now happen so in Holland.All which ought to persuade us, that the assembly of the states of Holland, and the subordinate magistrates of this present free state, having in their own power the bestowing of all honourable and profitable employments; and which is more, not needing now to fear their own military power, and being able without scruple to command them, and by them to reduce other mutinous and seditious inhabitants to obedience, will not now be inclined to call in, or set up a head, which they would immediately fear no less than idolaters do the idols of their own making;Because all worthy rulers may perceive it would be their ruin. and not only so, but they must reverence his courtiers too, and beseech them that they would please to suffer themselves to be chosen and continued in the yearly magistracies, and bestow some offices and employments on them and their friends, changing the liberty they now enjoy as magistrates of a free state, into a base and slavish dependance. Which things well considered, we ought to believe that the Hollanders will rather chuse to hazard their lives and estates for the preservation of this free government.
As the states of Holland have plainly expressed it in Deduct. part. 2. c. 1. §. 9. &c.But if any one should get doubt of this, let him hear the states of Holland and West-Friesland speak in that famous deduction now in print, where their lordships have published their sentiment in this matter: for having been accused by some of the provinces to have done something repugnant to their dear bought freedom, they very roundly and plainly declared “That they are as sensible of those allegations as any others; and that they purpose, and are resolved to preserve and maintain the said freedom, as well in respect of the state in general, as of their province in particular, even as the apple of their eye. And that as they were the first and chief procurers of freedom both for themselves and their allies, so they will never suffer it to be said with truth, that any others should out do them in zeal for preserving and defending the common liberty.
§. 9. Nay, that it can hardly enter into the head of any man, according to the judgment of all political writers, who have sound understanding, That in a republick, such great offices of captain-general, and stadtholder, can without signal danger of the common freedom be conferred upon those, whose ancestors were clothed with the same employments.
“§. 10. Laying it down as unquestionable, and well known to all those that have in any measure been conversant with such authors as treat of the rise, constitution, and alteration of kingdoms, states and countries, together with the form of their governments, that all the republicks of the world, without exception, which departed from such maxims and customs, more particularly those who have entrusted the whole strength of their arms to a single person during life, with such others as continued them too long in their commands, have been by that means brought under subjection, and reduced to a monarchical state. And after very many examples produced for confirmation of what is alledged, their lordships further add:
They will not easily forget the violence of their own stadtholder and captain-general.“§ 22. And have we not seen with our own eyes, that the last deceased captain-general of this state endeavoured to surprize the capital and most powerful city of the land, with those very arms which the states entrusted to him? And moreover, that he dared so unspeakably to wrong the states of Holland and West-Friesland, whose persons he, as a sworn minister and natural subject, was bound to revere? that he seized six of the principal lords, whilst they were sitting in their sovereign assembly, and carried them away prisoners? And hath not God Almighty visibly opposed, broken and frustrated the secret designs concealed under that pernicious attempt, by sending out of heaven a thick darkness, with a great and sudden storm of rain, by which we were preserved?
“§ 23. And all things well considered, it might be questioned, according to the judgment of the said politicians, whether by advancing the present prince of Orange to that dignity, and those high offices in which his ancestors were placed, the freedom of this state would not be remarkably endangered: for God does not always miracles, neither are we to flatter our selves that these countries shall always escape that destruction which has ever attended all those nations that have taken the same course without exception.
“And lastly, the states of Holland and West-Friesland do thus express their unalterable resolution upon the last article. At least their lordships will on their own behalf declare, and do hereby declare, that they are firmly resolved to strengthen the foresaid union, viz. of Utrecht, for the conservation of the state in general, and for maintaining the publick liberty, together with the supremacy, and rights of the respective provinces, according to the grounds here expressed; and at all times, and upon all occasions, will contribute their help, even to the utmost, towards the preservation and defence of their dear-bought liberty, and the privileges of these countries, which are so dear, and of such inestimable value to them, that they will not suffer themselves to be diverted from their resolution by any inconveniences or extremities;They will not lose their free government but with the loss of their lives. nor will lay down their good intentions but with their lives, trusting that they shall be duly seconded herein upon all occasions by our other allies; for which the said states will send up their servent prayers to Almighty God. Amen”. This done and concluded by the said states of Holland and West-Friesland in the Hague, the 25th of July 1654, by command of the said states, was signed.
Herbert van Beaumont.
To which we shall add the perpetual edict of the 5th of August 1667. containing as follows,
In 1667, they made a perpetual law to preserve their free government.“The several states of Holland and West-Friesland, after several adjournments, and mature deliberation, and communication with the knights and gentlemen, and likewise with the councils of the cities, unanimously, and with the general concurrence of all the members, for a perpetual edict, and everlasting law, in order to preserve the publick freedom, together with the union and common peace, have enacted, as they do hereby enact and decree, the points and articles following
Prohibiting the electing of any magistrates,“1. That the power of electing and summoning in the order of the knighthood and nobles, together with the nomination and choice of burgomasters, common-council, judges, and all other offices of the magistracy in cities, shall remain in the power of the summoned knighthood and gentry, together with the cities respectively, as by antient custom, privileges and grants is confirmed or granted to them, or might still be confirmed or granted, with the free exercise of the same, according to the laws and privileges. And that the fore-mentioned nomination, or election, or any part thereof, shall not for ever be convey’d or given away.
