Constitutional thought under the Union of the Netherlands: The 'Fundamental Law' of 1814-15 in the political and intellectual context of the Restoration
Number of pages
SourceParliaments, Estates & Representation, 27, 1, (2007), pp. 77-94
Article / Letter to editor
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Parliaments, Estates & Representation
In 1814, after the defeat of the Napoleonic Empire, the Allied states decided to unite the former Dutch Republic and the former Habsburg Netherlands (the later Belgium), as part of their attempt to elaborate a balanced system of European states. As the age of nationalism was arriving, the chances of this unification succeeding depended upon the gradual integration of the two parts into one Netherlandish nation. Stefaan Marteel argues that the eventual failure of this project, which abruptly came to an end with the Belgian Revolution of 1830, can to a large extent be ascribed to the differences in the political and intellectual history of the two countries, differences that found expression in the development of irreconcilable political languages during the constitutional debates of 1815 and thereafter. In the Northern Netherlands, despite the experiments with radical constitutionalism since the Patriot Revolution, the republican past proved a major obstacle to the construction of a functional constitutional monarchy. The paradoxical result was the enforcement of monarchical authority within a political model that was clearly designed to be constitutionalist. In the Southern Netherlands, on the contrary, the rupture that occurred in its political history owing to the annexation of France allowed, in 1814, for certain innovations in political thought. These innovations were further inspired by the idea that the new political order lacked historical legitimization. Consequently, when social issues arose, such as problems concerning education, religion and public freedom, the government and the political opposition in the Belgian provinces would persistently draw on different interpretations of the constitution. This, in turn, reinforced the impression of a fundamental national division, and created the conditions, should a popular revolt occur, for a rapid radicalization in a nationalist direction.
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