Submitted by Gayle Harper

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THE Hollanders who were transplanted in 1847 to the prairies of Iowa, then the youngest State of the American Union, were the product of Europe's social, religious, and political conditions. Not only had they been branded and maltreated in their fatherland as a congregation of religious fanatics, but they had also been regarded as a menace to the state, excluded from all positions of political trust, closely watched by the spies of a suspicious government, and in many ways kept in a state of political subjection. In America, which they hailed as the land of civil and religious liberty, they first learned to know the meaning of real freedom: Americans respected and treated them according to their merits. The change from the oppression of the Old World to the freedom of the New World was a. novel one to them; and the absence of social and political discriminations caused them to breathe a sigh of relief.

As descendants of the ancient Batavi whom Rome had honored as allies because her armies could not subdue them, the Dutch emigrants to America cut loose from the reactionary principles of a government which had undertaken to crush their aspirations for religious independence. The door to civil and religious liberty in the Dutch colonies had been deliberately closed to them - the only ray of light which reached them came from America. When they had deserted a king and government at - whose hands they had suffered so much persecution and loss of honor, and when they had set up homes in the heart of America, they prided themselves on the opportunity to live upon a soil which had never been occupied by any European power nor "wrested from the original owners by means of the conqueror's bloody sword ". (177)

Scholte pointed with pleasure to the fact that North America had never come under the sway of the Roman Empire. To Christians in Holland he wrote:

     The United States first came into existence as a nation when she broke all political and religious ties binding her to the mother country. The Declaration of Independence did not flow from theoretical doctrines of liberty, but was the outcome of practical experience in matters of right and justice. This big country, where millions may still find enough to keep them, was not snatched from its former owners by means of bloody weapons; it was bought and the price was paid. The foundation of Babylonian world powers in the North American Colonies, transplanted from Europe in early times, was entirely destroyed when the Union was formed. After that came the acquisition of a vast stretch of country; the advance of enterprising settlers, by whom the most distant regions (also the State of Iowa) were opened to European emigrants.
     The laborer is not oppressed, the needy are not abandoned, the foreigner is not turned away, the people are not crushed by oppressive taxes. The nation is free, and shows that she can bear and enjoy this freedom. The worship of God is respected without financial assistance from the State and without obligations to the State. These and many other reasons cause me to judge that the condition of the United States has thus far been absolutely different from that of countries subject to Rome. Moreover, the faces of Christian people in various Old World countries are being turned this way. He who believes in God's guidance must take note of this and inquire into the reasons.(178)

Shortly after his arrival in America Scholte went to Washington, D. C., concerning which he wrote:

I found the higher government officials so ready and willing to help me in every way that I could hardly believe my own eyes and ears, and I was involuntarily driven to compare them with officials in Holland - a comparison which did not redound to the credit of the latter country. I not only experienced no gruffness, not only did no one try to get the better of me, but with the utmost modesty and willingness to answer my questions of investigation they presented me with printed documents free of cost, while a few days later they forwarded to me at New York, free of charge, a set of maps of the various States indicating unsold government lands.

Equally kind was the treatment which he received at the hands of statesmen at Albany, where he visited a session of the legislature. "Recognized by one of the members", he writes, "I was compelled to take a seat in their midst. How different from Holland! " (179)

Immediately after their arrival in Marion County the Hollanders wished to have it understood that they intended to become permanent residents of the State of Iowa. Within one month after they settled upon their farms, they requested the clerk of the district court to come to Pella so that they might be relieved of taking a journey to Knoxville, the county seat. When this officer acquiesced, Scholte writes, "we declared our intention to become citizens of the United States of North America, so that our status as subjects of William II came to an end once for all."

Of this unique incident at Pella, an American visitor wrote:

On the day of my arrival, it was my good fortune to witness a most interesting proceeding. Most of the male adults went through the ceremony of declaring their intentions of becoming citizens of the United States. It was altogether an impressive scene, to behold some two hundred men with brawny arms upraised to heaven eschewing all allegiance to foreign powers, Potentates, etc. And as they all responded, in their native tongue, to the last words of the oath: " So help me God ! " no one could resist the heartfelt response: " So help them God to keep their solemn vow! " All appeared to feel the weight of responsibility they were about to assume. No tribute could be more beautiful or complimentary to our institutions than to behold the men of " Pella" coming up in their strength, on the prairies of America, and there eschewing forever all allegiance to the tyranny of king-craft. . . . A fact worth recording during the ceremony before the clerk of the court was that, of the whole number that took the oath of intended citizenship, but two made their marks.(180)

This hasty manifestation of their willingness to become identified with the American people made such a good impression that, although the State Constitution of 1846 prescribed United States citizenship as a qualification of voters and of candidates for office, the General Assembly of Iowa passed a special statute which ignored constitutional provisions. For otherwise the Hollanders who lived in Marion County would have been deprived of township government for five years, a situation which might have led to a failure of the administration of justice.

