Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. V. - The True Interest and Political Maxims, of the Republic of Holland
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAP. V. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The reason why the general liberty in Holland hath caused no more benefit, since the death of the prince of Orange, the last stadtholder of Holland and captain-general during life.
Reasons why Holland has enjoyed but little fruit by its free government.BUT it may be objected, that God hath given us peace with Spain, and snatched away our captain-general and stadtholder, without leaving one of age enough to be his successor; which seem to be the two most desirable things that the inhabitants of Holland could wish for, seeing they are thereby become a people really free, subject to none of what quality soever, but only to reason, and to the laws of their own country, that can only be governed by the interest of their own province or cities: and yet for all this we can see no alteration, but only in this, that the lives, estates, and reputation of the inhabitants, do not depend upon one man’s will; and that the cities cannot by their soldiery suddenly be surprized.See R. Scheele Gemeene Uryheit. So that the rulers, and ministers of the republick of Holland and West-Friesland, as well as those of the particular cities, are now, inasmuch as concerns every man’s person and transactions, liable only to the laws and constitution of the republick, and the cities thereof; and being absolutely their own masters, they need fear no more by ruling well to offend a single head, and consequently to lose their authority, life, and estate for so doing.
Why there was no easing of the imposts.In answer to this I must acknowledge, that the much wished for accident aforesaid hath not hitherto produced such wholesome fruits as might rationally have been expected, especially since hitherto there hath been no ease given to the people from such heavy taxes and impositions. But when the reason of it is rightly scanned, we shall find the cause is not to be imputed to the present free rulers, but to the former usurpation of the stadtholders, governors and captains-general, together with the remaining disorders that had their rise from thence. Yea, it is to be admired, that matters in the present conjuncture are already brought to so good a condition: for when the known and evident causes of what is before expressed are looked into and enumerated every one may soon perceive these four good effects.
In the first place, that at the time of the death of the last stadtholder and captain-general, the province of Holland being of so small a compass, and so poor in treasure as is before expressed, was left charged with so dreadful a capital debt upon interest, and such an excessive number of daily incident debts, that it will not be believed by other nations, nor possibly by our successors in Holland, that so small a province could subsist under such great and heavy taxes; and that the inhabitants thereof could bear, not only the annual interests of such an immense sum, but so many taxes besides for the defence of themselves and their allies:Because Holland was in debt 140 millions, &c. it being remonstrated by the states of that province to prince William, a little before his death, and also afterwards for justification of their proceedings, anno 1650, That the province of Holland was then charged with money taken up at interest, amounting to the sum of one hundred and forty millions of guilders, besides other debts amounting to thirteen millions.
Secondly, That the good inhabitants of the said province, driving their trade to the Levant about the same time, and especially in the years 1650 and 1651, were by the French Corsairs in the Mediterranean extremely endamaged, even so far, that a part only of the foresaid loss, viz. as much as the merchants of Amsterdam by publick command brought in, amounted to above one hundred tuns of gold, or ten millions of guilders.
Together with the English war,Thirdly, That this state in the year 1652, fell into and continued in open war with the English until 1654, which occasioned a remarkable decay of trade, and many great losses to the traders of the said province.
And the eastern war.Fourthly, The eastern wars soon after happened between the kings of Sweden and Denmark; and this state became engaged in it as auxiliaries. All which must be acknowledged by every one for reasons of what I said before; but the right grounds and true causes are curiously enquired into but by very few, and therefore are looked upon by many as the effects of the present government. I have therefore thought it necessary to shew, to the best of my knowledge, how those things came about.
Our former capt. generals with their dependants, the cause of our dreadful taxations. For the sums so taken up were mispent for the conquest of cities. And thereby to keep Holland in slavery.And first concerning the one hundred and forty millions of guilders, with the other undischarged debts above-mentioned; it is well known, and easy to be comprehended, that that debt was forcibly occasioned by the captain-general and his flatterers; the said immense sums being wasted to promote his ambition and glory, by having great armies in the field, and undertaking great sieges to take such cities, as at this day tend to the heavy burdening of Holland. And that which is most to be bewailed was, that the frontier cities were intrusted to the sole command of the captain-general, who placed therein governors and garrisons; so that they served only for so many citadels to hold poor Holland in fetters. And we have often with grief been forced to see, that whilst so many millions were sacrificed by land to the ambition of the captain-general, the necessary defence of navigation and commerce, must depend upon the revenue of the convoys and customs, which are received only of the merchant; and sometimes a part of the said money too was diverted to carry on the war by land.