Or confering any imployments, or admitting the same.“2. That all offices, charges, services or benefices, which are at present in the disposal of the states of Holland and West-Friesland, shall be, and continue in them, without any alteration or diminution, excepting only the military employments and offices which may become vacant in the field, and during any expedition by sea or land, concerning which the states of Holland will by a further order determine, not only of the provisional settlement, but also principally of the disposal thereof, so as shall be most for the service and benefit of the land.
“3. That the states of Holland and West-Friesland, shall not only deny their suffrages to the contrary, but also move the generality with all possible efficacy, that it may be enacted and established with the unanimous consent and concurrence of our allies, and by a resolution of the states-general; that whatever person shall be hereafter made captain or admiral-general, or have both the said offices; or whoever shall among any other titles have the chief command over the forces by sea or land, shall not be, or remain stadtholder of any province, or provinces. And forasmuch as concerns the province of Holland and West-Friesland, not only such person who shall be entrusted with the chief command over the forces by sea or land, but also no other person whatever shall be made stadtholder of that province;And secluding all stadtholders of any of the provinces from being capt. general. but the aforesaid office shall be, and remain suppressed, mortified, and void in all respects. And the lords commissioners of the council, in their respective quarters, have it recommended to them according to their instructions, to give all necessary orders, and to use such circumspection and prudence, as is requisite in affairs that may happen in the absence of the states of Holland and West-Friesland, wherein speedy orders might be absolutely needful.
And also swearing never to suffer any thing repugnant hereto.“4. That for the greater stability of these resolutions, and, for the mutual ease and quiet of the gentry and cities, all those who are at present elected into the order of knighthood, or that may hereafter be elected, together with all such as may be hereafter chosen in the great council of the cities, shall by their solemn oath declare that they will maintain the foresaid points religiously and uprightly, and by no means suffer that there be any incroachment or infraction made against the same; much less at any time to make, or cause to be made, any proposition which might in any wise be repugnant thereunto. Likewise the oath of the lords that shall appear at the assembly of the states of Holland and West-Friesland, shall be enlarged in the fullest and most effectual form. And the counsellor-pensionary for the time being, shall also be obliged by oath to preserve and maintain as much as in him lies, all the said points, without ever making any proposal to the contrary, or putting it to the question, either directly or indirectly, much less to form a conclusion.
And that all captain generals must swear to maintain all above-written, &c.“5. That moreover, for the further stability of the said third point, the same shall be expresly inserted in the instructions to be given to a captain or admiral-general; and he that is so elected, shall be obliged by oath, not only to seek it at any time directly or indirectly, much less to form a design to obtain it directly or indirectly; but on the contrary, in case any other should do it beyond expectation, that he shall withstand and oppose it: and if the dignity of stadtholder should at any time be offer’d to him by any of the provinces, that he will refuse and decline the same.”
And truly this solemn declaration, and perpetual edict of our lawful sovereigns, which passed with the unanimous consent of all the members of the assembly, who were in perfect freedom to form their own resolutions touching the preservation of their liberties, ought to be of greater weight with every one, and especially with us, than any other declaration made by the states of Holland and West-Friesland, when they were under the servitude of a haughty governor;All good patriots admire and value this liberty. or than the declaration of that formidable emperor Charles the 5th made to his own advantage, even tho’ we should add the foreign testimony of Ruy Gomes de Silva, or that of cardinal Bentivoglio, since they were not capable of experiencing or feeling how intolerably those shoes pinch’d us; much less could they be sensible how well pleased the understanding Netherlanders are, whether rulers or subjects, to find* themselves in a condition to declare with freedom their sentiments concerning the welfare of the nation; and living by the laws of the country, need to fear no man, as before they did. But above all other inhabitants, our vigilant rulers, who heretofore durst not open their mouths for the privileges of the land, the lawful government, and liberty of the people without incurring the danger of being sent prisoners to Lovestein castle, may consider with themselves, that they can now freely speak their minds for the benefit of their country, and themselves: and let this be well weighed by every one that has but one drop of free Netherland blood in his veins.
Whether our free cities, if at variance, could ruin each other.Lastly, it is to be considered, whether the prosperity and free government of Holland would not probably be destroyed, unless they have an illustrious head for life, even by the freedom which the members of Holland do now actually use, in giving their voices with the states of Holland, at the pleasure, and for the benefit of their respective principals, and by cross and contrary interests, dissentions, and wars of the cities among themselves; which some great men say, cannot be well prevented or quieted without such an illustrious head.
