America: An Example from Afar
In fact what a crowd of lessons do the present miseries of Holland teach us.
WHAT, we may wonder, would have happened if the essentially moderate American Revolution had not been followed by the French Revolution, which was so much more radical? Would the influence of America upon developments in the Netherlands have proved lasting? Would the movement toward greater democracy have been able to continue gradually in the Netherlands, as it did in the New World?
What is the use of such "iffy" questions in history? As the English poet John Masefield has written, "time pours and will pour, not as the wise man thinks, / but with blind force to each his little hour." The French Revolution, with all its violence, came like a force of nature. Ever since contemporaries and historians have explored in their minds and debated with each other what the true relation was between these two revolutions in America and France, and whether they were essentially kindred or contrary in character. There is no need to resurrect that debate here. We need only examine how far the eruption in France changed the Dutch relations with America and their vision of that country, how the American revolt, once so admired, was shoved aside and neglected because of the far more spectacular events so much closer at hand in France.
A confusion of thought and feelings resulted. A debate among the Dutch about the causal relations between the two revolutions was inevitable. True conservatives did not doubt that they were related as cause and effect, but the supporters of America were divided among themselves, depending on how radical they were. Some wanted to find an identical spirit at work in both America and France; others strove to play one revolution against the other. In the long run some conservatives too began to change their minds, as they saw how the American Revolution was steered into the channels of law and order. Adriaan Kluit, the