« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
the life of this illustrious man. At length one Gerard, a native of Franche-compté, put him to death by assassination. Maurice, the son of William, was declared stadtholder in room of his father; and, though only eighteen years of age, showed himself worthy of that important trust, and approved himself one of the ablest generals of his time. His military talents had the noblest field for their exertion, as his antagonist, Alexander duke of Parma, then lieutenant to Philip in the Netherlands, was deservedly ranked among the greatest captains in Europe. The siege of Antwerp has immortalised his memory as well as that of its brave defenders. After a most heroic resistance, it was at length taken by the duke of Parma, by means of an immense rampart which he raised upon the river Scheld, in the same manner as the city of Tyre had been taken by Alexander the great.
To protect this infant protestant state, queen Elizabeth sent the stadtholder four thousand men, under the command of the earl of Leicester; and with this timely assistance, and their own internal resources, the Hollanders were enabled to struggle against the force of the most powerful monarch in Europe. They maintained their independency as the ancient Lacedæmonians had done, by simplicity of manners, public frugality, and the most invincible courage. The simplicity of those times, when the Hollanders lived in clusters of small huts upon the banks of their canals, is very different from their present mode of life, when Amsterdam has become one of the richest of the cities of Europe, and the Hague one of the most polished and luxurious.
The government of the United Provinces was a very curious political structure. Of seventeen provinces of the Netherlands, we have seen that seven only recovered their liberty; the rest, under the governance of the duke of Anjou, a man jealous of the prince of Orange, to whom he was greatly inferior in abilities, contented themselves with repining and murmuring at those grievances which had made their neighbours resolutely withdraw their necks from the yoke. They flattered themselves that they could secure their liberty by negociations; and the court of Madrid, in order to soothe them, gave them a charter, confirming their privileges, while, at the same time, it was taking effectual measures to prevent all future attempts that might be made to reclaim and vindicate them. The revolted provinces, we have observed, signed their treaty of union on the 23rd of January, 1579, and this alliance, which was renewed in 1583, was, by its nature, indissoluble; it was the foundation of the whole structure of the republic. Each of the United Provinces preserved its own laws, its magistrates, its independence and its sovereignty; but for national purposes they were to form one body; and, in order to complete a union of interests, they renounced the right of forming separate alliances, and established a general council, whose business was to regulate the common affairs of the republic, and to convocate the states-general, a meeting which originally was called only twice a year, but which the great variety and, importance of their business soon rendered perpetual.
Strictly speaking, each of the towns, which had
a right of sending its deputy to the particular assembly of the province, constituted in itself a republic. Excepting those matters which respected the general interest of the states, these towns were governed by their own laws and magistrates, and their senate possessed a supreme legislature and executive authority. But all the towns of the same province were obliged to form a general council to regulate the affairs of the province, and to serve as a bond of union between its several parts. This council possessed a power of deliberating on all matters which respected the interest of the provinces; and the deputies of the towns which formed this council communicated to their constituents intelligence of all those matters which were there to be agitated, and received their instructions, which they were bound to follow. Every thing was decided in the council of the province by the votes of the majority, unless such questions as regard peace and war, the levying of troops, the forming of alliances, and the establishment of general taxes; all which matters required, by the fundamental treaty of union, the unanimous consent of the assembly of the states-general.
The great national council, or the states-general, met in assembly at the Hague, and were composed of the deputies from the seven provinces-Holland sending three, Zealand and Utrecht two, and the others one; and these had their conduct regulated by the instructions which each deputy received from the council of his province. The majority of suffrages was decisive here as in the provincial assemblies, except in those great questions which we have mentioned regarding war and
peace, alliances or general taxes, where unanimity was required.
One obvious disadvantage attending such a constitution was, the delays and difficulties that may retard the execution of any public measure, from the necessity which the deputies or representatives, both in the assembly of the states and in the provincial council, were under, of consulting their constituents upon all matters that came before them, and being regulated entirely by their direction. Fifty towns, and all the nobles of the province, must deliberate on any piece of business; and each provincial assembly must come to a fixed resolution, so as to instruct its deputy, before the assembly of the states-general was qualified to take the matter under consideration. The faultiness of such a constitution, which deprived a state of all possibility of acting with celerity in emergencies where success, perhaps, depended on celerity, needs no illustration. A government could not long have subsisted where there was so capital and radical an error, had not a counteracting principle been applied in the office and power of the stadtholder.
The powers and prerogatives of the stadtholder were very great; he was commander-in-chief both of the sea and land forces, and disposed of all the military employments; he presided over all the courts of justice; he had the power of pardoning criminals, and all sentences were pronounced in his name; he appointed the magistrates of the towns, from a list of a certain number presented by themselves; he gave audience to ambassadors and foreign ministers, and nominated his envoys to
foreign states; he was charged with the execution of all the decrees of the provincial assemblies; he was arbiter and supreme judge, without appeal, in all the differences between the provinces, and between the cities and the other members of the state.
The most extensive powers were conferred upon the first stadtholder of the united states, William I. prince of Orange, and they were not abused; on the contrary, they counterbalanced, in his hands, all the effects of the new constitution. Maurice, like his father, used his power as a good citizen, zealous for the honour of his country. His brother, Frederic-Henry, conducted himself on the same principles; but his son William II., who succeeded to this dignity in the year 1647, was believed to have views not equally beneficial to the republic. Whether it was that the provinces, after having concluded the definitive peace of Munster with Spain, thought that they had less occasion for the office of stadtholder, and began to fear the immense power of that magistrate, or that William became more jealous of his authority in proportion as he saw that it was less necessary, it is certain there was no longer the same good understanding between the states and the stadtholder; and had it not been for the death of William, this discordance might have ended fatally for the constitution. The most zealous patriots, to prevent the like apprehensions, took measures at that time for depriving his posthumous son, William III., of the succession to his father's dignities; but the evils resulting from the want of this office were severely felt in that emergency, when, in the reign of Louis