CHAPTER XXX. THE KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS - UNION OF HOLLAND AND BELGIUM, 1815-1830

The autocratic powers that were conferred upon King William by the Fundamental Law rendered his personality a factor of the utmost importance in the difficult task which lay before him. William's character was strong and self-confident, and he did not shrink from responsibility. His intentions were of the best; he was capable, industrious, a good financier, sparing himself no trouble in mastering the details of State business. But he had the defects of his qualities, being self-opinionated, stubborn and inclined, as in the matter of the vote of the Belgian notables, to override opposition with a high hand. He had at the beginning of his reign the good fortune of being on the best of terms with Castlereagh, the British Foreign Minister. To Castlereagh more than to any other statesman the kingdom of the Netherlands owed its existence. The Peace of Paris saw Great Britain in possession by conquest of all the Dutch colonies. By the Convention of London (August 13, 1814), which was Castlereagh's work, it was arranged that all the captured colonies, including Java, the richest and most valuable of all, should be restored, with the exception of the Cape of Good Hope and the Guiana colonies - Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo. In the latter the plantations had almost all passed into British hands during the eighteen years since their conquest; and Cape Colony was retained as essential for the security of the sea-route to India. But these surrenders were not made without ample compensation. Great Britain contributed L2,000,000 towards erecting fortresses along the French frontier; L1,000,000 to satisfy a claim of Sweden with regard to the island of Guadeloupe; and L3,000,000 or one-half of a debt from Holland to Russia, i.e. a sum of L6,000,000 in all.

One of the most urgent problems with which the Sovereign-Prince had to deal on his accession to power was the state of the finances. Napoleon by a stroke of the pen had reduced the public debt to one-third of its amount. William, however, was too honest a man to avail himself of the opportunity for partial repudiation that was offered him. He recalled into existence the two-thirds on which no interest had been paid and called it "deferred debt" (uitgestelde schuld); the other third received the name of "working debt" ( werkelijke schuld). The figures stood at 1200 million florins and 600 million florins respectively. Every year four millions of the "working debt" were to be paid off, and a similar amount from the "deferred" added to it. Other measures taken in 1814 for effecting economies were of little avail, as the campaign of Waterloo in the following year added 40 million florins to the debt. Heavier taxation had to be imposed, but even then the charges for the debt made it almost impossible to avoid an annual deficit in the budget. It was one of the chief grievances of the Belgians that they were called upon to share the burden of a crushing debt which they had not incurred. The voting of ways and means for ten years gave the king the control over all ordinary finance; it was only extraordinary expenditure that had to be submitted annually to the representatives of the people.