Which is illustrated by a similitude, how much the country under this free government fares better than under the stadtholders.I know very well, that this way of management was not afterwards discommended, because many of our inhabitants had the good fortune not to be damnified by losses at sea, and the ill conduct of the West-India company, whereof mention is made in the first chapter of the second part of this book; so that they sared at least as well or better than at present, and found there was then money to be got Besides, those manifold destructive wars which happened in most of the neighbouring as well as remote countries, inclined many rich fugitives to settle in Holland.Then money was taken up at interest to consume and waste. But I wish those poor people would have a little foresight, they would then consider that it went with the affairs of the commonwealth, as I once remember it hapned in a certain family that was blessed with a fair estate. The parents being dead, the children were put under the care of a lavish guardian, who giving no account, spent the estate hand over head; and when there was no more money in cash, immediately took up a good sum upon interest, at the charge of the poor orphans; so that not only the foresaid children, but all the children and servants of the neighbourhood liv’d most bravely, and had and did every thing that their hearts could wish for.But now we husband it to pay off the debts contracted by the former lavish housekeeping. But it afterwards hapned, that the wasteful guardian died, and the said children fell under the care and tuition of the chamber of orphans, who kept a continual eye over them, and plac’d them under the daily care of an honest, diligent and sober man, who regulated the house after a quite different manner, without any waste. So that whereas, in the time of the foresaid guardian, there was yearly more spent than the revenue amounted to, and every time money taken up at interest, the revenue did afterwards considerably exceed the expence; and the surplus was laid out to pay off a part of the debt which the former guardian had contracted.
Which displeases many unthinking and ill-meaning inhabitants.But then the children murmured, saying, that their condition was much impaired, that they had a pleasant life under the former guardian; and so did the neighbours, children and servants, they said they could enjoy themselves with delight in that family under the former guardian, but that it was now become a barren place. But those poor orphans little thought, that in case the former management had lasted longer, it would have proved fatal to them in their riper years, And we, poor simple Hollanders, who may with reason be called orphans, how long shall we remain in our childhood and minority; not observing that the plenty we then were sensible of, proceeded from the ill husbandry of a prodigal guardian or steward, which hath run us in debt as aforesaid? at least we ought to conceive, that we must now still be taxed and fleec’d to pay off the interests of that great sum;And neighbours and other stranby our wastfulness use to live at case. which taxes alone under our present governors, would defray the whole charge of the government. So that all that we must now pay for our subsistance and defence, and which lies so heavy upon us, must be look’d upon as the bitter fruits of that tree of wantonness, which that lavish guardian hath planted among us, and which we silly children danc’d about with so much delight; and our neighbours children of Guelderland, Utrecht, Over-Yssel, and others, to whom plenty was no burden, and our hired soldiers, with whole regiments of French, English, Scots and Walloons, who lived in our family, were very well pleased with that kind of life, and it makes their hearts to rejoice when they talk of reviving those times. It is good cutting large thongs out of another man’s hide. But that we Hollanders should be so stupid as not to perceive that the present government is our safety, and that the former would infallibly have procured our ruin, is indeed not to be comprehended.
