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of Orange to the moderate views and limited ambition befitting a citizen of a free state. Yet, before his death, that Prince was elected to the Stadtholderate, and his own brother was compelled to sign the ordinance for his appointment; and, sixteen years afterwards, the same Prince became the sovereign of Holland's chief commercial rival, and only maritime superior.
His life extended over the most eventful portion of the seventeenth century. His birth was contemporaneous with the death of James I.; his death, with the commencement of that great reaction against royalty which drove James II. from his throne. He entered into public life soon after the accession of Louis XIV.; and resigned his official station shortly after that monarch bad taken the reins of government into his own hands, and had begun to manifest that insatiable and desolating ambition, which made him, for half a century, the scourge of Europe. He lived through the most dangerous crisis of English liberty; and he died at the most flourishing period of the prosperity of France.
De Witt's father, one of the Deputies of the States of Holland, intended his son for the profession of the law; and the future statesman took his degree at the age of twenty-three. Mathematics was, however, his favourite pursuit; and, in this branch of study, he attained an eminence surpassed by few in that age. He is said to have been the author of a valuable treatise on the elements of Curve Lines. On his return from his travels, in the year 1650, his reputation as a student, combined with his father's influence, procured his nomination to the post of Pensionary of Dort; from which, three years after, when only in his twenty-eighth year, he was promoted to the more important station of Grand Pensionary of Holland. It is not easy to ascertain the precise nature of this office, nor the powers which it conferred. It seems not improbable that its authority and importance depended, in a great measure, upon the abilities and the ambition of the individual who held it ;-tbat he might be little more than the Secretary and official Adviser of the States;or that he might be the soul and guide of all their deliberations. He might be the head, or he might be merely the hand. De Witt, and before him Barneveldt, seem to have had all the powers and authority of a Prime Minister. Sir William Temple thus speaks of the office in his Account of the United Provinces :• The Pensioner of Holland is seated with the nobles, delivers
their voice for them, and assists at all their deliberations before • they come to the assembly. He is properly but the minister or
servant of the province, and so his place or rank is behind all • their deputies; but he has always great credit, because he is perpetual, or seldom discharged; though of right he ought to
• be chosen or renewed every fifth year. He has a seat in all the • several assemblies of the province; and, in the States, pro* pounds all matters, gathers the opinions, and forms or digests • the resolutions; claiming, likewise, a power not to conclude any very important affair by plurality of voices, when he judges of his conscience he ought not to do it, and that it will be of ill consequence to the States.”
At the time of De Witt's first accession to office, Holland was, to all appearance, both powerful and secure. Spain was governed by a weak sovereign, and had considerably impaired her strength, and wasted her resources, by a long war with France England was just beginning to recover from the distractions of the Civil War. France was torn in pieces by the struggles of the Fronde. The energies of Holland had been greatly augmented by the long and successful contest she had waged for her independence, Her maritime strength had been much increased by the steady prosecution of commercial enterprize; and, from the same cause, her finances were, upon the whole, in a prosperous condition. The power of the House of Orange--the perpetual internal peri} of the Republic, was centred in an infant of three years old, and thus all fear from that quarter was, for the present, at an end. The Dutch thought this a favourable moment for rebelling against those acknowledgments of her maritime superiority which England had so long and so rigorously exacted. They conceiver their rival to be too much weakened by internal dissensions to offer any effectual resistance; both the pride and the cupidity of the country were aroused; the partisans of the House of Orange spared no pains to fan the flame; and, in a short time, the passion for war with England became as general and as vehement in Holland, as the clamour for a war with Spain was, in our own country, in the time of Walpole. De Witt met the crisis with the wisdom and firmness which became a statesman. He was placed in a situation of singular difficulty, and of much
He was young in office. He had yet a reputation to make. His countrymen had, in a great measure, taken him
It required no common sobriety to escape all contagion from the popular excitement, and no common fortitude to withstand the popular clamour. De Witt manfully opposed it. He felt that he was the servant of the interests, not of the passions, of his country. He urged all the considerations he could think of to turn it from its purpose. He dreaded a war so Holland on many grounds. He dreaded defeat; for he knew that England would prove a more powerful foe than his countrymen anticipated. He dreaded victory; for he knew that few circumstances have such a fatal operation in undermining republican institutions as a protracted, and especially a successful war. He grieved to see his countrymen bent upon wasting, in fruitless quarrels, the wealth they had acquired by a long course of enterprize and labour. And he thought it a singular instance of infatuation, for the only two powerful republics then existing, to play the game of the ambitious monarchs who surrounded them, by mutually weakening each other. He pointed out all this, plainly and forcibly; and urged at the same time the signal advantages which would accrue, both to commerce and freedom, from such an alliance with the Commonwealth of England as Cromwell was then anxious to form.
But his reasonings, though remembered afterwards, were unlistened to at the time. The hatred felt towards England was manifested in a variety of aggressions, which necessarily led to reprisals ; and in 1652, before any declaration of war, the hostile fleets encountered in the Channel, and the Dutch were worsted in the engagement which ensued.
The councils of England were now directed, and her power wielded, by a man of very different mould from those monarchs who, for the last half century, had frittered away her energies and lowered her character. At first, success seemed pretty equally divided; but the fortunes of the war gradually inclined in favour of England; and a signal defeat sustained by iheir fleet, in which their admiral, Van Tromp, was slain, determined the Dutch to sue for peace.
