“The supreme power of the people”: Local autonomy and radical democracy in the Batavian revolution (1795–1798)

Pepijn Brandon, Karwan Fatah-Black

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Abstract

The Batavian Revolution of 1795 that overthrew the old stadtholderly regime of the Dutch Republic was followed by a period of intense political conflict in which popular mobilization played a key role. Among revolutionary elites, the main dividing line between moderates and radicals occurred around questions concerning the reorganization of the state apparatus and the writing of a new constitution. A full rejection of the federative model of the state that had characterized the former Dutch Republic became central to the repertoire of the radical faction in the National Convention. However, instances of protest and rebellion from below, often supported by the radicals in the Convention, generally remained conspicuously local in focus. This clash between national ideals and highly localized realities remains one of the central paradoxes of the Batavian Revolution. The form in which this process unfolded was peculiar to the trajectory of the Batavian Revolution, which more than any of its counterparts became centered on constitutional issues. But severe tensions between programs for the rationalization of state bureaucracy along nationalizing lines and popular support for far-reaching local autonomy existed in each of the Atlantic Revolutions. In January 1797, radical democrats in Leiden attempted to find an organizational form to solve this problem. They called for a national gathering of representatives from local revolutionary clubs and neighborhood assemblies. The response by the moderate provincial and national authorities was remarkably swift, and the initiative was repressed before the meeting could take place. Examining the failure of this unique attempt to bridge the divide between local popular mobilization and national revolutionary programs, as well as the discussion that followed this failure, can help us understand the possibilities and limitations of Batavian radicalism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAtlantic Studies: Global Currents
Volume13
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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