HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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HOLLAND IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
THE causes which brought about the extraordinary migrations from Europe to America during the nineteenth century were primarily economic. No corresponding period in the world's history illustrates more forcibly the well-known simile that population is like a fluid: when the saturation point is reached, emigration is the natural consequence. During the first half of the century the population of nearly every country in Europe reached such density and laborers became so plentiful that the masses of the people were forced to seek a way of escape from degradation and starvation.
In The Netherlands during the early decades of the nineteenth century social conditions were as unfavorable generally as they were everywhere else in Europe. There, religious and economic factors joined hands and caused thousands of discouraged and dissatisfied, people to long for a New World. A. closer view of the history of Holland reveals the motives which contributed to bring about the first extensive emigration of Hollanders to the primeval forests of Michigan and the virgin prairies of Iowa and other western States.(24)
Upon coming to the throne of Holland in 1814 William I at once turned his attention to the state church which had suffered much humiliation at the hands of Napoleon and the French and which was therefore eager to return to royal favor at whatever cost. He approved a set of general regulations to be used by a central board for administrative purposes. These regulations prescribed the maintenance of the creed as embodied in the Dutch Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Doctrinal Rules of the Synod of Dort of 1618.
Church government was placed in the hands of a general synod composed of delegates from provincial synods, whose selection was to remain under royal control. Ecclesiastical property was transferred to the state; and the clergy were henceforth to receive their salaries from the state exchequer, thus being bound to the king by spiritual and financial ties. Furthermore, the clergy were to be educated at the three universities of Utrecht, Leyden, and Groningen, whose theological professors were by law declared state officers, since they were chosen, appointed, and salaried by the government. Thus the Presbyterian form of church government was reduced to an oligarchy under the king's patronage.(25)
Irregularities in the Church and deviation from its doctrines were conspicuous enough to alarm the orthodox, conservative Christians throughout the country especially when the general synod, endowed with autocratic powers, did nothing to lessen existing grievances. At length in 1834, under the leadership of a few clergymen, scores of people seceded from the state church and formed small congregations. The seceding clergymen were Henry de Cock, Henry Peter Scholte, Anthony Brummelkamp, S. van Velzen, G. F. Gezelle Meerburg, and Albertus C. van Raalte.(26) Of this group of men, all of whom were excommunicated from the Church, Scholte was undoubtedly the foremost figure. Indeed he has been called the "Father of the Separation ", and he it was who later led hundreds, of his fellow-countrymen to the State of Iowa.(27)
But King William was a man who would not allow his pet schemes to be overridden. It is almost incredible that a government of the nineteenth century should have stooped to bitter religious persecution - especially in Holland so long famed for her tolerance and freedom of worship. One can not help marveling at the petty nature of the measures taken by the Dutch government to suppress the Separatist movement. Though Scholte and his colleagues were declared unsuitable and unworthy to preach, they were by no means deserted by their congregations. Nor did they desist from preaching. The result was that everywhere small congregations were formed and the new Separatist church became definitely established.
In their endeavors to restore purity of doctrine and to preach God's Word, the Separatist clergymen were hindered in every possible way. Under cover of an article of the Code Napoleon forbidding assemblies of more than twenty persons without a license from the local authorities, the government used every means to disperse Separatist meetings, whether held in barns, in the open air, or in private houses. Thus the police took a hand in breaking up local gatherings; and numerous Separatists were prosecuted and punished with fines or imprisonment. Worst of all, wherever the new movement claimed an especially large number of adherents, the government used its authority to quarter troops in order to overawe the people and prevent mutiny.(28)
The Separatists had, moreover, to suffer all the penalties imposed by law. Scholte, one of their leaders, could write that he had experienced military watches, imprisonments, and the payment of fines and' court costs amounting to $3200. But even more intolerable were the taunts and ridicule heaped upon the Separatists by other inhabitants of The Netherlands. Scholte complained that he had been derided, hit with stones and fists, and when hundreds of hands were raised against him he had heard the excited mob cry out, "Kill him, kill him!" (29)
Despite the government's relentless persecution, the religious beliefs of the Separatists spread until they were finally recognized by royal decree in 1839. Seven years later, however, two of their leaders still loudly exclaimed against local government officials who employed every means to postpone the granting of permission to preach as the new law obliged them to do and who, furthermore, received the encouragement of "nearly all who call themselves noble and religious" - although some would gladly have granted what the law enjoined had they not felt that thereby they would fall into disfavor with authorities higher up." Even as late as 1846 the complaint was sometimes heard that citizens were being dragged into court and. fined for the misdemeanor `6 of using their houses for the worship of God without the government's authority, and for preaching the name of Christ crucified" to more than twenty persons.(30)
In the minds of the Dissenters there was one other object of prime importance, namely, Christian education. Everywhere arose a crying demand for the improvement of the system of popular education; and yet those who wished to take the pains and bear the expense of organizing Christian schools were hindered by the local authorities. They desired the privilege of educating their children in their own schools inasmuch as the state offered only a general education in morals, which neither Jew nor Roman Catholic might refuse. But the government looked upon special schools with unconcealed disfavor and forbade the founding of such institutions.(31)
Just how much effect the religious beliefs of the Dissenters had upon their chances of earning a livelihood can not be stated with certainty. That these people were oppressed, despised, and cast out there can be little doubt. But even so, the mass of laborers in Holland at this time lived upon the verge of starvation. When a small farm was placed on the market for rent or for sale, a score or two of men found it a suitable opportunity for speculation. When a house was to be built, a score of carpenters offered bids. These and many other instances indicate that economic conditions were extremely bad throughout the country.
