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1780-1795 Tijd van pruiken en revoluties

The patriots

Political conflict about modernising the Republic

By the second half of the eighteenth century, the Golden Age of the Republic seemed to be definitely over. As a trading nation, the Republic had been surpassed by England. Although the financial sector was growing, it was unable to cope with increasing unemployment. The voice of the Republic was barely listened to in international politics. This was made painfully clear in the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784), in which the Republic could offer little resistance to the English.

A new political group came to the fore during this crisis. Citizens who up until then had had almost no say in the administration of the towns and the country itself. They regarded Stadholder (governor) William V as a kind of dictator and the ruling class as his puppets. They held the Stadholder responsible for the crisis in which the country found itself. These critical citizens called themselves the Patriots. Some members of the ruling class sided with the patriots.

On 26 September 1781, an anonymous, illegal patriot pamphlet was published, addressed “To the people of the Netherlands”. It had an explosive effect on the political discussions. Two parties became clearly defined: the supporters of Stadholder William V, and, on the other side, the patriots. Both sides made full use of political pamphlets. The country was inundated by an avalanche of magazines – such as the influential De Kruyer – single-page flyers and cartoons. All of these analysed how the Republic was organised and why it was failing, and put forward solutions. Gradually, new elements were brought into the discussions. This was the start of a national feeling, pride in one’s own country, a feeling that began to play an increasingly larger role. People no longer simply thought of themselves as inhabitants of a town or region, but also as citizens of the fatherland, which, according to the patriots, should therefore be organised as a political unity. One moot point in this issue was how the citizens would be represented politically.

Patriot citizens organised themselves into ‘vrijkorpsen’, volunteer corps, a kind of militia to take over the country. Stadholder William V no longer felt safe in the patriot town of The Hague and he retreated to Nijmegen until the Prussian king sent in troops in 1787 to restore order. The Prussian king’s sister, Wilhelmina (wife of the Stadholder) had requested him to take this action. The patriot militia could not stand up to the well-trained Prussian soldiers. Eight years later (in 1795) the Republic came to its end after all, when the revolutionary French came to the aid of the (underground) patriots to overthrow the old regime.

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