The Dutch Republic and American Independence

By Jan Willem Schulte Nordholt; Herbert H. Rowen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
The Great Debate

Such a Nation of Idolaters at the Shrine of Mammon never existed, I believe, before.

JOHN ADAMS

HE danger in the approach we have been taking to our subject is that we see everything too much through one particular pair of glasses. Everything in Dutch society comes to look as though it were determined by what was happening in America, and this is a serious exaggeration. The question is whether there really was that much interest in the far-off revolution, and if there was, what were the reasons for it and what were the effects upon Dutch society.

The first problem that confronts us is the difficulty of quantifying the intensity of human excitement. The only Dutch historian who has written a book on this subject, F. W. van Wijk, attempted to measure Dutch interest in America by finding out how many pamphlets were put out devoted to the American Revolution. There were, according to his count, 97 such pamphlets, as against 364 on other subjects; he thought this a small number, but we can with equal right call it a very large number, more than 20 percent of the total. Other data can also be counted: the number of political prints, for instance, or the space devoted to the question in newspapers. It is quite possible to estimate such figures, but not to come up with exact numbers. Everyone is talking about America, wrote Nassau la Leck, a nobleman who speculated about the American Revolution at great length, and we have seen Dumas's description of the excitement in the coffeehouses after General Burgoyne's capitulation to the Americans at Saratoga. But their accounts were hardly without bias. 1

Dumas, Van der Capellen, and other advocates of the American cause were ready with claims that a large majority of the Dutch people were favorable to the Americans, at least four-fifths of them, according to the repeated assertion of the nobleman from Zwolle. But they were probably talking to themselves as much as to others, and they doubted the truth of their own assertions. This explains Dumas's favorite image of the Dutch

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