United States of Belgium

United States of Belgium

The United States of Belgium, (Dutch: "Verenigde Nederlandse Staten" or "Verenigde Belgische Staten", French: "États-Belgiques-Unis") was a confederation of the Southern Netherlands which existed from January to December 1790, during a short-lived revolt against the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II. Other English translations are United Belgian States or United Dutch States.

Influenced by the Enlightenment, Habsburg Emperor Joseph II pushed through a series of large-scale reforms in the Austrian Netherlands in the 1780s, designed to radically modernize and centralize the political, judicial and administrative system. The old decentralized system would be replaced with a uniform judicial system for the whole empire, and the independent provinces of the Austrian Netherlands were to be replaced with 9 "kreitsen" and 35 "districten". Joseph also secularized the education system and reorganized or abolished a number of religious orders.

In 1789, a popular revolt broke out in the Austrian Netherlands in reaction against the emperor's centralizing policies. Two factions appeared: the "Statists" who opposed the reforms, and the "Vonckists", named for Jan Frans Vonck, who initially supported the reforms but then joined the opposition, due to the clumsy way in which the reforms were carried out.

The uprising started in Brabant, which in January 1789 declared it no longer recognized the emperor's rule, in what is called the Brabant Revolution. The leader of the Statisten faction, Hendrik Van der Noot, crossed the border into the Dutch Republic and raised a small army in Breda in Staats-Brabant, the northern (Dutch) part of Brabant.

In October, he invaded Brabant and captured Turnhout, defeating the Austrians in the Battle of Turnhout on October 27. Ghent was taken on November 13, and on November 17 the imperial regents Albert of Saxony and Archduchess Maria Christina fled Brussels. The remains of the imperial forces withdrew behind the citadel walls of Luxembourg and Antwerp.

Van der Noot now declared Brabant independent, and all other provinces of the Austrian Netherlands (except Luxembourg) soon followed suit. On January 11, 1790 they signed a pact, establishing a confederation under the name "Verenigde Nederlandse Staten" / "États-Belgiques-Unis" (United States of Belgium) and a governing body known as the Sovereign Congress. The Dutch Act of Abjuration in 1581 and the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 stood model for the treaty of the United Belgian States.

Independently, in 1789, a revolution had broken out in the Bishopric of Liège. The revolutionaries established a republic which joined the United States of Belgium in a kind of alliance.

Realizing the fragility of the new state, Van Der Noot attempted to approach foreign states for support and suggested a unification with the Dutch Republic, with little success. Also, the Statists and Vonckists factions were in constant conflict, bordering on civil war.

Meanwhile, Joseph II had died and his brother Leopold II had succeeded him as emperor. Leopold quickly moved to recapture the Austrian Netherlands. On October 24 imperial troops took the city of Namur, forcing the province of Namur to recognize the authority of the emperor. Two days later, the province of West Flanders followed suit, and by December the entire territory was again in imperial hands.


Though short-lived, the United States of Belgium had long-lasting repercussions. It had given the Southern Netherlands their first taste of independence, and had sparked a new political idea: the nation-state of "Belgium".

In 1830, the inhabitants of the Southern Netherlands successfully revolted against the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Belgian Revolution, creating the modern state of Belgium.


* [http://webh01.ua.ac.be/storme/vereenigdenederlandschestaeten.html Treaty text (Dutch)]
* [http://www.1789-1815.com/traite_belgique.htm Treaty text (French)]

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