When the General Assembly met in special session at Iowa City in January, 1848, Scholte and other members of the council of the association prepared a petition asking relief in three particulars. The result was that Jefferson and Lake Prairie townships which the Hollanders owned almost entirely, were united under the name of Lake Prairie Township; secondly, those who had taken the oath of allegiance to the United States were given the right to vote for township officers; and thirdly, they were allowed to become candidates for the various township offices.(181)

"How different," Scholte wrote, "this is from our status in Holland I need not point out to anyone who remembers that we were treated as a people who should have no rights and be kept out of all positions. Here the various political parties unite to assure us that they prize our presence and that they will grant us as many privileges as are consistent with the Constitution. . . . America warmly welcomes the liberty-loving Hollanders with open arms, mindful of the fact that sons of that same Holland were the founders of one of the most flourishing parts of the American Union, and hopeful that the present immigrant Hollanders will be to the West what the earlier ones have been to the East -powerful factors in the development and prosperity of the United States of North America." (182)

With the government authorities at Washington it appears that Scholte and his friends had sufficient influence to obtain a post-office and post-route for the Dutch settlement. Furthermore, the citizens of Marion County had become so dissatisfied with the location of Knoxville as the seat of justice of Marion County that they desired to have it removed north of the Des Moines River. "The American people are quite generally convinced that the best place in the whole county would be found in our township", wrote Scholte, "and for that reason several persons have requested me to lay out a town where the river is easily forded, and to offer lots for sale to the public, convinced that if the selection of a county seat ever comes before the voters the choice will undoubtly fall upon this place, in case I should meet the county half-way and appropriate a site for public buildings. It is not improbable that I  shall decide to plat such a town near the river, and that a survey in compliance with the law shall be commenced within a few weeks."

Thus Scholte wrote to his friends in Holland in the month of March, 1848, and shortly afterward he staked out a town upon the banks of the Des Moines River and named it Amsterdam upon request of his American neighbors. The glorious future of this town, however, proved to be a pipe dream. What was once Amsterdam is now an expanse of corn fields, and Knoxville has maintained its position as the county seat.(183)

In the month of May, 1848, the Hollanders could for the first time boast of having tasted civil liberty, for they had gone through the experience of selecting their own township officers. The few American citizens who still resided in Lake Prairie Township gladly conceded that most of the officers should be Hollanders and that the Hollanders should have their own caucus for the nomination of candidates. Accordingly, the election took place at Scholte's house, and the following men took the oath of office: Green F. Clark and H. P. Scholte, justices of the peace; Stilman Elwell and Cornelius van den Berg, constables; G. Awtry, A. J. Betten, and P. Welle, trustees; I. Overkamp, clerk; H. P. Scholte, school inspector; J. Roziersz, treasurer; Cornelius den Hartog and H. Barendregt, overseers of the poor; Wellington Nossaman, Wm. van Asch, G. van der Wilt, C. 't Lam, P. van Meveren, and Dk. Sijnhorst, road supervisors; and A. de Visser and J. Toom, fence viewers.(184)

Official documents and papers in the English language were translated for the Hollanders whenever necessary. Later in the year 1848 Scholte wrote that only in one case had the court's services been necessary - in a case involving a small debt - and as for the rest, the justice's work had been confined to the performance of the marriage ceremony, which is one of his duties here", and to the legalization of signatures to contracts. Township officers among the Dutch had very little to do during those first two or three years. The fence viewers were perhaps the busiest.(185)

The influence of the Hollanders in Marion County, however, was not confined altogether to township affairs. At a certain county convention which was called to discuss a law inimical to the interests of the people, Scholte as the representative of the Dutch colony was elected member of a committee to draw up a memorial to the State legislature. He did not refuse to serve, and he had the satisfaction of seeing his draught of the memorial accepted by the committee and later by the entire convention. So strong was popular sentiment at this time on the subject of Des Moines River improvement that candidates for the legislature were driven to make definite pre-election promises in favor of a revision of the existing law.(186)

With matters of national concern and with political party interests the Dutch had little to do; but Scholte wrote as follows:

