During the mid 17th century, the Dutch Republic enjoyed a booming economy, dominance in the shipbuilding industry, and European recognition as a dominant nation. They held most trading routes in the Baltic area, and the position to carry most trade goods between countries. However, during the late 17th and early 18th century, the Dutch Republic encountered a stumbling decline which led to their loss in the monopoly in Baltic and Atlantic trade, and many men due to European wars. The Dutch declined due to a series of European wars, internal disunity and conflict, and a loss of trade dominance and economic prosperity.
Seeing the Dutch trading monopolies in trade, other European nations went to war with the Dutch and won in a series of decisive victories. In the 3 Anglo-Dutch wars, the English defeated the Dutch and, as seen in Doc 3, seized 2000-2700 ships, compared to the Dutch capture of 500 ships merchant ships.
Clearly, these Anglo-Dutch wars damaged the Dutch trade dominance. Many nations besides England wished to take part in the Dutch trade, and used violence to take their share. As the need to “take over part of it for themselves” (Doc 7 ) increased, the urge for war as a means of obtaining Dutch wealth increased as well. The treaty of Dover, which is a published document, and therefore a reflection of the actions and plans of the ruling, showed that this increased interest in the Dutch led to alliances (in this treaty, between England and France) against the Dutch.
The “allied sovereigns …jointly declare war on the Dutch Republic.” (Doc 6) These wars exhausted the Dutch resources, so that the provinces would eventually become “overwhelmed or flooded…ruining [Dutch] commerce.” (Doc 8) This document, written by the Dutch ambassador, accurately reflects the concerns and reality as seen by the Dutch rulers and nobility. The military that “suffered extremely” (Doc 14) was deteriorating, and the Republic was, due to the combined efforts of the other European nations, especially France and England, was no longer in its prosperous, dominant stage.
One reason for the decline of the Dutch Republic was internal disunity between the 7 provinces, due to the power structure and outcomes of the wars. Most of the provinces, with the exception of Holland, are poor and weak individually. Since the republic is a “shattered and divided thing” (Doc 4) the nation cannot function smoothly, and each poor, weak province is isolated, unable to sustain itself successfully.
English ambassador sir George Downing, who gave the above statement, reflects correctly the ideas he saw, through his professional title and status. The idea of separate, free provinces had been ingrained in Dutch society, though inefficient and as later seen, ineffective. This situation became a far greater issue when the wars began. The main issue was money. Except for “citizens of Amsterdam,” most citizens were too poor to provide funds. How were the poorer provinces to “furnish the money” necessary for war? (Doc 10)
The fact that the Dutch Republic was a coalition instead of a nation complicated efforts for unity and attempts to gather funds. Within each province, too, there was conflict over taxation, especially with the merchant class. Many merchants stated that, due to their economic importance; they “must have low taxes, peace and trade as well as protection.” They saw it as their right to have low taxes, and their trade is so important that they could demand peace and protection; impossible demands at the current republic’s state, what with constant war and internal disunity.
This disunity not only led to an inability to fund the war, but also an inability to find a general to rule the national army. After William III’s death, “mutual distrust among Dutch provinces hindered” any chance at electing a military commander. This is stated in a government report and is therefore reliable in its official nature. This indicates that internal conflict led to failure to lead, fund, and provide an army for a besieged Dutch Republic, allowing it to succumb to the wills of other European nations.
Though the Dutch had previously controlled most European trade and held enormous wealth, their economic decline choked the nation, leading to its decline. As seen in Doc 1, the Dutch focused their economy primarily on trade, through various routes. During the mid 17th century, the Dutch Republic enjoyed a monopoly on the Baltic Sea trade. However, with their loss to Russia in the Great Northern War, they lost this trade monopoly, which severely shortened their trade capabilities.
Due to this, their Baltic Sea Trade, displayed in Doc 2, declined, from a little under 80% of trade in 1645 to just 30% in 1695. In just 50 years, the Dutch lost 50% of trade rights in the Baltic. This damaged their economy, as it was based primarily on trade. Also, as seen in Doc 1, they encountered conflict with England over many trade rights in the Anglo-Dutch wars.
Other factors besides wars also led to the decline of the Dutch economy. Previously, the Dutch had superior shipbuilding technologies, but as the century turned to a close, the English stole this technology, leading to competitive shipbuilding and less of a monopoly on trade routes for the Dutch. Eventually, all major European nations came into the running for overseas trade, with new and stolen technologies.
Soon, the Dutch East Indies company’s profits “turned to losses” due to the “commercial competition from the English, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Muslims in Asia.” (Doc 13) Being written by a colonial administrator to the Dutch East India Company, this report is honest in the spirit of improving the company. Eventually, due to this economic competition in overseas trade, and loss of monopolies in Baltic and Atlantic trade, the Dutch economy declined, as the debt increased from 30,000,000 to 148,000,000 from 1688 to 1713. (Doc 2) This illustrates the economic crisis evident in the republic at the time. This economic slump led to a general decline of the once prosperous nation.
At one time, the Dutch Republic was a powerful, economically stable nation. However, there were inherent flaws in this republic, as seen by the internal divisions and competition between the provinces. Though the economy was thriving, it was based primarily on a short term advantage: their technology in shipbuilding. It would only take time for the other nations to advance and crumble this economy. These flaws were catalyzed by war. War brought the need for unity which as not there, leaving a weakness in the Republic. War allowed the other nations to force out the Dutch trade. War sped up a process which was already in the making in the Dutch Republic