Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe

By Margaret C. Jacob | Go to book overview

7
Living the Enlightenment: Cosmopolitan Reformers and Amsterdam Brothers

By all accounts eighteenth-century Amsterdam was one of the most cosmopolitan places in Europe. Although by the last quarter of the century London had replaced it as the banking capital of Europe, Amsterdam remained a city, however economically troubled, that was tied to international commerce. Also by tradition as well as by the circumstances of decline, Amsterdam was not noticeably happy with the Orangist government in The Hague. In 1760a British merchant wrote home the following account of the profound discontent and seditious fraternizing about which he had been told:

Their greatest grievance was to see their country enslaved by their own countrymen-by the very representatives who were chosen to protect their liberties and privileges. Why to procure the liberty to send over their just complaint to England a deputation of the richest merchants in Amsterdam danced attendance for three weeks at the Hague before they could be heard . . . and yet Amsterdam alone pays fifty-eight [percent] out of one hundred [percent] of the whole public revenue. Nay they were so free to assure us that the principal people in Amsterdam formed an association to shake off every connection with the rest of the provinces and they did not doubt but it would soon come to this. 1

In 1760 the formation of an association to promote Amsterdam's secession from the Republic may have been coffeehouse boasting. By the 1780s, however, there were political associations up and down the country. Their goal was not secession; rather it was a thorough reform of the institutions of government. By the 1790s throughout western Europe voluntary associations had come to provide one of the contexts for revolutionary ardor, a republican ardor that eventually also seized the brothers of La Bien Aimée.

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