CHAPTER XXXV. THE REIGN OF QUEEN WILHELMINA, 1898-1917

THE Pierson-Borgesius ministry had not been long in office when Queen Wilhelmina attained her majority (August 31, 1898) amidst public enthusiasm. At the same time the Queen-Mother received many expressions of high appreciation for the admirable manner in which for eight years she had discharged her constitutional duties. The measures passed by this administration dealt with many subjects of importance. Personal military service was at last, after years of controversy, enforced by law, ecclesiastics and students alone being excepted. Attendance at school up to the age of 13 was made obligatory, and the subsidies for the upkeep of the schools and the payment of teachers were substantially increased. The year 1899 was memorable for the meeting of the first Peace Congress (on the initiative of the Tsar Nicholas II) at the Huis in't Bosch. The deliberations and discussions began on May 18 and lasted until June 29. By the irony of events, a few months later (October 10) a war broke out, in which the Dutch people felt a great and sympathetic interest, between the two Boer republics of South Africa and Great Britain. Bitter feelings were aroused, and the queen did but reflect the national sentiment when she personally received in the most friendly manner President Krueger, who arrived in Holland as a fugitive on board a Dutch man-of-war in the summer of 1900. The official attitude of the government was however perfectly correct, and there was never any breach in the relations between Great Britain and the Netherlands.

The marriage of Queen Wilhelmina, on February 7, 1901, with Prince Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was welcomed by the people, as affording hopes, for some years to be disappointed, of the birth of an heir to the throne.

The elections of 1901 found the liberal ministry out of favour through the laws enforcing military service and obligatory attendance at school. Against them the indefatigable Dr Kuyper, who had returned to active politics in 1897, had succeeded in uniting the three "Church" groups - the democratic anti-revolutionaries, the aristocratic Historical Christians (both orthodox Calvinists) and the Catholics of all sections - into a "Christian Coalition" in support of religious teaching in the schools. The victory lay with the coalition, and Dr Kuyper became first minister. The new administration introduced a measure on Higher Education, which was rejected by the First Chamber. A dissolution of this Chamber led to the majority being reversed, and the measure was passed. Another measure revised the Mackay Law and conferred a larger subsidy on "private" schools. The socialist party under the able leadership of Troelstra had won several seats at the election; and in 1903 a general strike was threatened unless the government conceded the demands of the socialist labour party. The threat was met with firmness; an anti-strike law was quickly passed; the military was called out; and the strike collapsed. The costly war in Achin, which had been smouldering for some years, burst out again with violence in the years 1902-3, and led to sanguinary reprisals on the part of the Dutch soldiery, the report of which excited indignation against the responsible authorities. Various attempts had been made in 1895 and 1899 to introduce protectionist duties, but unsuccessfully.

The quadrennial elections of 1905 found all the liberal groups united in a combined assault upon the Christian Coalition. A severe electoral struggle ensued, with the result that 45 liberals and 7 socialists were returned against 48 coalitionists. Dr Kuyper resigned; and a new ministry, under the leadership of the moderate liberal, De Meester, took its place. The De Meester government was however dependent upon the socialist vote, and possessed no independent majority in either Chamber. For the first time a ministry of agriculture, industry and trade was created. Such an administration could only lead a precarious existence, and in 1907 an adverse vote upon the military estimates led to its resignation. Th. Heemskerk undertook the task of forming a new cabinet from the anti-revolutionary and Catholic groups, and at the next general election of 1909 he won a conclusive victory at the polls. This victory was obtained by wholesale promises of social reforms, including old age pensions and poor and sick relief. As so often happens, such a programme could not be carried into effect without heavy expenditure; and the means were not forthcoming. To meet the demand a bill was introduced in August, 1911, by the finance minister, Dr Kolkmar, to increase considerably the existing duties, and to extend largely the list of dutiable imports. This bill led to a widespread agitation in the country, and many petitions were presented against it, with the result that it was withdrawn. A proposal made by this ministry in 1910 to spend 38,000,000 florins on the fortification of Flushing excited much adverse criticism in the press of Belgium, England and France, on the ground that it had been done at the suggestion of the German government, the object being to prevent the British fleet from seizing Flushing in the event of the outbreak of an Anglo-German war. The press agitation met, however, with no countenance on the part of responsible statesmen in any of the countries named; it led nevertheless to the abandonment of the original proposal and the passing of a bill in 1912 for the improvement of the defences of the Dutch sea-ports generally.