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The Dutch too have retained their old constitution: In a passage about governments, "Signs of the Times" (1829) makes reference to the constitution of the Netherlands when discussing the power of people and individuals separate from these governments. Carlyle states that a nation's people have true power in the end. After mentioning the monarchical body ruling Spain, he states that it is the lowest of European nations and then proceeds to make the statement that "The Dutch too have retained their old constitution." However, this is not altogether true. The roots of the contemporary Dutch constitution can be found in the 1579 signing of the Union of Utrecht, a written promise by several of the Northern provinces in the Low Countries to support each other in economic or martial terms against the Spanish Army under Phillip II. This had come after William I of Orange, whom Carlyle called William the Silent, led a revolt in 1568 against the Spaniards, who had ruled the Netherlands for the previous nineteen years. The Union of Utrecht heralded the 1581 Act of Abjuration that declared independence from Spain and paved the way for the creation of the confederal Republic of the Seven United Provinces, also known as the Seven United Netherlands. In 1795 with Napoleon's invasion of the Hapsburg Netherlands and the Austrian Netherlands this Dutch Republic was changed to a unitary state known as the Batavian Republic.

In 1806 Napoleon put his third brother, Louis Bonaparte, in charge of the Kingdom of Holland, a puppet government that gave the French control of the Netherlands. With the fall of the French Empire in 1815, the Dutch drafted a new constitution declaring the United Kingdom of the Netherlands a constitutional monarchy. Herein lies the confusion with Carlyle's statement (which also makes reference to several key events in the wars with Spain), the constitution that the Dutch adhered to had only existed for fourteen years at the time the essay was written. Furthermore, it was completely different than the “old constitution” had been which called for a confederation of self-governing provinces.


Last modified 26 March 2010