The advice and the predictions of De Witt were now remembered; and to him the negotiations were unreservedly confided. All that firmness and diplomi tic skill could do, he effected; but the terms of peace were, as the fortune of the war had been, unfavourable to Holland; and the publication of them raised a storm of indignation against the Pensionary, which it required all his firmness to withstand. The wisdom of his views, however, the clearness of his arguments, and the strength of his character, had their due weight; and he persuaded the StatesGeneral to ratify the treaty. But discontent and calumny were busy with his fame ; his popularity suffered a severe check ; and he early experienced how difficult it is for a man to serve his country, at once faithfully and with impunity. The article of this treaty which was made the foundation of the fiercest outcry, was one suggested by Cromwell, and readily acceded to by De Witt, by which the Princes of the House of Orange were for ever excluded from the Stadtholderate. This agreement, as well as the Perpetual Edict, (a decree framed by him, and enacted in the year 1667, for abolishing for ever the office of Stadtholder,) were attributed to personal enmity; and have, therefore, been regarded as blemishes upon his purity. We
confess we can see no ground for this reproach. In the first place, the office of Stadtholder was an anomaly in a Republic. He was a species of Dictator elected for life. He had a potential voice in the assemblies of the States; the power of pardoning convicted criminals; the entire command of all the forces of the confederacy by sea and land; and the virtual appointment of all naval and military officers, and of the mayistrates in the principal towns. An office combining such varied and extensive powers, De Witt might justly consider to be fraught with peril to a republican government; especially when substantially a hereditary office, and held by a noble of immense possessions, and in whose single family centred all the aristocratic power of Zealand. Moreover, De Witt's distrust of that able and ambitious house was fully borne out by the experience of the past. The life and death of his predecessor Barneveldt, were fresh in his remembrance. The daring encroachments of Prince Maurice on the chartered liberties of the United Provinces were malters of recent history. The very year of De Witt's first nomination to office, had been marked by an outrage on freedom by William 11. The privileges of the States had been violated in the person of his own father; whom, with five other deputies, that Prince had arrested and imprisoned, for venturing to protest against his unconstitutional aggressions. All these matters De Witt treasured in his memory; and his domestic policy was, from that time for ward directed to secure the State against any future recurrence of s uc perils. He was ardently attached to republican institutions, in spite of the fullest experience of their evils—or perhaps we should rather say their drawbacks ; and he guarded, with a watchfulness almost amounting to jealousy, against the first approach of any danger which threatened either to undermine or overthrow them. Hence we are inclined to consider his pertinacious hostility to the power of the House of Orange, not only as unstained by any motives of personal ambition, but as entirely grounded in patriotism.
A republic may, or may not, be a wise and beneficial form of government; but a republic, in which the post of military chief is held for life, and often hereditarily, by a powerful and ambitious noble, must be in hourly danger of destruction ; and can only maintain its liberties by the most unwearied vigilance, and at the risk of perpetual discord.
The war with Sweden-a measure of very doubtful wisdom, but of eminent success-restored De Witt to the popularity he had lost by the peace with England ; and the year 1660, which saw the restoration of Charles Il, to the throne of his ancestors, the termination of hostilities between France and Spain, and the conclusion of a peace between Sweden, Holland, and Denmark, found De Witt in the zenith of his reputation; and his country respected abroad and prosperous at home.
Unhappily we have here to record an act which, though it does not appear to have called forth much disapprobation at the time, has undeniably clouded the otherwise bright fame of De Witt-an act dictated, we doubt not, by patriotic views, but which we must think an unworthy postponement of justice to convenience-a sacrifice of honourable principle to present gain. Charles II., shortly after his restoration, brought to trial all the surviving republicans who had been concerned in the execution of his father; and inflicted the last punishment of the law on those he could seize. Three of these unhappy men had fled to Holland, to escape the fate of their comrades. Charles demanded that they should be given up.
De Witt complied. They were arrested, transmitted to England, and executed.
This is the single blot upon an otherwise stainless career. Holland was at that time prospering during a peace which De Witt was most anxious to preserve. He was then negotiating, with the aid of England, an advantageous commercial treaty with Portugal. Placed in a critical position between England and France, he was desirous, at almost any cost, to keep well with both. The advantages which might accrue to Holland from the friendship of Charles were numerous and palpable. If De Witt had risked a war with England by refusing the demand of Charles, thousands would have blamed his temerity-few would have appreciated his motives, or applauded his resolution. Yet, notwithstanding, we think that posterity has justly condemn. ed his facility, as criminal and unwise ; though we entirely acquit him of having been influenced by any considerations but a too exclusive regard to the material interests of his country. But we must bear in mind that patriotism is not by itself an excellence. It is an actuating motive, not a guiding principle. Like love, it is an affection, not a virtue. Like love, it may lead to base compliances, to a denial of justice, to a compromise of honour. Like love, it may manifest itself, as it did in ancient times, in a species of selfishness which, though less grovelling than that narrower affection which generally bears the name, is yet worthy of condemnation. A truly great statesman will never, though his life should be the cost, sacrifice principle to patriotic considerations. It was said of Andrew Fletcher, He would have • died to serve his country; but he would not do a base thing to
Moreover, these exiles, however in some respects reprehensible, were not accused of any crime which the laws of all na