The French and English depredations by sea happen’d by means of the late government.As to the second cause, viz. the depredations committed in the Mediterranean seas, and thereabouts: it is first apparent, that seeing all the wealth of Holland, as well the said borrowed capital sum, as that which is squeezed out of the sweat and blood of the good inhabitants of the said province, was sacrificed to the ambition of the captain-general; and by his neglect of a vigorous defence by sea, there was a fair and open field given to all nations greedy of prey, to set our men of war against our rich laden ships. Who knows not that the great inticement to evil is the hopes of impunity? He that will always be a sheep, must expect to be eaten of the wolf at last.Seeing by their endeavours our ships of war were sold. To which is to be added, that under pretext of a peace concluded with Spain, as if there were no more ill people in the world, and as if all coveting of one anothers goods would have thereby ceased, the captain-general, by his creatures and flatterers, had so subtilly contrived matters, that several of our ships of war were sold, and thereby we were left naked of our necessary defence by sea. Our honest and most provident rulers could the less oppose it, because there was another mischief impending over them by the captain-general, viz. That as soon as he (who then passed his time chiefly in hunting, hawking, tennis-playing, dancing, comedies, and other more infamous debaucheries) should begin to apply himself to affairs of state, he would imploy the remaining naval power of the land against the government of England for the advancing the interests of his own family, but certainly to the oppression of all the inhabitants of Holland, especially of the trading part.
Upon which it also followed, that some of our ships which were thus sold, became the chief of the foresaid Corsairs against us: which brings to my remembrance, that which was publickly spoken in the year 1651, and probably very true, viz.That the pirates might bring Holland, and especially Amsterdam, to be divided and weakned. That the aforesaid depredations, and others were to be made by shipping, that were to sail out of the Sorlings (or islands of Scilly) and elsewhere by our captain-general’s appointment; and that some of the earwigs of that young prince had persuaded him, that robbing at sea was the surest, yea the only expedient to bring the Amsterdammers, with whom he had been for some time before his death at great variance, to his lure or devotion: It being accounted a sure maxim among such great persons to weaken and ruin all great and strong cities which may oppose their designs; yea, and when private methods are wanting, to make use of open violence for that end: as all histories and examples, both antient and modern, do clearly testify. And that consideration alone ought to be sufficient for us Hollanders (whose welfare entirely consists in flourishing, mercantile, and populous cities) to take a firm resolution, never to put ourselves under a perpetual chief head, by what name or title soever, and to persist therein immutably.
The war with England was brought upon us for the sake of the house of Orange.To the 3d cause, viz. the war against England; I may well say, and that truly, that we have suffered that for the sake of the house of Orange. For those of the parliament of England having cut off the head of their own good king, and being therefore exceedingly hated by all the monarchs in the world, and likely, in all human appearance, to be called to account and punished for it by neighbouring princes, lest such a crime remaining unrevenged, their own subjects might be thereby excited to act the same thing against them: they therefore found themselves under a necessity to seek the friendship of this state;For the English sought for our friendship first. and for that end, soon after the death of the prince of Orange, they sent a considerable embassy hither, without shewing the like honour to any other potentate or state in the world.
I shall not here particularize all that they offered to settle a friendship between both nations; it will be sufficient to observe, that they did by commissioners, earnestly insist with the states general to renew that well known treaty of intercourse made between both nations An. 1495. Tho’ I am of opinion, and have before amply proved it, that it is wholly unadviseable for this state to enter into any farther league with England;Some rulers still remaining slaves to the prince of Orange set themselves against the alliance with the English. The Enlish ambassadors suffering great contempt. yet by renewing the said treaty we should not only settle a friendship, but also at the same time have established our commerce and fishery; as to which the articles of the said treaty (especially in regard of the fishery) are expressed in the most desirable terms. Yet those that conceived themselves bound as slaves to the house of Orange, did not only oppose the concluding of the foresaid desirable treaty, but also sent away those ambassadors with all manner of reproach and dishonour:Which the states of Holland were willing but not able to prevent. first, by opposing them in the publick deliberations of the state against the progress of the said treaty, especially by framing delays, alledging that we first ought to see the issue of the designs of the present king of Great Britain (then declared king in Scotland) and on the other side exciting the rabble against the persons of the said embassadors to such a degree, that the states of Holland perceived the aversion, and daily threats that were uttered against their persons, were necessitated, for preventing of greater mischief, to appoint a corps de guarde to be erected before their house, to secure them from the like mischief which befel Dr. Dorislaus, envoy from the said parliament, at the Swan inn in the Hague.
