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Speech of John Derk Van der Capellan


Opinion given by JOHAN DERK Van der CAPELLEN, upon the request of the King of GREAT BRITAIN for the loan of the SCOTCH Brigade, in the Assembly of the States of OVERYSSELL, on the 16th of DECEMBER, 1775, and inserted in the Records of that Province.

Honourable and Mighty Gentlemen:

The request of a neighbouring Power for some troops of this State, to be taken into their service and pay, is, in the present state of Europe, an affair of so great consequence to our Republick, that I chose rather to communicate my sentiments to you in writing, desiring, at the same time, that this my opinion be inserted in the Records of this Province.

Assisting a foreign Power with troops, in order to extricate them from troubles in which they are involved, is simply no less than engaging therein, choosing a party, and putting ourselves in danger of being deeper involved than may, at first, be foreseen or wished for, and thus exposing ourselves to all the consequences of the first step.

Our Republick (which, though it flourishes only by peace, yet has constantly been engaging in unsuccessful wars, subsists principally by commerce and agriculture, and to both which, but especially the former, sufficient encouragement has not been given) is, by the great influence of some, and blind zeal of others, brought to so low a state of power as only to be recovered (if any remedy be still left) by observing a strict neutrality in all quarrels throughout Europe. Every proposal, therefore, however plausible, must be tried by this touchstone, and rejected if it does not stand the test. Of this sort, (and nobody can take amiss that I speak my sentiments on what regards the State so nearly with the true spirit of Batavia freedom; I even look upon myself as called upon, and that silence would be criminal when to speak is my duty,) I say, of this sort is that you are now deliberating upon; at least, I view it in that light. The torch which now burns in America is capable of inflaming all Europe, already full of combustibles. If assistance is offered to England, America will not want it on her side.

The House of Bourbon, and all who wish the peace of Europe and freedom of commerce, look with a jealous eye on the greatness of England, in raising it to which we have most unaccountably sacrificed ourselves without any reward or national profit whatever, and by which the balance of power in Europe, which cost such an effusion of blood, is entirely lost; insomuch that we now behold that Kingdom exercising an imperial power on the sea, even


much greater than was ever known to exist before; and it is more than probable a blow will be aimed against her, when a proper opportunity occurs, in order to stab her to the quick.

What will then be the consequence? No other than seeing ourselves again involved in a destructive war with one of our mightiest neighbours, (France,) who, from a reciprocal interest, is our natural friend, and can wish nothing more than that there should exist such a neutral, and by trade flourishing, Republick as the United Provinces, to carry on, (by means of our extensive shipping and naval force,) with mutual advantage, their navigation and commerce, when obstructed by their wars with England. This appears obvious to me, besides other reasons of no less consequence.

What advantage can this Republick expect from this cession of troops? What advantage has ever accrued to her from her near alliance with Great Britain? What reward has she received for her ever faithful assistance, so cheerfully and readily granted? That Kingdom, on the contrary, got, at the end of the Succession war, (which proved so fatal to this country,) besides her extensive conquests in America, nothing less than the key to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar and Minorca; and what we, but (as a certain writer too justly remarks) an irrecoverable and exhausted treasury, the just fruits of our folly?

Not only the advantages of our commercial treaties, so strictly observed on our side, and by which we are granted nothing more than the law of nature and nations require, but even a free navigation and trade, have been denied us. Our ships were searched and confiscated at pleasure when trading on the free seas, which belong solely to the great Creator; nay, even on our own coasts. Their courts declared goods to be contraband which really were not so; and they have treated us often in a manner by no means suitable to a free and independent State.

Let these just causes of complaint be removed, and the immense sums taken from our merchants refunded. Then shall I allow myself to deliberate on rendering services which we are by no means held to do, and show my readiness, provided our own circumstances and the state of affairs permit it.

This brings me to my last observation. Though not as principals, yet as auxiliaries, our troops would be employed towards suppressing (what some please to call) a rebellion in the American Colonies; for which purpose I would rather see janizaries hired than troops of a free State. In what an odious light must this unnatural civil war appear to all Europe, a war in which even savages (if credit can be given to newspaper information) refuse to engage; more odious, still, would it appear for a people to take a part therein who were themselves once slaves, bore that hateful name, but at last had spirit to fight themselves free. But above all, it must appear superlatively detestable to me, who think the Americans worthy of every man' s esteem, and look on them as a brave people, defending in a becoming, manly, and religious manner, those rights which, as men, they derive from God, not from the Legislature of Great Britain. Their mode of proceeding will, I hope, serve as an example to every nation deprived, by any means, of its privileges, yet fortunate enough in being able to make suitable efforts towards retaining or regaining them.

These are my reasons, which I look upon as sufficiently convincing; but must further observe, that I am not without apprehensions that this cession of troops may lead towards an augmentation of our own, of which I am daily more and more afraid. An overgrown military power is too apt to interfere in civil and criminal jurisdiction, and creates an imperium in imperio, which frequently obstructs the administration of justice. In neighbouring monarchies there are many proofs of this. In England it is unknown. It is one of the dreadful innovations of the last century. Bitter complaints of it were made throughout Europe, and, in my opinion, it ought never more to be mentioned in this Republick; yet, sorry I am to say, this military spirit gains ground more and more, and serves only to dissolve the weak bands which have hitherto, in some degree, connected the armed and unarmed part of our country, and which only can make the former retain any idea


of their dependance on, and submission to the civil power. For all these reasons, I find myself bound to give the following opinion: That, as the interest of the Republick in general, and the Province in particular, does not require or admit the cession of these troops, and could not even be none without a manifest injustice to people who have no ways injured us, it becomes necessary, for the present, not to grant the King of Great Britain' s request.

As this affair, from its nature and consequences, (which are very extensive,) does not come under those points which belong to the daily administration of Provincial affairs, I trust that my negative voice will, in the end, have such influence, and be of so much effect, as is consistent with what of old has been, and still is, customary, in such crises, in your High Mightinesses' Assembly.

J˙ D˙ VAN DER CAPELLEN, tot den Poll.



* At, the commencement of the Republick, unanimity was necessary in their determinations. A single negative was sufficient to reject any proposition.