New Netherland's Legacy

Politcal Legacy

The English conditions for New Netherland's capitulation guaranteed the Dutch their customary rights of property, inheritance, and religious practice and confirmed established Dutch political units. Because of the similarities between the two nations and the great distance of London's imperial administration, the transition from Dutch to English political culture was gradual. Moreover, the crown's policies reinforced the Dutchness of New York's governmental environment.

Jurisdictional traditions. No changes were immediately introduced into urban administration except for the adoption of English titles for public offices: "mayor" for burgemeester, "sheriff" for schout, and "alderman" for schepen.[1] King James II's creation of counties in 1683 and of manors with special privileges also followed a pattern familiar to the Dutch Republic, with its political division into duchies, counties, and lordships--the latter a jurisdictional form introduced into New Netherland with the patroonship in 1629.[2] The larger of these manorial patents included Rensselaerswijck (repatented in 1685), Livingston Manor (1686), Philipsburg Manor (1696), and Van Cortlandt Manor (1697). These land grants concentrated much of the best arable land in the hands of a few mercantile families, who, in Dutch fashion, derived their wealth from trade and maintained their primary residences in the urban centers. The survival of the manors into the 1840s created a permanent impress on the landscape.[3] The English also left considerable autonomy to New York's rural villages and hamlets. As late as the American Revolution, villages in the Hudson River Valley were said to continue to follow "modes peculiar to the Hollanders."[4]

Corporate Liberties. In the Dutch Republic, individual liberties were tied to the concept of corporate welfare, that is, each individual is a stakeholder in the interest of the local community.[5] The Dutch brought this concept with them to the New World. It is most evident under English rule in New Yorkers' opposition to the centralizing tendencies in royal authority and their jealous guarding of the prerogatives granted to them in their charters and patents. The late seventeenth-century competition between Albany and Schenectady over a fur-trade monopoly, between New York City and Albany over an export-trade monopoly, and between New York City and upriver communities over a flour-bolting monopoly are a few examples. Monopolies were favored when they contributed to the community's corporate stability; opposition arose when a monopoly benefitted a single individual at the community's expense.

Within New York's communities, special-interests coalesced in Dutch fashion to pursue common goals. Individual rights were defended through the acquisition of communal privileges. Medieval Dutch trade guilds, for example, regulated and promoted specific craft interests within a community. Although the guild system never formally developed in New Netherland, beginning in the 1670s, New York's bakers, boatmen, butchers, cartmen, coopers, shoemakers, and tanners combined to protect their collective rights.[6] Special interests became a fixture in New York politics, which, because of each interest group's localized concerns, often fractured the promotion of a larger province-wide interest.[7]

Seeds of America's Political Party System. In the seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic's body politic split into two factions. On one side were the supporters of the office of raadpensionaris, the principal representative of the town regents, loosely identified as the Staatsfactie. Opposing them were supporters of the office of stadholder or provincial military commander in chief, traditionally held by a prince of Orange, known as Orangists. New York's political factions echoed these divisions. In their protracted disputes, New York political interests aligned as they did in the Republic, with theology.[8]

In the Netherlands, citizens' militias, schutterijen, traditionally played a pivotal role in civic life.[9] When ruling elites became discredited, their loss of legitimacy caused the militias to demand a change in those holding office.[10] In a similar fashion, New York's militia companies served a social and political function as well, functioning as a defensive unit.[11] New Yorkers perceived English governors' attempts to diminish the militias' autonomy through the appointment of officers as a threat to traditional governmental balances, where fundamental law, natural rights, representative institutions, and popular sovereignty informed the political structure.[12] The 1689 New York uprising known as Leisler's Rebellion highlights the continuing influence of Dutch political culture, when the militias sought to reclaim the people's corporate rights through the restoration of local governmental authority, the abolishment of individual monopolies, demands for no taxation without representation, and the right of the people to bear arms unrestricted.

