- Batavian Republic constitutional referendum, 1797
A referendum on the constitution of the
Batavian Republicwas held on August 8, 1797. The draft constitution was rejected, eventually culminating in a coup d'étât.
The country we now know as the
Netherlandshad declared independence as the Republic of the Seven United Provinces ( _nl. Republiek der Zeeven Vereenigde Provinciën) in 1581. This independence was officially recognized in the Peace of Westphaliaof 1648. As the name indicates, the country was a federation of seven autonomous provinces: the duchy of Gelre, the counties of Hollandand Zealand, the former bishopric of Utrecht, the lordship of Overijsseland the free provinces of Frieslandand Groningen. Each province was governed by the Provincial States; the main executive official was a stadtholder("stadhouder" in Dutch). Over the years, these stadtholderships were concentrated among the descendants of William the Silent.
This led to a friction with the "regenten", the wealthy merchant class, who were mainly based in
Amsterdam. They saw the central position of the House of Orange-Nassauin Dutch politics as a threat to their own power. The infighting between the regents and the Orangists was one of the causes of the downturn of the Netherlands as a global economic and military power throughout the 18th century.
In the 1780s, the tensions came to a head in the
Batavian revolution, a struggle between republican Patriots and royalist Orangists. The Patriots, aided by French troops, eventually managed to drive stadtholder William V out of the country in late 1794. A few weeks later, on January 19 1795, the Batavian Republicwas proclaimed.
The "Nationale Vergadering" (National Assembly) subsequently went through two years of discussions. On
May 10, 1797, a final draft constitution was formed. The constitution was a compromise between two groups: those who felt that the "gewesten" (regions) in the Republic should maintain their historic autonomy, and those who felt that the Republic should become a unitary state. [cite news|url=http://www.paulbordewijk.nl/artikelen/204|title=Referendum Europese Grondwet had omineuze voorganger|publisher=" de Volkskrant"|author=Paul Bordewijk|date=2003-09-15|accessdate=2008-04-15|language=nl icon]
Source: cite book|author=Schama, S.|year=1977|title=Patriots and Liberators. Revolution in the Netherlands 1780-1813|publisher=Vintage books|location=New York City|isbn=0-679-72949-6|pages=269
The draft constitution had been rejected by almost eighty percent, which meant that a new Constitution would have to be drafted. In the elections for the National Assembly a few months later, the supporters of a unitary state won the majority, but the supporters of a federal state retained the majority in the constitutional commission. Meanwhile in France, the radicalists led by
Pierre Augereauhad seized power. With French help, the radical unitarists staged a coup d'étatin January 1798. A new constitution, establishing a unitary republic, was quickly adopted in the National Assembly. This draft constitution was approved in a referendum on April 23, 1798.
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