THE DUTCH REPUBLIC IN INTERNATIONAL TRADE By Matthew Elton Copyright 2007 Matthew Elton In the early seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic dominated international trade and became one of wealthiest and most powerful nations in Europe. However, after 1650, the Dutch Republic faced several military conflicts with other European powers. These conflicts threatened the security, unity, and prosperity of the Dutch Republic. Throughout the seventeenth century, the Dutch controlled the Baltic Sea Trade. Dutch ships departed from the port of Amsterdam to travel the world trading slaves, spices, and luxury goods. Grain, timber, and iron were produced in the Dutch Republic and exported to the Baltic Sea. For the first half of the seventeenth century, the Baltic Sea Trade thrived, and brought wealth and prosperity to the Dutch Republic (Document 1). However things began to change in the mid-seventeenth century. In 1645, nearly eighty percent of voyages to the Baltic Sea were made by Dutch ships, most of which were trading Dutch goods with Sweden and the German States. However, in the second half of the seventeenth century Dutch trade in the Baltic Sea decreased dramatically. By 1695, only about thirty percent of voyages to the Baltic Sea were made by Dutch ships (Document 2). Between 1652 and 1674, naval battles raged in the English Channel as the English attempted to stop Dutch vessels from reaching Africa and the East Indies (Document 1). England and the Dutch Republic fought three wars, in which England seized over two thousand Dutch ships, while the Dutch only seized five hundred English ships (Document 3). According to Marquis de Pomponne, the French ambassador to the Dutch Republic, the wars between the Dutch and the English began because the English East India Company began competing with the Dutch East India Company (Document 11). The Anglo-Dutch Wars were a serious threat to both the security and prosperity of the Dutch Republic. To make matters even worse for the Dutch, Louis XIV, the king of France, signed the Treaty of Dover in 1670. With this treaty, he allied with England and agreed to help them fight against the Dutch Republic. While England fought the Dutch Republic at sea, France fought the Dutch Republic on land (Document 6). In the Resolution of the Amsterdam City Council of 1671, it was stated that not only the French, but other European kings were considering waging war against the Dutch Republic, in order to cripple what remained of its already damaged trade network, and take some of the great wealth of the Dutch Republic for themselves (Document 7). Konrad Van Beuningen, the Dutch ambassador to England, wrote, Englands interest consists in continuing or encouraging war between the Dutch Republic and France. Either these Dutch lands will become permanently a theater of war or they will be overwhelmed or flooded, in either case ruining our commerce. (Document 8) Not only did the wars against the English and the French cripple the prosperity and security of the Dutch Republic, but they also threatened the unity of the Dutch Republic as well. According to a report written by the government of the Dutch Republic in 1674, differing opinions regarding the election of a commander to lead the Dutch forces against the French caused distrust among the provinces of the Dutch Republic (Document 9). The Dutch Republic became divided even further as the government raised taxes in order to pay for the wars. Sir George Downing, the English ambassador the Dutch Republic, wrote that the warfare had divided the Dutch government, and left the citizens of the French province of Holland to pay the high taxes, because the inhabitants of the other Dutch provinces were poor (Document 4). An anonymous pamphlet published in Holland in 1669 called for lower taxes, peace, and protection (Document 5). However, peace would require high taxes, which upset many Dutch citizens, especially the wealthy, who did not want to give up their riches, even if the money would go to fund a war that would protect them from the French and the English. Another pamphlet, published in Amsterdam in 1683, stated, Other Dutch cities and provinces all too easily consent to a recruitment of thousands of men to fight the French. But who,
other than wealthy citizens of Amsterdam, much like a rich milk cow, will furnish the money? (Document 10). The high taxes not only disrupted the unity of the Dutch Republic, but caused the nation to go very far into debt. The Dutch Republic was already thirty million guilders in debt in 1688. However, by 1713, the Dutch Republic was a hundred and forty eight million guilders in debt (Document 12). The warfare against England at sea disrupted Dutch trade with Asia and East India. In a letter to the directors of the Dutch East India Company, the Dutch colonial administrator wrote in 1703 that, the profits of our East Indian trade have turned into losses, the Java trade is declining, and the commercial competition from the English, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Muslims in Asia cannot be checked (Document 13). On land, warfare against the French was leaving thousands dead. In a letter about the Dutch reaction to the losses suffered in the War of Spanish Succession, an Englishman in the Dutch Republic wrote in 1709 that, The cries of widows, orphans, and tender virgins, deprived of their husbands, fathers, and young men, prevail. (Document 14). The wars also caused the government of the Dutch Republic to raise taxes, which upset the citizens and caused disunity in the Dutch Republic because the province of Holland, being the wealthiest province in the nation, was forced to pay more of the debt then the other provinces. A series of challenges to the security, unity, and prosperity of the Dutch Republic were all brought about by warfare, and all led to the decline of the Dutch Republic.