The Republic's political divisions continued to influence New York politics into the early national period. In the 1720s, mercantile and agrarian interests hardened. One faction supported Reformed interests and, known as the Country Party, reflected Orangist ideology; an opposing faction of regents and manorial families, known as the Court Party, reflected the interests of the Dutch regent class. In Dutch fashion, elites with fluid allegiances dominated the factions. The two parties, supplemented by lesser factions throughout the province, disagreed on economic, constitutional, and religious issues, and in the 1750s the creation of a college, and is found in the Federalist and Anti-Federalist factions of the early national era.[13]

Model for Independence. For the population of the middle colonies, the sixteenth-century Dutch revolt against Spain and the actions of stadholder William III during the 1688 Glorious Revolution served as the "paradigm" of "union and independence."[14] As an illustration, during the 1750s, American Dutch-language almanacs republished the 1581 Act of Abjuration, by which the Republic had declared its independence from Spain, and the 1579 Union of Utrecht, the Republic's basic federalizing document.[15] Indeed, Thomas Jefferson's 1776 Declaration of Independence so closely follows the Act of Abjuration in construction that some scholars suggest that the Act served as Jefferson's model, while the influence of the Dutch Republic's body politic as developed under the Union of Utrecht on the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution has been long suggested.[16] Most important, out of the Dutch tradition of political contention and special interests emerged the seeds for the modern American two-party political system. The prototype for this was introduced by Martin Van Buren, a descendant of one of the early settlers of the patroonship of Rennselaerswijck, in the creation of the Albany Regency in New York State, and, later, in the national Democratic Party organization.[17]


1. Patricia U. Bonomi, A Factious People: Politics and Society in Colonial New York (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1971), 279-286.

2. Maarten Prak, The Dutch Republic in the Seventeenth Century The Golden Age, Diane Webb, trans. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 131-132; Jaap Jacobs, New Netherland: A Dutch Colony in Seventeenth-Century America (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005), 114.

3. Sung Bok Kim, Landlords and Tenants in Colonial New York Manorial Society, 1664-1775 (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1978).

4. William Smith, The History of the Late Province of New-York, From its Discovery, to the Appointment of Governor Colden, in 1762, Michael Kammen, ed., 2 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 1: 327-328.

5. Cathy Matson, Merchants & Empire: Trading in Colonial New York (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 102-103.

6. Allan Tully, Forming American Politics: Ideals, Interests, and Institutions in Colonial New York and Pennsylvania (Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994); Simon Middleton, From Privileges to Rights: Work and Politics in Colonial New York City (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006).

7. Allison Gilbert Olson, Making the Empire Work: London and American Interest Groups, 1690-1790 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), 72-73.

8. Henry C. Murphy, ed. and trans., Journal of A Voyage to New York and a Tour in Several of the American Colonies in 1679-1680, by Jaspar Dankers and Peter Sluyter of Wiewerd in Friesland (Brooklyn: Long Island Historical Society, 1867), x-xii.

9. Paul Knevel, Burgers in het geweer: De schutterijen in Holland, 1550-1700 (Hilversum, Neth.: Hist. Verlag Holland/Verloren, 1994); J. C. Grayson, "the civic militia in the county of Holland, 1560-81. Politics and public order in the Dutch Revolt," Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden, 95 (1980), 35-63.

10. Martin van Gelderen, The Political Thought of the Dutch Revolt 1555-1590 (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 286.

11. Donna Merwick, Possessing Albany, 1630-1710: The Dutch and English Experiences (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 273.

12. Bonomi, A Factious People, 158-159.

13. Kammen, Colonial New York A History, 203-206.

14. James Tanis, "The American Dutch, Their Church, and the Revolution," in J.W. Schulte Nordhold and Robert P. Swierenga, A Bilateral Bicentennial: A History of Dutch-American Relations, 1782-1982 (Amsterdam, 1982), 116.

15. De AMERICAANSE Almanak, Voo't Jaar na Christi geboorte 1754 (New York), Edelman, Dutch-American Bibliography, 56. English texts of the Union of Utrecht and Act of Abjuration are in E.H. Kossman and A.F. Mellink, eds., Texts concerning the Revolt of the Netherland (Cambridge, Eng., 1974), 166-173, 216-228.

16. James R. Tanis, "The Dutch-American Connection": The Impact of the Dutch Example on American Constitutional Beginnings, " in Stephen L. Schechter and Richard B. Bernstein, eds., New York and the Union: Contributions to the American Constitutional Experience (Albany, NY, 1990), 22-28; Stephen E. Lucas, "The Plakkaat van Verlatine: A Neglected Model for the American Declaration of Independence" in Rosemarijn Hoefte and Johanna C. Kardux, eds., Connecting Cultures The Netherlands in Five Centuries of Transatlantic Exchange (Amsterdam, 1994), 187-207.

17. Kenney, Stubborn for Liberty, 266-267.

About the New Netherland Institute

For over three decades, NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

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