“AN EXTREMITY OF NOMINAL DEMOCRACY”

“AN EXTREMITY OF NOMINAL DEMOCRACY”

The Five Senses: Smell by Adriaen Brouwer [Circa 1631] Source: Wikipedia

Barbara Tuchman was one of my two favorite historians, (the other is still alive). She published The First Salute in 1988, then died of a stroke early the next year, so this book was to have been her last salute. I have three well-underlined volumes on my bookshelf, and this last volume is about the American Revolution’s impact on Europe, principally the Dutch and the French, but ultimately, the world.

France we know about, the Netherlands not so much. The book’s title is based on the entry of an American vessel, the Andrea Doria, into the harbor of the tiny Dutch trading outpost of St Eustatius in the Caribbean in November 1776, just a few months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Hoisting the American colors, the Andrea Doria fired a 13-gun salute and the coastal battery returned a 9-gun salute, thus acknowledging the new American revolutionaries as a member nation.

The First Salute.

A big deal, actually, for the English, who owned just about all the remaining islands in the Leeward Island chain, were infuriated, some of their governors and admirals writing long letters of protest making even some of my essays seem like a quick read. In one letter I counted 14-lines without a single period. (For harrumphs and bluster, no one beats the Brits.)

But tiny St Eustatius (only 21 sq kilometers) was an important port in those days, with today a population of less than 4000. In those days its only product was money in trade. And the Dutch had decided to trade arms to  the Colonies in exchange for all the products we could send them, because of only one thing; location, location, location. The island sits at the northernmost tip of the Leeward chain, so is first in line in the seagoing traffic moving south from the  Colonies.

It was profit, and not philosophical simpatico, that caused the Dutch to risk the anger of the stronger English Navy.

When John Adams went to Amsterdam in 1780 to obtain a loan that would keep the Americans less in debt to France and Louis XVI (who also had  mercenary reasons for taking our side against England, namely a long term plan to annex the American colonies for itself) Adams wrote that he had entered  “the capital of the reign of Mammon (the Biblical name for Money and Greed)”.

Mrs Tuchman developed a lengthy back-story and analysis of this relationship between the Americans and the Dutch, dating all the way back to the Dutch’s own similar revolutionary war with the Spanish Hapsburgs, the Eighty Years War, 1568-1648, which began under Charles V, then followed by Philip II, the same Most Catholic Majesty Philip who would later send an Armada against Elizabeth and England, to return that wayward isle back to the Roman fold[…]

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