Nation and State in the Belgian Revolution 1787-1790
Judge, Jane Charlotte
Today, Belgium is an oft-cited example of a “fabricated state” with no real binding national identity. The events of 1787-1790 illustrate a surprisingly strong rebuttal to this belief. Between 1787 and 1790, the inhabitants of the Southern Netherlands protested the majority of reforms implemented by their sovereign Joseph II of Austria. In ten independent provinces each with their own administration and assembly of Estates, a resistance movement grew and its leaders eventually raised a patriot army over the summer of 1789. This force chased the imperial troops and administration from all the provinces except Luxembourg, allowing the conservative Estates and their supporters to convene a Congress at Brussels, which hosted a central government to the new United States of Belgium. By November 1790, however, infighting between democrats and conservatives and international pressures allowed Leopold II, crowned Emperor after his brother’s death in February, to easily reconquer the provinces. This thesis investigates the moment in which “Belgianness,” rather than provincial distinctions, became a prevailing identification for the Southern Netherlands. It tracks the transition of this national consciousness from a useful collaboration of the provinces for mutual legal support to a stronger, more emotional appeal to a Belgian identity that deserved a voice of its own. It adds a Belgian voice to the dialogue about nations before the nineteenth century, while equally complicating the entire notion of a nation. Overall, the thesis questions accepted paradigms of the nation and the state and casts Belgium and the Belgians as a strong example that defies the normal categories of nationhood. It examines how the revolutionaries—the Estates, guilds, their lawyers, the Congress, and bourgeois democratic revolutionaries—demonstrated a growing sense of “Belgianness,” in some ways overriding their traditional provincial attachments. I rely on pamphlet literature and private correspondence for the majority of my evidence, focusing on the elite’s cultivation and use of national sentiment throughout the revolution.
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