     Next November there is to be an election in which the entire Union is interested. A President of the United States has to be chosen. Three candidates have been proposed by the various political parties: General Taylor by the Whigs; General Lewis Cass by the Democrats; and Martin Van Buren by a third party which will vote for neither Taylor nor Cass. Everywhere these parties are now holding mass-meetings in order to persuade the people to vote for their nominees.
    Although the Hollanders have nothing to do with this at present, they are nevertheless invited to these meetings to give their moral support to one or the other party, and by their influence to win the votes of American citizens. To-day there was such a meeting in a neighboring town. A few English-speaking Hollanders happened to be present. They were at once invited to participate in the meeting and the barbecue and were most cordially introduced to the convention as members of the Dutch colony. If our former fellow-countrymen and fellow-believers compare with this the way in which they are treated by the various political parties [in Holland], they will possibly notice considerable difference, and I do not believe that political conditions have been ameliorated since our departure from The Netherlands.
     Here we are prized by our neighbors. They all know that we emphasize the worship of God as most important in life, and yet they do not consider us fanatics, nor do they fear that we shall have an injurious effect upon public life. In this respect, therefore, we have no reason to complain, but rather reason to be thankful.(187)

Thus, as residents of the State of Iowa for barely nine months, the Hollanders learned their first lesson in American politics, happy to obtain so important a concession as complete local self-government. With genuine satisfaction they noted the absence of paternalism, perceiving that no government in the world ruled so little from above and entrusted so much to the regulation and determination of the people themselves as the United States. This extension of self-government, one observer declared, led every citizen to investigate and participate in public measures, decreased popular discontent and opposition, and made the people in the noblest sense self-dependent adults.(188)

Well might the Hollanders be proud of their new liberty, for soon they were pained but not surprised to hear that the Dutch government had staged one scene of the tragedy of revolution which swept over Europe in 1848. Then it was that Scholte addressed the people of The Netherlands as follows:

     Has not the blood of citizens flowed because other citizens owed blind obedience to superiors who ordered them to fire their murderous guns? That sort of thing has no place here; for that sort of thing no soldiers are available here. The legislature here sometimes passes a law which the people consider hostile to their interests. They gather in mass-meetings, condemn such law, draw up resolutions and
propose what they think is right.
     The government never thinks of resisting such conventions with an armed police force, but gives ear to the people's voice; occasionally stubborn, self-seeking officials are brought to time by the concerted action of the people. A subsequent General Assembly investigates grievances, and if it declines to redress them, at the next election American people will show that they know how to get their rights
quietly and in a lawful manner.
     I attended such a mass-meeting here and was really struck by the way in which matters were conducted. Not only did political party lines disappear and the people act as companions in misery, but the distinction between American and Hollander attracted no notice; on the contrary persons who had but recently arrived in America were consulted and listened to just as freely as native-born citizens.(189)

The Hollanders in America noted also that henceforth they would not be subjected to the espionage of a suspicious government: the rulers know that this would do no good because an election might deprive them of further chance to lord it over the people". Once limited to the private expression of their "opinions, votes and observations, brotherly words, protests ", they could now say: "It is God's hand which in many ways directs oppressed Netherlanders to a land where they first learn what freedom means and how the country's inhabitants worthily enjoy it."

Scholte believed that the theory of American political and social conditions might be imagined, but could never be put into practice, in Holland - a country dotted with military posts and everywhere supplied with police because there would be no security without them. "It does little good," wrote Scholte, "to preach `liberty, equality, and fraternity': there must be people who are fitted to practice." (190)

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(177) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 12, 13, 39, 44, 45.

(178) Scholte's Tweede Stem uit Pella, pp. 21, 22. On pp. 16 and 17 he discusses the national debt of Holland.

(179) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 2, 3, 12.

(180) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 31, 32, and p. 56, where an article from The Burlington Hawk-Eye is reprinted.

(181) Laws of Iowa, January, 1848, p. 16; and Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 32-34, 61, 62. See also Senate Journal, 1847-48, pp. 19, 24; and Donnell's Pioneers of Marion County, p. 163. As to the right off suffrage in the State of Iowa, see the Constitution of 1846, Article III.

(182) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 33, 34; and Buddingh's De Hervormde Hollandsche Kerk inn de Vereenigde Staten van Noord-Amerika (1852), p. 115.

(183) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 26, 27; and Scholte's Tweede Stem uit Pella, p. 9.

(184) Scholte's Tweede Stem uit Pella, pp. 3, 10. It is a noteworthy fact that the Hollanders elected officers according to the law of February 17, 1842, which had been so far repealed in 1845 that trustees were to be overseers of the poor and also fence-viewers. - See Laws of Iowa, May, 1845, pp. 27-30.

(185) Scholte's Tweede Stem uit Pella, p. 11; and van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, p. 45.

(186) See House Journal, 1848-49, pp. 245, 368, 392; and Senate Journal, 1848-49, p. 212. Also Laws of Iowa, 1848-49, p. 112; and Scholte's Tweede Stem uit Pella, p. 11.

(187) Scholte's Tweede Stem uit Pella, p. 12. 

(188) De Hollanders in Iowa, pp. 122, 123.

(189) Scholte's Eene Stem nit Pella, pp. 1, 40.

(190) Scholte's Tweede Stem uit Pella, p. 2; and Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 39, 41.


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