HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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POLITICAL BEGINNINGS AMONG THE HOLLANDERS IN MARION COUNTY
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:
Shortly after his arrival in America Scholte went to Washington, D. C., concerning which he wrote:
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:
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:
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:
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)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(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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