On which those ambassadors parted discontented. One of whom predicted, that we should repent to have rejected the friendship of England.What aversion such proceedings might have caused in the said ambassadors, is easy to be apprehended, as it also followed; who have observed after they had stayed here a considerable time, that the zeal of the honest and upright government, especially in the province of Holland and Zealand, was not able to ballance the faction of Orange; they returned in great discontent to England; one of them, viz. Mr. St. John (upon taking his leave) told the states commissioners: “My lords, you have your eye upon the the issue of the affairs of the king of Scotland, and therefore have despised the friendship we have profered you; I, will assure you, that many in the parliament were of opinion, that we ought not to have come hither, or to have sent any ambassador ’till we had first overcome our difficulties, and seen an ambassador from you. I now see my fault, and perceive very well that those members of parliament judged right;As we have found by experience most true. you will in a little time see our affairs against the king of Scotland dispatched, and then you will, by your embassadors, come and desire what we now so cordially come to profer. But assure yourselves, you will then repent you have rejected our kindness.” Would to God that experience had not verified the foresaid discourse to our great loss: for the king of Scotland’s affairs being determined by a battel, and a war with this state following upon it; the wounds and losses occasioned by that war effectually brought to pass the repentance aforesaid; but fronte capillata, post est occasio calva: It is in vain to shut the well’s mouth, when the calf is drowned.
And this is the real cause of the first English war.This is the true reason of that lamentable war; to which may be added the intolerable humour of that nation, their continual jealousy of our flourishing traffick, and the innate hatred of Cromwel against the prince of Orange, as a sister’s son of that king, whom of all the world he had most reason to dread. So that every one may easily imagine, what pain and care it hath cost our honest rulers to regain a peace with that nation.
The remaindert of the former government, the cause also of the Eastern wars, so far as related to Holland.Lastly, As to the fourth point, viz. that of the Eastern war: it is certain in case this state had had the good fortune to have framed its consultations according to its true interest, without having in their breasts the same evil which had occasioned the war with England, the growing flames in all probability might easily have been quenched at the beginning, at least in all events the war between Sweden and Denmark had certainly been prevented;The D of Bradenburg, and those that were slavishly inclin’d to the prince, wheedled Holland into it. but it is to be lamented, that all the deliberations that happened in the government, were traversed and thwarted by the fluctuating and changeable humour and interest of the elector of Brandenburg, only because that prince was related to the house of Orange by marriage, and acted a considerable, but a very strange part in that tragedy.
For at the beginning, when the king of Sweden was preparing his attempt against Poland, the duke of Brandenburg opposed it with a more than ordinary animosity; and accordingly seeking to strengthen himself by friends and alliances, those that were inclined to the house of Orange here, were able to effect so much, that the states obliged themselves firmly by a treaty of the 27th of July, 1655, to defend the said elector against the foresaid king of Sweden, having after a few days deliberation undertook the guaranty of the electoral Prussia;First causing us to enter into an alliance with the D. of Brandenburg. a point, which ever till then tho’ it was uncertain whether there would have been any attack to be feared about it in a long time) was looked upon to be of so great weight and importance, that for that reason only, the alliance profered by the said elector for diverse years together with such a clause of guaranty, never took effect. The states by this means being visibly left out of the neutrality, could be no effectual mediators to end the war between Poland and Sweden, which by their interposition and direction had ever been formerly accommodated.Who having receiv’d a good sum of us, got out of that alliance, and took part with the Swede.
But it soon appeared that we were not a little mistaken; for after the said duke began to enjoy the effect of the foresaid treaty, especially after he had received a good sum of the promised subsidies, he suddenly, and without the privity of this state, joined with the king of Sweden, cast off the oath of vassalage he had sworn to the king of Poland, expresly renounced the foresaid alliance with us; and soon after, joining his forces with those of the king of Sweden, gave the Polish army battle near Warsaw.
Which caus’d here a great aversion to that elector.It is true, this action being in itself odious, and extremely contrary to the genius of our nation, rais’d in them so very great an aversion to this elector, that the best affected to the house of Orange were for a long time ashamed openly to patronize the interests of his electoral highness;And caused the advantageous treaty of Elbing for us. by which it happened that the faithful rulers, taking to heart the true interest of this state beyond all others, their wholesome advices took place afterwards so much the better.
