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Chapter 15:

New Netherland.

THE spirit of the age was present when the founda-
Chap. XV.}
tions of New York were laid. Every great European event affected the fortunes of America. Did a state prosper, it sought an increase of wealth by plantations in the west. Was a sect persecuted, it escaped to the New World. The reformation, followed by collisions between English dissenters and the Anglican hierarchy, colonized New England; the reformation, emancipating the Low Countries, led to settlements on the Hudson. The Netherlands divide with England the glory of having planted the first colonies in the United States; they also divide the glory of having set the examples of public freedom. If England gave our fathers the idea of a popular representation, the United Provinces were their model of a federal union. At the discovery of America the Netherlands possessed the municipal institutions which had survived the wreck of the Roman world, and the feudal liberties of the middle ages. The landed aristocracy, the hierarchy, and the municipalities, exercised political franchises. The municipal officers, in part appointed by the sovereign, in part perpetuating themselves, had common interests with the industrious citizens, from whom they were selected; and the nobles, cherishing [257] the feudal right of resisting arbitrary taxation,
Chap. XV.}
joined the citizens in defending national liberty against encroachments.

The urgencies of war, the reformation, perhaps

1517 to 1559.
also the arrogance of power, often tempted Charles V. to violate the constitutions of the Netherlands; Philip II., on his accession in 1559, formed the delib-
erate purpose of subverting them, and found a willing coadjutor in the prelates. During the middle age the church was the sole guardian of the people; and its political influence rested on gratitude towards the order which limited arbitrary power by invoking the truths of religion, and opened to plebeian ambition the highest distinctions. In the progress of society, the ward was become of age, and could protect its rights; the guardian had fulfilled its office, and might now resign its supremacy. But the Roman hierarchy, rigidly asserting authority, refused to submit faith to the test of inquiry, and struggled to establish a spiritual despotism: the sovereigns of Europe, equally refusing to subject their administrations to discussion, aimed at absolute dominion in the state. A new political alliance was the consequence. The catholic priesthood and the temporal sovereigns, during the middle age so often and so bitterly opposed, entered into a natural and necessary friendship. By increasing the number of bishops, who, in right of their office, had a voice in the states, Philip II., in 1559, destroyed the balance of the constitution.

Thus the power of the sovereign sought to crush inherited privileges. Patriotism and hope animated the provinces; despotism and bigotry were on the side of Philip. We have witnessed the sanguinary character of the Spanish system at St. Augustine; we are [258] now to trace the feudal liberties of the Netherlands to

Chap. XV.}
the Isle of Manhattan.

The contest in the Low Countries was one of the most memorable in the history of the human race. All classes were roused to opposition. The nobles framed a solemn petition; the common people broke in pieces the images that filled the churches. Despotism then seized possession of the courts, and invested a commission with arbitrary power over life and property; to overawe the burghers, the citadels were filled with mercenary soldiers; to strike terror into the nobility, Egmont and Horn were executed. Men fled; but whither? The village, the city, the court, the camp, were held by the tyrant; the fugitive had no asylum but the ocean.

The establishment of subservient courts was followed by arbitrary taxation. But feudal liberty forbade taxation except by consent; and the levying of the tenth penny excited more commotion than the tribunal of blood. Merchant and landholder, citizen and peasant, catholic and protestant, were ripe for insurrection; and even with foreign troops Alba vainly attempted to enforce taxation without representation. Just then, in April, 1572, a party of the

fugitive ‘beggars’ succeeded in gaining the harbor of Briel; and in July of the same year, the states of Holland, creating the prince of Orange their stadtholder, prepared to levy money and troops. In 1575
Zealand joined with Holland in demanding for freedom some better safeguard than the word of Philip II., and in November of the following year nearly all
the provinces united to drive foreign troops from their soil. ‘The spirit that animates them,’ said Sydney to Queen Elizabeth, ‘is the spirit of God, and is invincible.’ [259]

The particular union of five northern provinces at

Chap. XV.} 1579.
Utrecht, in January, 1579, perfected the insurrection by forming the basis of a sovereignty; and when their ablest chiefs were put under the ban and a price offered for the assassination of the Prince of Orange, the deputies in the assembly at the Hague, on the twenty-sixth of July, 1581, making few changes in
1581 July 26.
their ancient laws, declared their independence by abjuring their king. ‘The prince,’ said they, in their manifesto, ‘is made for the subjects, without whom there would be no prince; and if instead of protecting them, he seeks to take from them their old freedom and use them as slaves, he must be holden not a prince but a tyrant, and may justly be deposed by the authority of the State.’ A rude structure of a commonwealth was the unpremeditated result of the revolution.

