History of the United States of America: From the Discovery of the Continent - Vol. 1

By George Bancroft | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
NEW NETHERLAND.

THE spirit of the age was present when the foundations of New York were laid. Every great European event affected the fortunes of America. Did a state prosper, it sought an increase of wealth by plantations in the west. Was a sect persecuted, it escaped to the New World. The Reformation, followed by collisions between English dissenters and the Anglican hierarchy, colonized New England; the Reformation, emancipating the Low Countries, led to settlements on the Hudson. The Netherlands divide with England the glory of having planted the first colonies in the United States; and they divide the glory of having set the example of public freedom. If England gave our fathers the idea of a popular representation, the United Provinces were their model of a federal union.

At the discovery of America, the Netherlands possessed the municipal institutions of the Roman world and the feudal liberties of the middle ages. The landed aristocracy, the hierarchy, and the municipalities exercised political franchises. The municipal officers, in part appointed by the sovereign, in part perpetuating themselves, had common interests with the industrious citizens, from whom they were selected; and the nobles, cherishing the feudal right of resisting arbitrary taxation, joined the citizens in defending national liberty against encroachments.

The urgencies of war, the Reformation, perhaps also the arrogance of power, often tempted Charles V. to violate the constitutions of the Netherlands. Philip II., on his accession in 1559, formed the purpose of subverting them, and found

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