The advantages that would have accru’d by that treaty were, viz. tolls no higher than in 1640.And accordingly with great prudence, and upon right maxims for a country subsisting by trade, that treaty was carried on with Sweden, on the 11th of September 1656, at Elbing in Prussia, between the ambassadors of this state, and commissioners of the king of Sweden; whereby it was firmly agreed, that seeing the Swedes had for some years raised the customs excessively high over their whole country, and especially had charged the inhabitants of these Netherlands to pay more than their own subjects; therefore for redress thereof, the customs and other taxes under the power of the Swede, as well without as within the kingdom, should be brought to the same rate they were at about the year 1640.
And no higher than the Sw de himself pays.In the second place, that in case of the raising of customs, and new taxes, the inhabitants of these United Provinces shall be no higher or more charged than the Swedes themselves: so that as to that point, there shall be kept a perfect equality in all things between both nations.
Thirdly, That the inhabitants of these Netherlands in all places under the Swedes command, as well in regard of customs, as to all other advantages, none excepted, shall be treated as well as any other nation shall be treated by the Swede.And as low as any strangers pay, including all other lands where we are concern’d. Whereby much harm would have been prevented.
Fourthly, That all those on whose preservation and peace this state, and the commerce of its inhabitants, is especially concerned, as among others principally the king of Denmark and his kingdoms, the elector of Brandenburg and his dominions, as also the city of Dantzick, and all places belonging to them, be comprehended in the foresaid treaty, with an express covenant, that neither the king of Sweden, nor his subjects and inhabitants, directly nor indirectly, shall give them any molestation, or hindrance in their traffick, much less make war against them.
Would to God, that these affairs so well commenc’d, had been pursued to perfection! Then should the king of Denmark at this day have been master of the province of Schonen, and other countries which were taken from him; and the good inhabitants of Holland have been in possession of many millions, which in the last war were consumed on behalf of the publick, and lost by private persons at sea.
And the reason why the same was not ratified, viz. Holland’s omission caused by their affection to the E. of Brandenburg.But altho’ a treaty concluded by those that are imployed and duly authorized, ought to be ratified by those who gave such full powers under their hands and seals; yet after the conclusion of the said treaty, there was such a fluctuation of humours, that it could not be ratified here. I cannot with truth affirm that the province of Holland was altogether blameless in this matter; but what authority was made use of underhand, the sequel plainly discovered. For when the good king of Denmark, being privately excited to it, had put on his rusty armour, and drawn the king of Sweden that way, then did the elector of Brandenburg effectually shew what that occasion was worth to him: for as soon as the king of Sweden had turned his back upon Poland and Prussia, he made no more scruple again to break the covenant of vassalage he had made with Sweden, than he formerly made conscience of solemnly renouncing the alliance he had made with this state;Who to obtain the sovereignty of the electoral Prussia, fell again from the Swede and join’d the Polander. and accordingly by that opportunity entered into a new treaty with the king of Poland, and covenanted to have the sovereignty of the ducal Prussia, which he formerly held of that king in fee, with other advantages that are not necessary here to enumerate.
But since by not ratifying the treaty of Elbing, we help’d the king of Denmark to put on his armour to so little purpose, and procured those notable advantages to the elector of Brandenburg, the kingdom of Denmark (God amend it) hath cost us dear enough:To our great damage. but that which most troubled us, was, that the said elector again arming himself against the Swede, and this state being in manner beforementioned drawn into the war between Sweden and Denmark, the interest of Brandenburg was so powerful, that it was impossible for us afterwards either to get out of that war, or to put an end to it, till not only Brandenburg, but Poland, and the whole house of Austria, to whom the elector of Brandenburg had obliged himself to make no peace without them, had first concluded their treaty, and had obtained their ends by the arms of this state. So that for the interest of Brandenburg we were just at the point of falling into a war with France, England, and Sweden, all at once, and consequently of fixing ourselves to the party of Austria and Spain, which would have tended to our utmost ruin.Who to please Brandenburg have been in the utmost danger. From which being at last delivered by the sage direction and management of the faithful rulers of Holland, tho’ not without their signal and personal danger, we have great cause to be highly thankful to God for it.