The masses of the people were being crushed by a system of taxation devised to liquidate the enormous national debt which had been heaped up from years of war. Many branches of industry and commerce had disappeared, although others continued to thrive. Hundreds of ordinary workmen lost their means of earning bread. Even skilled artisans complained of the lack of labor during the busiest season of the year. There was as a consequence so much competition in the labor market that wages were reduced to pathetically low figures. Workmen, upon whom children and sometimes relatives depended, sought in vain for an opportunity to make so much as a bare living. Brought to the point of stealing, thousands hopelessly surrendered themselves to be supported by the state. Eight million dollars were annually expended upon them by the Dutch government; while private benefactions were at the same time enormous. National deterioration was daily being aggravated by the lamentable undermining of trade, the decrease of wages, unscrupulous competition, and exhaustive taxation. "The third estate is disappearing, the capital of the rich increases, and day laborers very often fail in their most serious endeavors to find either regular work or bread."
Scholte declared that though the condition of his fatherland did not yet make emigration inevitable he was forced to acknowledge that if a change were not soon effected a Christian would find it impossible to engage in any business without offending his conscience. He could not close his eyes to the increasing poverty of his fellow-countrymen: from the picture of their struggles and privations he could find no relief (32)
(24) In the writing of this chapter the author has drawn upon the following sources, all in the Dutch language: De Afscheiding: Een Gedenksehrift (The Separation: A Memoir), by John Nollen, an excellent brochure written fifty years after the settlement of Pella; and Landverhuizing, of Waarom Bevorderen Wij de Volksverhuizing en wel naar Noord-Amerika en niet naar Java, (Emigration, or Why W e Encourage People to Emigrate to North America and not to Java), by A. Brummelkamp and A. C. van Raalte, 1846. The latter interesting pamphlet contains a letter to the people of Holland, a letter to the Christians of the United States, and letters of Hollanders who had been in the United States for the past two years. The author has also consulted Geschiedenis van Pella, Iowa, en Omgeving (The History o f Pella, Iowa, and Vicinity), by K. van Stigt, in three parts, consisting of 391 pages.
(25) Young men chose the ministry as they would have chosen law or medicine, and candidates for the ministry had to subscribe to a very loose and ambiguous formula. See Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 9-12; and Corwin's Manual, pp. 12, 13, 137.
(26) Their organization being based on the ;creed and church regulations of Dort, the Separatists looked upon themselves as the original Netherlands Reformed Church and their official title was Christian Reformed Church. The secession principles were not shared by the aristocratic orthodox party in the Church nor by the mass of the clergy, who thought more could be done for the ailing Church by remaining in it. See van Raalte's Landverhuizing, p. 33; and Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 25-29, for details of the secession in Holland.
(27) Nollen's De Afscheiding, p. 12. In his Geschiedenis, Part I, pp. 6, 7, van Stigt writes: "Living at a time when the Dutch Reformed Church had sunk into a state of far-reaching decay, Mr. Scholte, by reason of his active and fiery temperament, became an instrument of the Lord to fan the smouldering embers into a blaze, and with the help of other courageous workers in the Lord's vineyard, under God's guidance, he kindled a fire the results of which are still perceived and experienced in the Fatherland to-day."
(28) Article 291 of the Code Napoleon reads as follows
"No societies or company of more than twenty persons shall be
allowed to organize for the purpose of daily or periodical gatherings to
consider subjects of religion, literature, politics, or other matters,
without permission of the Government and under such terms as local
authorities shall deem proper to impose."
(29) Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 30, 35, 37; van Stigt's Gesehiedenis, Part I, pp. 18, 19; and van Raalte's Landverhuizing, pp. 31, 33. Nollen in his excellent memoir quotes the words of Rev. Brummelkamp: "At At first, when a Separatist appeared upon the streets, he was pointed at as if he were a being from another world, and urchins mocked him or threw mud and stones at him. If anyone joined the dissenting Church, he did it knowing that position and property, relatives and friends were at stake. `You are trouble-makers, you incite rebellion, you disobey your superiors,' said most of the inhabitants of The Netherlands. Even friends and relatives, with whom we had walked and counselled in peace, kept their distance, so great was their slavish subjection to Synodical supremacy."
(30) See van Raalte's Landverhuizing, pp. 8, 31, 32; Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 38, 39.
(31) Van Raalte's Landverhuizing, pp. 8, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21, 35; and van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part I, pp. 24, 72.
(32) The best account of the economic state of Holland can be found in van Raalte's Landverhuizing, pp. 6, 7, 9, 10, 33, 34. See also van Stigt's Geschiedenis, pp. 23-25, 72; Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 40-42; and Gedenboek-Vijftigjarig Jubileum der Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk, 1857-1907, pp. 4, 5. The last named book contains an excellent article by Rev. Henry Beets.
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