CHAPTER XXVII. THE BATAVIAN REPUBLIC, 1795-1806

On January 19, 1795, Amsterdam fell into the hands of the advancing French troops. Daendels had previously caused a proclamation to be distributed which declared "that the representatives of the French people wished the Dutch nation to make themselves free; that they do not desire to oppress them as conquerors, but to ally themselves with them as with a free people." A complete change of the city government took place without any disturbance or shedding of blood. At the summons of the Revolutionary Committee the members of the Town Council left the Council Hall and were replaced by twenty-one citizens "as provisional representatives of the people of Amsterdam." Of this body Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck, a former advocate of the Council, was appointed president. The other towns, one after the other, followed in the steps of the capital. The patrician corporations were abolished and replaced by provisional municipal assemblies. Everywhere the downfall of the old regime was greeted with tumultuous joy by those large sections of the Dutch population which had imbibed revolutionary principles; and the French troops were welcomed by the "patriots" as brothers and deliverers. "Trees of Liberty," painted in the national colours, were erected in the principal squares; and the citizens, wearing "caps of liberty" danced round them hand in hand with the foreign soldiers. Feast-making, illuminations and passionate orations, telling that a new era of "liberty, fraternity and equality" had dawned for the Batavian people, were the order of the day. The Revolution was not confined to the town-corporations. At the invitation of the Amsterdam Committee and under the protection of the French representatives, deputations from fourteen towns met at the Hague on January 26. Taking possession of the Assembly Hall of the Estates of Holland and choosing as their president Pieter Paulus, a man generally respected, this Provisional Assembly proceeded to issue a series of decrees subverting all the ancient institutions of the land. The representation by Estates and the offices of stadholder and of council-pensionary were abolished. The old colleges such as the Commissioned Councillors, the Admiralties, the Chamber of Accounts, were changed into Committees for General Welfare, for War, for Marine, for Finance, etc. The other provinces in turn followed Holland's example; and the changes in the provincial administrations were then quickly extended to the States-General. These retained their name, but were now to be representative of the citizens of the whole land. The Council of State was transformed into a Committee for General Affairs; and a Colonial Council replaced the East and West India Companies and the Society of Surinam. To the Committee for General Affairs was entrusted the task of drawing up a plan for the summoning of a National Convention on March 4.

So far all had gone smoothly with the course of the revolutionary movement, so much so that its leaders seem almost to have forgotten that the land was in the occupation of a foreign conqueror. The unqualified recognition of Batavian independence, however, in the proclamation by Daendels had caused dissatisfaction in Paris. The Committee of Public Safety had no intention of throwing away the fruits of victory; and two members of the Convention, Cochon and Ramel, were despatched to Holland to report upon the condition of affairs. They arrived at the Hague on February 7. Both reports recommended that a war-indemnity should be levied on the Republic, but counselled moderation, for, though the private wealth of the Dutch was potentially large, the State was practically insolvent. These proposals were too mild to please the Committee of Public Safety. The new States-General had sent (March 3) two envoys, Van Blauw and Meyer, to Paris with instructions to propose a treaty of alliance and of commerce with France, to ask for the withdrawal of the French troops and that the land should not be flooded with assignats. The independence of the Batavian Republic was taken for granted. Very different were the conditions laid before them by Merlin de Douat, Rewbell and Sieyes. A war contribution of 100,000,000 florins was demanded, to be paid in ready money within three months, a loan of like amount at 3 per cent, and the surrender of all territory south of the Waal together with Dutch Flanders, Walcheren and South Beveland. Moreover there was to be no recognition of Batavian independence until a satisfactory treaty on the above lines was drawn up.

These hard conditions were on March 23 rejected by the States-General. Wiser counsels however prevented this point-blank refusal being sent to Paris, and it was hoped that a policy of delay might secure better terms. The negotiations went on slowly through March and April; and, as Blauw and Meyer had no powers as accredited plenipotentiaries, the Committee determined to send Rewbell and Sieyes to the Hague, armed with full authority to push matters through.