The republic of the United Netherlands was by its origin and its nature commercial. The device on an early Dutch coin was a ship laboring on the billows without oar or sails. The rendezvous of its martyrs had been the sea; the muster of its patriot emigrants had been on shipboard; and they had hunted their enemy, as the whale-ships pursue their game, in every corner of the ocean. The two leading members of the confederacy, from their situation, could seek subsistence only on the water. Holland is but a peninsula, intersected by navigable rivers; protruding itself into the sea; crowded with a dense population on a soil saved from the deep by embankments, and kept dry only with pumps driven by windmills. Its houses were rather in the water than on land.

And Zealand is composed of islands. Its inhabitants were nearly all fishermen; its villages were as [260] nests of sea-fowl, on the margin of the ocean. In

Chap. XV.} 1581.
both provinces every house was by nature a nursery of sailors; the sport of children was among the breakers; their boyish pastimes in boats; and if their first excursions were but voyages to some neighboring port, they soon braved the dangers of every sea. The states advanced to sudden opulence; before the insurrection, they could with difficulty keep their embankments in repair; and now they were also able to support large fleets and armies. Their commerce gathered into their harbors the fruits of the wide world. Producing almost no grain of any kind, Holland had the best-supplied granary of Europe; without fields of flax it swarmed with weavers of linen; destitute of flocks, it became the centre of all woollen manufactures; and provinces which had not a forest, built more ships than all Europe besides. They connected hemispheres. Their enterprising mariners displayed the flag of the republic from Southern Africa to the Arctic circle. The ships of the Dutch, said Raleigh, outnumber those of England and ten other kingdoms. To the Italian cardinal the number seemed infinite. Amsterdam was the centre of the commerce of Europe. The sea not only bathed its walls, but flowed through its streets; and its merchantmen lay so crowded together, that the looker — on from the ramparts could not see through the thick forests of masts and yards. War for liberty became unexpectedly a well-spring of opulence; Holland plundered the commerce of Spain by its maritime force, and supplanted its rivals in the gainful traffic with the Indies. Lisbon and Antwerp were despoiled; Amsterdam, the depot
J. R. Brodhead's History of N. Y. 20.
of the merchandise of Europe and of the East, was become beyond dispute the first commercial city of [261] the world; the Tyre of modern times; the Venice of
Chap. XV.} 1581.
the North; the queen of all the seas.

In 1581, the year after Portugal had been forcibly annexed to Spain and the Portuguese settlements in Asia were become for a season Spanish provinces, the epoch of the independence of the Netherlands, Thomas Buts, an Englishman who had five times crossed the Atlantic, offered to the States to conduct four ships of war to America. The adventure was declined by the government; but no obstacles were offered to private enterprise. Ten years afterwards, William Wsselinx,

who had lived some years in Castile, Portugal, and the Azores, proposed a West India Company; but the dangers of the undertaking were still too appalling.

In 1594 the port of Lisbon was closed by the

King of Spain against the Low Countries. Their carrying trade in Indian goods was lost, unless their ships could penetrate to the seas of Asia. A company of merchants, believing that the coast of Siberia fell away to the south-east, hoped to shorten the voyage at least eight thousand miles by using a north-eastern route. A double expedition was therefore sent forth on discovery; two flyboats vainly tried to pass through the straits of Veigatz, while, in a large ship, William Barentsen, whom Grotius honored as the peer of Columbus, coasted Nova Zembla to the seventy-seventh degree, without finding a passage.

Netherlanders in the service of Portugal had

visited India, Malacca, China, and even Japan. Of these Cornelius Houtman, in April, 1595, sailed for India by way of the Cape of Good Hope, and before his return, circumnavigated Java. In the same year

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