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  • A history of the rise of the Dutch Republic

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on September 20th, 2005 (All posts by )

    Lex has written two fascinating posts about the Dutch origins of New York, to be found here and here.

    I think that this is of interest in this context: The Rise of the Dutch Republic (Complete 1555-84) by John Lothrop Motley

    From Motley’s preface to his work:

    The rise of the Dutch Republic must ever be regarded as one of the
    leading events of modern times. Without the birth of this great
    commonwealth, the various historical phenomena of: the sixteenth and
    following centuries must have either not existed; or have presented
    themselves under essential modifications.–Itself an organized protest
    against ecclesiastical tyranny and universal empire, the Republic guarded
    with sagacity, at many critical periods in the world’s history; that
    balance of power which, among civilized states; ought always to be
    identical with the scales of divine justice. The splendid empire of
    Charles the Fifth was erected upon the grave of liberty. It is a
    consolation to those who have hope in humanity to watch, under the reign
    of his successor, the gradual but triumphant resurrection of the spirit
    over which the sepulchre had so long been sealed. From the handbreadth of
    territory called the province of Holland rises a power which wages eighty
    years’ warfare with the most potent empire upon earth, and which, during
    the progress of the struggle, becoming itself a mighty state, and binding
    about its own slender form a zone of the richest possessions of earth,
    from pole to tropic, finally dictates its decrees to the empire of

    So much is each individual state but a member of one great international
    commonwealth, and so close is the relationship between the whole human
    family, that it is impossible for a nation, even while struggling for
    itself, not to acquire something for all mankind. The maintenance of the
    right by the little provinces of Holland and Zealand in the sixteenth, by
    Holland and England united in the seventeenth, and by the United States
    of America in the eighteenth centuries, forms but a single chapter in the
    great volume of human fate; for the so-called revolutions of Holland,
    England, and America, are all links of one chain.

    I think that Motley is right to put the Netherlands, England and the United States into a common category, for the rise of England and later the United States very likely wouldn’t have been possible if the Netherlands hadn’t destroyed the Spanish naval dominance in the mid 1600s (among a lot of other factors, of course, but I don’t want to get into those here).

    Motley is himself quite noteworthy (from the Etext Editor’s Note at Project Gutenberg):

    Motley was the United States Minister to Austria, 1861-67, and the United
    States Minister to England, 1869-70. Mark Twain mentions his respect for
    John Motley. Oliver Wendell Holmes said in ‘An Oration delivered before
    the City Authorities of Boston’ on the 4th of July, 1863: “‘It cannot be
    denied,’–says another observer, placed on one of our national
    watch-towers in a foreign capital,–‘it cannot be denied that the
    tendency of European public opinion, as delivered from high places, is
    more and more unfriendly to our cause; but the people,’ he adds,
    ‘everywhere sympathize with us, for they know that our cause is that of
    free institutions,–that our struggle is that of the people against an
    oligarchy.’ These are the words of the Minister to Austria, whose
    generous sympathies with popular liberty no homage paid to his genius by
    the class whose admiring welcome is most seductive to scholars has ever
    spoiled; our fellow-citizen, the historian of a great Republic which
    infused a portion of its life into our own,–John Lothrop Motley.” (See
    the biography of Motley, by Holmes) Ed.]

    A lot of Motley’s other books can be also found at Gutenberg. Oliver Wendell Holmes’ biography of Motley is located here.