All republicks that have such a head, will come to ruin.To which I answer; that indeed all republicks without exception, which have constituted chief governors for life, vested with any considerable power in civil, and especially in military affairs, have been subject to continual intestine dissensions and wars, and have fallen for the most part into monarchical governments. This was the fate of all the Italian republicks, except some few that by those divisions and tumults had the good fortune to expel their tyrants, and by that means an opportunity of introducing a better form of government without the controul of such an insolent master. This was also the the fate of all the republicks in Germany, and these Netherlands, under their dukes, earls, stadtholders, bishops, and captain-generals.See Deduct. Part 2. ch. 3. §6. Which is not strange; for divide and reign being the political maxim of such heads, they will use all their art and power to raise and foment divisions in their territories, and fish so long in those troubled waters, ’till they overcome both parties; as all ages can witness.
But republicks without a head never will;2. I have considered, but cannot remember so much as one example of a republick without such a head, which ever fell into any mischievous intestine commotions that lasted long; but on the contrary, we ought to take notice, that the free imperial cities, or republicks in Germany, never make war against one another;As appears in Germany and Switzerland. and that the Cantons of Switzerland being mutually bound to a common defence (even as we are by the union of Utrecht) do very seldom contend among themselves, and if they do happen to take arms, very little blood is shed; and in a short time, without prejudice to their free government, they are reconciled by the mediation of the other cantons: so that their republicks have now stood near 400 years. Which can be attributed to no other cause than that the differing parties, mutually sensible of the mischiefs they felt, were not necessitated by any such chief head or governor to continue a prejudicial and destructive war: for those cantons have been always careful not to elect any commander or general during life over the confederated forces of the union.Who are cautious of chusing a political or military head. Neither have any of the said cantons ever thought fit to place a perpetual commander in chief over their own soldiers in the field, but always for the design in hand only; tho’ after their revolt from their lords of the house of Austria, they were necessitated to support a war, as long and dangerous as that we had against those of the same family.Deduct. Part 2. 3. §. 14. And for so much as concerns these United Provinces, let the reader please to hear the states of Holland and West-Friesland, who after many strong and weighty reasons add, “So that their lordships conceive they may firmly conclude, that in these lands hardly any other differences and divisions have ever existed, at least not of great importance, but such as have been formed on the account of those heads, or by their means.”While our political and military head has caused well nigh all our divisions, which can no more happen in our republicks, and why.
3. The cities of Holland by intestine wars would on both sides suffer infinitely more loss than the Swiss-Cantons, or any other cities far remote from one another. For all the inland cities of Holland, hardly one excepted, do as well subsist by trade, as those that are nearer to the sea; and the least sea-city would by that means be able to make the greatest booty of the strongest: as it is also known, that the least city of Holland may in a short time so well fortify itself, that it could not be taken by the greater. So that our cities lying so close together, the adjacent lands would in case of war be immediately ruined, and all the ways by land or water that lead towards the cities, would be so infested, that all trading would immediately cease. Wherefore both parties would forthwith be moved by the other disinterested cities to chuse a more profitable peace, in lieu of such an unprofitable and pernicious war.
Lastly, I observe, that all the cities in Holland are governed by few standing magistrates or city-councils, but rather by annual magistrates; and that so few persons as serve for magistrates so little a time, could not make so great and mischievous a war upon their neighbouring cities, and maintain themselves in their obstinacy, without being turned out of the government by their own inhabitants, who would not suffer such a temper to their prejudice to continue amongst them; at least they would be kept out of the magistracy by their competitors. And I believe no example can be brought of a few aristocratical rulers of a city, or republick purely subsisting by trade, who have ever long maintained an offensive war, without causing at the same time their own subjects to mutiny on that account, and to turn them out of the government.
Holland without a head can never be inwardly ravish’d.And accordingly I shall not only conclude, that Holland during its free government shall never be more subject to any durable, destructive, intestine dissention, much less to intestine wars, than the Switzer and German republicks: but I will add, that as the perpetual and true maxim of a government by a single person, is divide & impera, by raising and fomenting divisions among the rulers, magistrates and inhabitants, to make one party by degrees master of the other, and then to rule both: so it is also the true and steady maxim of all republicks, * to create a good understanding and mutual affection between the magistrates and people, by a mild and gentle government, because the welfare of all commonwealths depends upon it, and is destroyed by the contrary. And accordingly I shall finish this chapter by saying, that we should have reason to wonder, if any wise man ever believed that it is the interest of free republicks to chuse an illustrious head, vested with authority for life, in order to compose the differences that may arise among them: for I think we have already proved, that no surer way can be taken to introduce perpetual divisions into republicks, with foreign and domestick wars, and at last a monarchical government, than by setting up such an eminent commanding head.
[* ]Timeo Danaos, & dona serentes.
[* ]Concordia res parvæ crescunt, discordia maxime dilabuntur.